Public Papers

Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Business Leaders


The President. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very, very much for being with us today. Before I make some remarks, I just want to introduce you to some of the people with whom I'm working here in the White House, with whom a lot of you will be interacting one way or another.

I know you know our Secretary of Labor over here, Liddy Dole. Roger Porter is going to be doing a lot in our domestic policy. Over at this table is Bonnie Newman, who has got a major management responsibility in the White House. And Andy Card is the Deputy to the Chief of Staff. And Boyden Gray many of you have worked with in regulatory relief. He's the General Counsel to the President and is heading a lot of the issues as it relates to ethics. Steve Studdert over here and Dave Demarest are in our outreach and our communications end of things. General Scowcroft most of you know -- I don't want to date him, but most of you know him from previous incarnations -- [laughter] -- is the national security adviser. Richard Breeden over here worked very closely with me in the past on regulatory matters. He's now wrestling with the savings and loan problem. So, if he looks discomforted, why, it wasn't the food. [Laughter] Gregg Petersmeyer at this table, here from Colorado, back in the White House after quite a few years absence, but he is handling this concept of voluntarism, national service. I can't see over here who we -- oh, Marlin Fitzwater is our Press Secretary, and with him, Joe Hagin, fresh from Ohio, who is handling the scheduling. Michael Boskin is head of our Council of Economic Advisers. And Bobbie Kilberg, sitting over here, is part of our major outreach to the different communities. And Jim Cicconi is the Staff Secretary that keeps everything moving inside the White House. And of course, on my left here is John Sununu, our Chief of Staff.

And if I missed somebody, it's the glare. [Laughter] It's not that I don't know the names of the people with whom I work. [Laughter] But listen, I wanted to thank you all for being here. It's great to see so many old friends. Having made my living in the hydrocarbon business -- that's a polite name for what's left of the oil business -- [laughter] -- I do have some appreciation of what some of you all face in business.

And today we're in the midst of a long peacetime economic recovery. Productivity is up; real family income is up. A higher percentage -- you know this litany -- percentage of the work force at work than any time in history and a lot of job creation, better than Europe and Japan. So, I am very proud of what the business sector has accomplished. And we are the most prosperous and most generous and most productive Nation. But I would say that we've still got a long, long way to go, and we've got some big problems out there. But if we need a reminder of who we are, you can look around this room and see the creativity of business and see how you have added tremendously to the GNP of our country.

Lately we've been talking a lot publicly -- the last couple of weeks -- about ethics. And I need your help in establishing and then achieving the highest possible standards and then performance in the field of ethics. It isn't just government. I think we need to set the best possible example in corporate America, in the workplace itself, and then, certainly, in government service. We've got to do better in terms of eliminating conflicts of interest for those who serve. And we need to assemble a government that the people can be proud of: a government, to a large extent, already comprised, I'd say, of honorable men and women who share conviction that a public office is, indeed, a public trust.

So, my emphasis on ethical public service is not some fad or passing fancy. It's something that I would like to see our administration institutionalize as best we can. Having said that, I am concerned about the excesses. And I'm talking to some right here in this room. I don't think we ever want to make it so it's impossible for men and women who have accomplished something to come and serve because of perception -- it might throw a conflict of interest out there. And so, as we try to achieve our standards now and as we try to codify these standards, I hope we can do it without discouraging men and women from coming to Washington to serve.

Last week, I appointed a bipartisan commission headed by former judge and now our Ambassador Malcolm Wilkey. Cochairman of that is Griffin Bell, who is favorably known to everybody in this room, a former great Attorney General of this country -- to develop ethics reform proposals that are going to address all the branches of the Federal Government. And again, we welcome from the business community the advice and counsel on this effort.

Some of you have sent Boyden Gray, my General Counsel, your own codes of ethics and worked with him in this regard, and that's been very helpful to us. It's because some businesses are way out front on setting standards that I think will have good relevance for the Federal Government. We have to simultaneously assure that our public servants have the highest possible ethical standards at the same time we ensure that we don't create this bureaucratic quagmire that keep honorable men and women from serving. And this one, as I just mentioned, is not easy. It is a delicate balance.

The American people know that we're facing some very tough choices in the weeks and months ahead. I still feel that they want us to hold the line on taxes and that they want us to keep this economic engine going. They realize that that's mainly a function of the private sector. But we in government have a responsibility to see that we don't enact things that inadvertently slow down the economic engine of this country. I've got to have as a prime goal seeing the creation of more jobs, more growth. And so, next week we're going to have to come forward with some tough decisions when I send a budget message up there to the Congress a week from yesterday.

