After spending 2 days in New York this week, meeting with representatives of almost every nation in the world, and staying up to well after midnight talking about controversial issues, after spending the last 2 days dealing with the Congress-particularly the Senate--it's a great pleasure to come over where absolute harmony and peace prevail--[laughter]--where there are no differences, and complete support for everything that is suggested by leadership is accepted without question.
This is a time that I have welcomed, meeting with my friends and my fellow workers, my partners, who represent the greatest political organization in the entire world, the Democratic Party.
I know you've been considering the 1978 conference, among other things. This is important to us all. I know that all of you want to meet there, to have tough debates without delay, to move expeditiously, to make quick decisions. And in order to ensure this, I've asked Vice President Mondale to preside over the sessions. [Laughter] I'm sure he'll show his strong leadership characteristics as he has recently in other trying times.
As you know, there has never been, I believe, as close a relationship between a President and a Vice President as exists in our country today, and I'm very proud of him, what he means to me personally and politically and in the governance of this country. He's a great ally and friend to have.
What you decide as far as the mechanism of the Democratic Party, what you decide as an equitable way to ensure representation in all our conferences, what you decide about the site, the format, the choosing of delegates, the size of the delegations is very crucial to me.
I want to be sure that the 1978 conference, for instance, can consider in some depth the controversial issues that face me and our country and you, and so that I can deal with the conference in a personal way, so that members of my own administration can come to the convention site and receive from you and from other delegates accurate assessments of the needs and desires and hopes and dreams and aspirations and concerns and advice of Democrats throughout the country.
I personally hope that you will maintain a manageable size, and I'm sure you've already agreed to do that. That will be very helpful.
I'm involved, along with many on this stage and many of you, in raising money for the Democratic Party. I hope the costs can be held within reasonable bounds and, at the same time, without interfering with an open, frank, thorough discussion of all the issues that face us.
I've enjoyed my own administration so far. I have welcomed the controversy that has swirled around the White House since I've been in office. It's not been a sign of weakness. It's not been a sign of failure. It's been a sign that we as Democrats intend to carry out the commitments that we made to the people of the United States in the 1976 campaign, and that's what I intend to do.
Many of the issues that we are now approaching strongly and boldly and for the best interests of the American people have been avoided for years, for decades, for generations, because of a fear of arousing controversy and open debate. But they can't be avoided any longer, and I have no inclination to do so.
When I campaigned throughout this country in every one of your States, for the 2 years preceding my own election, I listened, I considered very carefully, I made my own position known, which accurately, I believe, represents the inclinations of the American people. And now we're trying to carry out those commitments.
We have proposed, as you know, an energy policy for our country, for the first time to avoid an almost inevitable crisis that might afflict every person in our Nation. It's not easy. The shadow of the oil lobby hovers over Capitol Hill. This has got to be addressed frankly, and we have to make sure that when the energy package comes out this year, it doesn't work contrary to the best interests of the consumers and the homeowners and the people of this country.
The House of Representatives, under the leadership of Tip O'Neill, has acted strongly and courageously and well, and Bob Byrd in the Senate is doing the best he can to bring forth the crucial elements of our energy package, but it is difficult. It is difficult. What we don't get this year, I'll be back next year again. I don't intend to fail, because the people need it.
We've also proposed to the Congress a comprehensive revision of the welfare programs to give our people a better job and income possibility. It's an integral part of what we are trying to do as an administration. It treats with respect and dignity and compassion those who are unable to work, but it gives those members of families who are able to work a chance to work.
The cost of the program is completely compatible with present expenditures, slightly increased, but primarily because of the provision of job opportunities. This is an excellent investment in the present and future of our country. And next year I believe that the Congress will accept at least the major provisions of our welfare package, hopefully all.
But I know how difficult it is, how controversial it is. But this question has to be openly debated so that the American people can understand the challenges that have been presented and the solutions that have been proposed.
It's a well-balanced program. It ties in very well with the tax reform package that will be presented to the Congress before they adjourn this fall. And I'll be spending all this weekend putting my own final judgment on the options that have been presented to me. Then early next week, I'll meet with my key advisers to discuss my choice of options, and the package will then be put into a proposal that will go to the Congress.
