Bob Dole, U.S. Senator, Kansas
March 25, 1985
The Dream of America
Thank you very much, President Acker. I'm not used to a big crowd like this, so if I'm a little nervous, that will explain why.
I am very proud to be here. I've been to many Landon Lectures where presidents have spoken, governors, and I think even one Arab sheikh, and I know it's a very prestigious platform. I'm particularly honored to be here since I understand that not since Governor Landon inaugurated this program 19 years ago has a Kansan been asked to speak. So I appreciate that very much, and for that I'm very honored.
I'm also pleased that Governor Carlin is here. A lot of people think that because one may be Republican and one may be a Democrat that there is no communication. Let me suggest that if the Soviets and the Americans could communicate as well as I do with Governor Carlin, we would have had an arms agreement a long time ago. I say that because Governor Carlin also has a prestigious position in this country today as chairman of the National Governors' Association. And he has the same commitment, the same sincere hope as I do and as I think most everyone in this audience has that we finally will come to grips with this massive federal deficit that's going to have an adverse impact on everyone in this audience if we don't deal with it. So I want to publicly thank Governor Carlin for his support, for his willingness to listen, for his many trips to Washington to talk to all of us, Republicans and Democrats, on what we consider to be public enemy number one, the federal deficit. So Governor, I appreciate very much your being here. As I said, if anybody starts throwing anything, maybe you can catch some of it for me.
I think about a lot of things when I stand before a group where I see many of my friends and some people I don't know. I think about Russell, Kansas or somewhere else in Kansas. But I also take inspiration from another man. That man is Governor Landon, a man who held my party's banner aloft in those bleak days and bleak years, when many questioned its future. I think he and I had more in common than our Kansas underpinnings. We have both run for high national office, with rather conspicuous lack of success. Back in 1936, when Alf opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt, Republican strategists decided to make the Kansas sunflower the emblem of their campaign. Of course, the Democrats promptly issued bumper stickers proclaiming that "sunflowers die in November."
That may be so, but there are principles which outlast any growing season. And, Alf Landon's principles are tireless. They are the Kansas virtues of self-reliance and a tender conscience. They combine common sense and uncommon sensitivity. He was a man of courage who denounced the Ku Klux Klan when other politicians were willing to tolerate its presence a man of vision who proposed recognition of the People's Republic of China a generation before an American president set foot in Peking. All his life, Governor Landon was willing to do the unpopular thing if he judged it to be the right thing.
Someone other than the governor once labeled his race against FDR as a contest between Harvard, Roosevelt's alma mater, and the rest of the United States. Personally, I've always thought Landon closer to the unabashed spirit of the man who presided over Harvard in those days. His name was James Bryant Conant, and on the wall of his office he kept a cartoon with the caption, "Behold the turtle. He only makes progress by sticking his neck out."
Universities are built by and for the long-necked people. They exist not merely to fill our minds, but more importantly to stroke our imaginations. Above all, they nurture our dreams. "The republic is a dream," proclaimed prairie poet Carl Sandburg. "Nothing happens unless first a dream." A nation's dreams are the rich harvest of individual ones by the millions. They are implanted early in most of us, in the family living room or public classroom, in church pews and on athletic fields. My generation grew up believing a future that promised everything hard work and strong faith could achieve. From Main Street in Russell, Kansas I looked forward to a world that would yield up its secrets and mend its sometimes murderous ways.
In many ways, my dreams have come true thanks in no small measure to the men and women on campuses like this. Contrast the world of Alf Landon's boyhood or my own with this era of instant communication and awesome technology. Today we can reach into the heavens for perspective on this small, shimmering planet. We can take food from the ocean depths. We can grow crops resistant to insects and indifferent to rain. Since I was a boy, we have virtually wiped out the crippling scourge of polio. We have revolutionized life itself through human or mechanical organ transplants. We have diminished distances between peoples. No longer are national boundaries equated with natural barriers to commerce and culture. Problems of hunger and poverty though they still exist and disease, problems as old as the human race, seem closer to solution than at any time in the long struggle of man to fulfill his potential.
