Interview With David Hartman of ABC News on the 1984 Presidential Election

January 30, 1984

The President's Candidacy

Mr. Hartman. Was there ever a moment when you really thought, ``No, I am not going to run the second time,'' and, if so, why?

The President. No, I can't say that. But I believe what I've said so often, that the people let you know whether you should or not. And I just resisted allowing myself to think about it too early. I think campaigns are too long anyway. And I just waited as things went on and doing what had to be done here on the job and finally came to a decision that there was a belief in what we're trying to accomplish here and that I wanted to see if we couldn't finish it.

Mr. Hartman. How about Mrs. Reagan -- because ever since you were shot, she has been afraid for you, and she has expressed that in different ways many times. The discussions between the two of you, how difficult was it for her? How difficult were the discussions? What was the substance of those?

The President. No, the funny thing is, both of us felt pretty much the same way. Several times, when the thing would come up in talk or articles or conversation or anything and -- or something like, should we let this organizational effort go forward even without my being an announced candidate -- but we both had the attitude of saying that there would come a time when we would sit down and talk about it. And then there did come a time when we sat down and I -- --

Mr. Hartman. When did you do it? When did you sit down?

The President. Oh, not too long ago. I'd have to say it was this fall. And there wasn't any disagreement about it. We both had the feeling that it should be done.

Mr. Hartman. Most people are saying this is going to be a close election. Whoever the nominee is for the Democrats, it's going to be a close election. You're an old political pro. Honestly, could you lose this election?

The President. Yes, I happen to be someone who -- I've never done this, in all the times I've done it, without feeling I'm one vote behind.

1984 Presidential Compaign

Mr. Hartman. What one, either perception or issue or question or political concern have you at the moment -- that one thing, whatever it is, that could lose this election for you?

The President. Oh, I don't know that I could pick winning or losing the election on one thing. Frankly, I believe that there have been great misperceptions that have been created about me and this adminstration, what our positions are and where we stand. The fairness issue, for example -- I don't think anything could be farther from the truth about that.

Mr. Hartman. You're talking about fairness to whom? The poor?

The President. To -- yes.

Mr. Hartman. The disenfranchised.

The President. Yes, and supposed that we rigged our programs and our tax breaks and so forth for the rich and for business. These are absolute falsehoods. Anyone who looks at it, I defy them to go back a long way in some of the tax relief programs, such as Kennedy's tax cut program in the sixties, and you will find that there were more benefits for the top five brackets, the income tax payers, and for business in those bills than there were in ours.

Mr. Hartman. But, Mr. President, there are people across this country, the truly needy, the down-and-out, the poor, who look at you, and they say, ``Yeah, he is the nicest man, and we like him; but his policies are causing misery. They're hurting us. We're hungry.'' And they don't understand. They say, ``If he cares that much, why are we hurting?'' What do you say to them?

The President. Dave, I'll tell you, what I would like to be able to say to them or have a chance to say to them is that, sure, when someone is down on his luck and is having hard times and they'd like to have someone to blame, they have heard a steady drumbeat. Now, they've been told over and over again that because we're trying to hold down government spending that somehow we're taking it out of their hides.

We are spending more on food for the hungry, more on the needy, more on health care than has ever been spent in the history of this country. If there are people that are falling through the cracks when we're spending more than has ever been spent on programs for them, more on food stamps and more people are getting food stamps, then we want to find out. And this was what the commission was to do, to find out why -- if this is true that this is widespread, then is this caused by inefficiency at the administrative level, that in the distribution of these programs? Is it caused by people who maybe don't know how or where to apply for them, don't have the knowledge they should have? What is the reason? Well, the commission reported that they did not find it that widespread.

What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice. Now, this has been aggravated somewhat by some things at local or State levels, where there have been changes made in committing people with mental problems to institutions, and they've suddenly been turned out, willing to go. They want out. But they had no place to go.

Mr. Hartman. Mr. President, in the interest of time, let me -- I want to cover a number of very important points, and I know they're important to you as well, so let's -- --

The President. You ask questions that I have to answer too long. [Laughter]

Mr. Hartman. Absolutely.