Nothing could be more controversial than tax reform. But, as I've said many times last year and before, our present income tax structure is a disgrace. It needs to be simple, equitable, and progressive; and that those who are able to pay the taxes ought to pay their fair share for a change. And the working families of this country, the middle-income families of this country, ought to be helped by removing the unnecessary and unfair burdens that have rested on their shoulders.
And along with the reform that I've described I predict will come a substantial reduction in the overall tax burden on the American people.
We've begun now a 3-year program to reorganize the executive branch of Government. Our first reform package, reorganization package is before the Congress this coming week. This is going to be a long, tedious, sometimes unpleasant process, but it's necessary. We committed ourselves to do it as a party, and I believe that our success will bring credit to all of you.
We are dealing with international matters that have escaped a solution again, for hundreds of years in some instances.
I think we're making good progress in the Middle East. We're treating fairly all parties. There's no way that I can act as a trusted negotiator--not just an idle bystander, but the leader of a nation that has crucial interest in the Middle East-unless I have the complete confidence of the leaders of the nations involved in the upcoming Geneva conference.
I've got to be fair and I will be fair. I'll never tell one leader one thing and a different leader something else. And so far we've made substantial progress. There's now evolving with a growing trust in our character and good will and fairness and truthfulness a much more flexible and accommodating attitude on the part of all nations.
The key element in American policy in the Middle East, in the negotiations that are going on literally day and night now, and which will be a crucial element when we go to Geneva, is a strength, independence, freedom, and peace of the people of Israel.
This is not a simple issue. It's probably the most complex international question that's ever been addressed in a comprehensive way. There's a crucial interest among many hundreds of thousands of Americans in the outcome of the negotiations.
The Soviet Union, since 1973, has been a cochairman with us in Geneva. In the past their attitude has been one of disruption and the creation of unnecessary obstacles.
Recently, they've become much more moderate in their positions. It's an achievement of unprecedented significance that we were able recently to sign a statement with the Soviet Union where they recognized Israel's right to exist, although they still do not have diplomatic relations. They did not insist upon an independent Palestinian state. They did not insist upon naming the PLO. They did not insist upon complete withdrawal of Israel from the territories acquired in 1967. It took a moderate attitude.
This statement is a simple declaration to the world that we are sincere in bringing about a successful conclusion of the Geneva conference. It broke down immediately in October of 1973. We don't want that to happen again. This statement between us and the Soviet Union is not a prerequisite for the Arab or Israeli Governments to adopt in its entirety before they go to Geneva. Neither the Arabs nor the Israelis like every part of it, but it's a good step forward. And I can tell you that the leaders of all the nations involved with whom I have held long, tedious, complete discussions now have a constructive attitude toward Middle Eastern peace, and I believe that we will ultimately be successful.
We're dealing with another very crucial threat to world peace in southern Africa. For too long our country ignored Africa. Soon I will be making the first state visit in our Nation's history to a leading African nation, Nigeria. Cy Vance and Andrew Young and others have already let the people in those developing nations in Africa and throughout the world know that we care about them, we want to treat them as equals, we want to treat them with respect.
And there's a new attitude of friendship to the United States in the United Nations which has been absent for decades. This is a constructive step forward, because those nations are crucial to us. And they know that we ourselves are crucial to them.
In worldwide disarmament, nonproliferation, our SALT negotiations with the Soviet Union, an end to the testing of atomic weapons, in many other areas of international diplomacy involving our national security, we are moving without timidity, openly, which does quite often create controversy. These challenges are not easy, but the prospect of success is exciting to me. And I know that all of you share the ultimate goals. And I need your active, constant help in your own community, because you are all leaders in supporting these difficult challenges that I have accepted with pleasure. This is important.
We're trying to deal with a controversial question of unemployment. We got statistics this morning that showed that the unemployment rate has dropped somewhat, dropped substantially for black citizens.
