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Jimmy Carter: Detroit, Michigan Remarks at the Annual Conference of the American Federation of Teachers.
Jimmy Carter
Detroit, Michigan Remarks at the Annual Conference of the American Federation of Teachers.
August 22, 1980
Public Papers of the Presidents
Jimmy Carter<br>1980-81: Book II
Jimmy Carter
1980-81: Book II

United States
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President Al Shanker, members of the executive committee, visitors from foreign lands, members of the American Federation of Teachers:

I see the signs around, "Buena Suerte," "Shalom," and I see another one over here that says, "Hi, you all." [Laughter] It makes me feel good to come here.

I have always been aware of the fact that Lane Kirkland's and Mr. Meany's 1 window was looking down on the White House. And there have been a few times when White House binoculars were trained on that window as well. [Laughter]

1 President and past president, AFL CIO.

We share a lot of concerns, and we share a lot of hopes, and we share a lot of dreams. The progress that our Nation has made has been, to a large degree, predicated on the good relationship between the men and women who work in this Nation and those leaders like you who represent them and an enlightened Democratic leadership in the White House who is just as visionary, just as dedicated, to service as anyone in the labor movement. It's a good partnership. It's a partnership that ought to be preserved. It's a partnership that I'm eager to honor and your confidence I'm determined to prevail.

I'm proud to be the first President to address your annual convention. The other Presidents don't know what they've missed. I hope you'll let me come back to your convention, but I hope for the next 4 or 5 years no other different person will come as President.

As proud as I am of that honor, I'm even prouder to have your endorsement as candidate for President, and I'll do the best I can not to betray your trust and not to disappoint you during the campaign this fall—which I intend to be successful-nor in the administration that's going to follow that for the next 4 years. And I'm also grateful and pleased to have the support of the AFL-CIO executive council. Together we're going to make this election a victory, not just for myself and Fritz Mondale but for all teachers and students and for all the working men and women of our country. That's my commitment, and I'm not going to betray you.

I might say that, speaking of teachers and students, I learned a lesson this year about the value of an AFT endorsement. It's inscribed very clearly on my mind the classrooms where I was taught, places like New York and Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. [Laughter] I really learned it pays to have the AFT with you, and I'm so glad that we are once again, as we were in 1976, on the same side politically. And I'd like to say something now about a mutual friend who was part of this year's education process: a great man, Senator Ted Kennedy.

Yesterday morning, just before he left Boston to come and be with you, he welcomed me to his home city. It was a warm, genuine, deeply appreciated welcome, and it reminded us both of last October when he and I were together, also in Boston, at the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Library. It was a day full of memory and a day full of promise. I made a speech on that day that was challenging to write but an honor to deliver, and I said then that despite all the changes that have taken place since the early 1960's the spirit of dedication and the spirit of idealism that marked John Kennedy's life is even more urgent today than perhaps it was then.

Ted Kennedy personifies to me that spirit, and I'm glad to be working with him and also with all the others that he inspired to join him and now to join me in a common cause.

I don't want to overlook an opportunity to say that I'm also very pleased and it's good for me to have on my ticket a man who shares this spirit in full measure and throughout his entire life of dedication to human concerns and dedication to better education in our Nation—and that's Fritz Mondale. I doubt very seriously that in the last 200 years there has been a closer partnership, both personal and political, than exists between me and my Vice President. Our country couldn't have a finer man.

And I would also like to say a word about one other person, another dedicated American, because this is a time when, as was just mentioned, human beings around the world in a highly publicized way are reaching out for freedom—we see this in the world headlines today—and also reaching out for the true principles of trade unionism. The combination is free trade unionism, and I'm glad to stand together, once again, with a man who has dedicated his life to these principles, your president and my friend, Al Shanker.

Almost every time there's a quiet, confidential discussion about the AFT, you're always characterized as a fighting union, a union of classroom teachers. And I have a special feeling for those who fight for principle and those who represent the finest element of education in our country. This feeling comes from my lifelong concern with education, but it's also because of a special nature of responsibilities which you and I share. Harry Truman's old motto "The buck stops here" applies just as much to teachers as it does to Presidents. In any system of education, the teacher's the one who finally does the difficult job, or else the job just doesn't get done.