In the same period, I have seen one roadblock after another cleared from the paths of women and minorities. When Alf Landon ran for president back in 1936, only a handful of women exercised influence in the political life of the nation. By 1988, another Landon, my distinguished Senate colleague Nancy, may well find herself on a national ticket. Come to think of it, you'd better not quote me on that. Elizabeth might find out, and a man can survive just so long on frozen dinners, so I might have to be a little careful of that.
By any measure, the twentieth century has witnessed a remarkable flowering of human achievement. Yet some things will elude us. The dreams of a world at peace with itself, a world where no one drags a chain and no one wields a sword, well, this world seems as remote as sunlight from shadow. Nor have we lived up to Carl Sandburg's dream of a republic without walls, in which economic plenty extends to every home in the land. Instead, such visions are held hostage to an unbridled nuclear arms race and our own seemingly uncontrollable urge toward national bankruptcy. If my generation can address these dangers now, then your generation will know a world whose dreams are no longer haunted by the mushroom cloud of Armageddon, and a country where no one is condemned to live on the outskirts of economic hope.
Barely ten days ago, I returned from a trip to Geneva. There were ten senators five Republicans and five Democrats. I designated five and the minority leader Senator Byrd designated five. We went to Geneva to observe the opening round of the U.S. Soviet arms control or arms reduction talks. We made the journey amidst the advent of a new leadership in Moscow. It was a time of anticipation and, for some, expectation. But let me correct some early media profiles of the new Soviet boss, or correct them as I see it. The new Soviet leader is a young man, 54 years of age; he's going to be around for awhile. In the first four and a half years of Ronald Reagan, we saw a change of four leaders. But I would point out that notwithstanding his age and his charisma, whatever that is, that he is no choirboy. He is a communist hardliner who will demand tough bargaining at the negotiating session. The faces may change behind the imposing walls of the Kremlin, but the philosophies remain the same. Peace is priceless but not peace at any price. It was our own resolve that brought the Soviets back to Geneva. And it will be future resolve that leads to viable, verifiable arms control.
In my view, when two nations as profoundly different as the United States and the Soviet Union sit across from one another, the only way to narrow the potential for misunderstanding is to speak candidly of our differences and our own determination. Until the last few years, this country spoke with an uncertain voice. We permitted our defenses to go stiff in the joints, and our foreign policies to confuse the world that was with the one we wished for. Yet, in the modern world, the appearance of weakness invites the exploitation of weakness. And the 1970s will be remembered as a dismal age when the Soviets ventured almost at will into Afghanistan and Angola, Cambodia and Ethiopia.
Then came 1980, and a new administration pledged to rebuild our defenses and restore a coherent sense of direction to U.S. foreign policy.
Promptly, we set out to modernize both our conventional and strategic forces, a process that continues with last week's senate vote to authorize 21 MX missiles, far more than a simple bargaining chip. I must say, in our conversations with Max Campleman, who happens to be a protege of Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, the chief negotiator, and with John Tower, a former colleague, a conservative Republican senator, and with Ambassador Mike Glickman who worked for Paul Nitza and probably the scholar of the three as far as arms control and the weapons systems are concerned, I believe the reason the senate approved the MX missile by a 55 to 45 vote, I'm not certain what will happen in the house on the morrow but I believe the underlying reason was that it would seem to many of us that if the Congress shot down the MX missile at the same time we were in our first two weeks of negotiating with the Soviet Union, it would take away not just a bargaining chip, but a lot of leverage. I think we made the right decision.
I think also we find today the Western alliance is more united than ever before. It is that unity which has helped lure the Soviets back to negotiations. They walked out a year ago and said they weren't going to come back unless we did not deploy Pershing missiles.
But they are back at the table. I had the opportunity just this past weekend on Friday night and Saturday night in Miami, Florida, to sit down with 15 members of the Soviet delegation, headed by Vladimer Schuschev, the deputy trade minister, to talk about some of our problems. As I have indicated earlier, we can't solve our problems if we don't have a dialogue. We talked about agriculture. We talked about the Soviet Union. We talked about the problems in our country. We talked about the fact that they're not buying as much grain as many of us believe they should. I'm not suggesting we solved anything, but at least we understand each other a bit better. We may recognize each other if I should visit Moscow or Mr. Schuschev should visit Washington. He also has very close ties to Mr. Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader. I have a very strong feeling, as I hope I've always had in public life, that you have to discuss the problem if you seek to find the answer.