We need to do more. We'll have a comprehensive urban policy shortly to present to the Congress and to the Nation. We're trying to make sure that the economic stimulus package, which is just now being felt, is challenged in the right areas of our country to alleviate the most serious suffering that causes me and you such grief and pain.
I wish that everyone here could go to the South Bronx area of New York where I visited earlier this week and see the devastation there. It's absolutely heartbreaking, and I realize after campaigning throughout this country that this is not a unique area. There are other urban areas like this where crime is rampant, where living conditions that we all take for granted are completely absent, where deterioration diminishes hope, and where there's an ingrained distrust of the concern and the ability of government to meet legitimate needs.
But I believe that the people there exhibited a sense of confidence and appreciation and hope, and I'm determined not to disappoint them. And I need your help in this effort.
There are just a couple of other points I want to make.
On a worldwide basis we have restored our own Nation's commitment to basic human rights. There's not a single leader in the world among almost 150 nations who doesn't have before him or her a constant concern about this question: "How am I and my government treating the people who look to me for leadership? What does the outside world think about my nation as I deal with the needs of human beings and the question of human freedom?" It's a new development.
And in the conference that's going on now in Belgrade to assess the progress from the Helsinki signing of the treaties, there's a deep and penetrating and nonconfrontational assessment of how well we are all doing.
We don't claim to be perfect or holy. We've got our own problems in this country. The first time I met Ambassador Dobrynin, that was a major subject of the discussion. And he said to me, "At least in the Soviet Union our women have equal rights."
We are moving to assess our own problems, to correct our own defects and, at the same time, in a constructive way holding open for complete debate the deprivation of rights in other countries. This is not an easy subject to raise. It's sensitive. It creates controversy. But it could not any longer be ignored.
I want our Nation to be one where there is an intense internal pride in what we stand for and a reaffirmation of our commitment to the principles on which our Nation was formed. And I believe that we've restored that spirit, because now the United States of America is again identified with the question of human freedom and human rights, and I want to keep that image before the world as long as I'm in office.
Just one other thing: I know that in many of these issues--and I could go on for another 10 minutes itemizing them for you--there will be specific portions and sometimes misinterpretations presented to you that cause you to doubt and also to refrain from giving me your full support. I need your support, your open, aggressive, and courageous support.
In a few minutes, you'll be receiving an analysis of the Panama Canal Treaty from Ambassador Bunker. There is no doubt in my mind that our country's best interest will be served by the ratification of this treaty, these treaties--two of them.
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford have all, seen a need to modify the present treaty arrangements with Panama. And now we've been successful in bringing forth two treaties that serve our Nation well, our Nation's defense.
Jim Schlesinger, Melvin Laird, the five Joint Chiefs of Staff, our present Secretary of Defense, Paul Nitze, many others agree that our defense needs are well served by these treaties. President Ford, Secretary Kissinger, Secretary Rogers, Secretary Dean Rusk have all committed themselves to help passing these treaties through the Senate.
Obviously, our own administration is completely unanimous in believing that we have made a major step forward. We retain the right to defend, to choose the lands and waters, to operate and manage the canal throughout this century, 23 more years, and after the year 2000, to insure that the canal will be open for all commerce, and neutrality guaranteed, our ships granted the right of expeditious passage, our interests have been met.
But, in addition, the signing of these treaties alone prior to ratification has been a vivid proof to the people of the nations of our hemisphere that there's a new era of friendship and cooperation and an affirmation of mutual purpose, an end to colonialism that's profound.
Every business leader that I know of has come out in favor of the Panama Canal treaties who have expressed themselves at all. Trade, commerce, mutual defense will all be enhanced with this new interrelationship.
A few weeks ago, I met with 19 heads of state from nations in South and Central America and the Caribbean. Every one of them pointed out to me the new interrelationship. Not a single one predicated future progress on grants or aids or financial contributions. This is a tremendous bonus that our Nation will derive from the ratification of these treaties.
I need your help on this most controversial of subjects this year. The matter is in doubt. It's not going to be easy. But the Democratic Party has never asked for ease.
I want to be a good President. With your help, I can be a good President. But I also want to be a good Democratic President.
Thank you very much.