Reagan on Reagan

Look at all the grief the President has. Why would you want the job, Governor? Well, maybe because I feel very strongly about things that should be done that aren't being done, and mainly because I guess in one way if you look at it, of all of us who are running, I had the second top governmental executive position in the United States by virtue of being governor of California, which is the next governmental body of size to that of the federal government. And I had at that time a government that was in about the same shape as the federal government, with many of the same problems. We resolved those problems, and maybe I believe that circumstances have just put me in a position where I might be able to produce some of the answers.

In other words, you really think that you can make our federal government work?

Well, yes, I have no illusions about how difficult it is or the power of the bureaucracy to preserve itself. All those things.But I'd sure like a crack at it because I don't believe we can continue going down this road.

Do you think you can make government work if you go in and you have a Democratic Congress that probably won't go along with your initiatives?

That is the other coincidence. I had a Democratic Legislature in California and I found that you can make them respond.

Do you really think you could make a "difference" as president?


And where, specifically, where do you think a Reagan presidency can make a difference that would be perceived by all of us?

Well, for one thing, I have been talking this for a long time. I believe the federal government is doing things that the Constitution never intended that it should do. It has gradually usurped more and more power, more and more functions that belong at different levels of government. And I would like to see a planned and orderly transfer back to state and local governments of some of those functions that have been seized and the transfer with them of tax sources to pay for them.

How would you solve the soaring inflation, with OPEC prices which seem out of the control of any president?

Are they? For both of them, I think both crises are caused by government. We know that inflation is based on the federal government spending and spending more than it's taking in, going into the private capital market, having a tax system that is virtually all that the citizenry can bear but which then becomes regressive and which holds back productivity, and complicating it further with flooding the market with printing-press money and imposing regulations by the tens of thousands on every area of business and the economy. And these regulations in many instances increase production costs but lower productivity. Now if government can cause that, government can change that.

With regard to energy, I just don't think it makes any sense to sit here in what is actually an energy-rich nation and cry because we're at the mercy of OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] for 45 percent of our oil, our energy. We not only are oil-rich, natural gas-rich, we sit on the biggest coal pile of any country in the world. And the answer to OPEC and freeing ourselves from that very dangerous situation in my mind is to increase the production of energy sources here.

What would you do about taxes?

Taxes? I happen to favor the Kemp-Roth tax bills. Four times in this century we have known such across-the-board tax cuts or reduction of rates. I prefer to say it that way, reduction of tax rates. And every time the response of the economy has been such that even the government wound up getting more money.

But wouldn't tax cuts, as you desire them, mean a loss of billions of dollars of revenue?

But will it? It didn't before. It didn't when John F. Kennedy did it. Now Kennedy asked for a 30 percent cut, which is the total over a three-year period that Kemp-Roth is asking for. And Kennedy was not given all of that.

The Congress gave him actually a 27 percent average. He got 30 percent at the bottom and about 23 percent at the top. But the very first year, the income tax brought in $1.1 billion more than it had been bringing in at the higher rates the year before, and the total government revenues were up $5.8 billion in that first year; and it got better from then on.

Right now, what I perceive a tax cut to do is, a tax cut will not really cut the basic revenues of government. It will decrease the increase in taxes because the federal government is getting a profit on inflation of about $1.60 every time the cost of living goes up a dollar -- through bracketry, the people moving up into the higher tax brackets and so forth; so that actually a three-year phased-in tax cut is simply going to be reducing what otherwise is going to be a horrendous tax increase.

But you have talked about cutting spending. Where would this come in?

Yes. Now I think that government -- and one makes mistakes but again I hark back to the experience we had in California -- government defends itself any time anyone talks about cutting costs by saying, "OK, which program would you do away with?"

Now, suppose you look at governmemt not from the standpoint of eliminating programs, although there are programs that are not worth their cost and should be done away with. But look at government from the standpoint of "Is it running those programs as efficiently, as economically, as they can be run?" Is there not a great layer of bureaucratic waste and fat in the federal government?

And I think every indication is -- well, the General Accounting Office right now has told a congressional committee that it can name 11 absolutely unneccessary spending items that total almost $11 billion.

What about the charge, Governor, that your cuts would impact on the poor and disadvantaged in this country?

