Jimmy Carter photo

Baltimore, Maryland Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the National Convention of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America.

August 07, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Judge Montemurro, Governor Hughes, Mayor Don Schaefer, who's done so much to keep Baltimore a great city, Senator Sarbanes, Senator Mathias, Congressman Biaggi, Judge Sirica, Colonel Battaglia, delegates, members, and friends of the Sons of Italy in America:

I'm not supposed to go to Italy until next year. Why is it that I already feel like I'm there?

I intend to visit your great mother country next year for an official state visit in Venice to meet with the other leaders of the industrialized Western nations to discuss matters important to our country and to the other nations on Earth.

I'm especially glad today that in addition to Congressman Biaggi and Judge Sirica and Father Baroni, 1 that I was able to bring with me the highest law enforcement officer in our Nation, the new Attorney General of the United States of America, Benjamin Civiletti. And I sincerely hope that you approve of this appointment.

1 Geno Baroni, Assistant Secretary for Neighborhoods, Voluntary Associations, and Consumer Protection, Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It is very important that the government of our Nation represent and reflect the varied heritage of America. But I recognize a special claim that Italian Americans have. Some of us are very proud that our people came over in 1620 on the Mayflower, but not many of us can say that our people came over in 1492 on the Santa Maria. [Laughter]

For myself, today I came over on the train. And first of all, I want to say that I recommend this kind of trip to every American regardless of national background. Trains have always been a truly American way to travel, and I am determined to improve America's railway system. I want to demonstrate that trains represent the future and not the past in transportation in America. And I hope you'll help me with that.

In recent years there've been too many bankruptcies, too many terminations of rail service, to a great degree brought about by excessive Government regulation. Recently, the Congress passed legislation severely reducing Government regulation of the airline industry. Many of you flew into Baltimore, and you know that passengers on airlines have saved already more than $2 1/2 billion. The airlines have made more money, more people travel. Now we have before the Congress a proposal to do the same thing with American railroads. And if you'll help me with Congress, we'll deregulate the railroads, put them back on a sound, blue-ink basis and have a better transportation system for our country.

Amtrak must be more efficient, more comfortable, and more economical. And we are finally changing the blocked Northeast Corridor into an open passageway for millions of Americans. This is the same thing I'm determined to do with my Presidency, to keep it open by traveling frequently and freely among the people of our Nation, and that's why I'm so glad to be here with you. I thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Now, people used to call America a melting pot, but that has never really been true. The people of this country did come from all over the world. We are a nation of immigrants; we are a nation of refugees. We came here bringing with us every kind of culture and language and religion and way of life. Our ancestors all sought the same freedom, but we never got melted down into a single featureless mass where all were exactly the same. And all of us are glad that this did not happen.

Whatever our race or religion or form of nationality, we have kept some of our original character, even as we've learned to live and to work together as Americans. We are not a melting pot. We are more like a pot of minestrone. [Laughter]

As I said often during my campaign throughout the country, the analogy that comes closest, to my mind, to capturing the essence of America is that we are a mosaic. Each fragment of the mosaic has its own shape and its own color and its own size. And the beauty of this mosaic is to be found both because each piece is different and unique and because the pieces fit together in harmony so well.

This country is a mosaic made up of Italians and Irish and Poles and Jews and blacks and Orientals and Native Americans and even people with southern accents. [Laughter]

And I might say that all of us have on occasion suffered from some degree of prejudice. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and we will go on adding pieces to this American mosaic as long as there is oppression and tyranny and suffering in the world which people need to escape and to come here for freedom.

The famous poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty includes these lines which all of you know:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

That old, beloved poem has new and vital meaning today, and we ought to think about this. The phrase about the tempest-tossed sounds almost like a prophecy of the boat people. The refugees from Indochina who have posed such a challenge to the conscience of the world, they are the tempest-tossed of 1979. The golden door of our Nation must be open to them just as it was open to the tempest-tossed parents and grandparents of almost everyone in this room and all those who live throughout the country.

There is a tendency in our Nation, even amongst some of us, to say, well, now it's different. It's not different. We must be open-hearted, and we must still be concerned for those who seek to escape persecution and to find freedom.

It's good for our Nation that you are meeting here as Italian Americans, that you are working together to preserve your heritage and your culture, because you have so much to offer. I do not mean only the cultural and artistic and musical heritage, a heritage represented by names like Michelangelo and da Vinci, Verdi and Toscanini, nor do I mean even the great individual contributions of particular Italian Americans, although, of course, we are all intensely proud of people who have held our Nation together in a time of trial and testing and great threat—men like John Sirica, Peter Rodino, and now Benjamin Civiletti.

