Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Indro Montanelli, Editor of Il Giornale, on Foreign and Domestic Issues
Outlook for the Future
Q. Mr. President, my newspaper was among the few in Europe to look forward to your victory in 1980, to believe it, and to rejoice when you obtained it. I will not ask you if you think your first term was a success; if you were not convinced of that, you would not have run again. Tell me, rather, what you propose to do in the next 4 years that is different from what you have done up to now.
The President. First, I want to thank Il Giornale for its support and for its skillful efforts to explain to Italian readers the significant issues in American politics. Your newspaper has played a vital role in promoting understanding between our two countries.
But to turn to your question, my hopes for a second term must be seen in the light of our administration's accomplishments during this term. When we took office in 1980, the United States was a nation in crisis. Our defenses had grown weak. Our foreign policy lacked direction. And with inflation well into double digits and interest rates at record highs, our economy was in its worst condition in more than three decades. We took office determined to make a new beginning, and we have managed to do just that.
Today American defenses are being rebuilt. In foreign policy, the United States is reasserting its role as a force for world peace and freedom. The American economy has recovered its vitality and is entering what we hope will be a period of sustained expansion. The inflation rate has fallen by two-thirds since we took office; prime interest rates have dropped by half; unemployment over the past year has undergone the sharpest drop in 30 years; and today more Americans have jobs than at any time in our nation's history. Perhaps most important, America has seen a rebirth of faith and hope. Polls show that our people are more optimistic about themselves and their country than at any other time in 5 years. Horace Busby, a longtime observer of the American scene, put it well when he said, "What I have begun to hear in this decade is a wonderful chorus of celebration."
A successful effort to repair past damage and a return to national strength, courage, and self-confidence—these are the achievements of the first term. The stage has now been set for a second term that will place America on a firm footing for the future.
In financial policy, our top priority during the second term will be to get the Federal budget under complete control. That will mean attacking unnecessary government spending, passing amendments to the Constitution to require balanced budgets and give Presidents a line-item veto, and it will mean a sweeping reform of the tax code, giving Americans new incentives and simpler, fairer taxes.
In social policy, my administration will work to promote the fundamental values that made America great—values like faith, family, and freedom. We will support a constitutional amendment for voluntary, vocal prayer in our schools; we will work to pass tuition tax credits and education vouchers to make it easier for hard-working parents to send their children to the schools they believe suit them best; and we will make certain that our tax reform gives families the tax relief they need.
One other issue demands attention: We cannot remain true to values based on the dignity of human life while each year allowing over a million unborn infants to be aborted. Our administration will strive to put aside rancor and bring Americans together to find positive solutions to the tragedy of abortion.
In foreign policy, we will be guided by the twin principles of peace and freedom. Our administration will continue to keep American defense strong. At the same time, we will remain ready to negotiate with the Soviets, seeking not nuclear limitations, but equitable and verifiable nuclear arms reductions.
Under Project Democracy, we will go on teaching nations in the Third World about the benefits of democratic institutions. Communism used to be called the wave of the future. But after decades of experience with communism, the world knows that Communists have nothing to offer but economic stagnation, empty slogans, and arms. The free nations of the world, by contrast, offer rising standards of living and cultural vitality. No, the rising tide in the world today is not communism; it is liberty.
The Nation's Economy
Q. Among the most debated topics in Europe is your economic policy, in particular, the so-called over-valued dollar. Many maintain that this damages the European economy, keeping the prices of primary goods high and attracting to the American market capital which could otherwise be invested in Europe. Will you continue this way or will you do something to help us?
The President. Our administration's economic policies do take account of Europe's and the world's economic problems—and are contributing to their solution. Because the American economy is so large a part of the world economy, we believe our first responsibility is to get it into healthy shape and keep it that way. In this respect, our record of bringing down inflation and restoring noninflationary growth has been impressive. Today our economy is still advancing. Over the four quarters of 1983, we experienced real growth of 6.2 percent. For the four quarters of 1984, we are projecting 5-percent growth, but our achievement to date has even exceeded that. The gross national product in the first 3 months of 1984 grew at a rate of 8.8 percent. Solid real growth has been accomplished in an environment of low inflation, improved productivity, and restored business profitability. We expect this economic activity to begin to slow and proceed at a more moderate pace during the year.
Capital is attracted to the United States, and the dollar rises in value for a host of reasons, including the better investment climate in the United States and a "safe haven" effect. Of course, a stronger dollar also encourages exports from other countries. The American merchandise trade deficit in 1983 of about $70 billion and a projected trade deficit of around $100 billion in 1984, which has unfortunate effects on our own economy, is providing a tremendous stimulant to European economies. I understand that Italy's economy is beginning to experience some export-led growth, and that is partly due to the American recovery and increased American imports. I believe that our economic policies represent a major contribution to a durable recovery in the United States, Europe, and throughout the world.
Q. The American economic recovery in the last 2 years has been extraordinary; ours, unfortunately, much less so. Do you have some secret recipe to impart to us?
The President. I can only tell you the recipe that we believe has worked best in the United States. When we took office we were determined to reduce inflation, control government spending, decrease government regulation of the economy, and encourage slow, steady monetary growth. This strategy has been successful. There has been a resurgence of private initiative, millions of new jobs, and increased optimism for the future. I know that Italy is a country of extremely resourceful people. My basic advice would be to provide the freedom for private enterprise to flourish.
Q. Allies for decades within NATO, the United States and Italy were also allied in the recent Lebanese adventure, which ended in failure. Where did we go wrong? Where did Ronald Reagan go wrong?
The President. The idea that we "failed" in Lebanon is simply wrong. We knew we were taking a risk when we became involved, but we and our allies thought it was important to give the Lebanese a chance to resolve their differences and begin to rebuild their country. We were right to try, even though things did not work out as we had hoped. Certainly, Italians should be proud of their peacekeeping accomplishments in Lebanon, and of the warmth with which your countrymen were received there.
The final outcome in Lebanon is still unclear. The Lebanese people may still find a way to achieve reconciliation. Meanwhile, the joint efforts of Italy, the United States, and our allied partners in Lebanon accomplished something else. On balance, we proved once more that we can cooperate effectively even in difficult and quickly evolving situations. This experience can only help us when we face future challenges together.
East- West Relations
Q. Mr. President, Soviet propaganda has, in the last few years, attempted to divide Europe and the U.S.. First, it aimed at European neutralism; more recently, it seems to me it has aimed at American isolationism, that of the liberal-left. Europe, in spite of everything, has held firm. Are you sure that America, too, will hold fast and will not succumb to another hysterical crisis like that which caused the abandonment of Vietnam?
The President. First let me say how delighted I am that the allies have ignored Soviet efforts to divide them. Allied unity behind the 1979 two-track decision on intermediate-range nuclear weapons represented a dramatic reaffirmation of our common interests and collective strength.
As to whether America will hold fast, let's remember that the two-track decision on INF was originally a European initiative. It was intended to ensure the coupling of European and North American security. We supported that initiative unshakably because of our commitment to the security of Western Europe. That commitment will remain just as firm in years to come as it is today.
There is absolutely no possibility that America will cut its ties to Western Europe or weaken its commitment to its NATO allies. European and American security are permanently bound together.
Q. Why, Mr. President, don't women like you (at least when they vote)? Is it a kind of irrational antipathy, a reflex based on a fear of war, or a more liberal orientation on the part of American women with respect to a more conservative one on the part of men?
The President. Let me begin by mentioning my two daughters, Patti and Maureen. Maureen has worked in radio and television, promoted overseas trade, and run for political office. Today she's giving advice to her dad on something she understands very well: how to communicate to women what the administration is working to accomplish. My younger daughter, Patti, is seeking a career in the entertainment world. When certain people claim for political reasons that I don't understand modern women, I'm tempted to say, "Then why do I have two of the most independent and loving daughters a father could find?"
From appointing Justice Sandra O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, to rewriting laws that discriminate against women, our administration has worked with American women to provide with new opportunities and to make sure each woman has the freedom to choose her own role for herself. Our Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, has made an enormous contribution to her country and to our international relations. And with the economic expansion our policies helped to produce, the unemployment rate among adult women has dropped steeply, businesses owned by women are multiplying, and women are rapidly moving into professional and managerial fields.