As you well know, teachers and Presidents have to take a lot of heat- [laughter] —for problems in our society that we don't originate. I can't think of a better story than one of my favorites, which I'm sure you may have heard, about the man that was brought before the judge. The judge said, "You've been accused of getting drunk and setting the bed on fire." And the man says, "Judge, I plead guilty to getting drunk but the bed was on fire when I got in it." [Laughter] This is exactly the situation when a new President walks into the Oval Office or when a new teacher walks into a classroom. But I don't know of a better place to put the responsibility for difficult changes that must take place in any society, and particularly in a democracy, where we're on the cutting edge of change and progress.

Both of us have a day-in-day-out, fulltime responsibility to do all we can to alleviate the human costs of society's problems, and in our jobs we know that there are no shortcuts, there are no substitutes for hard and dedicated work. But the deepest bond between us, in your work as teachers and in my work as President, is that we are both concerned above all with the future. The people you teach not only represent the future, they are the future, and the seeds of knowledge and understanding, of independent thought that you plant often bear their sweetest fruit many years after you finish your job with that person.

As President, I too have a responsibility for the future, knowing that the hard decisions that I make today—and there are no easy ones—will shape the kind of world that we pass on to future generations. So, as we meet today, not just as a candidate and voters and leaders, but as comrades in arms for a better, more humane, and more decent future, the election of 1980 will determine whether your struggle and mine is successful.

Seldom in electoral history has the choice been so clear. The only possible other election in my lifetime when the choice was so clear was in 1964 between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson. Seldom has the views and the commitments of the candidates been so profoundly different. The American people will be choosing not just between two men, not even just between two political parties, but between two paths that lead to two quite different futures for ourselves, our families, and for all those about whom we're concerned.

I'm convinced that the American people will choose wisely, because I respect the character and intelligence of our people. And when the general election time comes and individual Americans go in that voting booth to think about the future of their family and their children and their Nation, with allies like you, 1 believe that we can and will be successful, because we believe as Americans that united, in spite of difficulties that we face and acknowledge, that we can shape the future as we want it to be.

Other nations, other people, are fearful about years to come, and they are fearful about changes that they don't quite understand. But Americans have shared some of that concern, but, in effect, we have thrived on it, because Americans are committed to individual human beings who are free and to a free enterprise system that encourages innovation, that can accommodate change, where we're not frozen because we are fearful to speak and where open debate quite often leads to the best decision. We're not afraid of differences among us, and we don't try to discipline the human minds to the extent that it's not constantly probing for even difficult and unpleasant truths.

An election year is a good time in a democracy for sober assessment of our past achievements and our past failures, for our challenges, and also for our opportunities. I look forward this year to several debates with the Republican nominee in different parts of the country. And I'm also willing to debate other candidates, any candidate who might even have a theoretical chance to be elected President.

I'm eager to let the issues be made clear and to let the people decide. The thing I want most of all though is a clear, two-man debate between myself and Ronald Reagan. That is where the people can decide most clearly how these two paths to the future might affect the lives of all of us.

The truth and the facts are important. There's no place in American life for a "pie in the sky," but there's a new math that's being propounded in different proposals. One of them is that in this election year there are claims being made that there can be some massive tax cuts for the rich equivalent to a trillion dollars in the years ahead; that we can at the same time have a massive increase in defense commitments, including the reinstitution of a nuclear arms race; that we can balance the budget at the same time and still provide social services, adequate education, and other needs of the American people. This is obviously a fallacy, and the American people are too intelligent to fall for it. But the facts must be presented in order for the American people to understand the fallacious nature of this kind of proposal.

Our country has gone through difficult times, which I need not enumerate here now. But we've also gone through some successful times quite recently. One is a national process of education on one of the most important domestic and international issues of our lifetime, and that is energy.