I don't think they would. They didn't in California when We did the things that I'm talking about. Our economies did not hurt the poor. As a matter of fact, I think everyone was better off. We were even able to raise the grants for the truly needy on welfare by 43 percent. If you eliminate the waste in government, it is not going to the poor and needy. The waste in government is going to a pretty well-set class of officials who have made a career out of the poor.

You say that the President has dillied and dallied with the hostage problem. What would you do to get them out?

Well, if it is true that the President has now sent a firm letter, literally an ultimatum setting a deadline as to when the government of Iran is to take those hostages away from that ragtag mob that's holding them, that would be one step forward. But you have to say that the letter is about five months late.

Are you advocating force in trying to free the hostages -- military force?

No. What I have said -- because for one thing, and I think this is true of all of us as candidates, none of us have been talking about what we would do; and I can't say it now, what alternative, what would you suggest, because you may say something either that brings harm to the hostages or you might say something that would interfere with maybe some plan that is going on. But I have had no hesitation to criticize in the past, and I simply think that to continue exploring diplomatic channels in violation of firm statements that he made over a five-month period is not the answer to a situation of this kind. I think that in the first several, well, let's say the first 72 hours, you explore the diplomatic channels.

You are critical of this President.What is really wrong with this President? . . .

Well, maybe Secretary of the Treasury [W. Michael] Blumenthal said it when he left office. He said that this administration came to office in Washington with no economic plan of its own and then just looked around for whatever was there and at hand.

And it seems to be also true of foreign policy and some other things. There doesn't seem to be, well, a strategy let's say, for these years that has been thought out; that if an Afghanistan happens, or a thing like Iran, you have thought of contingency plans, the things that you do. We're reacting to each one of these things.

The other thing that the President seems to do is be very careless with the credibility of this nation. He makes a speech with regard to the Russian brigade in Cuba and makes it unequivocally clear that he will not stand for the continued status quo there. Well, after he has made the speech, nothing has happened and the Soviet brigade is still there. He then made the same -- a very , in diplomatic language, a very firm warning of serious consequences to follow if their troops massed on the Afghanistan border and went across that border. Well, they crossed the border. And where are the stern consequences that he mentioned?

Speaking of presidents, who is your favorite president? And why?

I don't know that I could pick one. There are the obvious greats. Washington and Lincoln and all of the men back there at the beginning of this nation. But I -- you can't pick one, you pick presidents that under certain circumstances did things. It's like a Winston Churchill, who did things that needed doing at the time.

I think that there have been presidents who have been vastly underrated. One of them would be Eisenhower. Everyone liked to talk about his golf and everyone thought that because he didn't seem to be 27 hours a day in the Oval Office that , it has been suggested, that he was a do-nothing president. Yet if you look back at the record, it is beginning now to become clear that he was a darned good manager, that he brought to the presidency that expertise from the military that he had used so well in World War II to bring all those diverse nations together.

He brought it to Washington and he had an administration that probably was the last really prosperous years we've known with virtually no inflation. There was certainly peace in the world. And I remember one thing that he did that's very little noticed. If you remember the great furor over Quemoy and Matsu, and oh, the editorials that just because we had a treaty with Taiwan we must not go to war over these little rocky islands -- that would be a terrible thing.

And all he said about those two islands, he said: "They'll have to climb over the Seventh Fleet to do it." And nobody climbed over the Seventh Fleet, nobody tried to, and there was no war and Quemoy and Matsu remained free.

How would you move toward peace in the Mideast?

Well, I don't think that the United States should seek to impose a settlement on those countries. There has been progress made and I think it is up to them, but I think that what we do is stand by, hopefully win the trust of everyone on both sides to the point that they have confidence that they could turn to us for help if they want to -- counsel and advice -- but that we don't, as I say, impose the settlement on them.

But do you or do you not favor Israeli settlements on the West Bank?

Well, as far as I read 242, the United Nations resolution, the West Bank was to remain open to all, the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Jews, the Christians, and then over a period of time or after a period of time, Jordan and Israel were to work out a settlement of the West Bank.

Who is your adviser on the Mideast?

Well, I have a number of fine advisers on the whole field of international happenings here. . . .

Particularly on the Mideast?

