Remarks at a Luncheon Hosted by WOC Radio and the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce in Davenport, Iowa

 

July 14, 1988

 

Well, thank you, Vickie Palmer Miller, Governor Branstad, Governor Thompson, Congressman Leach, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce, John Gardner. And I know also that here -- not in the dais but -- here with us also is our Secretary of Agriculture, Dick Lyng, and the Congresswoman that represents my hometown district in Illinois, Lynn Martin. So, and all of you, thank you all very much. I can't tell you the wave of nostalgia that swept over me this afternoon, arriving here in Davenport. There's a strength, a serenity, and a peace of mind that comes to a man when he returns to his roots, to the places he started out. And that's how I feel whenever I return to this part of the country and to this town.

 

Now, I have to warn you that while I intend to speak about serious issues of the present and the future today -- the kinds of things people come to hear Presidents speak about -- well, you're going to have to pay admission to hear it. And that's by listening politely while I tell you an old story or two about this wonderful town and the days when it was the center of the world to me. Of course, that goes back to when it wasn't the Quad-Cities, it was the Tri-Cities.

 

I had just graduated from college, and the Depression was on. And I decided that the way I wanted to start working was as a radio announcer, a decision my Dad accepted with skepticism but support. So, he lent me the family car, and we mapped out a 1-day tour of the nearest stations to Dixon, Illinois. And Davenport was just 75 miles from home, so it was my first stop. And the station here was WOC, you may know that the call letters stood for ``World of Chiropractic.'' And it was founded by Mrs. Miller's -- I should say, grandfather, a great and gracious gentleman, Colonel B.J. Palmer, who also owned the Palmer School of Chiropractic. And WOC was located on the top floor of the school, and shared time with WHO in Des Moines.

 

I had a trial run as a $10 a game play-by-play announcer covering the Iowa Hawkeyes. And then when the season ended with a couple of months of waiting to see if a permanent job would open up, and finally the program director, a Scotsman I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for, Pete MacArthur, gave me my break. I got $100 a month, which to me was big money and some good lessons.

 

For example, once each week, late at night, we would present a program of live romantic organ music from the Runge Mortuary. [Laughter] Well, it was about as far as you could get from, say a top forties show today. [Laughter] We got the half hour of live music free, and the mortuary got a discreet plug when we mentioned that it was the source of the program.

 

Well, the first time that I was scheduled for the period when that program was on, no one informed me of that business arrangement. And my dramatic instincts rebelled against mentioning the mortuary in connection with such favorites as ``Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.'' [Laughter] So, that night we got the music, and the mortuary got left out.

 

I was fired. [Laughter] I was also assigned to show the ropes to my replacement, which led to one of my first brushes with miracles. My replacement thought I was only temporary, and he'd been hired knowing he was coming on, that he was going to come to work at a certain time. And when he learned it wasn't true, he demanded a contract as a guarantee of his security. Well, in those days, that was unheard of. And so, miracle of miracles, just when I thought I was all washed up, the station decided to give me a new lease on life because I hadn't asked for a contract.

 

Now, I said there was a lesson in this. I complained at the time to a friend about what had happened, and about how I hadn't been told things. And this friend didn't commiserate. He said exactly the right thing. He reminded me that I was nothing but ahead. He said, ``You now have experience which you never had before. You can walk into another radio station and even introduce yourself as a sports announcer.'' I had broadcast four football games already. I took his advice to heart and started doing my work a whole lot better. And pretty soon, all talk of finding another job had faded.

 

So you see, I learned something here about being grateful for your opportunities, about not blaming others for your mistakes, and about putting things in perspective -- simple lessons, but the kind that most young men and women need to learn at some time or other. And what I can say for having taught me then but what I've said thousands of times over the years in my heart: ``Thank you, Davenport, and thank you, WOC.''

 

Of course, Davenport and the Quad-Cities area have changed a lot during the years since then. Generations of young men and women have come here to get their start, and grown, as I did for a time, with the city. I know you've just been hearing about how the city has grown recently, and about how you've brought your unemployment rate down to less than half of what it was, how thousands of new jobs have blossomed in the area, how whole new industries like tourism have grown, and how you've transformed the riverfront. There's been a dream here in the Quad-Cities area, a determination, and a hope. And from it, from what was born in your hearts, you have rebuilt these communities.

 

But in a way, that's what's been happening all over America. Last week we learned that the Nation's unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest it's been in almost a decade and a half. In the month of June alone, America created 100,000 new jobs in manufacturing and construction and more than 200,000 jobs in services. And by the way, what I'm told you've just heard about the Quad-Cities is true for the Nation as well. The great majority of the new service jobs are well-paying and in places like stores and doctors' offices, hospitals and banks, and insurance companies, and real estate brokers and developers.