We now know, as Americans, something we didn't know even 12 months ago, or many would not acknowledge, and that is that we must cut down our dependence on foreign oil. It's crucial to our Nation's security. It's also crucial to the security of our country, and it also removes the chance of blackmail that might be imposed on us and other nations of the world if that excessive dependence is continued.

The American people have acted. There's been a dramatic cut in the amount of oil we import already. Today, we imported 1 1/2 million barrels less, in 1 day, than we did a year ago. And that same record has been continued ever since the beginning of 1980. We've not succeeded completely yet in this effort, but we've laid a good foundation, and now we're ready to build on it. This gives us a new and exciting way to change American life for the better, not with a decrease in our quality of life, but an increase in the quality of our life.

Within the next week, I intend to outline to the Nation a practical and aggressive new strategy for renewing our economic and our industrial base, part of it predicated upon the inevitable changes brought about by energy independence and a commitment that our Nation's made. This will create literally hundreds of thousands of new jobs and can be accomplished at the same time with even more stable prices for all. This will not be an easy task, but I'm determined to succeed. And along with energy, our rededication to American education is crucial to that strategy and to the future.

Before I became President, the Federal commitment to education was constantly declining in real terms. Together we've reversed that trend. During a time of necessary budget restraint in order to meet the challenge of international inflationary pressures invoked on us by OPEC, we've increased spending for education more than 73 percent in just a little over 3 years.

It's important to me to protect public education. We've fought together successfully against a proposal that would undermine public education, and that is tuition tax credits, and we're going to continue that fight. Universal, free, quality education for all Americans is part of the greatness of our future as well as our past, and we do not want it endangered, and if you'll stick with me, we will not permit it to be endangered. And we're also seeking better working conditions for teachers, because we know that the education of our children depends on the morale and the commitment of classroom teachers.

Along with you and your executive committee and your president, I'm concerned about the fundamental role of collective bargaining. We need to remove difficult, discouraging, unrewarding circumstances that teachers have to face. I've authorized an interagency study to report to me on how teachers' salaries and working conditions affect the quality of education. I'll honor the prerogatives and the authority of local and State officials, but I want all of us to understand what government at every level can do to offer constructive alternatives to work stoppages by meeting the real needs of the teachers of this country.

In the humane future that we all want, there must be a self-fulfilling and a gratifying place for young Americans. A mind is a terrible thing to waste—we've all heard this compelling appeal by the United Negro College Fund. We've all seen the television portrayal of a young man sitting alone, listening helplessly to the sounds of the city outside, a world in which he cannot hope to compete and within which he cannot hope to take the talent or ability given to him, given by God, and use that talent or ability productively.

So far in my administration, we've increased funding for youth employment and for training almost 100 percent, but we've not yet done enough and we're determined to do more without further delay. That's why, with your help, with the active participation of Al and many of you, we've developed the most farreaching youth measure ever proposed to the Congress. We call it the youth bill.

It bolsters basic education and job training, and it offers the kind of parttime work that's linked to the learning which is going on in the classroom. It encourages those who would otherwise drop out of school to stay there, and it ties much more closely to educational process with a chance for a successful career after the classroom work is completed. The measure will add $2 billion in more muscle into our existing $4 billion commitment to youth programs. That's a lot of money, but it's the kind of money that we cannot afford not to spend.

Investing in education, investing in youth is one of the essential ways that we can provide for a better future. That's why I wanted to elevate education to a top level of government, and that's why we are fighting to improve education programs from Title I, to education for the handicapped, to teacher centers, where teachers themselves can help to shape programs that will give us a better approach to education. That's why we'll continue to cut redtape and paperwork and let teachers get on with the job of teaching for a change. It's important to me that the AFT and your leaders play an integral role with me as President, with Secretary Shirley Hufstedler, and with others, including of course the Congress, as you've done so well, as we make these kinds of decisions. I won't try to enumerate all the things that are going on in the Congress and in the administration and in your own lives concerning education.