But we have the unity. NATO is united. And now we're talking. I think it's important that the Congress prepare itself to advise and consent on a possible arms control treaty. I can't think of anything that I would rather do while I'm the majority leader of the United States Senate than to bring before the United States Senate for ratification a verifiable, sound, good not arms control treaty but arms reduction treaty that would mean a great deal to this generation, future generations, not only in security and safety, but also in less spending of American dollars and the same for the Russians.
But I think one thing we must caution, and that is patience. We Americans are very impatient people. We have the best technology in the world. We don't like to wait to solve a problem. We want it done yesterday. The Russians have a different system. They don't have to check with Congress. Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter whoever the president might be has to negotiate first with the Congress and then with the Soviets. The Soviets come to the table without any of those problems. They live in a closed society. There's nobody commenting on the evening news. They make the best deal they can. Whatever deal that is, it's accepted. They get their instructions from someone up here.
Ours is a better system. Ours is an open system. Ours is a democratic system. But I say, above all, the thing the negotiators try to tell senators like myself and Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd and Senator Nickles and others who were in Geneva, be patient.
The first SALT treaty required nearly a decade to negotiate, the second one close to seven years. So, if we're looking for a quick fix, it's probably not going to happen. Sooner or later, maybe sometime this year, when Mr. Gorbachev comes to address the United Nations, there will be an opportunity for President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev to sit down and talk about some of these things. To me, I think that would be very helpful.
At any rate, my point is that the ice has been broken. Perhaps one day, before too much longer, both countries can come in from the cold.
So we must wait for lasting peace. But we cannot afford to wait for lasting prosperity. Winston Churchill liked to say that the inherent vice of capitalism was an unequal sharing of blessings, while the inherent virtue of socialism was an equal apportionment of misery. Thanks to the economic policies pursued by the Reagan administration, the blessings are more plentiful indeed. More people are working than ever before. Taxes have been reduced and may yet be significantly reformed as well if not this year, next year.
As a young man in Russell, I hope I learned that most anyone could climb the economic ladder, and I certainly learned that everyone should be given the chance to try. And what's more, I learned that once you scrambled up from the bottom, you reached down to lend a hand to others making the ascent on their own. So, for a long time in this country we behaved as if only government had the compassion or the competence to extend such a helping hand. In the process, we siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars to Washington which might have been more profitably invested in new ideas, basic and applied research, at state, local, and community levels the breakthroughs which carry a society from one age to the next. This has changed, and we are all the better for it. But the process is far from complete. What we're trying to do now is shift back some of these responsibilities to states and local governments.
One of the advantages that I've detected over the years of living on the great plains is that you can see a long way in all directions. Sometimes you can even see into the future. You don't have to look far these days to see a black cloud called the federal deficit. A cloud that even now some of my colleagues in Congress would like to seed with more federal programs and higher federal taxes. A cloud that others ignore altogether. Unfortunately, whoever takes credit for the sunshine must be prepared to shoulder blame when it rains. That's sort of where we are now in the so-called budget process.
I don't want to bore anybody with statistics, but I want to cite just a few because I have a feeling if everybody in America or everybody in this audience really focused on where we're headed in this country unless we take immediate action, as Governor Carlin will tell you and I will tell you quickly, we want some action.
I was very encouraged today to meet with a young group of students from Fort Hays and Kansas State to talk about the student loan program and have them submit to me some positive ideas for change that would save money, because they're concerned about the deficit. It's one thing to have a student loan, but if you can't get a job when you get out of college because of inflation or the federal deficit or high unemployment, that may be a factor. I was also highly pleased and encouraged to meet with a number of my friends who say they're senior citizens. They're about my age group, so I was very pleased to meet with them. They tell me that their biggest problem is not the COLAS, it is Medicare. They thought maybe I ought to check into some of the Medicare problems.
But the point is that wherever you go, whether it's the American farmer or the American worker, the senior citizen, the student, and in many cases the federal employee, I find almost a unanimous view that we have to do something. Let's make it clear at the outset, it's always easy for someone to advocate doing something to you if it doesn't touch me. A lot of people will send you a lot of programs to cut, and then they'll say I get a little help in this program, but we can justify ours. I don't quarrel with that. That's the way it should be. You have a right to state your case.
But then you look at the federal debt. When I was chairman of the finance committee we had to pass out bills every so often just so the government could pay its bills. Right now, the federal debt is $1.8 trillion. That's a lot of money, I'm told. It's money we owe. If that figure is too mind boggling, the interest on that debt on an annual basis now is about $145 billion in interest payments. It's headed for $200 billion a year in interest payments by the end of this decade, which is more than the entire federal budget for the entire government as recently as 1970. Paying the interest doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help agriculture, it doesn't help a university, it doesn't help anyone who might be handicapped or out of work or receiving food stamps or the WIK Program or Medicaid. It's interest on the debt.
We had four economists come before the Senate Finance Committee about three months ago a Democrat, a Republican, a liberal, and a conservative. They all had different ideas on how to make it happen, but they all agreed in the questioning period that followed that if, in fact, the Congress and the president would make meaningful reduction cuts of somewhere between $200 and $275 billion over the next three years in spending cuts, that real interest rates could drop as much as two or three points, and that we would see a moderation of the strength of the dollar that might mean that some of the things we raise on Kansas farms could be exported.
So, I don't know of any higher priority that we have then reducing the federal deficit. It's going to touch a lot of nerves and a lot of people are going to be unhappy. It's going to maybe mean losing revenue sharing in a couple of years. It's going to mean losing Amtrak, I hear about that at home.
Elizabeth's public view is that she wants to eliminate it, but at night she wakes up yelling, "Amtrak, Amtrak." I think her private view is to save it. But all these programs that the federal government ventured into Small Business Administration, 5,000 employees, last year made 14,000 loans and there are millions of loans made in this country in the private sector. And it's not because anybody is hostile to any of these groups. I think if you were trying to sell one of those programs today in Washington, whether the Amtrak or small business or mass transit, whatever it might be, you wouldn't even bring it up because we're faced with this big deficit.
And don't let me overlook the Pentagon. I think it's been said many, many times by the press that you have to treat defense spending a bit differently than any other program. After all, we are dealing with another super power and we do have some responsibilities, particularly to the student body at Kansas State University and others across the country who don't want us to do anything that might indicate weakness. But that doesn't mean that with a budget the size of the Pentagon, that they can't show some restraint and they have shown some restraint. In a luncheon meeting with the president on Friday I got an indication that they may be willing to show more restraint.
So, there are things we can do on defense spending that will help. I must say from the defense secretary's standpoint, about every time he thinks he's got it going, somebody comes up with another horror story. Yesterday, it was $700 pliers from Boeing, a little Kansas company. Two weeks ago it was a $600 toilet seat. I hasten to say I didn't take a position on that one. But in any event, you've got all these horror stories coming out of the woodwork. About the time you think you've got the lid on one, something else crops up. I didn't mean it quite that way.
I must say that I enjoy my job as majority leader. The last majority leader in Kansas was Carl Curtis, 60 years ago. In fact, I was elected 60 years to the day that he was elected majority leader. He became Herbert Hoover's vice president. I ran with Jerry Ford and I'm still working. I must say, it's sort of like the Truman thing"If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen."
I've got to believe that many of our problems are going to be solved if there is a total understanding of what the problem is. I must add that even though we do all of this deficit reduction, don't get any ideas that we're going to balance the budget. We hope by 1988 we can get the deficit down to $100 billion a year. Right now it's running $215, maybe $220 billion a year. And you've got to pay interest on that new debt that you create every year. You just figure out the rate and multiply it by how much new debt you're adding and you've got new interest payments. So I believe the time has come for the Congress to have some help.
I'm reminded of what Alf Landon said again in his acceptance speech in 1936, and this is a quote. He said, "Crushing debts and taxes are usually incurred, as they're being incurred today, under the guise of helping people the same people who must finally pay them. They invariably retard prosperity and they sometimes lead to situations in which the rights of people are destroyed. This is the lesson of history. ..." This was Alf Landon nearly 50 years ago.
I'm reading a book by Steven Ambrose about Eisenhower's second term. And the thing that's striking in the book it's a very good book about Eisenhower but the striking part about it as far as I'm concerned, because we're now wrestling with the same problem, the two biggest frustrations Eisenhower had in his second term were that he had a $2 billion deficit and he couldn't get the generals at the Pentagon to stop spending money. Well, nothing's changed, except that they've got more generals and more debt. And so it's been going on and on and on. I hope we're making progress.
