Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Senior Citizens in Los Angeles, California

July 6, 1982

The President. I'm delighted -- whoops, I'm off my marks. [Laughter] They tell me I'm supposed to stand here, so I'll have to keep doing a circle here. But I just -- please, sit down.

I just want to talk for a few minutes to you, and then maybe we can have a little dialog. And I know the whole thing has to be very short. But I walked in on your lunch today, because I've been very frustrated in Washington. I've been wanting to talk to people of my own generation so that we could talk about some of the misinformation that has come out with regard to one program in particular, social security. And if I was guilty of all the things with regard to social security that I've read about myself and heard said about myself, I wouldn't like me either. And I just want to tell you what the problem is and why it's being talked about and what we're trying to do about it.

The social security program, when it started, there were 16 people working for every retiree and paying the social security tax to support them. Today, there are only -- well, a little under 2\1/2\ people working for each retiree. And this has presented financial problems. And in recent years, the Congress has tried to resolve those problems of fiscal stability by simply raising the tax and raising the percentage of income against which that tax is assessed.

In 1977 they passed the biggest single tax increase in our nation's history, and it is in installments. We've already had a couple. We had one in January; there'll be a couple more in the few years ahead. And they promised us that that made the program financially safe well into the year 2000 -- 2015, exactly, they said. Well, we have to do something about the program, or it won't get past July of 1983.

Now, I'm not saying that to frighten anybody, because, believe me, the people today dependent on social security are going to continue getting their checks. And we're not going to let that rug be pulled out from under anyone dependent on that program.

I must say, the timing is right for me to be here since those of you who are getting social security got that cost-of-living pay raise on July 1st, also. I remember when they said we wouldn't, but we did.

Now, what we -- it became such a political football, many people trying to make some political edge out of this, that what I finally settled for and got the concurrence of the Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, and the leader of the Senate, Howard Baker, and that is, we, between us, the three of us, appointed a commission which will come in in December with recommendations for a program as to how we meet the fiscal problems for the ongoing integrity of social security. And, again, I say with regard to that that the instructions that were given to them, and that I will still hold to, is that any program -- and I think there are ways that this can be put on a sound basis -- but whatever they do must agree with what I said just a moment ago to you, that any plan for a change in social security must not take away from those people dependent on that program today. That must be guaranteed. And we will stay with that.

And now, I've talked longer than I intended to, because I know that maybe some of you have said to yourselves, ``Boy, if I could only ask him something or tell him something, I would say -- '' And if you have a question, fire away. I've got a few minutes left and -- yes.

Q. [Inaudible] [Laughter]

The President. I'm glad you asked that. This gentleman asked me why did I change my haircut. [Laughter] I didn't. I saw that article. I saw that article in the -- that said that. And then they -- two pictures they had of me. Well, the one was taken on a windy day outdoors, and the other one was taken with my hair combed. And, incidentally, I just washed my hair the night before last, so it's a little fluffy right now, but, no, the only thing that happened to me was I -- there was a time this winter when I think, without my realizing it, he was letting it get a little longer than I like. And I took him to task and said, ``Crop it the way it was.''

And, no, it's the same haircut. I'm too old to change my haircut now. [Laughter] Honest. So -- --

Q. I like it.

The President. What? Okay. All right. Someone else?

Oh, there's a lady over there. Wait until he gets there with a microphone so everyone can hear the question.

[To the previous questioner] I'm glad you asked that. I've been very self-conscious. [Laughter]

Q. When you have press releases in the East Room, or whatever the room is called, there are a lot of press people, and they all raise their hands. And it's interesting to know which ones you pick and how you pick them. I mean, should they be numbered so that they know they're going to be chosen, or do they just write them on the cuff and you take a chance? [Laughter]

The President. You all hear the question there? Well, let me tell you. This is one that -- and I've confessed to them that it bothers me very much. There are hundreds who are accredited as White House correspondents who are there. There are two automatic -- the first two questions come, alternating which is first and second in each press conference, between the representative of the United Press and the representative of the Associated Press. So, those two ask the first questions. From then on it's up to me.

And I know that there are going to be dozens and dozens more hands raised than I can possibly recognize. So, really I just simply kind of try to spread it around. I start it in the middle, and I start in here and there's -- they are in three sections -- and I try to take some from each section, and I leave with more hands up than were recognized.

We did try at the beginning -- and it was a press suggestion -- very early on, the press suggested why not draw lots, that we draw numbers and they all have numbers and then just simply say, ``All right. This number.'' Well, we did it once, and the press said they didn't like it. So, I don't know any other way.

The other night after the last press conference I did say to our people, why don't we suggest that those who have gone to several press conferences and never been recognized out of all those hands, put their names down and then a few of those each press conference we automatically call on by name -- as well as just hitting it like I'm hitting it here -- [laughter] -- to just -- wherever the hand is up.

But it bothers me. It's the hardest thing in the world when the Dean of the Press Corps stands up and says ``Thank you,'' which indicates the press conference is over, to know that I'm walking away from dozens and dozens of hands that I haven't been able to recognize.