We want to keep this deficit heading downward. And I've heard from a lot of you here the importance of having what we send up there credible so that world markets will understand that this is for real. And if the world markets understand that it's for real -- it doesn't have to happen overnight -- then I think we're going to see a very salutary effect on interest rates. So, we want to keep the deficit heading downward. And I'm pledged, obviously, to that goal.

There's another thing about the people of this country. Americans have long been committed to helping people at home and abroad in achieving literacy, housing, and safety -- a commitment that stems from our innate sense of fairplay as a people, innate sense of justice, if you will. So, there's more than altruism involved. And when I talk about a kinder and gentler nation, I realize that you cannot legislate kindness. The President can't sign an Executive order and decree that we have a gentle nation.

But the Presidency does provide an incomparable opportunity to set a tone, to lead a movement. And so, I wanted to ask all of you to do that which so many of you are already doing: Involve yourselves in this vast cooperative movement, unparalleled in magnitude, certainly unparalleled in its nobility of purpose. And I'm talking about the concept of voluntarism, the concept of national service. It's going to be a movement whose leadership extends from the South Lawn of the White House to the grassroots of America. But really, it's the other way around because it's the communities and it's neighbors that really have the line action on this concept -- a movement that respects the dignity of the individual and that is steeped in the values that have made this country great for more than 200 years. And it is this spirit that deTocqueville found when he looked at this country of neighbor helping neighbor that has made us decent and generous, more so, I'd say, than any other country. And if we can revitalize the embers of that spirit, we will be this kinder and gentler place to live.

And that's where many of you, as I say, have already starred. As I look around this room -- and I'm not going to start singling out the examples that are represented here of your commitment to literacy or fighting drugs or whatever it is -- and you can do it far better, far more effectively than the Federal Government in Washington, DC. The essence of our government, of course, a democracy of and for and by the people.

To be successful, our movement on national service has got to be exactly the same thing. And the challenges are great. Government, as I say, cannot do everything, certainly can't do it alone without the will of the people. It really can't do anything.

But we've opened here now an Office of National Service. Gregg Petersmeyer, under the Chief of Staff, has the lead on that. It will be in the White House. It will help lead the community and national service programs. We will not only build on what was known as the private sector initiatives, which President Reagan began and which many of you in this room were actively involved in, but, actively, I'll be seeking your leadership and involvement on specific initiatives; one, the Yes to America Foundation, Youth Entering Service, which I talked about last fall and which I'm determined to implement this winter.

I don't want the Federal Government getting in the way, incidentally, of the tens of thousands of volunteer programs that work effectively. I simply want to encourage more voluntarism. You know, each of us is shaped in life by little events or things that he or she encountered. And I remember 8 years ago -- or maybe 10 now, campaigning in John Sununu's State, and being told of the Meals on Wheels program in Salem, New Hampshire -- that the volunteer aspect of that program had been eroded out by Federal legislation and that the regulations were drawn in such a way that the neighbors that had been helping older neighbors no longer were free to participate and volunteer. So, I certainly think we have to avoid that kind of crowding out on the part of the regulators, on the part of my administration, or on the part of the United States Congress.

During the past several months, you've heard me speak of a Thousand Points of Light. That's given the cartoonists a wide array of new material -- [laughter] -- the best one being a Thousand Pints of Lite keg -- [laughter]. But other people are beginning to understand what I perhaps very inarticulately talked about. I've been using that phrase as shorthand for the fact that we're a nation of communities, thousands of business and professional and religious and ethnic communities and in this diversity is our key to success, it's our strength.

The community, next to the family, is the most important unit of our nation. And I've got to remember that as we kind of come up with urban policies -- or Liddy and I work together on child care, or whatever else it is -- a community has got to be more than just the bricks or mortar. Our community, our town, our neighborhood: It's where we live, where we work, where the kids play, and it's where we invite friends over. And so, we've got to keep these communities strong by whatever kinds of policies we spell out in our administration.

I'm committed to dramatically increasing, and a lot of this is simply exhortation, community participation in order to pragmatically address the difficult problems that are challenging our country. We need to build this community spirit in every community, large and small. And we need to tap America for its very best in terms of dedication and the leadership.