Good lord, if I could -- I don't think I could come down to one person that has been discussing that. We have had some large roundtable meetings.

You seem to be willing to let down all barriers to Mexicans crossing the border, am I right on that?

Not just instantly opening the border. What I have said was that in a North American accord I would like to see if we could not bring Mexico, Canada, and the United States really into an accord. . . . I'd like to start by talking to them and see what their ideas might be. Now, we can hear the horrendous tales about the illegal aliens from Mexico. On the other hand, that is a safety valve for Mexico with its some 40 percent unemployment.

I understand. But what about all the people in the lower-income brackets in this country, particularly the blacks, whose jobs are threatened by really hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of these Mexicans coming over in the next few years?

Well, most of them are pretty temporary. They come and they go. And very seldom is there any evidence that they are really taking jobs away from Americans. But what I would like to see, this would be one of the problems to try and work out with a neighboring country like Mexico, which is one of our greatest trading partners, and that is: How could we help meet their problems?

This is not altruism or our part. Can a Mexico continue with a 40 percent unemployment rate? Can we close that border to where even that little bit of relief is not provided without the danger coming that one day we might have another Castro-like country with a 2,000-mile border with the United States. ow isn't it to our advantage also to see if we can't work out with them something that will help with their problem and that will lead to a border in which -- its two-way, this border -- Mexicans with permits legitimately could come in here and take work, would pay taxes while they were here, and so forth.

I understand that you would not choose people in your administration from the Trilateral Commission, is that correct?

This has become quite such a thing, of course, with this administration's entire top echelon coming from that one group. I don't know anything of the things that some people are saying about this being some kind of conspiracy or something. But I haven't particularly seen people there on it that I would turn to. So because of the feeling that some people have about it. I've said that isn't the direction I would go.

Where would you go now to get the people who would serve you in your top jobs? . . .

Well, I'd do what I did in California. No area was closed. But what I did was get a committee together to help me, and I said, "I want you to be a screening committee, screening applicants for government jobs. You are a recruiting committee, and in addition to qualification for the job, the other requirement is I want people that don't want a job in government. I don't want people who would get in an empire and build and see their department grow larger."

How about the charge that has been made against President Carter that, because he was an outsider, it's been very difficult for him to get his job done in Washington.At least it's made him slower in getting started. Won't you have the same problem?

No, I don't think that's really his problem.

You would be called an outsider?

Sure, and he campaigned on that. And he campaigned on all the things he was going to do. And if you'll look, he turned 180 degrees from his campaign promises. And the only one that I know he kept was with regard to the runaways in Canada. But, no, that isn't his problem with Washington. What is different with learning to work with a Congress than learning to work with a Democratic state legislature, which I had in both houses?

But they were Californians, many of whom you knew.

Not before I got in government.

That's right. You were a stranger in California government weren't you?

Yes, that's right.

So you've been through this process before?

Yes, and with regard to this so-called Washington experience: Is being, for example, a legislator, the best training for an executive position? It's an entirely different world where they work together, working out compromise, group decisions, etc. And if Washington is the source of the great talent and ability to straighten out the country, how come it's in the mess it's in?

Any names of anyone you might be looking at for possible top jobs?

No, this would not be the time.I have a feeling that it's too early in the race for me to jinx myself by talking as if I'm going to be the fellow that they will be picking.

Now, on some other subjects -- some that may be a little more personal, but everything is relevant, you know, when you run for president -- would you as president make a lot of your religion? What is your feeling about this?

Well, I wouldn't wear it on my sleeve. But at the same time I can't deny that I wouldn't have the nerve to undertake this job if I didn't think I could call on God for help.

You have a deep religious faith?


What are your favorite books?

I have to tell you that it has been a long time since I have been able to enjoy or sit down and enjoy a book. I hate to confess that -- but I am constantly and have been beset with reports, with memorandums not just as a candidate but while governor, that's where it began -- as governor, that there was very little time to read a book. You went home with a briefcase full every night. And . . .

But over the years?

Well, I was a very voracious reader as a youngster and not very particularly selective. I'd read some things that were just for the fun of reading. Novels and so forth. But when I was a small boy I used to about once a week -- and I'm talking about when I was about eight or nine years old -- make that evening trip after dinner to the public library in Dixon, Illinois, and come home with a couple of books. But they covered everything.