I think it's a painful lesson that we've learned. And I don't want to see it repeated. That's why I believe that it's time that we amend the federal Constitution to limit our ability to incur debt year after year. I'm talking about a balanced budget amendment. And again, with John Carlin's help, the National Governors' Association went on record in support of a balanced budget amendment at the federal level. We can't go in debt in Kansas, we can't go in debt in many states, but we can sure go in debt in the federal government. As I said, it's about $1.8 trillion. We need it. We need the discipline. I think most members of Congress Democrats, Republicans, men and women, are well intentioned people. And they're all compassionate and sensitive and sometimes it's hard to say no. Sometimes you shouldn't say no. But we've gotten to the point now where I think we need a little help.
A lot of people think that it's an extreme idea to amend the U.S. Constitution. But I would remind you of Dr. Conant's turtle who only makes progress by sticking its neck out. The tools we have now are plainly inadequate to the task. Certainly, Congress has to be responsive to the demands of constituents that's what we're there for, that's how our representative system works. But this response to outside pressures makes it all the more essential that we build in some kind of internal restraint into the system.
We passed a constitutional amendment in 1982 in the Senate. It didn't pass the House. We're going to try again this year. There's an old saying that when you're through changing, you're through. I would say that throughout our history we have not hesitated to reform the Constitution when the existing document fell short of our needs. The Civil War amendments that barred slavery and mandated equal protection of the laws; the 16th amendment authorizing the federal income tax; the 25th amendment providing an order to succession to the presidency in times of presidential disability or death: each of these arose out of necessity, fiscal or structural problems that had to be dealt with. Each was demanded to correct abuses unchecked by the legislative process alone. I hope that we can do that.
I would like to see the president of the United States have what 43 governors have a line item veto. The president of the United States, when somebody sends him down a great big appropriations bill with a lot of pork barrel stuff, in it, he doesn't veto the entire bill, he just line items he vetoes this item and that item and that item. It gives the president, whether he's a Republican or a Democrat, more leverage with the Congress. Let's fact it, it's not always the president who wants to spend more money. Sometimes it's the Congress. Sometimes they're Republicans and sometimes they're Democrats, and sometimes they all get together. So, we need that discipline.
I would just conclude by saying, back where I started from, I wish we had the balanced budget amendment today. Then if some group came to us and said they've got a real problem, or they've got a great idea and all they need is $100 million or $500 million or $1 billion, we would simply say we can't do it. We've taken in so much money, we've spent so much money, and we've reached the limit. Now, that doesn't mean we shouldn't reorder priorities in government go back and look at old programs and kick out some of the programs that aren't very efficient from the tax standpoint, or from a taxpayer's standpoint.I hope we can put together this so-called budget package that we've been working on with the president. I hope it can be bipartisan. I have a friend, Senator Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma, who feels just as strongly about the deficit as I do. He's working with Democratic senators and I'm working with Republican senators. I'm working with the president to see if we can't find some agreement.
I believe the president has a reservoir of strength in this country. When you carry 49 states to one, you've got a lot of strength. You lose the one by 3,000 votes. It means you've got a pretty good mandate. There's got to be something out there for the president to carry all those states.
If we can get together on a deficit reduction package, and the president would get on television two or three times, I've got to believe that members of Congress will respond and make the hard decisions.
So I say shrink the size of government, but only so individual dreams can grow and prosper. Especially the American dream which flashes across the face of a prairie farmer or a ghetto mother, and which economic growth alone can accommodate. Who can doubt our capacity to realize such a dream? Certainly no one in my generation, who witnessed our parents cope with crippling hardships, who went off to combat the scourge of Hitler and Tojo, who launched the nuclear age and have maintained ever since our precarious hold on the window ledge of coexistence.
Whatever we may have accomplished, I want something better for young people today. I want to make certain we hand your generation a torch, instead of a hot poker. I want your dreams to exceed my own. And I want this dream of a republic, in Carl Sandburg's words, to live up to the promises on which it was founded. For we have not journeyed all this way, across the centuries, across the continents, across the seas and boundless frontiers of space, because we were limited in our ambitions. To the stars through difficulties, we Kansans like to proclaim. But always to the stars.
Thank you very much.