Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Illinois

October 16, 1984

The President. Thank you, Governor Jim Thompson, for that most gracious and -- I'm very greatly honored by that introduction. And distinguished Members of the Congress, the officials of your school, and you, I thank you all for that heartwarming reception. It's great to be back in Illinois, and it's great to be back in the proud town of Bolingbrook.

I understand that this is your homecoming week. Well, since I'm back in my home State, this is homecoming for me, too. And I'll have to say, I've never felt more welcome than I do right now. So, may I express best wishes to a certain football team that's called the Raiders? I don't suppose you'd like to win one for the Gipper? [Applause]

But last year alone, on another score, 49 students from Bolingbrook High received Presidential Academic Fitness Awards.

I'd also like to congratulate everyone who helps make your school one of the best in the nation. Your outstanding principal, Everette Green, your dedicated faculty, your school board, and especially you, the students. Together, you can set a standard for all schools to follow.

And today, we have just 3 weeks before election day. And our choice is, as the Governor said, as clear as any has ever been before us. Should we go forward with new optimism, prosperity, and strength, or should we go back to the policies of soaring taxation and spending that weakened our economy, snuffed out so many opportunities and threw away so many -- or threw so many, not away, but millions of people into hardship?

We've already seen what happens when we follow the policies that our opponents have so faithfully promised to restore, the failed policies of tax and tax and spend and spend.

We saw a once-proud nation staggered by a steady erosion of economic growth. We saw punishing inflation and interest rates, a record peacetime tax burden, rising unemployment, and weakened defenses. We saw families breaking up, bedrock values of work and neighborhood undermined, crime rates rising. You've probably noticed that our opponents talk a great deal about fairness. Well, in one sense their policies were fair: they didn't discriminate; they made everybody miserable. [Laughter]

Since the aim of education is to prepare America's youth for the future, it was only natural that when our leaders lost faith in that future many of our principals, teachers, and students felt robbed of their sense of purpose. Scholastic aptitude test scores underwent a virtually unbroken decline for 20 years, and science achievement scores showed a similar drop. School discipline began to break down, and we found out that many of our 17-year-olds were functionally illiterate.

When our administration came into office we put education at the top of the national agenda, and we worked to return States, local governments and, yes, your parents to their rightful place in education. And what do you know? We're seeing results. From Maine to Illinois to California, your parents, teachers, school administrators, and all of you have begun to make our schools stronger and better. Your achievement is up. And this year's scholastic aptitude test scores rose 4 points, and that was the largest increase in over 20 years.

Now, much as we'd like to, our administration would like to take credit, but we can't. It belongs to you. All we did was something that every President from Washington to Lincoln did: trust the people.

And when our opponents look at America -- well, my opponent seems to only see big government and little people. And he has only one program to offer: raise our taxes, and then raise them again, so that government can be even bigger. His tax hike would be the equivalent of $1,890 per year per household in the United States. That's more than $150 each and every month. Do you think we should sit back and let that happen to America?

Audience. No!

The President. Well, I know you probably watched the Olympics this summer and cheered on our American athletes. Well, in our country today there are two teams -- the Washington Tax Increase Team and the American Opportunity Team. And now, making the economy bear the burden of our opponent's tax hike would be like having a coach tell an Olympic swimmer that he had to swim down that pool carrying an anvil, or a runner to sprint with a ball and chain around his ankle. But that's just what Coach Tax Hike and his Tax Increase Team want to do.

And they kicked off their fall campaign with a call for $85 billion in new taxes. I said it was a kickoff. There are those who believe it was a punt -- [laughter] -- and we mean to turn it into a blocked kick.

We on the American Opportunity Team want to bring everybody's personal tax rates further down, not up. We want to create opportunity so that all Americans can go forward together with nobody left behind. And come November, the American people will decide which team is America's team.

When their Washington Tax Increase Team was in charge, all they did was fumble. Well, today the American Opportunity Team has the ball back, and all of us are scoring touchdowns again.

