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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students at Pickard Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois


The President. Good to see you, all of you. Who's going to tell me about what's going on around here? Ana, are you starting, or shall we ask our principal to tell us? Come on, you've said stuff before.

Do you know who came with me? Does everybody know? The Governor of the State, Governor Thompson, who is over here; Congresswoman Lynn Martin, who is a Member of the United States Congress in Washington, but she's from Illinois; and then Mr. Daley, Rich Daley, who is the mayor. You probably see him on television every single night, but I bet you haven't met him before.

Now who is going to tell us some stuff about what you're doing in school here? First place, you all look real beautiful, so I know you got dressed up for me because I don't imagine you wear such a pretty dress every day, do you? No? You say something first, now. You can either ask questions or tell me what you're doing here in school, because I know about the school. I know something about the school. Because you know what I know about it? I know for a fact certain that they've done a wonderful job in joining the war against drugs, and it's not easy. But I know that you all are trying very hard and setting a wonderful example. That's one thing I know about your school. And I also know something else: that a lot of kids come from a lot of different backgrounds. Some from overseas -- different countries. And I know that many speak Spanish in their homes. And I also know that you've got a good program in the school to teach people to -- so everybody will understand English -- get phased in to English.

Now you tell me some stuff. Do you want to go first? Okay.

War on Drugs

Q. President Bush, when some people use drugs, about how much do you arrest the people that use drugs?

The President. Well, we're beginning to make the case that the user, the person that uses drugs, has to pay a penalty. It varies in different situations. But for a long time, everyone felt, well, we'll just go after the real bad guys, you know, the people that were selling the drugs and bringing the drugs into the country. Well, we've got to do that.

In fact, we're working with some of the countries around the world, like in Colombia and Mexico and Peru and Bolivia, to try to stop things at the source. But when people break the law, like in any other subject, they've got to pay a penalty. And that's why I think more and more you're seeing various jurisdictions go after those who use the drugs. Understand that?

Q. Yes.

The President. How about you, Jesse? You got something?

Q. President Bush, how do drugs get into this country?

The President. They get them in through the darnedest ways you've ever seen. You know, they make false bottoms into boats. They put them in these great big cargo containers, these great big steel containers, and then seal them. They mix them in plastic bags. They drop them into different kinds of products coming in. They fly them sometimes in airplanes, like little planes, and then drop them out, and they're picked up by boats. They're carried in by people that they call mules. They use human beings to swallow the drugs in a container and then come in like that through customs and then regurgitate them. All kinds of ways -- and it's very hard to stop them. We are not going to win the drug war by interdiction alone. We can do better; I think we are doing better. People are interdicting just tons of drugs. It still comes in. It's an important one.

You know anybody whose family came from Colombia here, in South America? Nope? Anybody from Mexico? Hey, well, in Mexico we're having great cooperation now. They've got a new President. And he's working very hard -- his military -- working with specialists from the United States, from our country, to stop the drugs right at its source, to the degree they come from there -- you know, where it's planted there. And then soon I'll be having a meeting with the Presidents of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to talk about what else we can do to stop them from -- it's a good question, Jesse.

Hey, I've got to see your name and everything. Ricky, what have you got?

Q. President Bush, how can you stop drugs coming to our country?

The President. Well, you've got to stop them by having a coordinated effort along the border, all the law enforcement people working as a team. You've got to do it at sea as best we can, stopping -- having the Coast Guard, who is doing a wonderful job. Now with me here was Secretary Skinner, Secretary of Transportation, who has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard. And they have these Coast Guard vessels that stop vessels on the high seas and in U.S. waters. You can do both if you work it out properly. And then they inspect them. Or you get intelligence -- you know, somebody will tip you off: There's a shipment of drugs coming in here. And then the agents will be there to greet the shipment and make sure they take over the drugs and penalize the people that are bringing them in.

But there are so many ways, Ricky, that people do that -- bring them in.