 

One respected private economist looked at the number of new jobs in June and had just one word. He said: ``Stunning. These are gains you'd expect to see when an expansion is in its very early stages, not when it's over 5 years old.'' But then, I've always been partial to things that don't act their age. [Laughter] Of course, in Washington, we can't take too much good news all at once. [Laughter] So, ever since our expansion got rolling, the sages of the Potomac have been promising an expectant city that disaster was just around the corner. They've had a long wait, and I have a feeling they may have reached the bottom of the barrel on Monday when one Washington-edited newspaper reported on the economy's incredible strength under the headline ``Jobs Growth Fuels Fear of Recession.'' [Laughter] I knew there was something wrong when they stopped calling our recovery Reaganomics.

 

What Washington too often doesn't understand, but I know you do, is that the source of our recordbreaking expansion will not be found poring over the computer models and equations of high-priced consulting firms, but by peering into the American heart. And there you'll find optimism about the future, trust in the strength of ordinary people, and faith in the power of freedom. I learned about these in Iowa and Illinois. And, like belief in God, love of family, and hope in the human soul, they have a power no instrument can measure and no computer model can predict. But I promise you, as long as I'm President, they're a force that Washington will not forget.

 

Now, let me turn to an area where, on farms and ranches across the Nation, our optimism is being tested. I remember that when I worked here in Davenport, Peter MacArthur would roll out the station's slogan in his rich Highland Scottish burr: ``WOC, Davenport, where the West begins, in the State where the tall corn grows.'' But I saw earlier today that the corn isn't growing so tall this year. I visited the farm of Herman and Rick Krone, father and son, both of them farmers all their lives. Their farm is in southern Illinois, but it could as easily be in Iowa or Ohio, or Indiana, the Dakotas or Alabama, in Texas or Tennessee. They had a pole set up in the cornfield. On the pole, they'd marked where the corn should be by now. It isn't even two-thirds that high.

 

Secretary Lyng first brought the drought to my attention before most of the Nation knew it was developing. Since then he's briefed me five times, and today for a sixth. He's told me how hard the drought is hitting corn, soybeans, and other crops, about endangered herds, and about rivers, including the Mississippi.

 

As I said at the Krone farm this morning, we can't bring the rain, but we can ease the pain. And that's what we've been doing. We've pulled together a governmentwide drought command team. And we've swung into action.

 

In nearly 2,000 counties in 37 States, we've allowed grazing and haymaking on land set aside in government crop reduction programs. In 181 counties in 11 States, we've also opened to grazing water bank land that is part of the Federal Water Bank Program. In over 700 counties in 25 States, we're selling government feedgrain stockpiles to farmers at less than their cost to the Government; or if farmers prefer, we're sharing the cost of purchasing feed from private sources to preserve breeding herds.

 

Working with the States, we have set up a national hay hotline, and it's called Haynet, to put together those who have hay and those who need it. We've also set up a National Drought Hotline. And as of yesterday, that hotline had fielded over 5,000 calls.

 

To boost meat prices as herds are being thinned, we've announced a $50-million purchase of hamburger and other meat for our food assistance program and a $40-million credit line to Mexico for U.S. meat purchases.

 

Many grain farmers don't know the full impact of the drought until close to harvest time. But in 80 counties in 15 States, things were so bad so early that some farmers couldn't plant at all. We've made those farmers eligible to receive 92 percent of the projected deficiency payments on land that would have been planted. And for farmers who have crop insurance, we're making sure the claims will be handled quickly.

 

Along our waterways, the Army Corps of Engineers has stepped up dredging. As of yesterday, they had 12 dredges at work on the most severely shoaled area of our inland navigation system. They have other dredges ready in case things get worse. The Corps and the Coast Guard are working with barge operators to keep traffic on our rivers running smoothly and to spot problems in the channels. They've promised to keep the Mississippi open.

 

In the West we've opened the way for some interdistrict water sales, and we've pulled together teams to move along water sales, water transfers, and water banking. Across the Nation, we're keeping a close eye on how much water Federal power, which is to say that we're making sure the Federal tap doesn't drip.

 

We've done all this without special congressional action. The steps we've taken are the right steps. They fall within my authority as President, and I've gone ahead. But there are two big things we should be doing that we can't do until Congress gives the okay. I'm calling today for Congress to act quickly on comprehensive drought relief, disaster relief for all farmers, for all crops. Two steps are essential. The first is to help farmers who've received what are called advanced deficiency payments, advances on what the farmer expects to receive from the Government after harvest. Well, as things stand today, many drought-ravaged farms will have to refund this money. I endorse forgiveness of these payments in the appropriate circumstances. We also want to help farmers whose crops are not covered by that Federal program but who feel this disaster as well. I endorse comprehensive disaster relief for nonprogram crops.

