Jimmy Carter photo

Boston, Massachusetts Remarks to Senior Citizens.

October 15, 1980

Senator Kennedy, Speaker O'Neill, Mayor Kevin White, my fellow workers in Washington, and those State and local officials who are here today:

It's a very great honor for me to be in this wonderful community with a man whom I've admired and heard from for a long time, Frank Manning. 1 I'm glad to hear he's going to get out of the hospital Friday. [Laughter] If he can do this much before he gets out of the hospital, just imagine what be can do after be gets out of the hospital.

1Mr. Manning, president of the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans, made one of the introductory speeches.

Nothing in the world can thrill a President's heart so much as to travel around this Nation and see the wonderful spirit and the idealism and commitment and the unselfishness and the hard work and the effectiveness of the senior citizens of our country, who've learned through experience what our Nation is and what it can be for a better life in the future. There's a tremendous potential among those who've reached retirement age or who are approaching retirement age. It hasn't been long since it was a rare thing for someone to live to be 70 or 80 years old, but in the 1989's that will be the fastest growing part of the American population.

If you'll pardon my making a personal reference, my own mother, with whom I talked late last night, she said, "Don't interrupt me till the ball games over." [Laughter] She's 82 now. She just recently broke her hip. But she's dynamic and vigorous, just as young as she ever was. Each day when she wakes up, it's a new opportunity for her to stretch her mind and stretch her heart, to make more friends, to learn more about God's world, and to let her life be meaningful to those around her.

She's not much different from anyone here. Not many people when they're 68 years old volunteer for the Peace Corps and go to India and stay a couple of years and come back and start a new career. But she typifies in .my own personal life the treasure of the senior citizens of this country.

And I can't help making one more personal reference about Senator Kennedy's dear mother—90 years old, recently also hospitalized, now fully on the road to recovery-and what she means to this Nation. People in every community almost in the entire world look on her, epitomizing in a highly publicized but very personal way the meaning of a family and the meaning of faith and the meaning of confidence and the meaning of deep religious convictions that never change.

Frank Manning, my mother, Mrs. Rose Kennedy are more famous than a lot of people. But they are examples of the courage and the commitment and the worth to our country of tens of millions of people just like you: men and women who, after they reach retirement age—and we've raised the mandatory retirement age, as you know, very much, and I think we might raise it some more—have a chance to start a new life in many ways, new interests, to make new friends, to continue to grow.

This election this year is a very important test in history of what our Nation will be in the future.

I grew up on a small farm in the depression years in Georgia. I remember those depression years. I remember the minimum wage fights in the Congress, when the sweat shops were put in danger by the Democrats and they advocated a 25-cent minimum wage. The Democrats were for it; the Republicans against it. My first job as a high school graduate was when the minimum wage had been raised to 40 cents an hour. That enormous increase from 25 cents to 40 cents was supported and eventually passed by the Democrats; the Republicans were against it. You might say, "Well that's just ancient history. The Republicans have changed." But do you know what my opponent says about that minimum wage? He said it's caused more unemployment and more suffering than anything since the Great Depression.

I know how a family feels when they're unemployed, when they're temporarily out of work and the children need food and clothes, need a way to go to school. Unemployment compensation is a program put into effect by the Democrats; Republicans, of course, were against it. My opponent says that "Unemployment compensation is just a prepaid vacation for freeloaders." This kind of philosophy permeates the difference between the Democrats and Republicans; it always has, it does now, and predictably it will in the future.

I remember what John F. Kennedy said about senior citizens at an older people's meeting at the White House. He said, "It's not enough for a great nation merely to have added new years to life. Our objective must also be to add new life to those years." That's still the objective of the Democratic Party. We must make sure that those opportunities for a better life are realized, because at this moment, in this election the choice will be made.

When Medicare was proposed many years ago, obviously by a Democratic President, obviously supported by a Democratic Congress, there was a man who began his political career by going around the United States from one State to another speaking against Medicare. You might guess who that man was. It's the man who's the Republican nominee for President. You might say that's ancient history to be against Medicare, but he has also has come up strongly against national health insurance.

As you know, trained by Frank Manning, supported by you, the foremost spokesman for better health care in this country, better mental health care in this country, the humane problems of having better food care in this country for the poor is your own Senator Ted Kennedy. This is the kind of opposition that we Democrats all face together.

