Remarks to Executive Women in Government

 

September 8, 1988

 

Secretary McLaughlin and officers of Executive Women in Government and honored guests, I thank you all. You know, 5 years ago it was my pleasure to have Executive Women in Government join me here to mark the 10th anniversary of your organization. And today we're marking your 15th year, and I just want to say, Happy Anniversary! Isn't it amazing how time flies when you're having fun? [Laughter] I still remember when Betsy Ross told me that the years would travel fast -- [laughter] -- of course I was too young then to really know what she meant.

 

But it wasn't until 1920 and the 19th amendment to the Constitution that women secured that right: the right to vote. Yet when I was elected and reelected to this office, over half of those voting were women. And this fall, there will be some 10 million more women than men eligible to vote. If I may update an old English saying: The hand that pulls the voting lever rules the Nation. [Laughter] Now, of course, women don't vote as a bloc; men don't vote as a bloc, either. They look at the record and vote on the issues. And those are the people who, on election day, will decide the outcome. But today let's focus especially on women like you who are making their impact inside government.

 

As the growth of your organization demonstrates so well, there are more women bearing major responsibilities within our nation's government than ever before. As leaders in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the Armed Forces, and the private sector, you have assumed professional responsibilities that would have been unimaginable just a quarter of a century ago.

 

You make policy decisions affecting millions of people. You manage staffs of thousands. You manage billion-dollar budgets. And you represent the leading edge of a great wave of progress for American women. I hope I said billion-dollar and not million. You see, I'm used to saying billions all the time in Washington -- [laughter] -- but I'm getting back to civilian life. But you do represent the leading edge, as I say, of the great progress for American women. And because of what all of you and so many other women have done, even greater opportunities for women lie ahead.

 

In our administration, our mission has been to appoint the best qualified people we could find, to fill substantial jobs with substantial individuals. And the result of this merit-based approach, not surprisingly, is that more women have served in top-level policy positions in our administration than in any previous one. And they've served with distinction, earning promotions and reappointments at a very high rate. We can be proud of what you and the other women have accomplished.

 

In fact, of the 10 women to serve in Cabinet posts in American history, 4 of them have been in this administration. And we can be especially proud of the new ground that's been broken in so many areas. In becoming the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole also became the first woman in American history to lead a branch of our military: the U.S. Coast Guard. And Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick became the first woman to serve in a foreign policy post at the Cabinet level.

 

Incidentally, I might point out with regard to that Coast Guard setup -- also, the first time that a Coast Guard officer was ever one of the military aides to the President was in this administration. And that Coast Guard officer was a woman. And I had to admit that one day after having some ceremonies with the Navy, and some admirals, I kind of teased her a little bit. And it didn't fuss her one bit. She just stood there and very coolly said, ``We in the Coast Guard look at the Navy as the organization that gathers around us in times of emergency.'' [Laughter]

 

And Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. The progress that we're witnessing is just the beginning, and it can only move in one direction: It can only move forward.

 

Now, frankly, one obstacle to making faster progress is that the Senate still has not given its advice and consent to 40 outstanding women whom I have nominated to senior executive, advisory, and judicial posts. These nominees have been pending confirmation on an average of 178 days, yet 29 of the 40 women have not even had committee hearings as yet. The liberal leadership in the Senate can talk about their interest in women taking senior positions in government, but they're not delivering. They say they applaud the idea of putting more women on the bench. Well, if so, let them expeditiously move to confirm the five excellent judicial nominees they have before them. Highly qualified women like Pamela Ann Rymer and Judith Richards Hope deserve rapid confirmation, and I call upon the Senate to do just that.

 

And now, fortunately for us all, most of the new jobs created in recent years have not been in the Federal Government; they've been in the private sector. In the last 5\1/2\ years, we have created 17\1/2\ million new jobs. And here, too, women have led the way: 60 percent of those new jobs are held by women. And as the economy has boomed in the longest peacetime expansion on record, women have entered top management positions as never before. In fact, from 1980 to 1987, women in the top ranks have increased by a remarkable 65 percent. And more women own their own businesses today than ever before; nearly 3 out of every 10 small businesses are owned by women.

 

Now, along with our progress for prosperity, we've also made progress for peace. And this is a significant day for our continuing efforts to create a safer world. Today, we begin to put into practice the nuclear missile reductions called for under the INF treaty, which General Secretary Gorbachev and I signed last December. The first destruction of one of our American missiles will take place today, but this treaty is a victory for American steadfastness and resolve.

 

Over the next 3 years, the Soviet Union will destroy 1,752 nuclear missiles, more than twice the number that the United States will eliminate. But those are the terms of the treaty. The Soviet Union began destroying its first missiles in July, and, as I say, today we'll start eliminating those that are designated under the treaty. And Vice President Bush, who has played a major role in our INF policy at every step, is representing me at this event. I told him not to get too close to where it was going on. [Laughter] I think this step for peace is something that we all can be very proud of.

 

Well, I'm very happy about everything that American women are doing, yes, because it is good for women, but also because it's good for America. When Alexis de Tocqueville surveyed our young nation -- this is around 150 years or so ago -- he asked himself ``. . . to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed.'' And he replied, ``To the superiority of their women.'' Well, had he been writing in the 1980's, I guess he would have said that you are our ``competitive edge.''

 

You know, I'm reminded of a story. I may have told you this before, but you'll just have to hear it again. Life not only begins at 40 but so does lumbago and telling the same story over and over again. [Laughter]

 

It was an accident scene. The crowd had gathered, and there was an injured individual lying there on the street. The crowd had begun to gather, as I say, and a woman was bending down over this man. And a man rushed up, shoved her aside, and -- ``Here, let me at him. I've studied first aid.'' Well, she stepped meekly back, and he went down and went to work with his first aid knowledge. And finally at one point in what he was doing, she tapped him on the shoulder and said, ``When you come to that part about calling the doctor, I'm right here.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, I'm just thankful for all the talented women like all of you in America, who America has been able to call upon. So, I think it's about time that we all get back in the shade, and I'll just say, thank you, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Labor Ann D. McLaughlin.