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Atlanta, Georgia Remarks at the Southern Salute to the President Dinner.

January 20, 1978

It's a wonderful thing in the South to get almost as much applause as Bert Lance, and I thank you for it. [Laughter]

It's really nice to be back down here at home where I don't need an interpreter. A lot of people say that I had a hard time with an interpreter in Poland. But where I really have a hard time is in Washington, trying to get my message out to the people and explain what we're trying to do with the Federal Government. It got so bad this Christmas that when Amy and I sent our letters to Santa Claus, I got the dollhouse and she got a chain saw. [Laughter]

I never have quite made the transition from Plains to Washington successfully. And when I've asked for advice around our Capital City, I've always heard back, "Well, you need to go to more Washington cocktail parties." I've tried to accommodate that recommendation and do the best I could. I can't go to all the Embassy parties. I just don't have time. So, I decided to send Hamilton Jordan. [Laughter]

Later on, I was told that the best way to deal with Congress to get your programs passed was to go to the cocktail parties, and Jody Powell went. And he tried to sell all 4-year programs in one night. It took him a week to get over it. [Laughter] Later, we have thought about converting some of the key Members of Congress to get our energy bill passed. My sister Ruth is planning on going to see Russell Long very shortly, maybe get an energy bill. [Laughter]

The only one that's really been completely successful so far has been Bert Lance. He's come out of Washington a hero. He's the only one in the Carter administration that's paid off all his debts. [Laughter] He's made more friends in the last 3 or 4 months than anybody I know. He's just embarked, or is embarking on a new career in television. There's a lot of openings at the top since Walter Cronkite became Acting Secretary of State. [Laughter]

And I know that all of you agree with me that tonight Joel and Wallace, Ken Curtis, Bert Lance have done an outstanding job in one of the greatest Democratic fundraisers in the history of our country. And I want all of us to express our thanks to them. We're proud of them.

How many of you heard the State of the Union speech last night, anybody? It was 45 minutes long, and I said all I wanted to say last night. So, I'm going to be very brief this evening, but there are .a few things that I want to say.

This is the first time I've been back to Atlanta since Inauguration Day, a year ago tonight. And as I mentioned last evening, 2 years ago yesterday, we had the first Democratic caucus in Iowa. But long before that, many of you here in Georgia, and in Alabama and Mississippi and Florida and Tennessee and South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, had confidence in me and gave me your support. And, of course, there's one region of the country, even though I am President of the whole Nation, that will always be close to my heart, and that's the South.

Tonight, with this banquet, I thought about the fact that we didn't have to join the Democratic Party when I was young. We were born into it. It became part of our life, part of our consciousness.

We grew up on a farm during the depression years. And we struggled from a time of hopelessness and despair and poverty, sometimes even hunger, with a sense that the future could be greater.

We had a President, Franklin Roosevelt, and we had memories and a history of the past with the fathers of our country, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and others, who had always had faith in common, ordinary, honest, hard-working American people. They trusted the judgment of those who are not powerful and influential, who sometimes are not wealthy or even well-educated, who do have a deep sense of what our Nation has been, is, and can be, a deep religious faith, a belief that the family, if it's tight-knit and filled with love, is the best source of inspiration, education, and preparation for an adult life. We learned what it meant to struggle and to obtain a good education.

And this region of the country has always been highly patriotic, maybe because our families. our ancestors remember the devastation of the War Between the States, when Atlanta itself was destroyed, and the values that we reobtained when our Nation was united, but we've always been committed to the strong defense of our country. We've always been a people who could see and who had a deep desire to see the product of each day's work.

I had a good life as a young boy on a farm, but I remember a sense of accomplishment and pride and inspiration for the future each day after I worked in the field with my father and others, to look back and see how many rows had been plowed, how much land had been broken, how much corn had been pulled, how much cotton had been picked. And there was a tangible measure of work well done in preparation for the future, when the wood box was filled with stove wood that my mother could burn the next day and when the water bucket was pumped full from a hand pump.

These kinds of things were specific assignments of responsibility. And it was a sense of community and common purpose and harmony and a sense of fulfillment and a sense that we were contributing in our own small way, but an identifiable way, to the welfare of our family, our community, and indeed, sometimes even the Nation itself.

That's the kind of spirit that's not too far in the past to be forgotten. Those kinds of commitments, those kinds of experiences, those kinds of hopes, those kinds of dreams, those kinds of accomplishments are the standards by which the strength of America can be preserved in our own individual lives.

All of us don't have to be rich. All of us don't have to hold political office. All of us don't have to be influential or wellknown. But none of us who hold public office, who are influential, who are wellknown can accomplish the ideals and the potentials of our Nation unless we work in harmony. And when there's a separation between government and people, between the rich and the poor, between blacks and whites, between the North and the South, between new cities and old cities, our Nation suffers. And we who have seen the devastation of war and the social and psychological devastation of racial segregation know the value of harmony, of family, and of a common purpose.

This month was .a month when two great men of the South were born. One of them, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was not welcomed by most of us when he began with his lonely voice to point out the potentials of the South and the damage that was accruing to both blacks and whites by racial discrimination. But he had courage. And he gave his life that the South and the people he loved, both black and white, might reach our full potential. And as I said dozens of times in my 2 years of campaigning, there would have been absolutely no chance for me, a southerner, to ever think of becoming President of the United States had it not been for him and what he stood for and what he accomplished.

He saw that in a 30-year period the greatest thing that the South lost was our young people. Three million young whites left the South. Five million young blacks left the South. And now they are coming back home, because the stable, God-given resources of our Nation were waiting for them. And to utilize those resources, there is a united people, bound together by a sense of equality and common purpose and mutual respect, compassion, and even love.

And the other person who was born in January was a great leader, Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee was a man who understood the values of a region which he represented. He was never filled with hatred. He never felt a sense of superiority. He led the southern cause with pride, yes, but with a sense of reluctance as well. He fought his battles courageously. And he said on one occasion that the word that was the most sublime in the English language was "duty"—duty to our country, duty to our region, duty to our neighbors, duty to the high standards spoken to us by God.

Well, my heart really overflows when I think about the responsibilities that you have helped me to assume and the confidence you had in me and what you mean to me as neighbors, as advisers, as counselors, and as friends. It means a lot to me to come back here at home where I served this State for 4 years as Governor and 4 years in the legislature, 7 years on a county school board and 5 years on the hospital authority, and 3 years on the library board. And my roots are still the same as they were.

We learned from the Bible about the fallibilities even of people who were given great responsibility. I remember the story of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, when Moses was a man anointed by God to lead. And when the Israelites were in a battle, God told Moses, "Hold up your arm." And as long as Moses held up his arms, the Israelites won. But after an hour or two or three, his arm got weary and it began to sink, and the Israelites began to lose. And his brother, Aaron, went and propped up his arm for a while. And later on Hut propped up Moses' arm for a while, and the Israelites won.

Well, I don't under any circumstances equate myself with Moses. But I would like to remind you of this: You elected me to be President. You gave me a job to do. As long as I'm in the White House, I'm going to try to do a good job, because you have confidence in me.

I'm not afraid of the responsibility. I'm not afraid of the past, the present, or the future. I'll do the best I can. Together we'll tackle the tough problems. But I'm depending on you that if my arm gets heavy and it starts to sag, I'm going to depend on you to help me prop it up.

And I believe that together, you and I, southerners, Americans, even people here from all over the world who have come to pay their own respects to the greatest nation on Earth, I believe that together we can realize the potential that's on our shoulders, to show that those ideals that we cherished as young people on the farms and in the cities can overcome the greatest obstacles, temptations for weakness, and show the strength that's in us and make America proud of us all.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:20 p.m. in Exhibit Hall C at the Georgia World Congress Center.

In his remarks, the President referred to Joel W. McCleary, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, Wallace Hyde, cochairman of the dinner, Kenneth M. Curtis, chairman of the DNC, and Bert Lance, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget and cochairman of the dinner.

Jimmy Carter, Atlanta, Georgia Remarks at the Southern Salute to the President Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/247696

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