Jimmy Carter photo

Address to the West Virginia Democratic Partes Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Charleston, West Virginia

August 14, 1976

First of all, let me say it is a great honor for me to be back in West Virginia. This is a state where I feel at home. You have a lot in common with my own state. You have tremendous coal deposits under your surface lands. As you know, peanuts grow under the ground also, so I have a lot in common with you there. I also want to say that I feel at home with the people at this head table. We have a lot in common.

The first year that I was Governor of Georgia we had our State Democratic Committee meeting. Our choice to come and be a speaker to that group was my good friend, Robert Byrd. And if I am elected, and if you'll help me get elected in November, I look forward as President to working with him in a major position in the Senate.

I've learned a lot these past twenty months traveling around the country. I've learned to appreciate my home. Plains is a little town of 683 people, almost all of us are farmers. I never knew Plains was anything very special, but now when I go home, there are 500 to 750 or 1,000 tourists in town every day. I hope that after November 2 they will still be there.

I have learned to appreciate the country, the rural area. And I've learned to understand the people who live in the country, who move to the city to earn enough money so they can afford to live in the country. We have every Sunday morning at our church a large number of people who come to visit. I started to say worship with us. Some of them apparently haven't been in church very often, but we always make room for them and welcome them there. A couple of Sundays ago there were two tourists from Miami who left the church after the service, and one of them turned to the other and said, "How did I do in the service?" And the other fellow said, "Well, you did okay, but the word is hallelujah and not Hialeah."

I also feel proud to be here because of your own heritage. West Virginia has a Democratic heritage. All of us were impressed in 1960 when you opened your arms and opened your hearts to John Kennedy. It was the turning point in the nomination of that great man.

And you've had in Congress a superlative congressional delegation. And I look forward next year to working with that delegation and with your new, great, Democratic Governor, Jay Rockefeller.

Shortly after the California, New Jersey and Ohio primaries, when it seemed assured that I would be the nominee, I went to Washington to meet with Senator Byrd and with Jennings Randolph and all the Democratic Senators. And following our meeting, at which they endorsed me unanimously, one of the network television reporters asked Senator Byrd, "You've been here a long time, you've heard a lot of Presidential candidates promise that the government is going to be completely reorganized and made efficient, economical, and purposeful and manageable. Do you believe that Jimmy Carter, who's promised this, can carry out the promise, knowing about the opposition that's going to be there from the massive special interest groups in Washington.?" And I was afraid to hear the answer. But Senator Byrd said, "Absolutely. It will be done if he is elected, and we're going to help him." I'll never forget that And obviously he knows that I am counting on him.

Last night I wrote Senator Jennings Randolph a thank you note. He sent me a book that expresses very clearly his own concept of what government ought to be. It's a book that relates to ethics—honesty, integrity, openness, purposefulness, in public service. And along with it, he sent me a letter outlining what the Congress had attempted to do under his leadership in the field of energy. That's a remarkable condensation of what he's meant to the country. A man whose reputation is justifiably great A man who's been in the Congress since 1933, I. believe. Who was there during the depression years, working with Franklin Roosevelt. Who was there to help form the REA program that turned on the electric lights in the isolated farm house where I lived. And who's been present as the major decisions have been made that shaped our country. And I'm deeply grateful for his friendship and thank West Viiginia for letting the nation have a leader like Jennings Randolph. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I just want to say a few things tonight. Things that are important to me as a Democratic nominee for President Someone told me, I think it was Sharon [Percy Rockefeller], that I'm the first Presidential nominee who's ever come to West Virginia to speak at a Jefferson-Jackson Day banquet I'm glad you honored me by letting me come.

I've tried to single out a few things that are important to you uniquely in this state. One I know is the energy problem. As I've traveled and campaigned throughout the country, particularly in New England, I've pointed out that we must have a comprehensive energy policy for our country. That the major thrust of it is inevitably going to be a shift from primary dependence on oil to primary dependence on coal.

In 1950, 35 percent of our energy came from coal. We've got about 40 years supply of oil left in the whole world. In our country alone, we've got six hundred years, at least, supply of coal. Three hundred years of which is clean burning and readily accessible. And as you know, major portions of it are in the Appalachian regions. One statement that I've made throughout the country is that as we shift our efforts toward increasing use of coal, the emphasis ought to be on extraction and use of coal from Appalachia and not the far western deposits.

Last year, we produced 650 million tons of coal—about 110 million came from your own state. A lot of people say that we haven't got any ability to expand production because in the last few years we've not seen it expand at all. But a study by the American Institute of Engineers says that by 1985 we can be producing 1,250 million tons of coal—about twice as much—that's clean burning, efficient and near the point where the energy must be consumed, that is, the eastern seaboard.

So the future of West Virginia, Appalachian coal, is indeed bright if we can have a government policy that recognizes this tremendous resource, has research and development money going into better extraction, better safety, cleaner burning coal supplies. I'm committed to that proposition and you can depend on it

As that change takes place we must be very careful to honor and protect the courageous men and families who have for generations gone into the deep mines. About half the coal now is produced from deep mines in this country. The other half from strip mines.

I was distressed to read in a speech Jay Rockefeller made recently that on the average for the last five years, West Virginia has lost forty men per year in coal mine accidents. Our present laws are not being adequately enforced. Inspection is not rigid enough. And this tragic loss must be reduced or eliminated. I agree with what Jay Rockefeller said, that the goal we set for ourselves must not be 30 deaths, not 25 deaths, not 20 deaths per year, but zero deaths among those who serve us so well, so sacrificially, and so bravely in the coal mines. I want to make it certain that it doesn't have to be an act of bravery to supply our energy needs from your coal mines.

Government can be sensitive. Government can be well organized. Government can be honest. Government can be open.

In recent years, it hasn't been. Our country has suffered from it We've been embarrassed. We've been alienated. We've withdrawn. We've been concerned. We've been ashamed at times. That need not be. Our people's spirit has not been broken. In the last 24 years, we've had Democrats in the White House only eight years—only eight years. There's been a reason for it, and I'll get to that in a few minutes.

But what do we want from government? We want to work. We want jobs. We haven't got them. In 1968, when Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey, the unemployment rate was 3.6 percent. Today, it's more than twice that high—about 7.8 percent and going up.

There has been a philosophy within the Republican Party that the. best way to hold down inflation is to create a buffer supply of unemployed human beings. Any economic concept that thinks that the best way to control inflation is to keep people out of work is bankrupt, and our country cannot tolerate this any longer.

Even with an emphasis on inflation—let unemployment go where it will— what has been the record under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson? Do you know what the average inflation rate was per year? 2 percent. Under Nixon and Ford, do you know what the average inflation rate has been per year? 6.9 percent. This is not progress.

And it shows that an understanding of economics, when the human factor is left out, is not good for our nation in any respect. Recessions hurt those who are weakest, who are already poor, who are rural or isolated, who have marginal educational opportunities, whose family ties are weak, who are timid and inarticulate. Under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, for eight years, we had zero recessions. Under Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford— five recessions.

The Republicans have always claimed that in spite of the statistics at least they don't waste money. The Democrats, in their inclination to help human beings with social programs, create enormous deficits. But what's the record? The accumulated deficits for the last two years and under the administration's current budget are $170 billion, more than the last thirty years combined. Under Kennedy and Johnson, the average deficit was less than $7 billion a year. Under Nixon and Ford, the average deficit has been more than $24 billion a year.

I don't want to paint a black picture, or a frightful picture of our country. I don't want to criticize those who struggle with these needs. And here's a legitimate question—is anyone trying to do anything about our human needs? The answer is yes. Under Jennings Randolph's leadership, there have been a series of public works bills passed by the Congress to put our people back to work, to provide services for those in communities where the services are actually needed. Not to waste money, but to spend it wisely as a tremendous investment in our own citizens.

The last time President Ford vetoed a bill—the next to the last—he let the Senate leadership know, "I can't accept that bill, work out one that's more modest." And that's what Senator Randolph did. And the bill passed. And did President Ford sign it? No. It was vetoed. Seven hundred thousand jobs lost to our people.

Unemployment hurts every family almost. And, particularly, those who are unemployed for a long term. So the Congress passed a bill and said that for a family that is unemployed, let's help them simply make the payments on their own home mortgages until they get another job. The Congress passed this bill. President Ford vetoed it.

Children need to eat, even if their fathers and mothers don't work. So the Congress passed a school lunch bill. A program that was started originally by my own Senator, Richard Russell. This was designed to provide school lunch room services for the poorer families. And President Ford vetoed it.

My middle son, Chip, his wife's name is Caron. She teaches a pre-first grade class of children who can't quite make it because of their devastating poverty. Almost all those students happen to be black. When they cut off the funds for the school lunch program, my daughter-in-law, without telling me or Rosalynn, took money out of her own pocket and bought food and milk for those children. Later, when she could afford it no longer, she asked her father to contribute money. And he did, to buy milk for those children.

But the veto of such needed legislation is not typical of the attitude of our country or public servants.

There was another bill passed to provide better medical care in rural areas and inner cities, to let doctors go there. It was vetoed. There was another bill passed to give Vietnamese veterans, the most unappreciated heroes in our history, an educational opportunity. It was vetoed by President Ford.

These vetoes don't help our nation's economy. They don't save money. They cause human suffering. And wisely, the leaders on the platform with me tonight overrode those vetoes. Too long, we've had government by veto. Negative government. That's got to change.

I very seldom say anything good about Richard Nixon. But he only vetoed an average of seven bills per year. President Ford has vetoed 27 bills per year.

I don't want to go into much more detail about governmental problems. But I want to make one point that I made in New Hampshire the other day that causes me deep concern. And that's the impact of inadequate leadership on our families. Forty percent of all marriages today end in divorce. In 1960, children bom of unwed mothers comprised one out of twenty. Last year, one out of eight. There's a tremendous increase in crime brought about primarily by unemployment, a shift toward drug addiction, alcoholism, emotional problems for young people. Among those in our society today, black and white, rich and poor, between 15 and 19 years old, the second most frequent cause of death is suicide. This is coupled with a lowering of moral standards. In the last ten years, the gonorrhea rate has tripled among our children less than 14 years old. This has got to be dealt with.

Government leaders—Presidents, majority leaders, committee chairmen, governors, Members of Congress—can't do it alone. There has got to be a surge of commitment and concern among those of us, like the 3,000 to 3,500 assembled here tonight, who care and who've been blessed by God with material wealth, social prominence, leadership capabilities, and community influence. I think you all noticed at the Democratic Convention the remarkable demonstration of unity, of binding together. And that includes you, no matter what your position in life might be. You're an American citizen, and when our kids have gonorrhea, when our young men commit suicide, and drug addiction is with us, when fathers and mothers are unemployed, when families break up, when health care is not there, it's a responsibility of us all

There are some things which must be done that I've spelled out very clearly over the last twenty months and in my acceptance speech. Our income tax system in this country is a disgrace to the human race. It's got to be changed. The surest income to be taxed is the income earned from manual labor. There are all kinds of loopholes and special privileges for people that are powerful, and nowadays, the average family that makes a million dollars a year pays a lower percentage of this income in taxes than does the average family that makes less than $10,000 a year. We need basic reform. Not amendments, one section at a time, but a comprehensive analysis of a fair way for our people to be taxed.

Health care is a problem. In this country now we spend an average of $550 per year for every man, woman, and child in our nation. There is no other nation on earth that spends as much on health care as a percentage of their gross national product But we still have gross inequities. And sometimes with a poor family, or even one with fairly moderate means, when someone gets sick they are reluctant to go to a doctor. I heard the other day a story that illustrates this point. I don't know if it was a coal miner or a peanut farmer, but he went to the doctor and the doctor said, "Sir, you need an operation. Do you believe that you have enough money to afford it?" And the fellow thought for awhile, and he said, "Doctor, I want to ask you a question, if I don't have enough money to pay, do you think I still need the operation?"

Well, the fear of enormous medical costs is bad enough. But we still have a tremendous affliction on our people in unmet preventive care. I grew up on a farm in an isolated area. I got good medical care. But the emphasis was on the prevention of disease. Those of you who are as old as I am remember those diseases: typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, whooping cough, mumps, measles, and polio. But the emphasis was on prevention. We need a comprehensive nationwide mandatory health care system in this country. And if I'm elected, that will be a major goal of mine.