Even more important than any American, no matter how great that individual might be, is the system of values that the Italians and the Poles and the Irish and the European Jews and other immigrants brought to our shores. I mean the devotion to family, a sense of discipline, a belief in hard work, a readiness to sacrifice so that each generation's children could have a better life, and finally a sense of concern and compassion for others. That sense of compassion is very broad, and it's evident in this room, in this organization.

On this trip, I'm discussing with Mario Biaggi the plight of the people in Northern Ireland. Peter Rodino, with his committee, is working to help the boat people. There are many in this room who are concerned about Israel, who are concerned about the poor of all nationalities, and about the elderly who live among us.

During this convention I have learned the Sons of Italy will present a check for $2 million to the March of Dimes Foundation to fight birth defects. And that money will go to help children of every racial and ethnic background. You've raised that money in your capacity as Italian Americans, but you are donating it in your capacity as Americans. That is the spirit of the United States, the same spirit that the immigrants brought to this country, of unity, patriotism, confidence, and concern.

It's the same spirit that we must now bring to the fight to achieve and to preserve American energy security.

I'm not going to describe any particular program today. We all know that we can meet our energy security threat only if we enact legislation and then pull together as Americans.

Because our Nation is not only a mosaic ethnically and culturally but also economically, we're different one from another. Some of us financially are well off, some have to struggle just to make ends meet; some of us are energy consumers, some energy producers. Some of us are from the Northeast, where we need a lot of heating oil to keep our homes warm; some of us are from the Sun Belt, where enormous differences of distance means that we need a lot of gasoline just to go to our jobs.

Too often in the past, as we tried to deal with this complicated energy problem, we have let these differences paralyze our Nation. We've been too prone to struggle and fight among ourselves in serving our own particular interest. We have let the general interest, the national interest suffer.

I'm sorry to say that until now the general interest has had a hard time of it in the halls of Congress, despite the dedication and the work of the leadership and many Members of the Congress. The Congress has yielded to the narrow interest on energy issues time and time again. I've now called on the Congress to enact a strong windfall profits tax on the oil companies to help finance a strong national effort to achieve energy security, and I need your help.

The Congress is now in recess, and its Members are at home listening to constituents. I'm sure that the message they will hear is a clear call to enact the windfall profits tax on the oil companies. America needs the revenues from that tax to finance a vast effort to increase energy production and also to increase energy conservation.

America needs those resources, those revenues to improve mass transit. I took the train this morning, not only because it's the best way to come from Washington to Baltimore but also because I wanted to show my support for a strong mass transportation system.

The windfall profits tax will also let us build that kind of system and will help us to ease the burden of increasing energy cost that now falls on the shoulders of the poorest among us. But we cannot do any of that unless we are willing to place the common good over the narrow special interests.

This is a challenge I talked about in my Sunday night television address. It's a challenge I'm talking about from one end of this country to another. It's a challenge I'm calling on you to help me meet together, unified, with confidence in ourselves, with confidence in each other, with confidence in our Nation, in America. You can help me and the Nation that we all love by saving energy in your own lives and in your own homes and in your own communities and by getting the message across to the representatives in Congress that all of us must cooperate and to mobilize the strength of America to achieve energy security.

We have the greatest nation on Earth. Let's make it even greater. Sempre avanti!

And now I'm ready for your questions.



Q. Mr. President, we're concerned with what you think the possibility is of having a national health insurance program passed within this administration and, if so, do you feel it will be the administration's bill or do you feel it would be the bill of, say, others who've presented bills?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's very important that our Nation have a comprehensive health program. The differences that have been highly publicized between myself and Senator Kennedy on what shape the legislation should assume, I think, have been exaggerated. We've come a long way. There are some differences that are material, but I believe that we can overcome those differences.

The Congress is responsible for doing this. One of the comments that I made in the swearing-in ceremonies for Patricia Harris who will be the new Secretary of HEW—is that part of her responsibility will be to resolve the differences that do exist between my own proposal—which has been very carefully considered and is a very sound proposal—and that of many others who've been interested in national health programs for a long time. So, I predict that this will be passed during this Congress, if not this year, then next year.

We've got the support of people like Abraham Ribicoff, Senator Russell Long, Senator Kennedy, and many others in the Senate, and then we have equivalent support in the House.

