Boston, Massachusetts Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fund-raising Luncheon.
Senator Kennedy, Governor King, Speaker O'Neill, Speaker McGee,1 distinguished public servants in State and local government, Members of the Congress, and my friends:
I'm glad to be back in this beautiful city, this exciting community.
1Thomas McGee, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Delegates.
One of the most memorable experiences that I've had as President was coming here for the dedication of the library for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It was a day when God smiled on us. It was a day that brought back memories to my heart and to my mind that were almost overwhelming. It was a day of personal gratification for the members of the Kennedy family. And it was a day of reminder to our Nation of what a brave man had meant. To me, perhaps uniquely in that audience-and I made a brief speech—it brought back the recollection of what the Presidency means, not only to Americans but to the rest of the world.
The general election is a sobering experience in a democracy. The primary campaigns are exciting. The combatants present their views. The voters want to express their displeasure about some of the temporary, transient inconveniences in life. They want to keep the contest going. There's a chance to send a message to Washington. There's a chance to support a large number of distinguished Americans who seek the highest office in the land. But when the general election approaches it's a time of sober thought.
A President has a responsibility for the life of our country, the quality of life of people who live in it, opportunity for those who've been deprived; the quality of compassion and love expressed by our central Government; a choice between progress and retrogression; a choice between pure air and clean water and a return to pollution that has plagued our lives in days gone by; a choice between cooperation and partnership at the local level, the State level, and the Federal level of government, in accordance with our Federal system, or the driving of wedges that might separate us one from another who serve in government; a time of assessment of our Nation's strength-where it lies, the basis for it, and more importantly of all, how it will be used.
Ours is the strongest nation on Earth. We're the strongest nation militarily, and we won't let any other country become stronger than we are. Our Nation is the strongest nation on Earth economically, and we try to use our economic strength in a benevolent way—protecting our own interests, yes, but thinking about others.
Ours is the strongest nation on Earth politically. There is no nation in this whole world now, large or small, new or old, that wants to pattern its system of government after that of the Soviet Union. But in the last few years, with the heavy emphasis on human rights, a lot of countries have abandoned military or other dictatorships and totalitarian governments and have moved toward the expression, in democracies, of basic human rights. Ours is a country with unswerving moral commitments, ethical standards, religious freedom. Separation of church and state is important to us and the drawing of particular definitions, religious definitions, of what a public official must be, contrary to the historical principles of our country.
These kinds of responsibilities are a President's. The questions that come to my desk, the problems that come to my desk are perhaps the most complicated and difficult of all. If a question can be answered in a person's private life or within an individual's home or in a city hall or a county courthouse or in a State legislature or a Governor's office, the question never comes to me. But if the question is so complicated, so difficult, involves the lives of people so intensely, it comes to the Oval Office, and I share it with Speaker O'Neill and I share it with Senator Kennedy and others and try to resolve it in a way that's acceptable to us in a historical context.
I look at the historical nature of things—what happened to John Kennedy, yes, but also what happened to Harry Truman, what happened to Dwight Eisenhower, even what happened to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford—because I'm part of a continuum, the 39th person that's lived in the White House—the 38th that's lived in the White House, Washington wasn't President when the White House was built. But this is a time of thinking about those serious matters.
I want our country to stay at peace. I want our country to keep high the banner of human rights. I want our country not ever to forget what made us great and the crises that can evolve in the Oval Office if those questions are answered incorrectly, if there is a misjudgement, if there is an abandonment of that continuum of commitment on a bipartisan basis.
Every President since Harry Truman has strongly been an advocate of nuclear arms control. My background is in physics. I worked for Admiral Rickover as a young officer, the senior officer of one of the first two nuclear submarines ever built. I was taught then, not too many years after we used two atomic weapons, what it could mean.
Those atomic weapons pale into relative insignificance when you talk about what it is now. You see terrorism in Jerusalem, terrorism in a synagogue in Paris, where a few pounds of TNT is used to kill dozens or sometimes hundreds of people. Now we talk about megatons. A megaton is a lot of explosive. It would take—we figured on the airplane this morning—putting 50 tons of TNT in a boxcar, a train more than 200 miles long to hold 1 megaton of TNT. The control of that kind of destructive force is perhaps the most important, single responsibility on the shoulder of a President.
My opponent has said, concerning the SALT treaty which Ford, Nixon, and Carter negotiated, that he wanted to tear it up, withdraw it from consideration in the Senate. And he said that he thought the best approach to arms control was to threaten the possibility of a nuclear arms race. And he called for superiority in nuclear weaponry. On the surface it doesn't sound too bad for a proud American to say, "Superiority!" But we've always negotiated for balance, relative equality, tight controls, supervision, and then reductions.
You can imagine the reaction of Americans if Brezhnev said, "We want nuclear superiority, and on that basis we'll negotiate with you to control nuclear weapons." We wouldn't accept it; neither will they.
An arms race could cost tens of billions of dollars; Harold Brown estimated this week perhaps a hundred billion dollars. That's not what our country needs. It's a matter of judgment.
The crises that come to me—I handle them every day. I have not had a single day in the White House when problems didn't exist somewhere in the world. If I handle that problem successfully, the chances are you never know about it. But if I make a misjudgment, that potential crisis could affect your life and the life of everyone you love, perhaps everyone in this country.
I'm not omniscient. I make mistakes. I'm a human being. But to know the course of history and to understand the principles of this Nation and to have the partnership in effect, people like Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy and Paul Tsongas and others, and you, is the best insurance that we've got that we don't make a serious mistake.
I'm not insinuating anything underhandedly about my opponent, but there's a pattern that concerns me. There are trouble spots always in the world, and I and my predecessors, Democratic and Republican, have had to deal with those trouble spots in a diplomatic way, using America's military strength, yes, as a kind of a backup, but negotiating and talking and sitting around a peace table. That's important. My Republican opponent has called for the injection of American military forces repeatedly into trouble spots around the world—North Korea, Ecuador, Angola, Rhodesia, Cyprus. You might say that's ancient history, he's changed—this year, Cuba, Pakistan, the Middle East. The choice is a very serious one, and the American people, I think, this last 3 weeks will think about these things.
The last point I want to make is about basic equality. I'm from the South. Had it not been for Martin Luther King, Jr., I would not be standing here. Had we not been forced—against our will, I have to admit—to obey the laws and to obey the principles of the Constitution of the United States, I would not have had a chance to be the first southern President since 1844.
My State is loyal, too. I appreciate it very much what Ted Kennedy said about Massachusetts. Georgia voted for Al Smith in '28. [Laughter] Georgia voted for Adlai Stevenson in '52. Georgia voted for Adlai Stevenson in '56. Georgia voted for John Kennedy in '60, with a bigger margin than Massachusetts did. [Laughter]
So, we've been loyal Democrats, and I would like to capitalize on that partnership that exists between Georgia and Massachusetts this time. But I can tell you that the issue in Massachusetts is in doubt. I've seen the polls; so have you. And the memory and the reminder of what the Democratic Party is in that continuum is important.
I talked to Paul Tsongas last night, a great new Senator, and he said when he got back to Massachusetts from campaigning for me and others on the west coast that he's going to point out the danger of a third candidate. A few minutes ago at Christopher Columbus school, I reminded people about '68. George Wallace was a third candidate, very popular in certain States in the Nation, not just in the South. And he took away from Hubert Humphrey enough votes to put Richard Nixon in the White House.
Well, I want to remind you that it's important for you not only to help financially, which I really appreciate and which I really need, but to help with your influence and your voice and your hard work and your commitment during this next 3 weeks.
Finally, yesterday my opponent pledged, in one of his series of rapid changes, to appoint a woman as one of his first appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. I understand why he made that statement at this point in the campaign. What he doesn't seem to realize is that equal rights for women involves more than just one job for one woman. What he doesn't seem to realize is that what's at stake here is economic justice and social justice, legal justice for a hundred million women. If he believes that, in that he ought to support the equal rights amendment, abandon that support, and substitute this for it, he's mistaken. My six predecessors in the White House supported the equal rights amendment. The Republican Party for 40 years, in its platform, supported the equal rights amendment, until this year.
I'm not going to make a campaign promise to name any particular kind of person to the Supreme Court on my first appointment. I don't think that's proper. But my record's clear. I've appointed more women to the Supreme Court than all the Presidents in the history of this country combined—I mean to the district courts, Federal courts. I've appointed more blacks, twice as many blacks to the Federal courts as all the Presidents in this country combined, more Hispanics. I'll continue that kind of approach.
But the combination of principle, continuity, historic nature of a party, a reminder of what makes our Nation great, the temptation to take an election for granted—those are the kind of thoughts that prey on my mind. I'm here with you as a partner, an American partner, a Democratic partner, trying to carry on the principles of our party and our Nation. I'll have to depend on you to help me up here. The issue is in doubt. But with your help, I have absolutely no doubt that on November the 4th we'll have a tremendous Democratic victory in Massachusetts and throughout this great land of ours.
Thank you. God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 1:18 p.m. in the Boston/Lynn Room at Anthony's Pier Four Restaurant.
Jimmy Carter, Boston, Massachusetts Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fund-raising Luncheon. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251159