Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting With Members of the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives

December 2, 1981

I think I got up here too soon. I think I'm supposed to wait until they're all ready. You said 2 minutes? I don't know whether I've got enough ad lib material to go for 2 minutes -- [laughter] -- until we get down to the important message.

Well, I can say that I can spend some time thanking all of you for being here and for doing what you're doing. I think it's of great importance, and I have been telling some audiences here and there around the country of the response that we're getting and the mail that we're getting and the spirit of the people out there and their desire to participate in something of the kind that you are bringing together here.

And I see that one camera's on. [Laughter] We shall proceed.

So, again, good afternoon to all of you and welcome to the White House. I think most of you know the story about President Kennedy, who was welcoming a delegation of Nobel Prize winners to the White House in this very room. And he called it the most impressive collection of talents assembled here since Thomas Jefferson dined alone. [Laughter]

Looking over this distinguished group today, I'm not sure Thomas Jefferson could match this team. I know I can't. We're glad that you're here and thankful that leaders of your caliber strongly support our administration's commitment to strengthen private sector initiatives.

What we're asking you to do is to help rediscover America -- not the America bound by the Potomac River, but the America beyond the Potomac River, the America whose initiative, ingenuity, and industry made our country the envy of the world, the America whose rich tradition of generosity began with simple acts of neighbor caring for neighbor.

We're asking you to build on this heritage to encourage greater contributions of voluntary effort and personal involvement, to form a partnership between the private and public sector for the good of America. We want you to seek out models for private sector initiatives -- schools, churches, civic groups, businesses, unions, the foundations -- and give them the recognition that they deserve. Help us identify the obstacles government has placed in the way of private initiative and make recommendations to me for the removal of those obstacles and the introduction of needed incentives.

Finally, we think a wonderful legacy of this task force could be the creation of thousands of local task forces just like yours, one for every town in America, to carry on the work that you will begin today. And I've learned enough just sitting here at lunch to know that some of you on your own have already been doing just exactly that same thing, even -- with regard to the Federated Women -- internationally.

You can help revive the sense of community which has been the hallmark of America but which recently has been weakened by the growth of big government. Americans should never have to consider themselves wards of the state. They're members of their communities, and the answers to their problems can be found on the streets where they live.

Your job, as I see it, is not to try to solve these problems or to spend a lot of time writing one of those thick reports, although I know that there is going to be a report, so I won't say that I don't want any report at all. No, I'm very curious; I'd like to know. But also, I'm going to be settling for results. And that's why each one of you was enlisted -- leaders from every walk of life who have to solve these problems every day.

Government can provide opportunity. It can pave the way. But ultimately, it is individuals like yourselves who brave new horizons, expand freedom, and create better lives for us all.

Your success will be measured by how much and how well you marshall the private resources of America in the service of community development. I'm told that Americans perform some $100 billion worth of labor every year for volunteer organizations across the country, and that's in addition to the $47 billion they contribute in cash to charitable and religious organizations.

The country is bursting with ideas and creativity, but a government run by central decree has no way to respond. People want to play a part in building a better America, and you can show the way. You are their colleagues, their friends, and you can talk with them and work with them just as I want to talk and work with you.

I will also be speaking out on this subject, working with the Cabinet to refocus the resources of government so they encourage private initiatives instead of discouraging them.

When I spoke to the National Alliance of Businessmen [Business], I mentioned several outstanding models of corporate responsibility and community spirit. But for every one I mentioned, I know there are a hundred more, just as good. Find them. Spread the word. Help 230 million Americans get organized. Help us create new leadership at the State and local level, a new Alliance for Progress here at home. Help us put America's future back in the people's hands.

I know your Chairman, Bill Verity, has excellent ideas on how these things can be done. And each of you brings expertise and experience to our enterprise as well. We look to you, we appreciate you and, most of all, we're counting on you. We're confident that this task can be done and that your task force is the group to do it.

So, again, a heartfelt thanks. And maybe you can cure the misconception that has existed since a few years ago, when an immigrant to this country who had become a very successful farmer, died and left his estate -- it was not in seven figures at all -- but left his estate to the government, the United States Government, for what this country had done for him.

And when the State took its share of the estate in estate taxes, the Federal Government sued that it was tax-free and that this shouldn't be allowed. And what you can cure is the fact that the Federal Government won that case on the basis that it was a charitable organization. [Laughter]

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:02 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.