Q. President Bush, how do you stop drugs?

The President. How do you stop people using them? Well, do like your program in the school. You know, listen to your principal as she teaches everybody in this school to turn their back. There's a lot of programs. There's a wonderful program called DARE, which was started really with the cooperation of the police department. I don't know whether that's working here or not, mayor. But you go to the schools, these police officers who really do a good job, and they teach kids, as you've done here, to say no to drugs. They teach them how to say no to people that come in and tempt you by a better life:``We'll give you money. You can have good things if you use them.'' And then -- so, these programs teach people to turn away, walk away, even though it's tough.

How about on this side: Any questions? Rebecca, you got one? You don't have to. Yes, we'll go with Carlos, Gabriel back there, and then you be thinking. What have you got?

Q. We know that we've got to say no to drugs, but what else do we got to do to stop drugs? What else?

The President. Well, that's a very important thing so you, yourselves, don't do it. If you know friends that are, it's important to talk to them, because they respect you. Sometimes it seems hard to believe, but they respect you if you are saying no, so then you can help them. And then you can come to some teacher and say, look, this person needs help. I tried to talk to him as my friend, but he's caught up in this. And then you can have -- you've got wonderful teachers here and you've got a principal, and she can help. Sometimes the church can be helpful -- your priest and those sisters or wherever else in your church. They can be extraordinarily helpful. So, it's not just yourself, which is very important.

You know, the saddest thing -- the saddest thing -- is when parents use drugs. And kids are being taught by these wonderful schools: Don't use drugs. And yet, then they go home, and maybe their parents abuse the substance. And then you have to go to your teacher, or to your priest, or somebody that -- counselor, your drug counselor, and say, I need your help. I want to tell on somebody, that my family is hurting their own lives by doing this. That's the hardest kind, I think.

But once you decide you're not going to do it, then I think the answer is -- what can you do, Carlos? Reach out and try to help others.

Q. Are you going to stop drugs?

The President. We're trying hard, and we've got a whole program that has national support. And it is more than rhetoric; we're trying to change the laws. We're getting good cooperation from the Congress. You have mayors like your mayor, who is determined -- Mayor Daley out there trying to do everything he can through education and through his police. And Governor Thompson took the lead on a statewide antidrug approach. So, it's a combination. It's not just Washington, and this is important because people think the President of the United States -- he can do everything. A lot of people think that, but there are certain limits on what you can do. And this one is not going to be won unless it starts in the classroom or in the home and it goes to the city. And you've got a mayor that cares -- he's really trying.

You go to the State -- the man who has to be responsible for every city and town -- a Governor that cares. You go to the Congress, where you have Congresswoman Martin, who cares and who takes the lead in legislation and, certainly in her case, in education. She used to be a teacher. So, she can help take the message out all across the State of Illinois and, in her case, nationally -- to help each other to do it, to stay away.

Q. How long have you tried to stop drugs?

The President. How long? Well, you know, it's funny because when I was little, there probably -- that was a long time ago -- there probably was drug use. You go back into history -- there's been drug use long before now, but it's only in recent years that it's become a major national problem. In fact, some people used to think it was funny. And you'd see in movies -- you'd see people who had used some terrible drug, and people would laugh about them instead of condemning. So, it's changed.

But I guess, officially, my major responsibility started when I was Vice President. I was elected Vice President in 1980, when you were a tiny baby -- not so tiny baby -- and then I had -- some of the area that I had -- some responsibility for was getting all the agencies in the Federal Government to try to interdict drugs, to try to do what Ricky asked about: to stop them from coming in. And yet they still come in. It's got to be done -- try to stop them from coming in and then try to get people on what they call the demand side -- just turning your back on it, saying no, and helping others learn to do that.

The Presidency

Q. Are all the Presidents rich? [Laughter]

The President. No. In our history, some didn't have much money at all. And that certainly should never be a requirement. I hope that some people are thinking: Just because we come here, you see, maybe I'll be President someday. Do you ever think about that? You should because it's fun to dream about stuff.

