Remarks at a Community Picnic in Fairfax, Iowa

September 20, 1984

Thank all you so very much. It's great to be in Iowa again.

And before I begin the remarks I'd intended to make today -- I know that some of you were at the airport and won't mind having to hear it again -- I feel that I should say a few words about the cowardly terrorist act that occurred this morning early in Beirut. The suicide attack against our Embassy annex in East Beirut, I think has saddened all Americans, of course. And it's another painful reminder of the persistent threat of terrorism in the world.

I had an opportunity on the way here -- on the plane -- to talk to Ambassador Reg Bartholomew, who, although injured himself, expressed to me his pride on behalf of the dedicated Americans serving with him. And then, he was in the hospital and he said to me, ``We mustn't let things like this push us out of doing what we must do throughout the world.''

So, I know in this moment of anger and sorrow, our prayers are with those who are bereaved, and our commitment to peace remains firm. And I'm proud that our Americans in the Foreign Service, who are serving all over the world, are of the caliber and the quality that they are.

Now, I know this morning at the airport I mentioned some schools, and it had nothing to do with some of the charges that have been made against me, it was just an oversight that I didn't, in naming some of the fine schools there, name the two parochial schools of La Salle and Regis, I believe. Do I have it right? Well, all right. I apologize for the oversight. And I know also that I'm only a few miles away from someplace and just want you to know that I know that, in addition to all the great agricultural products and everything of Iowa, this button says, to those of you who are too far away, that I'm a Number 1 Bodicar fan. I guess I don't have to tell any of you who that is -- [laughter] -- and what it is.

But I stopped counting a number of years ago the number of times that I've been in your good State, including a tenure of some 5 years that were very happy years in my life. But I can tell you, however, instead of all those times, about the time I didn't come. In fact, I'll never forget it. [Laughter] It was the caucuses in 1980 -- [laughter] -- and I was feeling pretty bouncy, I guess, and pretty sure of the outcome. And I didn't realize so many people had grown up that didn't know Dutch Reagan -- [laughter] -- and you handed me something of a surprise for which I'm ever grateful. You reminded me that no matter what the polls and the pundits say, run hard. And that's what I mean to do this year.

I also want to congratulate you on being a most discerning State, because the Republican you did support in 1980 is George Bush. And he's the best Vice President this country has ever had.

Now, I've been following how things are going here and what your triumphs and travails have been. And I want you to know that I'll always agree with the journalist, Harrison Salisbury, who said: ``Iowa, the land and the people -- I would match it against the world!'' And I stand with another writer who said, ``There are few more beautiful sights in America than Iowa's farmlands in early autumn . . . .'' The most pertinent thing that I've read about Iowa is a report from a journalist who said just a few years ago: ``Iowa is graced by absolutely marvelous people . . . They are clean, brave, thrifty, reverent, loyal, and honest. . . .''

So, I've decided something. Air Force One is pretty big. And maybe if we all squeeze and everything, I'd like to take all of you back to Washington, because we need more of your kind. Be sure when you see me running out of here -- which I'll have to do because we're due in Michigan pretty quick -- that you'll fall in line. [Laughter]

But seriously, I'd like to talk to you about how things are going nationally and about some local problems that I'm aware of and which I want very much to address.

Nationally, I think it's fair to report that the country's economy is recovering and economic expansion has begun. The fight against inflation continues, and now inflation is less than one-third of what it was in 1980. And if it continues at the rate of just the last couple of months or so -- it's under 3 percent. Interest rates have gone down, though not enough, by any means. And the employment picture is very good. We've created 6 million new jobs in this country in the past 20 months; 600,000 businesses were incorporated last year, and that's a record in our entire history.

And none of this happened overnight, and none of it happened by accident. Our economic success is a direct outgrowth of the practical application of a practical philosophy: We believe that the way out of the economic morass of the 1970's was to let all the American people keep more of their hard-earned money, instead of sending an ever-larger amount to support Federal spending programs that were out of control.

We cut tax rates for individuals, and we cut taxes for business. And what we said would happen happened: The economy recovered and then expanded. Now, all of this is good news, but it's not enough -- not by a long shot. We've got to do better.

Here in Iowa, farmers are still feeling the effects of years and years of bad government policy and neglect. When the Federal Government wanted to make a foreign relations point, when they wanted to make a point with the Soviet Union, they cut off the grain sales and left you holding the bag. When interest rates hit the highest point since the Civil War, they made it impossible for you to operate. When inflation gouged you, they didn't hear your cries. And on top of all that, as if that weren't enough, estate taxes on your farms were so high that you couldn't even keep the family farm in the family anymore.

Well, I know about your problems. And as I see it, there is no America without the American farm. You not only feed the country, you feed the world. We owe you a lot, and you're the last people in this country who deserve to be taken for granted or taken for a ride.

So, first, we ended the grain embargo. You know, as we do, that if we refuse to sell the Soviets grain they simply go to other suppliers, and that's what they did. And the only ones who suffered from that kind of lightswitch diplomacy were America's farmers. So, we ended the embargo and negotiated a new and expanded grain agreement with the Soviets. Since last October, they have bought 23 million metric tons of grain. And as you may know, I approved raising the ceiling so they can buy an additional 10 million metric tons in the next year.

By bringing down inflation, we went from one of the largest 2-year increases ever in prices farmers paid in '79 and '80 to the smallest 2-year rise in 15 years in '82 and '83. As for interest rates, we've cut the prime from a high of 21\1/2\ percent in 1980 to 13 percent today.

