Remarks at a Business Leaders Luncheon in Sterling Heights, Michigan

 

October 7, 1988

 

The President. You know, I was going to say when I got up here that before I begin today I have a very pleasant announcement to make, but I have been told that you have already heard me make that announcement -- [laughter] -- by remote control. So, I won't make you listen to it twice. But maybe I could say just something that might help you sometimes if you're a little confused: that 5.3 percent unemployment rate -- but then you'll pick up the paper to read, and it says 5.4 percent. And maybe you don't understand. Statisticians -- they've got two figures. One of them is: If you don't count the military, it's 5.4. But if you count the military as having jobs, it's 5.3. And I happen to think that anybody in uniform is really employed.

 

Well, thank you Jim, and many thanks to the Macomb County area Chambers of Commerce. And thanks also to Tony, George, and the Penna family for their hospitality today. It's always a delight to be back in Michigan -- the people, the land, the lakes. In the Reagan-Bush White House, we use a nickname for Michigan. We simply refer to it as God's country. Now, please don't tell anyone in the Civil Liberties Union that I said that. [Laughter]

 

Well, here with us today are five of the people who make Washington tolerable and who keep it from inflicting too much harm on Michigan and the rest of the country: Congressmen Guy Vander Jagt, Bill Broomfield, Carl Pursell, Bill Schuette, and Fred Upton. And let me also mention a few outstanding candidates here with us today: Cal Allgaier and Doug Carl for Congress and Jim Dunn for Senate. They deserve your support.

 

Now, I'd better be careful here, because I was told that this was a bipartisan gathering. Some of you favor the Wolverines, and others favor the Spartans. [Laughter] As for me, I'll just ask for mercy and compassion toward the referees. [Laughter]

 

But with this great reception you've given me, it's hard to believe that once upon a time, to be a Republican around here felt a little like being Gary Cooper in ``High Noon'' -- [laughter] -- outnumbered in a big way. [Laughter] But I remember the story of a fellow who was running for office as a Republican. He was out in rural territory, and he stopped by a farm to get in a plug. And when the farmer heard he was a Republican, his jaw dropped, and he said, ``Wait right here while I get Ma. She's never seen a Republican before.'' [Laughter]

 

And the candidate looked for a podium -- while he's going to get his wife -- from which he can give a Republican speech; and the only thing he could find was a pile of that stuff that Bess Truman took 35 years trying to get Harry to call fertilizer. [Laughter] And so, when they got back, he was up on the mound, and from there he gave a little speech. At the end of it, the farmer said, ``That's the first time I ever heard a Republican speech.'' And the candidate said, ``That's the first time I've ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, all that, as they say, is history -- or should I say ancient history, which at my age is a subject that I'm regarded as an expert in. [Laughter] You know, very briefly, I was regarded as an economics expert. Of course, that was my college major. But very briefly, they labeled our program Reaganomics. And then it became clear that the program was working. The funny thing is, they don't call it that anymore. [Laughter] But, in fact, experts agree the United States economy has made history.

 

One year ago, our economic recovery became the longest peacetime expansion ever recorded -- and it hasn't stopped. This month the expansion enters its unprecedented 71st month. We've created over 18 million jobs, as you were told, and bringing employment to an all-time high. And these are good jobs. More than 90 percent are full-time, and of these, over 85 percent of them pay better than $20,000 a year. So much for that campaign rhetoric on the other side that these are just menial jobs -- flipping hamburgers or something.

 

Let's remember how in the 1970's inflation and taxes were suffocating families and working people and small businesses, as they tried to make ends meet. I think it's important to note that today -- when hard-working people like you put in long days to provide for your family, to give them a better future -- the Government lets you keep more of what you've earned instead of confiscating it through higher taxes and runaway inflation.

