Toast at a White House Dinner Honoring the Nation's Governors

February 22, 1987

The President. It's been a pleasure to have met with you this evening and to have had this opportunity to break bread and to get to know you. Pardon me, but the circumstances remind me a bit of the story of the Christians in ancient Rome who are thrown into the arena there. And moments later, why, the hungry lions were released and came charging out at them. And before they could quite get to them, one of the Christians stood up, stepped forward, and said something. And the lions suddenly just laid down and refused to attack the Christians. Well, the crowd at the Coliseum got mad. They yelled at the lions. They were throwing rocks at them and everything, but they couldn't get them to eat the Christians. Finally, Nero called the Christian leader to his side and said, ``What is it that you told the lions?'' He said, ``I simply told them there would be speeches after the meal.'' [Laughter]

Well, tonight there are no speeches after the meal, so I'll be brief. Having been a Governor, I can sympathize that sometimes it feels like you're out in the middle of the arena and the voters are rooting for the lions. After our meeting I hope that each of you understands that this administration is rooting for you. In these last 5 years we've done our best to make certain the Federal Government doesn't increase taxes and drain away the revenue base that you depend on at the State and local level. Federal money is, as we all know, nothing more than local money that is given back, minus a carrying charge and coupled with complex guidelines and regulations. Well, we'd rather have local and State officials, and the people themselves, keep that revenue right at home. And as far as those guidelines -- you've helped us save the States billions of dollars by ridding the books of needless paperwork and trimming back the redtape. I've thought from my own days as Governor that the best thing the Federal Government can do for the States is get out of your pockets and out of your way.

Today State government has resumed its rightful role as a major force in our society. The subjects we'll concentrate on tomorrow -- welfare, employment training, and education -- are the biggest challenges of today. They cannot be solved unless you are a major part of the solution. In the case of welfare reform, for example, our program is your program -- what works best for your citizens in the unique circumstances that you know best. It's clear that centralized planning doesn't work here anymore than it works in socialist countries. There's a story about two Russians who are walking down the road in Moscow. And one of them said to the other, ``Comrade, do you really think now that we finally have achieved all that there is -- the highest state of communism -- that we've reached that?'' And the other one said: ``Oh, no. Things are going to get a lot worse.'' [Laughter]

Seriously though, it's a pleasure to share this wonderful evening with you all. So, there isn't a place on here to set this. I always have to go over and get it. I now lift a glass to all of you, to our country, may her 50 States and 5 territories always shine as the stars in the constellation of freedom and democracy.

Audience. Hear! Hear!

The President. Thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:25 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.