I know that operating loans are a point or two higher, and that's still too high, but it's an improvement. As for estate taxes, we fought hard and finally succeeded, thanks to the help of your Republican Congressmen in the House and your two Senators. Now the estate tax exemption is to increase to $600,000 by 1987, and we've seen to it that there will be no estate tax for a surviving spouse.

So, once again, families have a chance to keep the family farm. And I want to add here that I see this estate tax business as crucial to the interests of the farm belt. All of those taxes taking a farm right from under a family -- when I think about it, it's like a scene from the ``Grapes of Wrath,'' with the fellow in the bulldozer being the tax man knocking down the farm that a family had lived on for generations. Well, we've tried to stop that bulldozer dead in its tracks and keep the farm intact.

We've been working for some time on the problem of farm debts and land values. So many farmers have been struggling with debt burdens. In the last 3 years, the Farmers Home Administration has doubled its regular operating loans for farmers. And to provide further assistance, Farmers Home will now permit a deferral of up to 25 percent, for up to 5 years, of the principal and interest payments owed by farmers who need breathing room to return to a sound financial footing. And this will be done on a case-by-case basis. And for those who do not participate in the FmHA programs, Farmers Home will make available up to $630 million in guarantees of loans by private banks as part of rescheduling plans for troubled farmers.

But let me be very clear about one thing. A partial recovery and a partial expansion isn't enough. We won't be happy until the American recovery stretches across this country like a blanket, with the Midwest safe and warm inside. Until the farmers recover, then our recovery is not complete. In the past few years you've known droughts and other natural disasters, and we've tried to make sure that our programs provide a helping hand.

You know, speaking of disasters of that kind, I remember when a previous Secretary of Agriculture -- some years ago -- went out on kind of a tour of the farm belt. And there'd been some problems at that time. And one fellow was giving him a really bad time, and he turned to an aide, and he looked at some notes that he had there, and then turned back and said, ``Well, now wait a minute. Things weren't all that bad.'' He said, ``You had 29 inches of rain last year.'' And the farmer said, ``Yeah, I remember the night it happened.'' [Laughter]

So, we've introduced some soil conservation initiatives that will help ensure that our breadbasket will feed the world not only today, but tomorrow. And we've targeted a larger portion of our Federal funds to States such as Iowa, where the soil erosion is a major concern.

And let me add that no one has helped us more in our efforts than Roger Jepsen, your terrific Senator, and Chuck Grassley, another hero of the cause. And in the House we have the help of Tom Tauke and Cooper Evans. Iowa has sent some very fine people to Washington, and they're fighting for Iowa every day.

And there's probably no group in this country for which I feel a more natural affinity than America's farmers, and not the least because the very qualities it takes to work and run a farm are the very qualities it takes for a citizenry to run the country. I'm talking about the decent and enduring values of hard work and thrift and planning for the future and investing in the future.

You know, it can be said that investing in the future is the most faithful act a man or woman can make. And when you invest your hard work and your money and your effort and your time, you show an extraordinary faith in our system, our culture, and our country. This is the faith of the heartland, and it's what our future is built on.

Just a few years ago, in 1979, Pope John Paul II came here to Iowa. And he surveyed the rolling fields of autumn, and he spoke of the future. At the farm museum near Des Moines, he was greeted by 350,000 people who opened their arms to that man of peace and hope. And he told them of the importance of agriculture and how with agricultural abundance comes special responsibilities to human needs. He said, ``Conserve the land well, so that your children's children . . . will inherit an even richer land than was entrusted to you . . . . ''

And after he spoke, there was a moment that was described as a ``hushed unison,'' as the vast crowd began the final hymn of the day, whose opening lines were ``Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.'' And a person who was there said at that moment ``the visit achieved a union of spirit . . . beyond sentimentality.'' It was a special moment, but such moments aren't uncommon in America. Despite our differences, we are -- all of us -- in America, in 1984, part of a great hushed unison, a great unspoken unity. And, as I travel the country in my quest for reelection, I think: May it ever flow unbroken.

How many of you weren't at the airport rally today? Then, I'm going to tell you. Those who were there are going to have to hear something again. I hadn't told it, I just thought about it for the first time in many, many years, a little personal experience I had in 1948. I'd gone to England to make a picture called ``The Hasty Heart.'' And on the weekends, never having been there before, I'd hire a driver and a car and have him show me the countryside outside of London. And -- --

[At this point, the President was briefly interrupted by a train whistle.]

Quiet! [Laughter]

Is that his campaign train? [Laughter]

But he stopped one evening, as the Sun was going down on one of those weekends, a pub that he said was 400 years old. And we went in, and a matronly woman, a very nice lady, was serving us. And down, some tables down, was an elderly gentleman, and he was -- they were the only two, evidently, running this place.

And when she heard us talk for awhile, she said, ``You're Americans, aren't you?'' And I said, ``Yes, we are.'' And then she said, ``Oh, there were a great number of your chaps stationed just down the road from here during the war.'' And she said, ``They used to come in every evening, and they'd have a songfest.'' And she said, ``They called me `Mom' and they called the old man `Pop'.''

And by this time, she's not looking at me anymore. She's looking kind of out into the distance with memory, and there's a tear on her cheek. She said, ``It was a Christmas Eve. We were here all alone.'' And she said, ``The door burst open and in they come, and they had presents for us.'' And then she said -- and this is why I'm telling you the story -- she said, ``Big strapping lads they was, from a place called Iowa.'' [Laughter] And then I had a tear on my cheek.

Well, I thank you so much for your very wonderful hospitality and for the warmth and kindness that comes so naturally to Iowans. And I want you to know that I enjoyed both the beef and the pork for lunch. [Laughter] No argument about that.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. on the lawn of St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Grand Rapids, MI.