 

Since the recovery began, the unemployment rate in Macomb County has fallen by more than half, and statewide, personal income is up by some 40 percent. But back in Washington, the liberals already are saying that they want to raise taxes, and they have all kinds of inflationary spending programs in the works. But I think the people of Macomb County demonstrated in 1984 that you know what to do with the tax-and-spend crowd. That year, in a recall election, you walked into the polling booth, put your hand on the lever, and said, ``Read my lips! No new taxes!'' [Laughter] Well, in 1988 you need to do the same: Let the liberals read your lips. No new taxes!

 

Since 1981 we've shown that record economic growth, more jobs than ever before, and a greater decline in the unemployment rate than any other major economy not only can be achieved -- but that we could do it while also reducing tax rates, slashing inflation by two-thirds, and cutting interest rates in half. And there's something else, something you don't often read in the papers. Today more Americans are at work, and the highest proportion of our labor force is employed than ever before in the history of this country. And job for job, the jobs we've created in our expansion pay better, as I told you, than the jobs that existed before our expansion began. How did we do it? By getting government out of the way and letting the American people do their thing.

 

You know, in my job I visit many schools and factories, farms and communities around our country, and I get to see why our nation is so strong. Again and again I find myself remembering what General George C. Marshall said when he was asked why he was so confident that we would win World War II. He said, ``We have a secret weapon: the best blankety-blank kids in the whole world.'' Well, in our economy, we have a secret weapon: the best blankety-blank men and women in the whole world.

 

And I would add that over the last 2 years, without much help from Washington's big spending liberals, we have also cut the Federal budget deficit by more than a third -- continued to reduce the trade deficit. And we've still kept the economic expansion going, and we've done it without raising taxes. Incidentally, with regard to that Federal budget deficit, I get very frustrated at some of the campaign rhetoric about the President's deficit. The President of the United States can't spend a dime. Only the Congress can spend money.

 

Well, our program so far has helped middle-income families make their paychecks go further. And the drop in interest rates has made home ownership more affordable. The drop in inflation has protected the savings of citizens and helped those who lived on fixed incomes. And our tax reductions have guaranteed that a family's purchasing power will not be eroded by bracket-creep. Imagine where the American family would be today if the liberals had succeeded in their attempts to block our economic reforms.

 

Of course, the liberals still don't understand how we were able to get rid of their economic crisis, their ``malaise,'' their inflation, their gas lines, and turn this economy around. So, in this campaign, they're treating the good times as if they're a given -- they just happen. Their message is: You can take prosperity for granted. It's time for a change, so take a chance on us, they're saying. [Laughter]

 

You know, that's sort of like someone telling you that you've stored up all the cold beer you could want, so now it's time to unplug the refrigerator. [Laughter] But whether it's a well-stocked refrigerator or our progrowth economic policies, you can't unplug what's working and expect things to stay the same.

 

You know one State, a State that happens to be in New England -- [laughter] -- and to make some very tasty clam chowder -- [laughter] -- has followed economic policies the opposite of those that Vice President Bush and I have implemented. While we have cut taxes, reduced regulation, and limited the growth in Federal spending, this particular State government has, since 1983, increased spending at double the rate of the Federal Government's increase and nearly doubled the State debt. They've added on almost $200 million in additional State taxes and fees this year, but their budget deficit, much too large this year, is projected to be even larger next year.

 

And as for jobs: Since 1984, while the number of manufacturing jobs grew nationally, that one State lost more than 95,000 manufacturing jobs. That's a decline of 14 percent. Now, this New England State has a very fine baseball team. They have a shot at the World Series. But come November, that State's political leadership is going to get a different message. The message on election day will be: ``Strike three, you're out.'' [Laughter]

 

You know, speaking of baseball, I had a lot of fun last week at a Chicago Cubs game. I got to throw a couple of balls and call an inning from the broadcast booth. And I have to say, the differences between the liberals and Chicago's Wrigley Field is that the liberals are still in the dark. [Laughter]

 

You see, what we've done with the economy is important, and we must make sure that it continues. But our special strength as a nation, as you all know so well, is that we can march into the future, leading the world into a new age of growth, technology, and innovation; but we can do so without leaving behind the vital moral foundation, the basic values of faith and family that makes ours a great nation and on which all that we've accomplished has been built.