In closing, I would like to say one other thing. We need an open government to let our people know what our government leaders are doing, including the President. Every time our nation's made a serious mistake in the managing of foreign affairs—in Watergate, Cambodia, Vietnam—it's been because our people have been excluded from the process. We've [not] known what was going on. We've been held at arm's length and separated from our own government.

I grew up on a farm. I never wasted my own money. I saw what good government services did to change my life. My family's lived in Georgia more than 200 years. Nobody in my father's family ever finished high school before me. I had a good chance in life. And I want to be sure that government gives our young people today a good chance in life.

I don't believe in giveaway programs. I don't believe in wasted money. I don't believe in confusion in government. I believe in tough, competent management And I also believe in delivering services to people who legitimately need those services in an efficient and economical and sensitive way. This is what the American people want. It's not liberal or conservative. It's just what's right.

I want you to help me this fall. To be elected, yes. But also to set a standard of service. To help tear down the wall that exists between our people and our government. To help tear down the wall that exists between the White House and the Congress. To tear down the wall that exists among the regions of our country. To tear down the wall that exists between different races or religions.

These walls have kept us from one another. They've kept us from sharing the responsibilities for our own future. They've isolated us and weakened us and drained the strength that's there. I know as much about this country, I believe, as any other person because I've campaigned so hard. And I've seen it as an innate strength that hasn't been shaken. Our economical strength is still there. Our system of government is the best on earth. And our people are our most tremendous resource of all. I want to see investments made in people and not just in buildings and atomic weapons. I want to see our country go back to work. I want to see defects eliminated in government delivery of services.

If we can put a space vehicle on Mars, I believe that we can four-lane the highway between Charleston and Princeton in less than twenty-five years.

We've accomplished the most difficult task already. And that is to unify the Democratic Party. I believe that we can go from there to unify our nation. But we Democrats have been bound together, not because of Jimmy Carter, not because of Chairman Bob Strauss, not even because of great senatorial leaders. We've been bound together because we have a common concern and a common purpose and a common hope and a common ideal and a common dream that gives us strength. But we derive our strength from the factory shift lines and the barbershops and beauty parlors, and truck drivers and farmers and miners and carpenters. People who don't want anything selfish out of government, but who want to see us once again have a nation that's strong, and honest, and sensitive, open and of which we can legitimately be proud.

We've got to deserve—we Democrats—have got to deserve the trust and the support that we ask the people of this country to give us. We've been wounded deeply, this nation. And many people, I know, particularly the young, say, "I'm disgusted but Pm going to give my country and its leaden one more chance."

If I should do anything to betray the trust that's been put in me, it would have a devastating impact on this country. The smallest lie, the smallest misleading statement, the smallest betrayal of confidence, would be enormously magnified. I'm not a perfect man. I'm sinful like everyone else. I make my mistakes. But I think I can minimize my mistakes in the future by tying myself, as I have in the past, directly with you. I don't ever want there to be any powerful, big shot political intermediary between me and the average citizen of this country. We've got to be melded together. That's a characteristic of the Democratic Party when it's at its finest. Senator Byrd, Senator Randolph, Jay Rockefeller, your Members of Congress, your state party chairmen, and others see this very clearly.

As we went through the convention proceedings in New York, I saw again and again as special interest groups—good groups—came to my apartment at the hotel with all kinds of demands. Some of which were quite selfish. And they were willing to yield to create a commonality of purpose and a mutual resolution of our nation's problems and to search for answers in unity. That's got to be your purpose here in West Virginia. You can turn this state around politically and have a close working relationship between your Democratic governor and your assembly and between your governor and the Congress, between the Congress and the White House.

So we can see the greatness of the people of your state mirrored in a better quality of life. I think we are willing to make the sacrifice as Democrats to bring that about and as the nominee of our party I'm going to expect the Republicans to make a sacrifice too. Specifically tonight, in West Virginia, I want them to sacrifice the governor's office and the White House next year.

Jimmy Carter, Address to the West Virginia Democratic Partes Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Charleston, West Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347642

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