Is the age question you relevant, or is it unfair?

Well, I think it's irrelevant, whether it's unfair or not.

How are you going to keep GOP moderates from moving over and voting for the Democrats this fall? Much as they did with Goldwater.

Well, you see, Goldwater was not perceived as a conservative.Everything, in all the studies and surveys afterward revealed that they had successfully created an image of Goldwater being a dangerous radical. Now, California was 5 to 3 Democrat, almost 2 to 1, when I won the governorship by a million votes. So there had to be a lot of crossover of Democrats.

So you hang onto the moderates, too?

Yes, and now, Florida, for example, in the recent primary: the post-election polls showed that I had the biggest block of those who called themselves moderates and I had the biggest block of crossovers.

What is there about you that you feel appeals to moderates?

Well, I think very probably it's based on the record. I think four years ago there was not that much known about my record in California. But after a national campaign and now through this campaign and so forth I think they are beginning to see that maybe there was a false perception. But also, don't you think that part of it is because a great many of the moderates have today discovered that some of the things that those of us who were called conservatives were warning about have come true, that there has been a movement of the country. . . .

. . . in your direction?


And you don't feel you have to move so much, that they are moving toward you? . . .

I think so. They have discovered -- well, when Gold-water was running, the polls as I recall them at the time used to run about 75, 76 percent of the people actually believed the federal government had the answers to the social and economic problems. So they had confidence that the federal government would solve the problems.

Today, we've had all these years in between in which the federal government hasn't solved the problems. It's created problems and now the people are beginning to see that the things they had faith in didn't work, and that there must be a different way to do things.

Some say you had a good governorship in California, and that it was because you surprised them by being more liberal than they had expected. Is it possible that down deep within you there are certain elements that have their roots in your earlier political period when you were a Democrat and liberal?

Or maybe the thing is that in many people's minds being conservative they think means being without compassion. I don't think is true. And I think they were surprised to find that in my case this was not true.

For example, I worked my way through college. I was poor when I was young. When I got to the governor's office I discovered that the total state -- now in spite of the fact that the state was going bankrupt -- that the total state budget for needy students' scholarships was $4 million in a state of 20 million people. When I left office it was $43 million.

One of the first things I did with the director of prisons -- I brought him in and I said, "Look, a liberal couldn't do this because he would be suspected of being soft on crime.

"But," I said, "I have always believed that we've got a better chance of rehabilitating a certain type of criminal if he doesn't lose his family while he's in prison.

"And," I said, "I would like your feelings, because I could tell you mine, they are very strong, about providing the conjugal visit, based on good behavior and so forth, for prisoners that we think are possible to rehabilitate."

Well, we did it for a period in one prison and then put it in all the prisons. . . .

Well, I know this is not the usual image someone has, but maybe conservatives do have compassion.

Are you saying that as president you're not going to be a president for the privileged or the so-called upper class, that you would be a president of all the people and for the disadvantaged, too?

Yes. Because -- well, let me say this, what I thought was maybe the difference between me and my predecessor in California, who always made a point of the fact that he was compassionate and that I was hard . . .

Governor Brown Sr.?

Yes, and they said I was a hard person. Well, all of us have compassion for the truly needy, the disadvantaged, the person who has to have our help. All of us want to put out a helping hand. But maybe I've got enough compassion, too, for that guy who isn't asking for anything, that's working his head off, getting up in the morning and going to work, the kids go off to school, he pays his bills, supports his church and charity and all he asks of government is that he be free to do what he wants to do. These are the people that make this system work. And they're the ones that today are bearing all the burden and they are getting worse off, not better off.

You've come a long distance politically, haven't you? You were once a liberal Democrat years ago?

I was.

From a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican: I suppose that your presidency would be, in a sense, a utilization of the totality of that experience, would it not?

Yes, I guess we're all the sum total of all our previous experiences and I would have to say this that I've always believed:

I believe this of the governorship within a state, I believe it of the presidency. You are the only one in the government that is elected to represent all the people. The senators represent their states first, congressmen naturally their districts, and that's the way it's supposed to be. But the president, he represents them all.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Reagan on Reagan
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today