Jimmy Carter photo

Beaumont, Texas Remarks to Employees of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

October 22, 1980

Congressman Brooks, Congressman Charlie Wilson, Senator Parker, Senator Yarborough, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, representatives of both management of this fine Bethlehem Steel plant and also, of course, my friends who do the work here that's so crucial to our country:

I have had a chance to participate in the dedication and the launching of great warships for our country, nuclear cruisers, I've visited nuclear aircraft carriers, I've served in submarines, and I can tell you that the work you do here is no more [less] important to the security of the United States of America than is the work of those who produce the warships that protect our land and the armed forces themselves.

The first responsibility of any President is to guarantee the security of the United States. From the moment that I took office as President and as Commander in Chief of our military forces, I set two vital goals.

'One was reversing the decline in our military strength that had occurred the 8 years before I became President. Seven of those years we had gone down in budgeting funds for the military forces of our country. Since then, we've had a steady, annual, carefully planned, and effective increase above and beyond the inflation rate in the allotment of United States Government budget money for a stronger defense.

The other thing that I decided to do as President was to make sure that we corrected an equal threat to our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Military security and energy security are both vital to our national security. I fought long and hard for the first comprehensive energy policy that this country's ever had. We've won a great victory, a victory that had eluded other Presidents before me, both Democrats and Republicans.

We're at the end of a 12,000-mile supply line, a very uncertain supply line. At the other end is danger, turmoil, uncertainty, sometimes the desire to bring this Nation to its knees. As you remember, the last time there was a crisis in the Persian Gulf, with the Iranian revolution, we lost about 4 million barrels of oil per day. America was thrown into confusion. It was a severe damage to our economic security. Long waiting lines at gas stations took place.

This time, with a new energy policy now in the law books of our Nation, when the war between Iran and Iraq took place and we lost another 4 million barrels of oil per day, our Nation was able to withstand that shock without any damage to the quality of life or the security or confidence of the American people.

The reason for that, of course, is complicated. But a large part of the credit belongs to you and other Americans around this country who recognized that the only way to reduce our excessive dependence on foreign oil is two things: One is to conserve energy, not to waste it; and the other one is to produce more American energy here at home.

The OPEC oil nations have 6 percent of the world's energy reserve—6. The United States by itself has 24 percent. But in the past, the oil and gas industry was hamstrung by excessive Government regulation. We were successful finally under this administration, working with a Democratic Congress, to pass the laws deregulating the production and a phased deregulation of the pricing of natural gas and oil from this country.

Last night, I got some figures that showed how successful we have been. Now the number of drilling rigs operating in the United States, many of them made by you right here, was at an all-time high-3,164 drill rigs running now in the country, a record never before achieved in this country. Also, the number of oil and gas wells to be drilled in 1980 will be the highest number in the history of our country.

This is part of the achievement of which we are so proud, but in matters that don't relate directly to you, but affect your lives, we're doing equally well. Our country—this may be a surprise—is producing more American coal this year, from the coal mines, than any year in history. And we can export as much coal to eager foreign buyers as we can pass through the waterways, railroads, and over the highways, and load on ships. In Hampton Roads, Virginia, at this moment, ships are waiting 25 days to come alongside the pier to pick up American coal.

This is the kind of progress of which we Democrats and we Americans can be truly proud. As you also know, this is a step forward in a better life for you.

I came into office in January of 1977. Since then, the number of jobs available in Texas, the number of people that work in Texas have increased over 900,000. The per capita income of Texans on the average has gone up more than 40 percent, and the unemployment rate has been slashed enormously in your State. There's a new recognition that on the agricultural farms, among farm families, in exports of American products, we're making good progress now.

And with the new energy policy now in place, we can revitalize American industry in the years ahead. The American worker is the most productive worker in the world, but lately that productivity per worker has not been going up as rapidly as it ought to be. It's been about steady. Other countries are going up. But we need to give the American workers new plants, new machinery, new tools, to be sure we're never second to the workers in any country. We're making good progress now, and with a sound economy, a good, level-headed administration to make sure that tax programs and laws on the books are effective, we can have that kind of future ahead of us.

I'm from the Deep South, from Georgia. My philosophy in government is probably about the same as yours. I don't believe that government ought to stick its nose in the affairs of private citizens, and I don't believe that government ought to stick its nose in the minds and hearts and jobs of people in the private enterprise system. A lot of people talk about that, for a long time, ever since I remember anything about politics, but nobody's been able to do anything until the last 3¼ years.

We have now not only deregulated oil and gas, we've also deregulated the United States railroads, trucking, airlines, financial institutions. We're working on the communications industry next. And this means that in the future we'll let the free enterprise system function the way it ought to be and let competition, which you are very eager and able to meet, give America not only better production, not only higher exports but also more inexpensive and finer things to buy.

