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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Conservative Leaders


Did I interrupt Porter? And if so -- well, to Roger, my thanks if I did, and may I say hello to Doug Weed and, of course, the people that herded this outstanding group together: Jerry Falwell, Ed Prince, Mike Valerio. But in any event, I'm delighted to see you all.

With all the traveling that I'm doing, it's a little different for me to be making an appearance so close to the White House. I was just talking to Barbara. She says, ``You spend more time on the road than Charles Kuralt.'' [Laughter]

This morning, I was talking about this, and I said, I'm looking forward this afternoon to going over and spending some time with friends, and indeed with people who were very instrumental in helping me get to be President at perhaps the most fascinating time in history, or among the most fascinating, certainly, I think, since World War II.

I'm delighted to be with a group for whom ``conservatism'' is not a catchword. As the past two decades show, it's a philosophy to which most Americans subscribe, and I think that's still very true across the country. Conservatives believe in Yankee ingenuity. I recall how a mother once told her son, ``I have a pretty good idea that you skipped your piano lesson and played baseball.'' The son said he hadn't, and the mother said, ``Are you sure?'' And the son said, ``Yes, I have a fish to prove it.'' [Laughter]

Conservatives also believe in science and technology. The more I know about the Hubble telescope, the more impressed I am. So powerful that it'll help us, I'm told, understand the black holes. What I don't understand is why anyone would want to know more about the liberal philosophy.

Conservatives share a vision. I know some reporters say I don't have a vision -- sorry, I don't see it. [Laughter] Instead, I see a vision -- I really do see a vision -- as sweeping as our heritage: an America of prosperity, a world of real peace. And the question is how do we ensure that vision for our generation? As you get a little older, you think even more about the kids.

For an answer, recall how 150 years ago de Tocqueville envisioned a future that would open before us. Its possibilities were infinite, he wrote, because of America's new model, this paradigm of government. A democracy based on a free market unleashing the full energy of the human heart and mind. And that government arose from perhaps the ultimate exercise in returning power to people: the American Revolution.

Now, two centuries later, when old centralized bureaucratic systems are crumbling, the time has come for yet another paradigm; a form of government which, like the spirit of '76, gives power back to localities and States and, most important, to the people; a model which rejects the view that progress is measured in money spent and bureaucracies built.

The first principle in our new paradigm is that as market forces grow stronger our world becomes smaller. Put another way, we must be competitive to ensure economic growth. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to urge the Congress once again -- and I'm going to keep on urging this -- that they pass our capital gains tax cut, spurring investment and thus creating jobs. We don't want government to spend more: we want private enterprise to thrive so that people will have more money to save, to invest, and to spend. To most Americans, I feel, that's a good idea.

As a second principle of our new paradigm -- the freedom to choose. We want to reduce what government should do and increase what people can do. And so, I support a constitutional amendment, will continue to support it, restoring voluntary prayer. We need the faith of our fathers back in our schools. I haven't been President very long, but the longer I am in this job, the more strongly I feel about that.

A choice also means that parents should decide which public school is best for their kids. So, we have proposed -- what many of you have been helpful to us on this -- the Education Excellence Act of 1990 to provide incentives for these magnet school programs. Many States are trying out policies based on choice and finding out they work.

In this one, I want to give credit. It isn't just my party, the Republicans; it's some of the Democratic Governors are out front, way out front, on this particular theory -- choice. Some only think that Big Brother can revive education, but I believe that excellence comes from higher standards, a greater accountability, and more freedom to move within a school system. And if you agree -- I don't want this many influential people to go untapped or arms untwisted -- if you agree with me, I would strongly solicit your help in convincing Congress that the time for this is now.

That leads me to the third principle in the new paradigm -- that means the means to choose. We must empower disadvantaged Americans. So, we've unveiled a program to help the poor run or, better yet, own their public housing units. And we support a child-care tax credit for low-income working parents that enable them to care for their kids in the manner they choose. I will not see the option of religious-based child care restricted or eliminated. We're going to fight against that.

I know many liberals disagree with what I've just said and the philosophy behind it. But that's why last month the House Democratic leadership passed a bill that would cost nearly billion, three times our original proposal, and force, compel, many States to change their rules. In effect, it would produce national child-care standards intended to replace local standards that meet local needs and put in place a lot more unnecessary paperwork.

Conservatives know that we don't need this bureaucracy. It would merely prove what Will Rogers once said: ``Half of America does nothing but prepare propaganda for the other half to read.'' [Laughter] So, let's expand the horizons of our kids, not the budget of the bureaucracy, and through tax incentives give families the help that they need to solve their child-care problems themselves.

Next comes the fourth principle of this new paradigm: decentralization. In America, this means dispersing authority to the level closest to the source of authority -- the people. Places such as Peru, for example -- Hernando deSoto, the brilliant Peruvian economist, found that without any centralized bureaucratic direction the ordinary streetside entrepreneurs of Lima are producing wealth on a scale that rivals the economy officially approved by the state bureaucracy. Elsewhere in the world, decentralization has come about through nothing less than the triumph of democracy over bureaucracy.

