All of us are inclined to look back to our childhood as the good old days. They weren't all that good. We just remember 'em that way. I think of my parents and the simplicity of their lives. I'm sure their lives were not that simple, but I just thought they were.
I doubt that my father earned more than $7,000. He was a policeman, later became police chief. At one time, he was both police chief and fire chief of our little town. My home was Monroe, N.C., down on the South Carolina line. We used to say it's on the right-hand side of Highway 74, Money didn't matter to him, his family did. I never heard him envy anybody who had more. None of us realized we were below the poverty level. Other things were more important. I would like to see a restoration of those values. Personal responsibility is no longer number one as it was back then. Or as I remember it.
Oh, I can remember the high school principal. He had as much impact on me as my own father. One morning, right before graduation, he called some of us into his office. It was Depression time. He said: "I want you fellows to know that you can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough for it. I can envision every one of you will own your own home, that you'll have at least one car, maybe two." We laughed, because nobody had two cars then. And scarcely anybody owned his own home. I didn't think I'd have gone to college if he didn't give me that little nudge.
"If you get out there and work and do the best you can, you'll make it. If you don't make it, you didn't try. Don't come back crying' to me." Out of that class of 43, we produced a skipper of the Forestal, he's over here in the Pentagon right now, a president of the Chicago Board of Trade, an administrative assistant to the president of the United States, a president of Rexal Drug Company, doctors, surgeons, oral surgeons, a preacher or two. All that out of this little old tiny group. It's got to be something more than accident. During World War II, he wrote every one of the boys, once a month.
I dug potholes for the REA the summer before I went off to college. It was 25 cents an hour, and my pay for the week was $10. They took 10 cents out for Social Security. So I got $9.90. REA? Rural Electrification -- didn't that come out of the New Deal?
Mm-hmm. Well, I think there's scarcely an American alive today who wouldn't swap what we have today for the days of Franklin Roosevelt. Philosophically, a lot of people found fault with it at the time. rI think Mr. Roosevelt himself never had any idea it would go as far at it has in terms of government, the size of government, the cost of government, the controls of government, and so forth.
I am called a conservative or ultraconservative or archconservative or reactionary. I don't know what all those labels mean. It's misleading. If I were to call somebody an ultraliberal, which I do not, it would be just as bad. I think we ought to back off and start basing it on issues. It's so easy to label somebody. I have an abiding faith in the free enterprise system. From many sources I made the judgment that this country of ours was really a unique experiment in the history of mankind. If we believe in the free enterprise system, we ought to let it work.
The minimum wage came up at a little meeting in a courthouse in Shelby. A young fellow got up and said: "How do you feel about the minimum wage?" I said: "I wish it were possible to pass a law for everybody to make $30 an hour without affecting inflation, without destroying business." He said: "I agree. Isn't it true that every time you raise the minimum wage, you kick the bottom rung of the ladder away from just thousands of people who need the job the worse?" I thought that was a rather profound thing for him to say.
I think the young understand the balance sheet. They understand the profit motive. At one time, this wasn't discussed much in the academic world. Today, look at student attitudes about profits corporations make. A lot of folks think corporations make 50 to 60 percent profit. They actually make 3 to 4 percent. The students are beginning to understand that. They understand the national debt. sThey understand Social Security is a basket case. It's their practical understanding of what's possible for government to do and what's impossible. They give me great hope.