We've formed a new relationship between business and management and the government in our troubled steel industry, in coal industry, in automobiles. You may remember 3 years ago, every time you picked up a newspaper there were headlines about wildcat strikes in the coal mines. You haven't seen those in the last 2 years, because now the coal workers, mine workers, and management are sitting down together and saying, "What can we do to make sure our industry stays sound, the mines are producing coal, and the workers are fully employed?" Doing the same thing in steel—it's helped Bethlehem Steel and its corporate structure as much as anything in the past has done. We can meet foreign competition.

Not long ago, I was in a little steel plant in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a modern plant. They use scrap steel that used to be sent overseas. Now it's produced in the United States into steel rods. Every worker in that plant produces more steel per year than in any other steel plant in the world. And I ask them where their product goes. Like yours, it's an international market. They said half the steel produced in that plant goes to the People's Republic of China. They're making steel in New Jersey, shipping it halfway around the world, 12,000 miles, and selling it to China cheaper than Japan, right across an inland waterway, can make it and sell it in competition. That's the kind of thing that we're trying to do all over this Nation.

And finally, I'd like to say this to you. This election of 1980 is important to you and to your families, to the people that you care about, and to the true opportunities for future years that mean so much to individual human beings in this country.

My background is a lot like yours. I grew up on a farm in south Georgia. My people have lived in this country for a long time. Nobody in my family before me—my father, my grandfather, or anyone else—had ever had a chance to finish high school until I came along. I remember the Great Depression years, when people were starving and a lot of people were hungry. The elderly had no security. And then the Democrats came along, under Franklin Roosevelt, later followed by Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, gave us a better life. This was a very important thing for us.

I remember when they didn't have a minimum wage. The Democrats said at least we ought to pay American workers and their families 25 cents an hour. The Democrats were for it; Republicans were against it. I'm older than most of you, but I got my first job in 1941 when I finished high school. The minimum wage then was 40 cents. When it was raised from 25 to 40 cents, the Democrats pushed it through Congress; Republicans, of course, were against it. It's been a steady pattern ever since and the same issues being drawn in this election, when my opponent says the minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment since anything since the Great Depression.

I know that some of you, on occasion, are unemployed, maybe not at this particular plant, but some of those that you care about, working people of our country. The Democrats have put into effect unemployment compensation to tide you over, so your wives and children can have something to eat, send your kids to school, during those times when plants changed locations or when models changed in automobiles. My Republican opponent says that unemployment compensation is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders.

There's always been a difference in the way Democrats look toward people and Republicans look toward people. I remember when old folks had to live in poor folks homes. The Democrats put forward social security; Republicans, of course, were against it.

My opponent started his career in politics speaking around this country, paid by the American Medical Association, against Medicare. It just gives some medical care for retired people. He's against national health insurance, of course. And he believes that the same structure that's always characterized the Republican Party ought to be kept intact. You all know that these issues don't change.

When Lyndon Johnson ran for President, he gave the working people of this country a better life, gave minority people a better life, gave older people a better life, provided better education for your children, a better chance for you to organize, to present your case to management and negotiate a settlement that would give working families a better quality of existence in the greatest land on Earth.

Finally, let me say this. I'm indebted to you. What you do for this country, you can afford to be proud of it, because you contribute as much to our national security as anyone I know.

There's a bright future for this country, a secure America, America that's strong militarily, America at peace, an America where nuclear weapons are controlled and where we don't let other nations that don't have them now build them and threaten others against them with terrorist acts. Governor Reagan says that nonproliferation is none of our business. It is our business. You think for a few moments about what it would mean if Libya or Iraq had atomic bombs. The threat of terrorism is enormous. And those are the kinds of issues that will affect your life, your safety, and the quality of existence of those you love in the years ahead.

I come here as a President, yes. I come here as Commander in Chief of military forces of this country, yes. I also come here as a candidate running for reelection. I ask you to help me. It'll mean a lot to me. I think it'll mean a lot to the country, a lot to the future. I don't claim to know all the answers. Like yourselves, sometimes I make mistakes. But there's a tide of history that I've tried to point out to you in just the few minutes we've had together.

It's been an exciting thing for me to come here. I want people all over this Nation, through the television cameras and otherwise, to see what you're doing, because it's a reassuring thing. It means that all Americans, no matter where they might live, in Iowa, in California, in Georgia, in Maine, can say, "Well, those folks down in Beaumont, Texas, are producing a product that will go all over the world. It'll give us a better life, a more secure life, a better future." That's what I want. With God's help, we'll have it together.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11: 30 a.m. outside the Bethlehem Steel Corporation plant, which he toured prior to his remarks.

Jimmy Carter, Beaumont, Texas Remarks to Employees of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251528

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives