Jimmy Carter photo

Address at the Pulaski Day Dinner in Chicago, Illinois

October 10, 1976

Thank you Ted Kowalski and Mayor Daley and Governor Walker, other distinguished public servants from Illinois and Chicago. I'd like to add one comment to what the Bishop said. This is a local affair. But national and international affairs spring from individual human beings who make up families, who make up neighborhoods, who make up communities, who make up nations. And there's no difference because once a government represents what people are, then the government can be great.

I'm very glad that I had a chance to come here to meet with you tonight. My wife and my daughter, Amy, who is nine years old, have already been introduced. I also have a relative here, a sister-in-law, and a brother-inlaw, my sister-in-law is from Estonia, and she and her husband are there and I'd like you to meet Anna, who bom in Estonia [applause].

I'm not going to make a political speech tonight. I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that. [applause] I've made enough in the last few days.

I've come here to join with you in discussing some matters that are important to me. And I think important to you as well. To join in honoring Bernard Pulaski, who worked his way up through the ranks of the iron workers to become a leader of many working people. To join in honoring Judge Thaddeus Adesko, who served in the Illinois State Senate and for the last ten years has been a justice of the Illinois Appellate Court. And to join in honoring also Judge Eugene Wachowski, the presiding judge of the first municipal district of Cook County. They represent a heritage that would make me proud, and a heritage that makes you proud, of achievements by Poles and Polish Americans, typical of what has been the case throughout our nation's history, in government, literature, science, business, and the arts.

Your own Congressman, Daniel Rostenkowski, is a man to whom I will look if elected to help me understand the special problems of Americans who seek adequate health care.

Not long ago, I was talking to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee about health and about other means of delivering services to people who are destitute and who are in need. He told me, if you want an expert on the subject, who understands government but also understands people, when you get to Chicago talk to Dan. And he's already begun to [applause] submit to me advice and counsel which I hope I can use.

We also, of course, think of great scientists like Marie Curie, great musicians like Paderewski, great writers like Joseph Conrad, great military leaders like Pulaski and Kosciuszko, and great athletes like Carl Yastrzemski and Stan Musial. Two of the people that I have relied on in this whole campaign to help me with the two key issues, just coincidentally, happen to be from Polish families. For foreign affairs, the only man who came to San Francisco to brief me before the last debate was Zbigniew Brzezinski, who [applause] is an expert on that subject and he helped me a great deal. And before the first debate, the only man who came to Plains, Georgia, to brief me on economic affairs was Jerry Jasinowski. Just a coincidence, but I think it shows an increasing acceptance in government, in politics, of the wisdom and the justice and the understanding and comprehension of people in this country, and a chance to terminate the subtle discrimination that quite often has been an obstacle to the full involvement of great leaders who have come from families who originated m Poland.

Tonight I'd like to talk about two or three things to you that affect all of us. One is the breakdown in the relationship between government and people. We now have 7/a million Americans unemployed. Your own heritage, like mine, even your own religious beliefs, like mine, are predicated on the hope that people who are able to work ought to have a chance to work. In the last two years, alone, since President Nixon left office, we've had 2% million Americans added to the unemployment roles. In the last three months, 500,000 Americans became unemployed. This is bad enough just as a horrible statistic. Of all the developed nations of the world, we have the highest unemployment rate; greater than that of England; greater than that of Germany; greater than that of France; twice as great even as Italy; almost four times as great as the unemployment rate in Japan. And that hurts individual people who believe in self-reliance and who believe in human pride and who believe in a chance to take whatever talent or ability God gives us and to use it in a worthy way. We know that the first ones to lose their jobs are those who felt the burden of discrimination. And the last ones who are hired back when unemployment drops are those who felt the burden of discrimination.

And it hurts a man or a woman who might have been employed for 15 or 20 years for the first time to be drawing unemployment checks and then in a few months to stand in their first welfare line. And to start financing the family's affairs through a welfare check. For an able bodied person that is a very devastating thing. And this translates into the breakdown of the family structure.

I've made several speeches lately about American families. And I know that when a family becomes weak, when it's tom about because of a lack of respect for the parents, or a lack of opportunities for children to leave the home with pride, to earn their own living, then the structure of a home or a community, or a state or a nation is damaged. Government intrudes when families are not strong. When families can't provide for food, clothing, housing, health care, education on their own, then the government must come in and take over the responsibility that ought to properly be that of the mother and father. And once the families begin to deteriorate the communities and the neighborhoods go next.

So the strength of the families which has always been an integral part of your lives is crucial to our nation. Unemployment is bad; inflation comes in quietly and robs us all. Sometimes we don't even know it. Last month, in September, we experienced another double digit inflation period, increasing our annual rate of about 11 percent. And for someone who is retired and seeking security alone, and human dignity, to have one's life savings only worth 89 percent at the end of the year, or a five percent savings account experience a loss, not a gain, of 6 percent, is a devastating blow.

We now have only a third of the families in our country who are able to own their own homes. Eight years ago, 50 percent could own their own homes. This, again, tears apart the stability of a family opportunity. It took us a long time to reach a point where families in this country mostly could own their homes. But the price of a home has increased $16,000 in the last eight years alone. And the interest rates have increased 50 percent.

I think all of you know, too, the problem with transportation, energy supplies; but the thing that we've lost recently has been the spirit of America. I'd like to talk to you just a few minutes about foreign policy.

We're not the only people who want to stand for something in the world. Freedom in Eastern Europe was bom in Poland, with the Constitution in 1791. Since that time, Poland has endured many rulers, but its people have never lost their intense desire to be free. And this is experienced not only in the history of the country, but also in the music of your country, which has been an inspiration to all human beings of this world who sought liberty and freedom. The desire for freedom brought your parents and grandparents, perhaps, to this country. In my own state, one of the original 13 states, has always revered the name of Kosciuszko. My own daughter, Caron, comes from Pulaski County, Georgia, Hawkinsville; and I hope [applause] you'll visit it some day to see what it means to us.

That commitment for freedom brought Kosciuszko and Pulaski to this country. To America, to fight and to die young in our war for independence and for freedom. That spirit led three Polish soldiers to Monte Cassino, where they were the first allied regiment to plant their colors during one of the fiercest battles of World War II. And their graves there, in those remote mountain areas, there's a plaque which bears this inscription. These Polish soldiers for our freedom and for yours, gave their bodies to Italy, their hearts to Poland, and their souls to God. And that spirit lives on, it lives among you and among the people that you are bound to by ties of history and affection who still live in Poland.

I think it's time that we had a President who understands the facts about Eastern Europe and about the whole world. It's time we had leaders who will speak up for freedom in Eastern Europe, and also in the rest of the world.

When I was here in Chicago to make a major foreign affairs speech last March, I said Eastern Europe must never, and can never be a stable region until the Eastern European countries regain their independence. I said then that the Soviet Union must understand that any United States-Soviet détente depends upon recognizing the legitimate aspirations of the people—of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and the rest of Eastern Europe. [applause]

That was a statement that I made last March. And I still believe that. We don't want a cold war. We want to cooperate with the Soviet Union in order to avoid the horrors of nuclear conflict. But if I'm elected President, I will take four or five or six steps to show that we do care about freedom in Eastern Europe.

First, we will insist that the Soviet Union comply with the guarantees of human rights contained in the Helsinki Agreement. There should be freedom of movement in Eastern Europe. There should be freedom of expression, freedom of families to reunite with their relatives overseas, and access to them with gifts that are not changed into rubles and do not have to be taxed 30 percent We've had a deterioration and not an improvement since the Helsinki agreement was signed. That agreement must be enforced [applause]. There has to be access to those who live in Poland from the free world.

And we must insist, secondly, that the Soviet Union, as agreed to in the Helsinki Agreement, cease jamming Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Third, we should work for an expanded network of human and commercial ties between the countries of the East and the countries of the West, ties that will keep the alternative of freedom always open in the Eastern Europan countries. They must recognize that no matter how destitute they may be of freedom at this moment, the legitimate hope through access beyond the Iron Curtain, is always open to them.

We must be sure at home that we never yield the principles expressed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Recently, we've seen an example of that when the Arab countries tell American businesses, you can't trade with us if you do business with Israel. You can't trade with us if you have American Jews who own stock in your company or help to manage its affairs. This is a deprivation of liberty. It's a circumvention of our Bill of Rights. It's been condoned by our own government leaders.

This time it's Jews. Later it may be others, who could be suffering because of their religious beliefs, or their ethnic background. We must never again permit this to be done. Our country also must be constantly concerned about the preservation of human rights throughout the world. Not just in our own country, not just in Eastern Europe. But in Cyprus, also in South America and Chile and any other nation where human beings are tortured, the American voice must be there, not to let the world forget.

And last, I'd like to make sure, as President, that I do nothing by deed or word to give the slightest indication that we will ever accept permanent Soviet domination over countries that want to be free. And you can depend upon that [applause].

Today, I made a speech at Notre Dame, at noon. And I had a quiet talk with Father Hesburgh, who's been the President of that University for 25 years. He pointed out to me that many centuries ago a question was asked a wise man, "How do you prepare to be the leader of a country, what are the qualifications to be a Prime Minister, or President?" And the answer came back from the wise man, just two words. "Be human." Be human.

The strength of leaders can only come from their ability to tap the experience, the judgment, the common sense, the intelligence, the idealism, the hope, the sense of brotherhood and compassion and love, patriotism toward one's country, that exists in the minds and hearts of free men and women everywhere. And those who want to be free.

And to the extent that we who are in political life can stay close to the people, and tap their strength, and their wisdom, to that extent our country will be strong, and wise.

It takes a lot of humility when you're the nominee of a party to stand in a factory shift line, and face people at six o'clock in the morning, or five o'clock in the morning, and say, "Can I have your vote?", because the approval is not unanimous. But that is an enjoyable experience for me.

My campaign has never been an ordeal, it's never been a sacrifice. It's been a challenging and an exhilirating experience, and it has inspired me to reach for a standard of excellence and greatness that can only be derived from those that I hope to represent. And if I can be a good and successful nominee of my party, I believe that I can only be a good and successful President if I can tap the great strength of the people of this country.

Now we in this nation are not a melting pot. We've had people come to our country from almost every country in the world. But we don't relinquish our individuality. We never give up the love that we have for our ethnic heritage, our history, our customs, or traditions. So America is not a melting pot. It's more a beautiful mosaic where different kinds of people with different customs and different dreams and different memories, fit together and share our strength toward a high and a common goal. Therein lies the uniqueness of America. And we derive our unique spirit, too, from the common bond that brought us here, a search for human freedom. We ought never to forget those facts. We need never relinquish our individuality. We need never be ashamed of our heritage but always proud, and always remember when we came to this country. It may have been two years ago, it may have been twenty years ago, it may have been two hundred years ago, or even longer.

What matters is why we came here, and what we do when we come. And what our lives can mean to give our children a greater grasp of the world. A realization of our place in God's kingdom, and a hope that our lives can be meaningful to fellow human beings, who search as we have for a fuller realization of individuality, freedom, liberty, commonality of purpose, an absence of discrimination, truth, justice, honor and equality of opportunity. In what is still, and what I hope will always be, the greatest nation on earth.

Thank you very much.

Jimmy Carter, Address at the Pulaski Day Dinner in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347571

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