Conservatives know that a strong defense has and will continue to help all people secure the right to think and dream and worship as they please. In Lithuania -- as in Czechoslovakia and Nicaragua, Budapest, Berlin -- the words of Thomas Dewey ring true: You can't beat down ideas with a club. Today freedom is on the march and will not be denied.

The fifth and final principle of the new paradigm is what I referred to earlier: We want what works. Our principles, conservative principles, were always right. And now the whole world can see that what's right is also what works. As I've said many times before, and I don't say it with arrogance, we know what works -- freedom works. We are not going to let discredited ideologies block the progress of our principles. You can ask anyone in Poland or Panama: Tyranny doesn't work; freedom does.

At home, we also want what works. So, we've reached agreement with the Senate in the first rewrite of the Clean Air Act in over a decade. I call on the House to respond soon and respond responsibly. This one is difficult because I think we are all committed to leaving the Earth a little better than we found it, and yet we've got to do it in a balanced way -- forward-looking, forward-leaning. But I will not accept legislation that needlessly throws a lot of Americans out of work because of lack of scientific data. I'm going to hold that line, and I would appeal for your help in urging the Congress to keep reality in mind as we go about getting ourselves out front on the cutting edge of environmental protection. I'm determined to be both a person who protects the environment and one who protects the rights of Americans to have jobs. It isn't easy, but I'm convinced that it can be done.

We've unveiled a comprehensive strategy to free America of crime and drugs. A lot of people in this room have given our planners and Roger and his able team -- because of respects, you've worked very closely with Bill Bennett -- to help us with this comprehensive strategy to free America of crime and drugs. We're asking Congress to expand the death penalty for drug kingpins. We need to toughen the crime laws at the State level, just as we are in Washington. My vision for the nineties is an America where punishment is at least as tough as the crime.

Just yesterday, we sent up to the Congress a three-part budget reform package that proposes an amendment to the Constitution -- and I campaigned on this, so there's no surprise -- to provide a line-item veto. We endorsed the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act to strengthen the President's rescission authority and endorse a balanced budget amendment.

The time has come to enact into law these important changes. I sent up to the Congress a special piece of legislation to help Nicaragua and to help Panama. I think we have a real commitment to seeing the success of these fragile new democracies. Before it leaves the House of Representatives, billions -- literally billions, plural -- of spending is added to this very special legislation. I think I need the authority to make the tough decision on spending. Nobody likes to have to say no to constituents or to interests around the country, but if the Congress continues to demonstrate that they can't do it, only the President can.

So, I'd love to have your support on this package on the line-item veto, the legislative line-item veto that will strengthen the President's rescission authority; and then, of course, our commitment to this balanced budget concept. This vision, if you will, is one that I think most conservatives support. It's a vision of limited government, but unlimited opportunity -- a vision to protect the family, empower the poor, and reward creativity.

I like bass fishing. There's a young bass fisherman who is a national champion, a guy named Ricky Clune. Texans will know his name. He's from Montgomery, Texas. One time I was down in Arkansas and saw him win -- or, at the weigh-in -- they did it -- 4,000 or 5,000 people, as these bass boats were driven into the coliseum there. I couldn't believe this -- 4,000 or 5,000 watching people weigh fish there in the middle -- but Ricky Clune, when he got up to speak, said this: ``I learned to fish following my dad down the creeks in my underpants,'' he said, ``down the creeks of Oklahoma.'' And then he said this: ``Isn't it great to live in a country with no limits?''

I've thought about that a great deal. What we're talking about here in this conservative philosophy is unlimited opportunity -- a vision to protect the family, empower the poor, and reward creativity. This new paradigm can fulfill it. I really would ask for your support to achieve promise, not empty promises: lifting people up, helping keep the government bureaucracies at all levels under control and, as conservatives, reject the hand of big government in favor of a Thousand Points of Light, joining hands and linking hearts.

You know, when we started talking about a Thousand Points of Light, there was a few snickers out there. I had to keep defining what I meant. But I think people understand this. I think Americans -- well, since de Tocqueville took a look at America -- understand it. It's real, one American wanting to help another. So, I am going to continue to say that any definition of a successful life must be the involvement in the lives of others, one American helping another. That, I think, is a fundamental part of my concept of how we can do an awful lot more to help people who are desperately in need of help in our country.

So, this is my vision -- yours, I think. What a dream: to enrich America and help us to continue to lead, help us to enrich the world. I am really pleased you were here. Thanks for the privilege of addressing you. And might I say, God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Roger B. Porter, Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy; Douglas Weed, Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison; evangelist Jerry Falwell; Edward Prince, president of Prince Corp.; and Michael Valerio, chairman of the board of Papa Tino's of America, Inc.

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