Jimmy Carter photo

Camp David Meetings on Domestic Issues Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Participants in the Meetings.

July 30, 1979

As I stand up here and look at this group of faces, all of whom joined me at Camp David in a time of absolute frankness, with no rules on what we should discuss, no limits on the depth of analysis, I am a little bit timid, a little bit nervous.

At Camp David yesterday morning we had a new chaplain, who serves Fort Ritchie—the first time he's ever preached to the President—and he told a story that illustrated the way I feel in some ways, about this itinerant barber who had drifted all over the country out west, cutting hair and giving shaves. He finally settled in this one town and he opened his own shop. And he was extremely nervous that the people wouldn't like him and he'd have to get back on the road.

His first customer was a one-armed man who was really a rugged-looking guy, so the barber cut his hair without much problem, and he stropped his razor, and when he got started shaving, the barber got more and more nervous. He cut the guy three or four times and was wiping off blood visibly, and he couldn't think of anything to say. And finally he desperately tried to start a conversation. He said, "Have I ever served you before?" And the guy said, "No, I lost my arm in a sawmill accident." [Laughter]

Well, I feel somewhat the same way with you. You're people who came to Camp David in a time of deep thought and reassessment, a time of frankness, and to some degree a time of courage. We met in an atmosphere of privacy, and we discussed in the bluntest possible terms what is our Nation, what are our problems, what can be done to resolve them. And I think the product was very beneficial for our Nation.

I benefited from your judgment, from your experience, and from your wisdom, and in the process my own determination and self-assurance and confidence and will was restored. I prepared a speech and delivered a speech on Sunday evening that encapsulated as best I could the sense of our Nation, pointing out that we do have a severe crisis of the spirit, a severe crisis of confidence in one another, in our institutions, including government, and an absence of confidence about the future of our Nation.

The facing of that fact on the part .of the American people, I think, has already begun. Up through last Friday we had received 39,000 telegrams and letters, personal ones, the biggest outpouring of mail that I've ever gotten from any single event. Seventy-seven percent of the people said they agreed with what I said and wanted to do something about it. Fourteen percent of the people just had suggestions about how we could save energy, just constructive suggestions. And a very small portion, only 9 percent, had unfavorable or critical remarks to make.

Four percent said that I shouldn't use transportation to go to Camp David, to go to Kansas City, or to go to Detroit, that I could save energy by staying in Washington. Two percent said that if I would eliminate forced busing, I could eliminate the energy problem. Two percent said we should decontrol oil immediately. And one percent said they were inconvenienced enough already with high thermostat settings and less use of their own automobiles. But an unbelievable 77 percent of the people, that were either pro or con, were pro; only 9 percent negative. So, I think there has been a favorable response to what we evolved at Camp David as an analysis of our Nation.

So, we've got the wisdom; I think we've got the will. Now we've got to succeed and to take the necessary action. It's important for our people to pull together. In a time of stress or inconvenience or trial, without an overriding national emergency that unifies people, we tend to become isolated. And with isolation there's a sense of potential helplessness, and with potential helplessness comes a desire to grasp for an advantage and to cling to it, for a special advantage, for a special interest. And this causes those who are divided into small groups to fail to marshal to a spirit of unity, to seek for a national purpose or a broader purpose or to move toward unselfishness and generosity and concern and compassion and love for one another.

Instead of being pulled apart, it's obvious that it's time for us to put our Nation together and to move toward a common goal. I pointed out that we are at a crossroads, deciding between increased diversity and division on the one hand, or toward increased unity and a common purpose on the other.

It became obvious to me over a long period of months, accentuated at Camp 1)avid, that we do have a severe energy problem, but that our basic problem in this country goes much deeper than energy. But in the resolution of the energy question, in the solution of it, in the meeting of it, courageously, in unifying ourselves to achieve our energy goals, in that process, we have a chance to show again the strength of America, the ability of our people to work together, and the ability of us demonstrably to be successful. And I think that process will have far-reaching effects, far beyond that of energy.

There is no easy answer. There is no free lunch. There is no quick solution to problems that have been evolving in our Nation for many years, decades, even generations. But I am convinced that this is a time to meet those challenges, persistently and courageously. The people have responded well. Hundreds of organizations have already sent me word, "We are supporting you, Mr. President."

When I went to Kansas City to speak to the county officials—Democrats and Republicans—the outpouring was almost unanimous in pledging their support to go back home and organize community effort to conserve energy, to seek for new ways to strengthen our Nation and its purposes, and to bind people together again in a spirit of harmony and cooperation.

In closing my remarks, let me say that you were carefully chosen. There were a limited number of people from throughout our Nation who could come to Camp David. And I deeply appreciate every one of you being willing to do it. It was a time of criticism of me and some doubt about what was going on there. And you came partially on faith, perhaps partially out of curiosity. But it was a very constructive thing for me and for my administration and, I think, for the Nation. And I thank you for it.

There was a wide diversity of opinion expressed, and as all of you know, I listened about 90 percent of the time and talked about 10 percent of the time. And I took careful notes, not only on a scratchpad but in my mind and in my heart, and I'll never forget some of the advice that you gave me. I'm not the kind of person who responds easily to criticism. I hate to admit that I have defects and that I have made errors. But over a period of a few days, I began to see how constructive and how helpful this could be to me as President. Because you are natural leaders, chosen to come to Camp David because of that, and because you represent a broad and diverse spectrum of America, and also because you and I in many ways, I hope in every instance, have broken the ice between us, I think your advice to me in the future will be extremely valuable.

I hope that you will retain the sense of friendship and the sense of ease in communicating with me in the future that you had at Camp David. You need not be embarrassed about giving me tough advice and very personal criticisms and suggestions in the future. We've already crossed that bridge. And I would hope that I've got a special group of people now throughout the Nation who can deal with me as a human being and without restraint and with a maximum degree of frankness. In that way, you can be an extra benefit to me and to our country.

And I would like to ask you, in addition, to add your influence and your support and your dedication to the goal that I have described for our Nation in the energy field and the repairing of the consciousness and the attitudes of our Nation.

I hope that you will feel not only a sense of gratification that you came to Camp David and that you're having lunch at the White House, but also that you will consider yourself, Democrats or Republicans, no matter whom you might support politically in the future or have supported in the past, that you will consider yourself kind of a member of a team of people who are dedicated to assuring that our Nation will be stronger in the future, will be more united in the future, that confidence which has been lost will be restored, and that there be a searching on the part of every one of you among those who listen to your voice—your peer group, those who look to you for leadership—to make sure that our Nation is stronger in the future.

I've made some, I think, good decisions since we left Camp David. Some have been controversial, but I think they've been sound. There is no doubt in my mind that I now have a stronger and more cohesive and perhaps even a more competent Cabinet. But at least we'll be stronger and more cohesive.

I think the analysis of those who will serve in the future will soon replace in the Washington press the analysis of what did occur when I made the changes. And I think as people are assessed, who will be serving in HEW and HUD and Transportation and the Federal Reserve and Treasury and in Energy, there will be an assurance that we have replaced excellent people with excellent people. This I think you can help me with as well.

I'll be glad to answer, for about 10 minutes, any questions that you might have. I have nothing to conceal from you. And I would appreciate not only the questions but perhaps suggestions as well.

Does anybody have a comment or question to ask?

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

The press release does not include a transcript of the question-and-answer session which followed the President's remarks.

Jimmy Carter, Camp David Meetings on Domestic Issues Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Participants in the Meetings. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249892

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