Lebanon

Lebanon. More and more people are saying, ``Let's get our marines out.'' Will they be out by election time, by November of this year?

The President. Well, as to a timing when they will get out, election time won't have anything to do with that. In other words, there will be no decision made for political expediency.

I don't know when they will get out. The mission remains the same. We are studying right now things that we can do to hopefully see that no tragedies of the kind we've had happen again.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Mr. Hartman. Let me move to the Soviet Union. You have said for a long time, the only way to negotiate arms reduction is to do somewhat from a position of strength -- --

The President. Yeah.

Mr. Hartman. -- -- that the Soviets respect strength. You're rebuilding our military and our defenses at the present time. However, tensions are at their greatest with the Soviet Union since the early sixties. The Soviets have left the negotiating table, and quite frankly, people across this country are more afraid than they have been in many, many years that we might be going to war. How long do the people of our country, right now, have to wait for your philosophy of negotiate from strength to pay off, because right now they're frightened, Mr. President.

The President. Well, what they need to find out -- and maybe in the campaign ahead we'll have an opportunity to tell them -- we're not in more danger. We are safer and more secure than we were several years ago.

Mr. Hartman. How do you prove it to them?

The President. Well -- --

Mr. Hartman. How do you prove it to us?

The President. The proof is several years ago the United States had allowed its own defensive strength to decline to the point that you could look and say we weren't too far from a point of weakness in which the enemy could be tempted because we didn't have the strength.

There have been four wars in my lifetime. None of them started because the United States was too strong.

Mr. Hartman. Will you make concessions to get the Soviets back to the negotiating table?

The President. We have been more flexible. They are the ones who have been adamant. They have not come back when we meet some terms of theirs and say, ``All right, let's negotiate on this.'' They have nothing to offer.

Now, we're -- --

Mr. Hartman. You're saying, no, we won't make further concessions -- --

The President. No.

Mr. Hartman. -- -- to get them back to the negotiating table?

The President. No. We're saying, ``We'll be at the table; come on back.'' They made a statement on the START talks. They made one statement about something of -- well, they were willing to discuss a certain number of missiles, a certain number of planes, a certain number of missiles and submarines. And we've said, ``We're ready to talk on that. We'd like to then throw in some limitations on the number of warheads'' -- total warheads, because each missile carries more than one warhead. They haven't come back.

Federal Budget

Mr. Hartman. Deficits. Most people of knowledge say it's the biggest single problem facing the economic free world. You have suggested bipartisanship over in the Congress. Let's take a look at it late this year or sometime next year in '85. Why should people vote for you or anybody in Congress who are willing to put on hold for a year the biggest single problem facing the economic free world today?

The President. That isn't what we've said, Dave. What we have said to the Congress -- we have to submit a budget -- and we said something that they first broached. Their leadership, Congressman Jim Wright and others said -- --

Mr. Hartman. They say it's your leadership. They say -- --

The President. No, they said -- --

Mr. Hartman. -- -- you're the President.

The President. -- -- ``Why don't you get together with us?'' They've been saying this all through the fall. ``Why don't you get together and we start talking about this deficit problem?'' All right. We've offered to. Now -- --

Mr. Hartman. Why not do it now, Mr. President?

The President. What?

Mr. Hartman. Why not do it now instead of waiting -- --

The President. But we are talking now. What we've said is you can't solve the whole thing in this one year. We've talked about our budgeting and a program that we can agree on that won't be made a political football in the campaign, that they will come and meet with us on some provisions to start this string of deficits on a downward path and then, at the same time, to agree that having started this, as we called it, downpayment on that, we then take up the structural problems.

Mr. Hartman. Few seconds left. Scale of 1 to 10. Everybody's -- every pollster is calling everybody in America and saying, ``What do you think of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States?'' What if your phone rang today and they said, ``Scale of 1 to 10, how good a President are you?'' 1 to 10.

The President. Well -- [laughing] -- I think I would answer them that I'd be a lot better President if I had a majority of my own party in both Houses instead of having to buck the opposition in the House of Representatives.

Note: The interview was taped at 3:30 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast on January 31.

Mr. Hartman is cohost of ABC News ``Good Morning America.''