 

And there may be other things we should do. I'm also announcing today that I have directed Secretary Lyng to lead a factfinding team next week which will visit places around the country that are suffering from the drought. The team will include people from the Department of Agriculture and other agencies that have been part of my Interagency Drought Policy Committee. Just as I have today, they'll see and hear firsthand what the drought is doing to crops and livestock.

 

I'm determined to get relief to drought-stricken farms. Our administration has been working with Governor Branstad, Governor Thompson, the other farm-State Governors, as well as the leaders of both Houses of Congress. And let me give you a few commonsense rules that I believe should guide us as we hammer out details of how we help.

 

Relief should go to those who have been hurt most. It should be structured so that farmers who've had the foresight to take out crop insurance don't end up asking why they bothered. We should keep an eye out for unintended consequences, boobytraps in what we do; for example, we should make sure that the way we give relief doesn't give anyone an incentive to plow under crops that could have been harvested.

 

We should also keep in mind that we have a deficit and a budget agreement with Congress, which means the Government has to find money before it spends it. We should keep our eye on the ball. Drought relief should be just that -- drought relief. No one in Washington should try to divert it to other ends, such as rewriting farm legislation already on the books. To try such a ploy would only delay the train that should be carrying help to farmers. And there's one other thing. Even in an election year, the drought is too big for partisanship. Politics must stop at the parched field's edge. As I said, our administration has been working with the leaders of both Houses of Congress. We've all joined together to do what's best for the Nation. And we should all pledge to keep it that way.

 

We should be guided by the strength and straightforward decency of the people we're helping. But if I had my way, that would always be the guiding light in Washington. You know, I like to point out sometimes when people get to flattering me about the economic expansion, the longest in the history of our nation, that we're having -- you know, really what we did that made that come about: We just got out of your way. You did it; we didn't.

 

This blessed nation has a strength, a vitality, and a wisdom that flows like the immense and powerful Mississippi. I remember when I first saw that river, as a boy many years ago. It seemed like a great arm reaching from the heart of America to touch the world. Nothing was beyond the reach of its dreams. And today, many years later, I know that nothing is. For even when it's low, that Old Man River keeps flowing, and so, too, do the love and strength that comes from deep in the heart of its country. That love and that strength have given the world a new birth, a freedom, a new light unto the nations, a new hope for humanity. They flow in all seasons in such abundance and nowhere with so strong a current as here.

 

And as one who's lived here and left, and seen every part of the world, may I tell you that nowhere can you feel more strongly the force of Him who can go with me and stay with you and be everywhere for the good. Nowhere is the force of His love closer to the good Earth and its people than here.

 

I have to conclude with one little story I've waited a long time to tell because I figured it had to be told in Iowa. In 1949, for the first time in my life, I found myself in England. I was making a movie over there. And on weekends, never having been there, I would hire a driver and car and go out and see the countryside. And I made it plain to the driver, too, that I wanted to see -- and don't think I have bad habits when I say this -- but I wanted to see some of those 700-year-old pubs that you hear about.

 

Well, I had a couple of people with me one weekend, and he took us. And he apologized because the pub was only 400 years old. [Laughter] So, we went into what we'd call it here is a mom and pop place. An elderly woman and her elderly husband, they were sole proprietors and hired-help together, altogether, just the two of them. And after a while and us talking among ourselves, she said to us, ``You're Americans, aren't you?'' I said, ``Yes.'' ``Oh,'' she says, ``there were a great bunch of your chaps just down the road here during the war. They were based down there.'' And she said, ``Every night they would come in here and have a songfest.'' And by this time, she's not looking at us, she's kind of looking beyond us into memory. And pretty soon, there's a tear there. And she said, ``It was a Christmas Eve. And me and the old man were here all alone.'' She said, ``They called me mom and they called him pop.'' She said, ``We were alone and the door burst open and in they come. And they had presents for us.'' And then -- now the tears were very evident -- she said, ``Big strapping lads, they was, from a place called Ioway.'' [Laughter]

 

Every time I tell it, I have a terrible feeling that I'm going to imitate her with regard to the tears. I could just see those big strapping lads, as we all can, from a place called Ioway.

 

Well, thank you all very much. And I can't tell you what this day has meant to me. And God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 2:31 p.m. in the Palmer College auditorium. In his opening remarks, he referred to Vickie Palmer Miller, president and owner of Signal Hill Communications; Gov. Terry E. Branstad; Gov. James R. Thompson; and Representative Jim Leach of Iowa. The Quad-Cities included Moline, East Moline, Rock Island, IL, and Davenport, IA. Following the luncheon, the President returned to Washington, DC.