You all have been more active than most, I know, in community service and so I again want to say thank you. You have my heartfelt respect. We need your work. We need your experience. And to those of you who are still looking for ways to help, I just would urge you to come on in, the water's fine. We need you to help us face this challenge. It's not just your money, individually and corporate, it's time and, again, it's exhortation on the part of the leaders of the business community. So, I would welcome your help on all of that.

Let me just end by a quick update. I know it's of interest to people here, the visit yesterday with the Japanese Prime Minister went well. Prime Minister Takeshita was our first official formal foreign visitor to come here to this country. And during our discussions yesterday we simply reaffirmed our responsibilities in the cause of world peace. We also reviewed the progress that our nations have achieved in bringing the economies into better balance and in further opening our markets to each other's goods and services. We, in this country, carry a disproportionate responsibility for the defense requirements of free countries. Japan, given its economic standing today, is willing to accept much more in the way of responsibility for helping in the whole development aid side of things.

So, we had a good chance to discuss that. We did not go into every trade problem that faces our country. Both of us are realistic men, the Japanese Prime Minister and me, and we realize we're going to have some confrontation at times or certainly some differences of opinion. But I'm going to do my level best, working with our good new trade team, to be sure that we are treated fairly, that we have access, that we are not operating under standards that favor one side to the detriment of the other.

But the visit went well, and I think Prime Minister Takeshita wants very much to have that cooperative relationship. And we don't want to take these things for granted. It's not the reason I'm going to Japan for the funeral to pay my respects on behalf of the American people to the Emperor, but it has something to do with it that's broader. I should be doing that -- looking to the present and to the future. But I just wanted to assure you that the visit yesterday had gone reasonably well.

In the meantime, we still are under study in terms of our relationship with the Soviets. I know everyone here is very much interested in that relationship. I am confident that General Secretary Gorbachev knows that our review is not a foot-dragging operation. I don't want to miss an opportunity, but I don't want to do something that's imprudent either. And so, with our Secretary of State, ably backed up and assisted by my National Security Adviser, we are undertaking a policy review with the Soviet Union. There will be no great shocks. There will be no turning our back on the potential for progress. But there will be taking the proper amount of time so that when we do go forward, whether it's on conventional arms control, or strategic arms, or whatever else it is -- the economic front, regional problems, human rights -- we're going to be marching together in this administration.

And the Soviets, I think, now understand that there's no foot-dragging. But I wanted you to know that I understand the importance of this relationship and that I am determined to see us move forward. I want to see us get out in front if we possibly can, but I don't think that we have to be just restless because General Secretary Gorbachev made a very interesting set of proposals at the United Nations a few months -- now a month or so ago. So, we're going to look at the whole array of these issues. In the meantime, we're taking a look at the hemisphere.

Some of you have read about trying to work with the Congress. I'm very serious about it, and the product of the Congress in some ways -- I realize that maybe we can wait until February 9th, which is only 6 days away, before we go after each other on things. But we're realists, and we know there is going to be differences on what I send up. But I think most people that understand the Congress certainly would give them credit, and I do, for a willingness at this juncture to talk.

We had a very interesting, and I'd say productive, meeting with the leaders of key committees -- Ways and Means and Finance and Banking and Banking -- and then the leaders today and this question of facing this savings and loan problem. And they're not going to agree with everything I propose next week, but we've had a chance to consult and to listen to them, and I'm determined to try that, carry that forward. And I think it will be good for domestic policy, and I'm absolutely convinced that it is vital for foreign policy because we've been sending confusing signals around the world of two major branches of government that can't ever quite get together on something important. I'm not naive. I know we're going to have differences, but I just wanted you to know I think that approach is certainly worth a try. And so, that's about where we stand.

I'm delighted you all are here. Again, I ask for your help, and lest you be unpersuaded by what I've said, I would now like to be one who has been -- invite one to come in here who has been dubbed by no less an authority than Time Magazine as the Silver Fox because -- [laughter] -- she's worked for so many of you in education that I want her to come in and say thank you if she's here. Barbara, enter. I've got all your education crowd around.

Mrs. Bush. Thank you.

The President. I've been making a pitch for voluntarism.

Mrs. Bush. I heard you.

The President. And they're going to do it.

Mrs. Bush. I heard you. I heard him. I heard what he said. And what I really came in to say was use me. I'm willing to come. If you'll do what he asks, I'll come and help in any way I can -- literacy, the homeless -- anything. You call, and I'll come. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:03 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.