Question-and-Answer Session With Network Anchors on the State of the Union Address

January 25, 1983

The President. I'm supposed to get out of here in like 2\1/2\ minutes and not interrupt any of the other briefings that you've had. I really came in to tell all of you that everything you've heard is off the record. [Laughter]

I'll sit for just a second since you pulled a chair out. But I know that you've been getting a quite capable briefing from all those who are on hand as to generally where our minds are going in here. And -- just wanted to prove I was still alive and on duty. [Laughter]

Q. Do you see this speech as crucial to you in a political way tonight, Mr. President?

The President. Well, since it's a national institution and an annual institution, I don't believe any administrations in the past have risen or fallen on the State of the Union address. I welcome it as an opportunity to maybe make some things clear and explain some things, what we're trying to do. I must say this, that after all the years in the other industry, I've been surprised that I could still get puckered up going in to appear before an audience that -- there's something about that particular institution over there that you do feel a little uptight when you face them.

Q. Mr. President, if you had to appear on television tonight in another role and you had, maybe, 35 seconds to sum up your State of the Union address, what -- [laughter] -- this is a hypothetical -- [laughter]. But what single thing in this State of the Union address -- is there anything that stands out in your mind more than the others that you would concentrate on and make sure you've mentioned in that fleeting 35 seconds?

The President. No, I don't think I could point to anyone. I think the overall tone is the economic situation we're in and what to do about it. But I couldn't -- that's what you usually do, is sum up everything that I'm doing in 35 seconds. [Laughter]

Q. That wasn't bad. Fifteen seconds right there. [Laughter]

The President. But that is the situation. And it's one that, of course, I'm sure we're all involved in and that we're all interested in and wrapped up in -- this economic windstorm that has hit us here, and what we can do about it. And I am confident that what we're doing is the way to go about it.

You can't be here and look back at the charts of the previous recessions without recognizing that they've all had some characteristics that back on the mash-potato circuit, years ago, I was saying were going to lead to disaster. And that is that each one of them -- inflation went higher and unemployment went higher. And when the recession was supposedly cured -- and nothing ever got back down to where it had been before, so that it's been a succession of upward steps, each one getting worse than the last. And this one is the last of the string that have taken place since World War II.

But again, there is something very different about this, which I think reflects our approach to it. That is that inflation has always gone up, and for the first time since the very early Depression, we have inflation on a downward path. And I hope it will continue to where it's zero, because for more than two decades I have myself been preaching that you cannot have -- as we were told for so many years and by those in power in Washington, that you could have an ongoing inflation that was controllable and that was necessary to sustain prosperity. Well, it had never been that way in our history before. And I kept warning that inflation is like radioactivity; it's cumulative. And one day you wake up and find out that your money isn't worth anything. And it gets out of control. And it did. And I hope that we've got it back under control. We have at the present. And I'm going to do everything I can to see that it goes on in the future.

Anything else, even when it was the modest, little level that they said we could hold, if you added it up each year -- money that you might have in the bank or investments or in insurance was losing x number of pennies of its value. So that when you finally resorted to that money -- retirement or whatever -- you didn't have what you had originally put in there and what you thought you were going to have.

I've used an example of my own, a personal example. I once bought a retirement policy when I was in motion pictures, and one that -- when I bought it -- I figured would allow me to continue living as I was living. And when it finally came due, it wouldn't pay the property taxes on my house. That's what consistent, long-term inflation can do.

I didn't mean to make an economic lecture here. [Laughter] Don will correct everything that I have said. [Laughter]

Secretary Regan. Thank you very much.

Q. Mr. President, do you think what you're going to say tonight is going to be enough?

The President. Well, it will be enough for the fellows on the other side of the aisle. [Laughter] They'll probably think it's too much.

No. I don't think that you can really get in depth. Any one of the subjects that must be included in the State of the Union address would lend itself to a separate address all by itself. You can only point to a direction that you hope we're going -- intend to go, in this kind of an address.

Q. Well, Mr. President, there's bound to be disagreement. But we've been given to understand you're really not going to stress the failures of the past or the problems of past administrations, but you're going to look forward and really call for a bipartisan approach. Is that true?

The President. I'm going to talk about what we all have to do together. And that's the only way we can do it.

Q. But you're not going to point the finger so much at what happened before?

The President. No.

Q. Well, what I meant by ``enough'' was enough to get you out of the political doldrums that you are allegedly in and enough to get the country out of the recession it's in.

The President. Hell, I was just hoping that the fellows here with all of you would get you out of those doldrums, and then the people would get out of those doldrums. [Laughter]

There's no point in trying to worry about image or anything in a situation of this kind. You just have to do what you think needs to be done. And if you're right, that'll take care of itself. And if you're wrong, as Mr. Lincoln said, ``All of the angels in heaven couldn't change that situation.''

But I think we're right. I think we're on the right course. And I think, really, it's the first time since World War II that this government has started down the right road to curing its economic problems. You see, we all forget that the Great Depression was never cured by any of the things that government was doing. It was relieved by World War II. And that is a road I choose not to go down again. But when the war was over, we were still faced with many of the problems that are causing us trouble today. And we kept on taking the same medicine, and it wasn't doing the job.

Q. When you said, Mr. President, that this situation is very different than the recessions of the past, how serious is it? Are we at an emergency point?

The President. Any time you've got unemployment, you're in an emergency. Certainly, it's an emergency for those people who are without their jobs, and it has to be the uppermost thing in all our minds.

But no, what I meant was the difference is that all the seven recessions prior to this one, since World War II, the same remedies were applied. And the same remedies led to increased inflation. When they were supposedly over, due to an artificial stimulant, unemployment was higher than it had been before the recession hit. It never got back down. And about 2 or 3 years later, in that range, you had another recession that was worse. And it was kind of like taking a fix, and the fix wore off because it couldn't be sustained, because it was artificial.

And what we've done here is, basically, seek to reduce the percentage of the gross national product that is being taken by government -- reduce the percentage that was being spent by government and -- [inaudible] -- being taken by government in taxes. And incidentally, the two figures are not the same. They've been diverging for a long time. And we are trying to get back to government in its proper place and take the restraints off the private sector -- off business and industry -- that have actually held our economy down, and let it do what for so many years it did so well for the standard of living and the prosperity of our people.

Now, everybody says I have to get out of here.

Participants. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Note: The exchange began at 1 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, where the network anchors were attending a luncheon briefing by administration officials.