I speak about these concerns not only as President but also as a parent. My sons were all educated in the public schools and also in the public colleges. And my daughter, Amy, is now beginning her fourth year in the Washington, D.C., public schools, where I've been able to see firsthand the skill and the dedication of members of Local Number Six. [Laughter] I might add that Amy's looking forward to more years of— [laughter] —quality education in Washington, D.C., at least 4 more years to be exact.

And while I'm on the subject, I want Amy to have something else. When she grows up I want Amy to have the same rights that her brothers have now, and I want those rights as a woman guaranteed where they belong, in the Constitution of the United States of America.

In the great national debate over the future direction of our country, there is no doubt where you and I stand. We stand for civil rights, strictly enforced. We stand for vigorous protection of the lives and safety of every worker, guaranteed by the Government. We stand for reform of the labor laws, and we're going to fight for it again next year and win. And we stand for human things like pure air and pure water that you can drink. We stand for revitalizing our cities, which is very important to me, and we will not abandon our cities. And we stand for a strong America, and we stand for world peace.

For the last 3 1/2 years our Nation has been at peace. We've secured that peace by enhancing our strength, both our military strength and our moral strength. It's been a long time, more than 50 years, since a President has served a complete term or terms in the White House without having combat troops lose their lives in war.

We've pursued peace not only for ourselves but for others. In the Middle East Israel no longer confronts her most powerful Arab neighbor across barbed wire. Instead, they talk together; with difficulty, yes; sometimes with delays that are very frustrating to me and to Prime Minister Begin and to President Sadat. But they talk and they exchange ideas not only across the peace table but through Ambassadors of their own nations in the other nation—in Tel Aviv and in Cairo—about the right road to permanent peace.

Three years ago, who would have dreamed that such a thing would be possible? Who would have dreamed that planes would be flying between Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and Cairo and Alexandria, that tourists would cross the border to make friends on the other side, that full diplomatic relations would exist, and that we could have a prospect of perpetual peace there? My total personal effort, in spite of every obstacle, this year and in the future, will be devoted to the realization of the commitments made in the Camp David accords so clearly and so solemnly by all three of our nations: a peaceful and secure Israel, peace and justice for all people in the Middle East. When the history books are written about my administration, that is my fondest hope, that that will be included.

To meet the Soviet challenge we've strengthened our defense capabilities while at the same time we have sought mutual limits on nuclear arms. A peaceful future includes both strength and control of nuclear arms. We must prevent nuclear war.

We've heard the word "noble" used. We must recognize the nobility of an honorable peace, and I'm very proud that our country is again the champion of human rights around the world. We take that stand, because we are Americans and the love of liberty is the very soul of our people and of our Republic. And as long as I'm President, no matter what the temptations might be to the contrary for temporary diplomatic advantage, you can be sure that our Nation, your Nation, will go on struggling for human rights.

Let me say in closing that the work you do as teachers is very much a part of all these commitments, and many that I haven't taken the time to enumerate. What you do is important, not just because it adds to the skills of our labor force or the size of our gross national product, but because it strengthens democracy and freedom itself. We often place too heavy a load on the schools and on the men and women who teach in them, but the fact remains that your classrooms are the place where society is able to speak to itself, where young Americans take new strength from the American past and from the whole common experience of humanity. You help America develop the intellectual and the moral tools to master the future.

Building the future is the essence of your life and mine. It's also the essence of America. In his memorable novel "You Can't Go Home Again" Thomas Wolfe wrote these stirring words, and I quote from his book: "I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our democracy is still before us. I think that all these things are as certain as the morning, as inevitable as noon. Our America is here, is now, and beckons us, and this glorious assurance is not only our living hope but our dream to be accomplished." A beautiful quote.

In the year 1980 America still beckons us toward that same hope and that same dream, but it's not going to come automatically nor easily. We must fight for it, and I'm glad we're fighting for it together side by side, and together you and I will be victorious.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:27 a.m. in the Renaissance Ballroom at the Detroit Plaza Hotel.
Citation: Jimmy Carter: "Detroit, Michigan Remarks at the Annual Conference of the American Federation of Teachers. ," August 22, 1980. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=44926.
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