It's not intended by either Senator Kennedy or I that the program would be effective immediately. It would go into effect in 1983, but because of its farreaching impact and the need to be responsible on budget matters, we want to phase it in very carefully. The first phase will be to coordinate existing Government programs. The second phase will be to pursue aggressively a prevention program to prevent disease and to build on the things we're already doing so well in that respect, and later to broaden the coverage one step at a time until all Americans, regardless of their income, have an adequate degree of health care. The total ultimate cost will not exceed, in my opinion, what the ultimate cost will be without this program, because the costs now are growing so rapidly.

The first step that I hope the Congress will pass this year, to go into effect immediately, is hospital cost containment. As you all know, because this is not a competitive industry, hospital costs have been going up twice as fast as the average cost of inflation. So, we need hospital cost containment immediately and then to implement the health program .on a nationwide basis carefully, methodically, but thoroughly and with a maximum degree of cooperation between me and, as you say, others.


Q. Mr. President, I am John Spatuzza from Chicago, Illinois. Mr. President, your predecessor had established an Office for Ethnic Affairs to demonstrate the concerns and to make available to ethnic Americans a vehicle by which they could express their concerns in their particular areas. Mr. President, does the fact that you have not chosen to establish such an office, does that in any way indicate a diminished concern for ethnic Americans?

THE PRESIDENT. I can answer that in one word—the word is "no." It does not show any absence of concern for ethnic Americans. We are now working with the leaders of this organization and others to see how we can broaden the input from different ethnic groups throughout the country into the White House where decisions are made.

I think it's very important to realize that all of us, from the President, the Vice President on down, attempt every day accurately to mirror the interest of ethnic Americans. But we do not have any lack of compassion or understanding, commitment, determination to serve ethnic American groups greater, and we have a broad range, for instance, of Italian Americans who serve at top levels in our administration. We'll continue with this. And I think you know that Vice President "Mondali"— [laughter] —is one of the representatives of the Italian Americans that I depend on very heavily, and now we have some more in the administration as well.


Q. Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Josephine Falco, and I'm from Massachusetts. In your travels around our country, you have visited American families of many different backgrounds. Do you, Mr. President, plan to visit a family of our Italian heritage?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Nothing would please me more than to do that.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. How about coming to 44 Beaverbrook Road, Waltham, Massachusetts? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. That's a great temptation. Some of my top scheduling aides are here, and if they don't schedule me into an Italian American home, I might make some more changes in my staff. [Laughter]


Q. Florabell LaVerdi from Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Mr. President, Americans throughout our country are deeply concerned with the family budget and its ability to provide the adequate heat in their homes and the nutritious food on our tables. Do you believe that the ever-escalating costs will force us to choose between adequate heat or sufficient food?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm very pleased that in the last few months the wholesale price of food has been going down, including that of red meat. So far, the so-called middlemen and the retailers of meat have been profiting excessively in spite of the fact that the price of beef and pork and poultry to the farmer has been going down. I believe that the sum total of all this, however, is a leveling off and a starting down of the price of food, which should continue the rest of this year.

There is no way that I or anyone else can promise you cheaper energy in the future. In the last 4 months alone in our country, because of OPEC price increases; which are exorbitant and excessive, the price of energy in our country has gone up about 60 percent at the retail level. This is not going to turn around. I think it won't be nearly that steep in the future.

I've just come from a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. Mayor Schaefer has a program here depending upon CETA workers to go into low-income homes with formerly unemployed young people and to weatherize those homes, to add insulation to windows, to doors, insulation around hot water heaters, and so forth. The total average cost of that for any home is only about $275. That much can be saved in less than 2 years, and from then on, you have a saving of $150 or so in a small home every year as long as the home lasts.

In 1977 we got through the Congress-and don't many people know this—a program to give tax credits up to $300 for the insulation of a home, up to $2,200 to install solar heating. This next proposal that we've just put into the Congress, depending upon the windfall profits tax, will provide loans from the power companies, the natural gas supplying companies, the electric power companies to all homeowners, a very low interest loan, so that you can insulate your homes and not have to pay back the cost of that insulation until the home is sold.

With this program alone, we hope to save more than a half million barrels of oil every day. So, we are moving now to compensate with your help in saving actual money on energy. Even though the price of oil itself goes up by having more efficient automobiles, using mass transit, insulating homes, setting thermostats at a higher degree level in the summer, lower in the winter, these things you must do to help yourselves.

So, food prices are turning downward; energy prices are going to go up. But your total cost of heat can go down if you take care of yourself by cooperating in these programs.

Thank you very much for that excellent question.


Q. Peter Tubiolo from Covina, California, in southern California. What is your administration doing with reference to resolving the relationship between Mexico and the United States relative to the fuel import disagreements?

THE PRESIDENT. We're negotiating now on the price of natural gas. The original projection of the quantity of natural gas that Mexico planned to sell has been dropping substantially, because President Lopez Portillo has decided to use a greater and greater quantity of Mexican natural gas in his own country. So, the amount to be sold to us is much less than we had anticipated. We are still negotiating on a price for that gas.

We are already buying between 85 percent and 90 percent of all the oil that Mexico exports. So, we are already doing what a lot of Americans don't know about. We would buy 100 percent of all Mexico's exported oil if Mexico wanted to sell all their oil to just one customer. But I can understand the Mexicans' attitude. They want to have not all their eggs in just one customer's basket. So, they do sell 10 percent or 15 percent of their oil to other countries—Japan and some European countries.

So, we have an excellent relationship already with Mexico on oil; we're negotiating on natural gas. I hope that this will be a successful negotiation. I will be meeting personally with President Lopez Portillo in Washington next month hopefully to conclude these negotiations. We've got a good relationship with Mexico, and we intend to keep it that way.


Q. I'm Lucy Codella from White Plains, New York. Mr. President, there has been proposed a new department of education in Washington. Will this new department have any serious impact on the programing and the management of the present private, elementary, and secondary schools?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say it would have a beneficial impact. First of all, to have a separate department of education will actually decrease the Federal bureaucracy, the cost of administration, and the number of employees.

Secondly, this department will give a higher profile, a higher degree of awareness and publicity to the problems of education than you can possibly have with education buried under health and welfare.

Another thing that's important, and that is that the State and local officials and also the private school officials will have a single identifiable person with one responsibility with whom they can deal. My own belief is that this will result in a lesser interference of the Federal Government in the affairs of the State and local public schools and also the private schools. You won't have as many lawsuits and withholdings of funds and so forth if you can have a routine natural communication and consultation and cooperation between the education officials, private and public, and the Federal Government to begin with. I think we can have fewer regulations, fewer forms, fewer requirements for Federal grants.

In the last 2 1/2 years, we have had more increase in Federal aid for education with less interference than ever before in history, even during those days in the sixties when President Johnson was in the White House. It's been a superb achievement.

We will have within the new department an assistant secretary of education just for private schools, private education. So, I have no doubt that the relationship between the private schools and the Federal Government will be better with the new department of education than it has been in the past.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Guy Arigo from Revere, Massachusetts. The Italian Government has been undergoing a serious governmental crisis. Is there any change in our Government's position with respect to possible changes in the Italian Government which eventually may bring a direct communistic participation in the Italian executive branch of government?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm very proud of the fact that the United States of America has an excellent relationship with the Government of Italy. We have deplored the violence and the threats of terrorism and the acts of terrorism in Italy. We have offered our services to the Government of Italy, to the people of Italy, in a cooperative way with other nations, I might add, to help stamp out the threat of terrorism. We now see a new government taking over in Italy. We've had an excellent relationship with Mr. Andreotti. We will also have an excellent relationship with the new government.

I have been very pleased at the result of the recent election which showed that the Communists, in a free and democratic election, lost substantial support from the people of Italy.

I might say three things very quickly. It would be completely inappropriate and, I think, counterproductive for our Nation to try to interfere in the electoral process of Italy. Secondly, I hope that over a period of time, and not too long to wait, that the influence of the Communists in Italy will take another drastic drop. And the third thing is, I trust the political judgment of the people of Italy.

We don't have any fear about the future of Italy being a democratic nation, allied with us, a strong NATO member, a distinguished member of the leadership with whom I meet every year at least, and obviously tied to us with the most valuable of ties, the ties of blood kinship so well represented by this group.


Q. Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Charles Caputo from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Supreme Order of the Sons of Italy, or its chief legal officer.

May I say preliminarily, in 30 years of participation in activities of the Order, I've never heard anyone received with such acclaim and warmth, with one exception, than I did you this morning. The other exception is not too far away. It was exceeded before you got here when we received the Honorable Benjamin Civiletti.

With his appointment, Mr. President, you made all Americans of Italian descent throughout the United States very, very happy. I'd like to say, on a personal note, your appointment of Leonard Paletta in the city of Pittsburgh to the district court of western Pennsylvania was received very, very tremendously and gratifyingly by Americans of every ethnic descent. I'm so sorry he passed away before he could ascend the bench.

We wondered, and have discussed in many, many meetings, why, with all of the capable legal scholars and the proficient and efficient members of the bench in the various courts throughout the United States, why not one Italian has ever been appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States—and I know of only two—

THE PRESIDENT. I have wondered the same thing.