Social security is the cornerstone of a decent life for older Americans. When Franklin Roosevelt proposed social security, the Republican opposition said this is the same as communism or socialism. Social security has been one of the greatest things that ever happened to our country.

And when I came here in 1976 to campaign for President and when I went to all the communities throughout this country to campaign for the highest office in our land, there was a general feeling then that social security was on the way toward bankruptcy. But Father Drinan, Joe Moakley, also Tip O'Neill, Senator Kennedy, all of the Democrats rallied together to put social security back on its feet, to make sure it was a sound program and free of the threat of bankruptcy that had been built up during the previous 8 years, when Republican Presidents occupied the White House. We made that change.

But if social security was ever made to be a voluntary program, so that anybody who wanted to could withdraw from it, not contribute to its trust fund any longer, but seek some other private or not have any sort of retirement system, those who depend on social security would have lost their security.

We must be sure that we keep in mind the issues that are at stake in just exactly 3 weeks from now. Our country is a great country. It's great not because of its military might, which is enormous, it's great not because of its economic might, which transcends that of all nations on Earth, it's great because of its moral principles, its ethical principles, and because, as Senator Kennedy pointed out, we've put our investment in human beings.

It's necessary for a nation to have a strong military force, but the best weapon is one that's never fired in combat, and the best soldier is one that never has to lay his life down or shed his blood on the field of battle. We've got to have a nation strong, but one at peace.

Times don't change much. When you look at history, you see a repetition of the political combat that has been in our Nation since it was first founded. My Republican opponent quite often quotes the eloquent words of Franklin D. Roosevelt. On occasion he quotes Harry Truman. On occasion he quotes John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But then a couple of months ago in an interview with Time magazine, he said, and I quote him: "If you look back, you find that those great social reforms really didn't work." And he continues to say that the compassionate programs of the New Deal were actually based on fascism. Franklin D. Roosevelt wouldn't approve of a candidate who said that quoting his own words.

There is a lot at stake in this election: minimum wage, we've improved it greatly; unemployment compensation, the Congress is now extending it an additional period of time to protect families whose incomes are in danger; Medicare, it's stronger and better than ever; social security, now sound; national health insurance, comprehensive health care, it's coming in the years ahead, and not too long, I pray. These kinds of issues, important to you, are also important to your children and my children and your grandchildren and my grandchildren. As we have been protected in our generation by the courage and conviction of Democrats in the past, it's our responsibility to be just as courageous, just as dedicated, just as unselfish, as election days approach, to protect the integrity and the quality of life of those whom we also love.

Finally, let me say to you that I'll be campaigning day and night between now and election day on November the 4th. Senator Ted Kennedy will go with me today to Pennsylvania, or to New Jersey, and we'll be campaigning together there. We'll be together next weekend in Washington, D.C., come back together to campaign in New York. He's been to California to campaign with me, to show the unity that exists in the party on which we depend.

You are partners with us. And what you do the next 3 weeks, on the telephone, in your own neighborhood, with your families, throughout this State, and perhaps throughout the Nation, can make the difference. I know from careful observation and poll results today that the election is very close. It's very close in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can make the difference. The responsibility for the future of our country is on my shoulders, yes; but it's on your shoulders, as well.

We've got to make sure that we continue to have a good energy program, adequate fuel supplies, not turned over to the oil companies. We've got to give financial assistance to the elderly and the poor to pay those high energy bills. The breadth of what we must do for human beings to have a better life and for a great nation to stay at peace is very, very complicated and very broad. You understand those basic issues, just like religious beliefs, just like the love of one's own family, just like morality and ethics that guide our lives and a concern for one another. These political principles do not change.

And I ask you to join with me and with those other Democrats assembled on this stage to go all out the next 3 weeks, so that when November the 4th comes, we'll celebrate again and keep this Nation on a good path toward future progress, humaneness, compassion, and love, as the Democrats have always done. I want to see a tremendous Democratic victory in Massachusetts and throughout the Nation on November the 4th.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:31 a.m. in the Christopher Columbus Community Center gymnasium.

Jimmy Carter, Boston, Massachusetts Remarks to Senior Citizens. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251135

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