Now, I know there were polls that showed a so-called gender gap, but in other polls lately women have rated our administration ahead of my Democratic opponents. It only goes to show that there's just one poll that counts—the poll taken on election day. During the coming campaign, we'll present our record to the people. And I'm confident that on November 6, American women will give our administration enthusiastic support.
Prayer in Schools
Q. Not many among us (Italians) have understood the sense of the battle to reintroduce prayer in American public schools. You were defeated in the Congress, but you insist. Why does it seem so important to you that American children not be prohibited from morning prayer in the schools?
The President. Any serious look at American history shows that from the first, our people were deeply imbued with faith. Many of the first settlers came for the express purpose of worshipping in freedom, and the debates over independence and the Constitution make it clear that the Founding Fathers were sustained by their belief in God. It was George Washington who said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."
From the early days of the American colonies, prayer in school was practiced and revered as an important way of expressing that faith. Then in 1962, the Supreme Court—in a decision that many legal scholars and millions of Americans believe was sadly mistaken— declared school prayer illegal. Once that happened, the only way to reinstate voluntary, vocal school prayer was by passing a constitutional amendment. My administration firmly supports such a step, and although the Senate recently defeated our school prayer amendment, the battle is far from over.
The American people understand that no country can remain strong and free when it has lost basic values like faith. By reinstating school prayer we would be declaring-to our children, ourselves, and all the world—that we have reasserted the right to observe fundamental beliefs that make our nation great. The people are making their will known, and I'm confident that one day soon a school prayer amendment will be ratified.
Views on the Presidency
Q. You are 73 years old; if you are reelected, you will continue until age 78 to exercise a difficult job full of tension, while you could be enjoying a trouble-free life on your marvelous ranch in California. What makes you do it: ambition, a taste for power, the sense of being irreplaceable, ideological passion . . .?
The President. The answer is simple: I don't like to leave a job half done. Despite all the accomplishments of the past 3 1/2 years, we still have a great deal to do to prepare America for the future. Besides, I have a hunch that at 78, I'll still be young enough to enjoy the ranch for quite a few years to come.
Q. I will ask last, Mr. President, the question that everyone asks first: What can be done to lessen nuclear fear in the world? By unilateral disarmament or throughout the interminable negotiations with the Russians? By reinforcing conventional armaments? By giving free reign to new technologies which take from nuclear arms their current invincibility?
The President. Well, unilateral disarmament is clearly not the answer. History teaches us that wars begin when governments believe that the price of aggression is cheap. So, all of us in the alliance must be strong enough to convince any potential aggressor that attacking would be a disastrous mistake.
But strength and dialog go hand in hand. We're ready right now to resume the talks on strategic and intermediate-range nuclear weapons that the Soviets broke off, and whenever they come back to the table, we'll be ready to meet them halfway.
What we want in all our negotiations is agreements that reduce the risk of war. A big part of that is getting real reductions in nuclear weapons. We have proposed far-reaching cuts in strategic forces. We've put forward the zero option for intermediaterange missiles, but we're ready to accept an interim agreement that is balanced and verifiable. And we have proposed a number of confidence-building measures to reduce the possibility of miscalculation between the two sides.
Someday, I hope, we'll reach the point where nuclear weapons are obsolete. As you know, I've directed that, consistent with our treaty obligations, we step up research on technology that could be used in providing a defense against ballistic missiles. We will consult closely with our allies on this program.
Meanwhile, the Soviets keep increasing their forces, nuclear and conventional. Their conventional buildup, of course, threatens to lower the nuclear threshold. The West can and must use its technological superiority to ensure adequate forces for conventional defense. At the same time, in the Vienna MBFR talks we and our allies have just offered a creative proposal for significant, verifiable reductions to equal levels of all forces in central Europe. And in April, Vice President Bush went to Geneva to propose a draft treaty to outlaw chemical weapons once and for all.
There is no more serious subject in our world today than nuclear weapons, believe me. Americans and Italians, and our other friends and allies, must constantly seek ways to reduce the number of these weapons of mass destruction. I am committed to doing that and to reducing the nuclear tensions in our world. We can have no more compelling priority.
Note: As printed above, the questions and answers follow the text of the White House press release.
Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Indro Montanelli, Editor of Il Giornale, on Foreign and Domestic Issues Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/261541