Q. How does it feel to be President?

The President. Sometimes it feels good, and sometimes it feels less good. But most of the time it's wonderful because I like my job, and I like a lot of parts of it. Some of it I don't like. There are some parts I don't like, but I like what I'm supposed to be doing, and so does my wife like -- she's trying to help people on literacy. And I like this part of the job. You meet people. And you can say to a school principal, and hope that people hear it all over the country: Hey, you're doing a first-class job. And so there's some wonderful things.

You know what I got to do? Some of the boys are interested. Just before I came here, I got to meet the quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team. And I know Mike Ditka, and I know some of the others. So, I get some fun stuff to do in sports. Then you think -- you're President; you think you're helping.

We're going off to meet Mr. Gorbachev, and in a week or so you're going to be reading all about that because it will be in every paper. And why are we doing it? Well, we're trying to make the world a little more peaceful. We want it to be a place where you grow up -- that you don't have to worry about having to go off to war. You can think about what this guy's thinking about -- maybe getting to be President or maybe getting a good education or going out and helping others.

Q. How come you became President?

The President. How did I get to be President? Well, I was in politics a long time, and I was in business, and I worked hard. I decided in the late seventies that I wanted to be President, and then I went out and worked for it. And I had a lot of help. You can't do it alone. You get help. Your Governor helped me; and this Congresswoman, Lynn Martin, was extraordinarily helpful to me. And then people that aren't in office -- they helped. So, you have to get people behind your case and your cause. In my case, I ran and lost for the Senate, for example. I got up -- friends pick you up, dust you off, put you back in the game, and you try again. Then I ran for President and lost in 1979. And then President Reagan suggested to our convention that I be Vice President, and then we were elected. And then for 8 years I was Vice President. And then I ran again.

So, it's that way. But you have to work at the grassroots; you have to care about people, I think. But you have to be willing to try, to risk something. And you've got to learn that if somebody says something ugly about you, don't worry about it. I used to be very worried when I was much -- 15, 20 years ago. Somebody said something that was critical, I would worry about that. I don't worry about that anymore. So, you have to have a fairly thick skin, but never so thick that you don't care about people.

You think you're going to give it a try someday? Maybe? I hope so. I bet you'd be good.

War on Drugs

Representative Martin. Mr. President, can we ask the kids something, just because they've been such wonderful kids?

The President. Yes.

Representative Martin. How many of you have ever seen or know about drugs in your neighborhood right now? So, see, they're kind of our frontline troops, aren't they?

The President. Yes, they are. People try to sell them to you and stuff? Or get you involved in it some way?

Representative Martin. There's a generation that can make a difference.

The President. Yes. Good luck.

The President's Dog

Q. How is your dog doing?

The President. How's our dog? Oh, she's wonderful. I don't want to say this in front of anybody, but I had to take her into the shower yesterday and give her a bath because she rolled in something bad. I mean, really bad. [Laughter] And so, Barbara, my wife, said: ``Would you mind giving Millie a bath?'' So, even when you're President, you've got to do some stuff that isn't too good or fun. But when she slept up on our bed last night, she was very clean, and she smelled real good.

Okay, we'll see you.

Q. How many puppies did Millie have?

The President. Millie had six puppies. She had five daughters and a son. And the son: he's now 8 months old. And he's much bigger than Millie, and he plays with her. And we had her up at Camp David, and they run through the woods looking for things, but there's some bad news. See that rabbit over there? Don't let him out if Millie comes to this school, okay? [Laughter] The other day -- I wouldn't say this, because I know they won't report this -- but the other day, running through the woods, Millie caught something, and Mrs. Bush said to the Secret Service man: ``What is that?'' And the Secret Service guy said: ``A bunny.'' She had caught this bunny.

Okay, we'll see you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:40 a.m. in Room 305. In his remarks, he referred to fifth grade student Ana Zamora, who had written him a letter about widespread drug abuse in her neighborhood. The President also referred to Sylvia F. Asllani, the school principal, and students Jesus Castro, Ricardo Ramirez, Rebecca Cervantes, Carlos Guttierrez, and Gabriel Ortega.

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