Inflation is down, while growth and jobs and investment are up. Crime is stopping -- or dropping. Our defenses are stronger. Our people are united, and, yes, this beloved country of ours is at peace.

The great choice that our country must make in 3 weeks will decide not just who will occupy the White House or who will sit in the Congress, it'll determine the kind of America that we pass on to all of you, as the Governor said. And if our opponents have their way, too many of you students would have to go from the graduation line straight to the unemployment line, and that's not good enough for America.

If we win, we're going to build a future together that will enable every one of you to reach for the stars, and you'll know what it is to enter the work force or go to college in a land of prosperity, pride, and hope.

When I was a young man, you knew that if you dreamed big and worked hard there was no limit to how far you could go. We're determined to bring that kind of real opportunity back for you, our sons and daughters, and I guess in my case I'd better say, and our grandsons and granddaughters. [Laughter]

Well, we've already made a good beginning. But a big job awaits us to keep improving our schools, to lead the world toward new frontiers of science, technology, and space, and, yes, to bring the personal tax rates further down so we can create more jobs and more opportunity for a better future.

Together, we can and will make America a shining city on a hill where our young men and women can dream great dreams and make them come true.

Now, I'm going to stop with the monolog. I know that our time is limited, and we probably only have a few minutes left. But I understand that there are a few of you that could have some questions here, and I'd like to take those questions. I wish I could do more of that, but the time is limited. So, which microphone?

Q. Mr. President -- --

The President. Over here?

Arms Reductions

Q. My name is Biz Hanson, and as a young adult, I'm personally concerned about the possible threat of nuclear war in the future. What efforts are being made by your administration to negotiate with the Soviet Union?

The President. We're making every effort we can to negotiate with the Soviet Union. What we inherited when we came here was an America that over the years had unilaterally disarmed. The administration before ours -- they canceled the B - 1 bomber. They said, ``No, we won't build it.'' They didn't ask anything from the Soviet Union in terms of arms control or anything.

We felt that the only way we could really get real arms reduction -- and this is what I campaigned on -- we had a SALT II treaty signed with the Soviet Union. But all that was was legitimizing a continuation of the arms race. Since that treaty was signed, they've added 3,800 more warheads to their arsenal, nuclear warheads.

And incidentally, my opponent was the President of the United States Senate at the time, and a Democratic Senate under a Democratic administration refused to ratify that treaty for the reason that I just gave.

Now, we set out not only to restore our economy, as we have, but also to restore our defenses, because we believe that the only way we can persuade the Soviet Union to sit down and negotiate a limit on nuclear arms or a reduction of them is if they see that the United States is willing to go as far as it has to go to see that they don't stay ahead of us in weapons, that we're as strong as they are.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. I had the pleasure of telling Mr. Gromyko just days ago that if they feel as we do and if they want peace as much as we do, then they'll join us in not just reducing the number of those nuclear weapons, but in eliminating them entirely from the world.

Social Security

Q. Mr. President, my name is Lori Rafter, and as a prospective recipient of Social Security, I'm concerned about my future. Exactly what benefits in your Social Security program are you planning on changing when you are reelected?

The President. I'm glad you asked that question -- [laughter] -- because my opponent's having a field day out there saying a lot of things that ain't so.

When we took office, Social Security was nearly bankrupt. There'd been -- well, there had been inflation, for one thing. There had been mistakes in projecting the ratio of workers paying into the fund to the people that are taking the benefits out. And I tried to persuade the leadership of the opposing party, the leadership of the Congress, to try, or to sit down with us and work out a plan that would put Social Security back on a sound footing at the same time it would not pull the rug out from under those people dependent on Social Security.

They refused to talk about it. In fact, they stood up publicly and denied that it was true when I said that Social Security could not, without a change, get past July of 1983; it would be bankrupt by then. And you know something? When they said that that wasn't true, they were right -- it went broke in November of 1982. [Laughter] We had to borrow $17 billion to cover the checks we were sending out.