Yes, ma'am. Let's see. Take that one as long as the microphone's there. And then -- --

Q. Mr. President, I would like to know from you if you are really sure that Hinckley is insane.

The President. I'll tell you, the only comment I can make to that is that a court of justice had its way, with a jury and a judge, and they found that verdict. And so we stay with it. And I just don't feel that I can comment on that.

But here's a -- I've been kind of leaning to the left here, haven't I? I better -- --

Q. Mr. President, I'm in a musical comedy and with veteran performers, and they're all over 60 years old. And after each performance, I get -- many people come to me and say, ``You certainly favor Nancy Reagan,'' your wife. Do you think so? [Laughter]

The President. Yes, I can see why they say that. Yes, I can. Right. And I shall tell her. [Laughter] I look forward to telling her. This is her birthday today.

Let me -- is there someone over -- yes.

Q. Mr. President, as a member of your task force -- Presidential task force, I would like to let you know that in the symposium on social security we are informed -- I want you just please to verify -- there are 170 million people putting into the security system, and only 65 million are drawing out of it. So, they say there's no fear of ever draining or bankruptcy of the social security system.

And one more, Mr. President. This is my opportunity to see you in person. I have always talked to you on the pay telephone. And I'm very happy for that.

One thing more is about the nutrition program, that exactly fearing that too many cutbacks had been placed in it. And therefore, Mr. President, be compassionate -- not to cut our very important benefits for the senior citizens. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. And no, we will not either.

They tell me I can take one more question. The lady right there. Say, gentlemen, you're sitting back here and letting the ladies -- [laughter]. This is the last question I can take.

Q. Mr. President, I just only want to tell you that I met you in Santa Maria over -- [inaudible] -- and I do not know if you remember me, but I remember you when you were Governor. And also, now I am very glad to meet you as a President. So, my congratulations.

The President. Well, thank you very much.

Well, that wasn't a question, so I'll take a -- is there a -- --

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Well, I know I won't have time to do much of that, but, since you asked about the haircut -- [laughter] -- well, is there -- what? Oh, here's a gentleman right here with a question. This'll have to be the last question. Well, here's a gentleman right over here with a question that we'll -- and that'll have to be it.

Q. Mr. President, you and I met in pictures. I worked in pictures. And when you were Governor of California, every year you sent my late wife and I congratulations. And I've still got the one that you remembered to -- it's nice to see you. God bless you.

The President. Well, thank you very much. It's nice to see you, sir.

Q. My name is Jack Smith. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you very much.

Let me just say a word here, if I can. I've said this on occasion before -- told a little incident.

You know, everyone today emphasizes youth so much. And there've been so many of us -- I know that young people, we were the same way -- you kind of challenge the things that you've learned from the people that went before and the mores and the customs and everything. I get concerned sometimes that there's a tendency to throw away some of the values just because they're old without recognizing that they have true worth or they wouldn't be around.

But one day back in those riotous days -- the universities were in flames and so forth -- while I was Governor -- and if I went to a campus, I'd start a riot. But some student leaders from the University of California campus demanded to see me as Governor. And I was delighted, because, as I say, I couldn't talk to them otherwise.

Well, they came to see me. And they kind of -- some of them were barefoot, the custom of that day in those riotous times. And they all sat around, and one of them was the spokesman. And he said, ``Governor, it's impossible for you to understand our generation.'' Well, I tried to pass it off. I said, ``We know more about being young than we do about being old.'' And he said, ``No, I'm serious. He said, ``You can't understand your own sons and daughters.'' And I -- he went on then.

He said, ``You didn't grow up in an age of instant electronics, of jet travel, of space travel, and journeys to the Moon. You didn't have . . .'' and he went on with all the things -- cybernetics and all the things that we didn't have and so forth. And he talked just long enough -- usually, you know, you don't think of the answer till they're gone -- but he talked just long enough that, when he finished, I said, ``You're absolutely right. Our generation, we didn't have those things when we were your age. We invented them.'' [Laughter]

And just stop and think about it. We did. In our lifetime, all those miracles they were talking about came in to be. I can remember my first automobile ride. Up until then, it had been horses and buggies. And now, the other day, I'm out watching those fellows come back from outer space. When we got on the platform to see them land, they told me it was 20 minutes till landing. Do you know where they were 20 minutes before they landed? Just crossing over the Hawaiian Islands. And in 20 minutes, they were at Edwards Air Force Base.

But I'll tell you, if I could just say it -- and then I'm going to get out of here, because I know I'm running late for the next stop -- I'm very proud to be here because -- I want to say this about our generation. There are generations that preside over transition periods like this, when there are great changes in the world. And we've been one of those. And no generation in history, no people have ever fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom, or done more to advance the dignity of man than our generation. And I'm not going to apologize to anyone for what we've done with our lives so far.

God bless you all, and thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:04 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Angelus Plaza Agape Center to senior citizen members of the center.

Following his appearance at the luncheon, the President attended a luncheon and meeting with the Los Angeles Times editorial board at the Old Times Building.

The President left Los Angeles on July 7 and returned to Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif.