Remarks at an Iowa Caucus Rally in Des Moines

February 20, 1984

Thank you very much. And Governor Terry Branstad, what a surprise! This is the first time that I have seen Melba since that night. [Laughter] So, it's the first time I've had a chance to tell you -- the gun was empty; I didn't have any cartridges. [Laughter] If he hadn't of run when I told him to, I was going to have to throw it at him. [Laughter]\1\ (FOOTNOTE)

(FOOTNOTE) \1\The President was referring to an incident in 1933 when he lived in Des Moines. Melba King, then a nursing student, was accosted on a sidewalk by a robber who grabbed her purse and suitcase. The President, then a sportscaster for WHO Radio, saw the attempted robbery from his second floor apartment. He pointed an automatic pistol at the would-be robber, who dropped the purse and suitcase and fled. The President then escorted Melba to the nursing school.

In his introductory remarks, Governor Branstad related the story and introduced Mrs. King.

Well, I tell you -- Senator Jepsen and Mrs. Jepsen, Congressman Tauke and former Congressman Gross and Mrs. Gross, my good friend, Senator Paul Laxalt -- coming here from Washington, DC, is a little like landing in the real world after an extended visit to the twilight zone. [Laughter]

On the way from the airport to here, I stopped and was on the air on WHO Radio. And if I don't get going on the remarks I'd intended to make, you're going to have a warm nostalgic bath, because I am being carried away by nostalgia.

I know and appreciate the people of Iowa. I know and respect your values, your love of God and family, your belief in the dignity of work, and your honest patriotism. I learned about this when I lived and worked here many years ago. And during that time I came to know and work with an Iowan who was destined to one day be called ``the conscience of the United States Congress.'' His name was H.R. Gross. And long before either of us had any thought of a political career, H.R. and I worked at WHO Radio. And that was where I had, among other things, some lessons in the words -- or in the economy of words.

One day Ed Reimers -- you remember Ed Reimers -- you're in good hands. Ed was an announcer on the staff there, and he and I were in the studio. And Ed had just done the station break. It takes about 20 seconds before you went back to the network program. And not having a commercial or anything to fill the time, he said, ``This is radio station WHO, Des Moines, Iowa.'' And in a few minutes the studio door opened and our boss came in, B.J. Palmer. And he said, ``I heard the station break, Ed.'' Ed said, ``Yes, B.J.'' He said, ``You know, advertisers pay a lot to get their messages on the air. We should eliminate as much unnecessary conversation as we can.'' And then he said, ``You don't need to say, `This is.' [Laughter] If they're listening, they know `this is.''' [Laughter] Ed said, ``Yes, B.J.'' And he says, ``And, Ed, you don't need `radio station.' That's all their sets can get.'' [Laughter] And, again, Ed said, ``Yes, B.J.'' Now he's down to ``WHO, Des Moines, Iowa.'' And B. J. started to leave, got halfway through the door, and then turned back and over his shoulder said, ``Ed, there's only one Des Moines, and it's in Iowa.'' [Laughter] From then on, we knew the station break would be, ``WHO, Des Moines.''

Well, in the coming election the political rhetoric is going to be pretty thick. You've had about a year of it already. Our biggest challenge as Republicans is to focus public attention on what is behind the words and promises and not get lost in the excess words.

The candidates in the other party have already laid out a strategy of promising everything to everybody. You've had a gang of them swimming all over the State in the past few weeks. They've got so many candidates vying for votes in today's caucuses that there haven't been enough promises to go around. [Laughter]

Yes, we Republicans make promises, but not to special interest groups to be paid from the public treasury and not promises that cancel each other out, because if you keep one promise to one group you'll have to break the promise you made to another group.

Four years ago, the inflation monster was loose in this land, mangling the middle class, destroying the value of the lifelong savings of older Americans, and hitting the poor and minorities hard. A family on a fixed income of $10,000 at the beginning of 1979, by the end of 1980, he had lost $2,000 in purchasing power just because of that inflation. The experts were telling us it would take a decade to wring inflation out of the economy.

We promised to put that monster back in a cage, and that's just what we've done. We took runaway, double-digit inflation and brought it down to less than 4 percent last year, and it's been that way for 2 years now.

Government spending was growing at a rate of 17 percent per year when we got to Washington. We have cut that more than half. To pay for that Federal growth, the tax system we inherited was siphoning off an ever-increasing share of the people's money. The Federal tax take doubled just between 1976 and 1981.

We promised an across-the-board tax rate reduction. And that's exactly what we provided. We're also indexing tax rates beginning in 1985, so that government will no longer be able to make a profit from inflation at the people's expense.

And there's one tax reform of which I'm particularly proud. The inheritance tax had gotten to the point where it was destroying the right of hard-working people to pass their family farm or family business to their children or their widows. We were restoring that right by increasing the inheritance tax exemption for the children and eliminating it altogether for surviving spouses. As far as I'm concerned, we should never have been taxing widows like that in the first place.

We inherited a prime interest rate that was going through the roof at 21\1/2\ percent when we got to Washington. We promised to bring the prime rate down.

[At this point, the President was interrupted by a heckler. Others in the audience booed the heckler. The President then resumed speaking.]

Don't tell me one of the eight is here? [Laughter]

We have cut that prime rate down, almost in half. And we can and must make more progress in reducing interest rates.

Now, we also inherited economic stagnation. Productivity was actually falling. Major industries were just hanging on with little hope in sight. We promised to turn this situation around, to reinvigorate the economy and get America moving again.

It's taken time to put our program in place and for it to take hold. And, my, aren't we happy we stuck to our guns? This year no Republican should hesitate asking people if they're better off than they were 4 years ago.

We're in the first phase of a recovery that has astounded the experts. The gross national product was up a healthy 6.2 percent last year. Unemployment is dropping sharply. Retail sales are soaring. Housing starts and auto sales are up. Last month, new housing starts were at the highest level since 1978. Productivity, after falling in the 2 years before we took office, rose 3\1/2\ percent last year. Venture capital, which was under a billion dollars in 1980, was $4 billion last year. Because of progress in controlling inflation and our tax cuts, real take-home pay has been rising during the past 2 years after having dropped significantly in the 4 previous years.

This recovery is going to benefit everyone, especially the less fortunate, by creating -- --

[At this point, the President was again interrupted by heckling from a section of the audience.]

Is there an echo in here? [Laughter]

By creating more jobs and providing all Americans with more opportunity, we're going to benefit everyone. And those who suggest that somehow our policies are unfair are the same ones who gave this country economic stagnation and ruinous inflation. The only thing fair about their program was that they didn't discriminate; they made everybody miserable.

Listen carefully when you hear screeching accusations about fairness. Just below the surface, you'll hear an appeal to greed and envy totally inconsistent with the American spirit. I predict when given the chance, the American people will choose opportunity and economic growth over greed and envy any day of the week.

The opposition will try to sell the American people the same old idea of Federal control and regulations, only this time it'll be packaged in a bright new box.

One regulation being promoted is a domestic content law, which would be interpreted by our trading partners in Japan and Europe as another restriction on international commerce. This is just the kind of tinkering that can backfire on the American farmer. We should be trying to open up markets and stimulate trade between nations, not protect special interests by throwing monkey wrenches into the works.

If history suggests anything, it is that government, even when directed by well-meaning individuals, usually causes more problems than it solves.

How many of you can remember the howls of anguish from the liberals when one of my first acts as President was to decontrol the price of oil? They ranted and raved that the consumer would be taken to the cleaners. Well, instead, by freeing the market, we unleashed a stampede of exploration. Production went up, contributing to a developing world glut of oil, and today the price of oil and gas at the pump is lower than it was 3 years ago.

Now, one more thing. If the inflation we inherited had continued, the price of gasoline would be $1 a gallon more than it is today, just by virtue of inflation. The cost of doing business and the price of energy are now substantially less. And that's what I call ``Republican fairness.''

Over these last 3 years we've proven that we can be trusted to keep our word. Now, we must let it be known that we're not expecting people to vote for us because of what we've done, but for what we will do. We, as Republicans, have a bold vision for the future, and unlike our opposition, it's not based on increasing government taxing, spending, regulating, or inflating. Real progress comes not from expanding the power of government, but, instead, in increasing freedom and opportunity.

Nowhere is this more clear than in one of America's biggest industries -- agriculture. I don't have to tell you how the inflationary spiral and economic uncertainty of the last decade devastated the American farmer. The interest rates, the incredible rise in the cost of doing business, and the high taxes were bad enough. Then, to add insult to injury, your own government cut your legs out from under you by making you bear the full burden of a grain embargo against the Soviet Union.

Well, during the 1980 campaign, we promised to end that ill-conceived embargo. And that's another promise we kept. We went one step further. We negotiated a new long-term grain agreement with the Soviet Union that requires the Soviets to buy 50 percent more U.S. grain than they did under the old agreement.

These last 3 years we've been trying to keep American farmers going till they, like our economy, recover from the destructive liberal policies of the past. It's a long and arduous process. Sometimes progress comes step by step. But we've been doing our best to open new markets for our farmers and make certain they aren't undercut by unfair competition. Given open and free markets, along with stable economic conditions at home, I have faith that our farmers can produce more, sell more, and do it more efficiently than anyone else in the world.

You know, there are other parts of the world where farming is done on a different basis than here. And I happen to have a new hobby. I've taken to collecting jokes that I can confirm from defectors and refugees that are actually told by the Russian people among themselves, and that sort of display a lack of respect or some cynicism for their own government. And one of the latest that I heard had to do with a Commissar in the Soviet Union who went out to one of those state collective farms, grabbed the first worker he came to, and said, ``Comrade, are there any complaints?'' And he said, ``Oh, no, Comrade Commissar, no complaints. I've never heard anyone complain.'' And he said, ``Good. How are the crops?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``the crops, never been better, just wonderful.'' And he said, ``How about potatoes?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``Comrade Commissar, if we could put the potatoes in one pile they would reach the foot of God.'' And the Commissar said, ``This is the Soviet Union. There is no God.'' And he said, ``That's all right, there are no potatoes.'' [Laughter]

Creating stable economic conditions has been the reason that we've fought so hard to get spending and taxes under control these last few years. It's been one of the pivotal economic battles of our time. And I just want you to know how proud I've been to have Congressmen Evans, Tauke, and Leach at my side. All I have to ask is, send me more like them. And on election day, don't just go out and vote for them, tell your friends and neighbors to get out and vote for them, too.

And then there is Senator Jepsen, who works side by side with your other fine Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley. I don't have to tell you how important Republican control of the Senate has been to the progress we've made. We couldn't have done any of it without controlling that one House. Senator Jepsen has been a mighty force for responsible government and the farmers best friend in Washington. We couldn't have accomplished what we did without him. Senator Jepsen and his lovely wife, Dee, reflect all the good qualities for which the people of Iowa are so admired. And you should all be proud of the job he's doing as your United States Senator. He deserves all our support for reelection.

When you leave here, those of you who are going to your Republican caucuses, keep in mind that in a free country like ours the future will be determined not only by what we believe but by what we do. Iowans have much of which to be proud. Together, we can keep America the decent land of freedom and opportunity that God intended it to be.

I thank you, all of you, for what you've done and what you will do. God bless you. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6 p.m. in the Veterans Auditorium. He was introduced by Gov. Terry Branstad.

Prior to his remarks, the President met at the auditorium with Republican Party officials and Reagan-Bush campaign leaders. Following the rally, he met with Kathryn Graf, Governor Branstad's liaison for the Fifty States Project, and Sue Fallon, executive director of the project, to receive Iowa's report on the project. The President then left Des Moines and returned to Washington, DC.