Q. — I know of only two that presently serve in the district courts. However, Mr. President, my question is, and I finally got around to it, will this administration continue to seek out, recognize qualified Americans of Italian ancestry in its present search for Federal judicial appointments in the many vacancies that are presently looking for filling and, secondly, would the President and his committees on selection accept recommendations backed by portfolios from this organization or any other Italian ethnic organizations?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's very easy to answer that question. The chief adviser to the President in the selection of Federal district judges and circuit court judges and Supreme Court Justices, if there ever is a vacancy, is a very distinguished person, who is present, and that's the Attorney General of the United States.

I will make you this offer. If the Sons of Italy and other distinguished groups around the country make recommendations for Federal judgeships and if you cannot get an adequate hearing in Benjamin Civiletti's office, you can come directly to me.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. And I think we have an eloquent salesman right behind you there, Judge Frank J. Montemurro.

THE PRESIDENT. I only have time for one more question. And I'm looking forward to it.


Q. E. Howard Molisani of Port Washington, New York. My question deals with energy and its effect on the Northeast Corridor. In that particular corridor, Mr. President, there is a heavy concentration of Italian Americans working and living there. The energy, as far as oil is concerned, heats up our industry, gives employment, and heats up our living quarters. At the present time, I wanted to find out whether there are any special programs being initiated for that particular area, especially since that area is more afflicted than most other areas of the United States with the plague of unemployment.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know the exact amount of money being spent on the Northeast Corridor. It's in excess of $2 billion, and we are trying to reach out in the repair of the railroad system in the Northeast Corridor to bring in opportunities for employment among those who have high unemployment rates.

We also are particularly concerned about the possible shortage of fuel for the Northeast Corridor, not only in transportation but for home heating purposes. One of the things which makes this region of northeast America so vulnerable is that about 80 percent or more of all the oil used in that region is imported, and I think about 80 or 83 percent of all the homes in the northeastern part of our country are heated with oil—very few in the South, or even here as far south as Baltimore.

We have pledged ourselves not only to meet the transportation needs—and obviously the railroads are a crucial and vital factor that will be served adequately with distillate fuels—but also to build up the reserve supplies for home heating to an adequate level.

Last year, we had at the end of October, 233 million barrels of oil in storage, in primary storage, for the heating of homes in New England. This proved to be adequate. This year I have promised to have built up by the end of October, 240 million barrels of home heating oil, more than we had last year just on the chance that that would be a more severe winter this year than we experienced in the winter of 1978, 1979.

So, we have this as one of our major concerns. We .are monitoring the level of supplies every day, and I have pledged myself as President to make sure that there is no shortage of home heating oil for the Northeast area during this coming winter.

I might say that it obviously helps, no matter what the level of reserve supplies might be, if every homeowner will do his or her part not to waste energy. Forty percent of all the oil, of all the energy used in this country goes for the heating and cooling and servicing of buildings—40 percent. And the estimates that have been run by MIT and by other distinguished independent organizations have shown that between 30 percent and 50 percent of this is wasted. That not only hurts our country, but it hurts the pocketbook of every family involved.

And I hope that all of you will go back—you are leaders, I know, within the Sons of Italy organization—if all of you would go back to your local organizations and encourage every member to survey your home, to get the power company to help if they will, to see where energy can be saved with storm windows and with insulation around your hot water tank, lower the temperature of your hot water tank from 140—which most of it is, I'll bet—down to 105 degrees, which is adequately hot, to put the small restrictive valves on your hot water faucets, to drive 55 miles an hour, to form a carpool or to share a ride with a neighbor, to leave your cars home 1 day a week whenever it's possible and either walk or ride a bike or get a ride with a neighbor.

These are the kind of things—they seem like they're not very important, but they are absolutely crucial to our country.

We will provide adequate fuel for transportation and for heating in the Northeast Corridor and throughout the Northeast this winter. You can depend upon that.

But I need for all Americans in this room and listening to my voice on radio, television, and news media to do your individual part to make our Nation strong, to remove this noose of energy dependence on foreign countries from around our neck, and to let our Nation, which is already great, as I say, be even greater in the future.

You've honored me by letting me come. God bless every one of you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Francis Scott Key Ballroom at the Baltimore Hilton. In his opening remarks, referred to Frank J. Montemurro, Jr., administrative judge of the Family Court Division of Philadelphia, John J. Sirica, former United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, and Frank J. Battaglia, deputy commissioner of police of Baltimore.

Jimmy Carter, Baltimore, Maryland Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the National Convention of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250136

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