Well, then, with the 1982 congressional election over, then they agreed to sit down. And we put together a bipartisan commission, and we have fixed for as far as we can see into the future the fiscal situation of Social Security. And I can guarantee you, we're not going to pull the rug out from not only those who are getting it, but from those who are one day going to get it, and we are going to keep the program fiscally sound.

Environmental Issues

Q. Mr. President, my name is Brian Hastings. When you are reelected for your second term, do you plan to enforce or propose regulations to protect our environment?

The President. Thank you very much for asking that. [Laughter] Again, some misstatements -- in fact, yes. And we have been doing a very fine job with regard to our environment. When we came here our national parks had been allowed to deteriorate to the point that they represented, through filth and dirt, actually a health hazard, and there were accident risks. In other words, there were safety risks to visitors going to the parks.

We decided to stop buying new land for the parks, temporarily, and we devoted $1 billion to a 5-year program of refurbishing our national parks before we added to them. We have just about completed that, ahead of schedule, and have now budgeted money for new additional parks. We've increased by millions of acres the wilderness areas, and air pollution and water pollution in America are the best that they've been since 1970. And we're continuing along that line.

We're continuing research with regard to acid rain, because what we've learned so far has just revealed to us how little we actually know about the cause of acid rain. So, we've doubled the money for researching on that.

And I can assure you that we are dedicated to environmental protection, because that, again -- in addition to what the Governor told you -- that, again, is something we want to turn over to you, and that is the beauty of this land of ours, the natural advantages that it has, and all of the pluses that it has with regard to fish, fowl, and mammals and woods and wilderness areas and recreational areas. And I'm very proud of our record.

Mr. Green. This will have to be the last question for the President for today.

Audience. Ooooh!

The President. Oh, I should have thrown the speech away and just gone to this to begin with.

Student Financial Aid

Q. Mr. President, my name is Riz Espinili. As a senior, I'm concerned about the forms of educational aid that are now available for middle-class students who plan on attending college. Exactly what are these forms and their benefits?

The President. Well, we have more money today going to student aid programs than was going to them when we came here 4 years ago. One out of two college students in the United States is receiving some form of Federal aid. It consists of three types: the low-interest college loans for students, the outright grants, and what's known as the work-study program, where we underwrite and make available on the campus jobs, so the students that are working their way through can have that help.

And as I say, there is more of that being done than has been done in the past. And we're not reducing it. As a matter of fact, we're discussing right now with the Education Department increasing the amount -- not the total amount -- increasing the amount of each grant to keep pace with some of the rising costs of education. And believe me, I'm heart and soul in sympathy with that problem of a student, because I had to work my way through Eureka College right here in Illinois, and did work it through, and also had some loans before I got out.

And we have also -- working with the private sector -- we've done a thing that has turned on the private sector in this country as they haven't been turned on for years in doing things from the private sector: foundations put together; programs subscribed to by individual givers, like United Fund and so forth -- doing more today than has been done in decades to help meet some of these same problems without having everything dependent on government.

But I can't resist telling you that in working my way through school, there were no government programs at that time. You had to get your loans from foundations, charitable groups and so forth, which I did. But also, if you have to work your way through school, I can tell you you won't regret it ever. And you might be as lucky as I was. One of the best jobs I've ever had was a job I had working my way through school -- I was washing dishes in the girls' dormitory. [Laughter]

Thank you. All right. All right. I know I have to run for it now. We keep getting behind on these schedules. I don't know whether they don't -- maybe I run over, or maybe they don't schedule enough time to get from one place to the other, but I have another group waiting for me at another place here.

And so, again, I wish we could have taken more of the questions here from you. And I have to tell you, you showed again the academic quality of this school -- you asked darn good questions. Thank you very much. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in the gymnasium at the high school. He was introduced by Gov. James R. Thompson, Jr.

Following the question-and-answer session, the President traveled to Glen Ellyn, IL.