 

Yes, the family is the bedrock of our nation, but it's also the engine that gives our country life. It is the reason that we produce. It's for our families that we work and labor so that we can join together around the dinner table, bring our children up the right way, care for our parents, and reach out to those less fortunate. It's the power of the family that holds the Nation together, that gives America her conscience, and that serves as the cradle of our country's soul.

 

Well, as I've said before, there really are only two things the liberals don't understand: the things that change and the things that don't. [Laughter] The economy, technology -- these things change, and under us for the better. But America's basic moral and spiritual values -- they don't change.

 

No, the truth is that on issue after issue, the liberals have, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, submitted to ``the modern and morbid weakness of always sacrificing the normal to abnormal.'' They've turned principles at the core of our common culture and common history into partisan issues that hang in the balance as we prepare to elect a new President and Congress. For example, some liberal organizations believe that separation of church and state requires ending the Catholic Church's tax exemption or removing the words ``under God'' from the Pledge of Allegiance. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. They favor the right to retail what they call nonobscene child pornography and think we should repeal the criminal penalties for selling marijuana. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. They think tuition tax credits for children in parochial schools are unconstitutional, that prostitution should be legalized, but that children should be denied the right to begin their school day by joining with their classmates in a voluntary prayer. And I know what you're going to say. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. No, that's not what we, or most Americans, believe. And I think it's time for us to say that America's most basic, fundamental values are not unconstitutional. Now, I'm not saying that all or even most liberals agree with all of these far-out views. But these issues, and there are other examples, raise an important question. You recall a few years back, political figures had to disassociate themselves from groups on the right with crackpot, far-out views. Well, isn't it now time for responsible people to do the same thing with far-out groups on the left?

 

But let me tell you what's exciting; what, in fact, is the big news of the 1988 campaign: that this campaign is developing on the issues, and the American people are finding out what I said some time back -- that the policies of the opposition can be characterized as liberal, liberal, liberal!

 

And now, I'm a former Democrat. But I think you know what I mean when I raise questions about the distinction between rank-and-file Democrats and the liberal leadership of that party in Washington. The liberals may try to mouth some of our words, but when they talk about ``values'' and ``family,'' they mean something very different.

 

For example, the liberals recently proposed a Federal child-care assistance program. But under their program, if you want assistance and wish to leave your child with his or her grandmother that day, grandma will have to be licensed by the Federal Government. One of the liberal congressional staff members behind the bill was asked by a reporter if that was true -- that grandmothers would have to get Federal licenses to take care of their own grandchildren. And the reply came: Yes, of course, it's true. After all -- and here's the quote -- ``How else can you design a program that receives Federal funds?'' Licensing grandmothers -- can you believe that? [Laughter] Next thing you know, they'll say grilling hamburgers is an environmental hazard.

 

Now, there are other values that we should think about this year -- to change the subject here. You know, last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the Munich pact, the naive act of appeasement that brought us the great nightmare of this century, the Second World War. The vain boast that we'd achieved ``peace in our time'' was followed 11 months later by Hitler's invasion of Poland. The lesson from Munich is too clear and too important to be forgotten.

 

That sad lesson is that to be weak is to invite war. And that's why I say to you: America must never be weak. We must always be strong. But even today there are those who have forgotten the ancient principle of peace through strength. And their innocence and naivete would put in question all that we've achieved since Vice President Bush and I took office, all the progress toward ending the twin evils of totalitarianism and nuclear terror.

 

I know that down the road here is an important defense plant that helps to keep America strong. When I see our tanks, I think of the defense of the free world. Of course, other people now look at our tanks and think of what a Boston newspaper columnist -- him, not me -- called Pee-Wee's Armored Adventure. [Laughter] You see, the liberals would break faith with anti-Communist freedom fighters. They oppose a strategic defense against nuclear missiles. They would cancel essential defense systems and receive nothing in return. They're against the B - 1 bomber, and they'd wipe out two carrier battle groups.

 

And even when they say they now favor weapons like the new Trident missile and Stealth bomber, listen closely and you hear them whisper it's just in theory that they favor these systems; they're not prepared to deploy them. But in a dangerous world, weapons that don't exist don't count. Let's remember, the Soviets did business because they saw that we meant business.

 

Well, over the last 8 years, America has begun a great enterprise of resurrection. We have worked to recover the bedrock values that you and most Americans never departed from. We've rebuilt our defenses. Our country is at peace. Our economy is strong, and our future is bright. And one thing's even clearer to me after watching the debate Wednesday night: The Bush-Quayle ticket will continue the policies of peace and prosperity that have, as Dan said, made this great nation ``the envy of the world.''

 

And there's one last issue, yes, more important even than all the other crucial matters we've already discussed. Ladies and gentlemen, just a few years ago, I wonder how many of us could really have believed then that so many of our fondest dreams for America could come true. And of those things that have happened, how many of us could have imagined 8 or even 4 years ago that one day a President of the United States would have an opportunity to stand, as I did a few months ago, there in the Lenin Hills at a podium at Moscow State University and tell the young people of the Soviet Union about the wonder and glory of human freedom?

 

And what a great moment we have before us, and, oh, how future generations will dishonor us if now, in a moment of sudden folly, we throw it all away. So, let's go forth then, you and I, to tell the American people what is really at stake: the fate of generations to come, a hopeful vision of a world of freedom, and a bountiful future of reverence and peace for our children and all the children of the world.

 

So, yes, some say that it's time for a change. But, ladies and gentlemen, let us just remember: We are the change. We started it 8 years ago, and we're going to continue it and extend it to Congress if you do the right thing at the polls on November 8th. Now is a time for action, not complacency. It's time to keep the progress moving, not to sit tight or slip backwards. I think George Bush had it right at the convention: If you have to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to get on one that's going the same direction you are?

 

I'm going to annoy some of my people now. I can't get over this -- share a little something with you. I have a new hobby. I have been collecting jokes that I know are created by the people of the Soviet Union themselves and told among themselves, revealing a great sense of humor, but also a little cynicism about some things in their system. And I've been collecting these stories. I even told a couple of them to the General Secretary. But there are some I wouldn't dare to tell him. [Laughter]

 

One, the most recent, was the one that I got there at the summit, just as I was coming home. They had me in his limousine with General Secretary Gorbachev and the head of my Secret Service unit and his chief security person. And we were sightseeing, and we pulled up by a waterfall. And supposedly we got out of the car to look at the waterfall, and Gorbachev said to my Secret Service man, ``Go ahead, jump. Go over the fall.'' And he said, ``I've got a wife and three kids.'' So, he turned to his own man and said, ``Jump. Go over the waterfall.'' And he did. Well, my man scrambled down the rocks around the waterfall to see if he could be of help down there at the bottom and found the fellow wringing out his clothes, and apparently all right. And he said, ``Well, when he told you to jump and go over the falls, why did you do that?'' He said, ``I've got a wife and three kids.'' [Laughter]

 

Well thank you all, and God bless you.

 

[At this point, the President was given a model train locomotive which was manufactured in Macomb County.]

 

The President. I'll bet you didn't know when you gave me this that for about 15 to 20 years after World War II, I pledged no more flying and rode trains all over the United States -- [laughter] -- and mainly to Santa Fe. It was the best way to get out of Los Angeles. [Laughter] Thank you all very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the Banquet Hall at Penna's Restaurant. He was introduced by James Barrett, president of the Michigan State Chamber of Commerce.