Jimmy Carter photo

Chicago, Illinois Remarks at the 1978 Cook County Democratic Dinner.

May 25, 1978

[The fundraising dinner was held in several rooms at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Following his arrival at the hotel, the President attended a reception in the Imperial Suite for head table guests and then spoke to the group assembled in the Williford Room. He then proceeded to the Waldorf Room, and his remarks follow:]

President Dunne, Mayor Bilandic, Cook County Democratic friends:

It's an honor for me to be here with you tonight, a group of 7,000 Cook County Democrats who have come to reaffirm the principles in which you believe and which have been the basis on which the strength of the Cook County Democratic organization has been built.

Throughout our Nation, in the rural precincts of southwest Georgia where I live, in Hawaii, in California, throughout the country, there is a feeling of confidence in the loyalty and the effectiveness of perhaps the greatest Democratic organization in our country, the one here in Cook County.

I'm very proud to be part of you, to come into this family group, because there's a close-knit nature in Cook County which surprises the press, surprises the Republicans on election day, is brought about because of the fact that you've worked together like a family.

The last time I was here, I was nervous and frightened, but I was in the presence of a great man who was a personal friend of mine, Mayor Daley. And tonight, I am in the presence of a personal friend of mine, a great man, the successor of Mayor Dick Daley, Mike Bilandic.

I think one of the most crucial things in our country these days is for us to remember who gives us Democratic Party members and leaders strength, why we've been the majority party in this country for the last 50 years, how you've been able to choose both Democratic Party members and candidates for local office, State office, and those who went to Washington from your State year after year, election after election—it's because when people are chosen in a position of leadership in Cook County, you demand from them two things: One is a closeness to you, and the second one is superb, constant service, so that the average person who might be poor, who might be illiterate, who might be very old or very young, feels that each one has an access into the heart of government.

That is what you demonstrate on a weekly basis, because you have access to your aldermen, you have access to your committee men and women, perhaps more than any other people in our country. And that closeness is what binds our party together. It reminds us where we get our strength, and it pays off on election day.

I have every confidence that this November it's going to be a great celebration and all of you are going to take part in it because of a Democratic victory again.

Thank you very much for letting me be with you.

[The President spoke at 7:14 p.m. Following his remarks, he spoke to dinner guests in three other rooms at the hotel, and then addressed the guests in the Grand Ballroom as follows:]

I was just passing through the neighborhood. I thought I would stop by and see you tonight.

I met George and Mike out on the street, and they said, "Why don't you come on inside? We've got a room full of dedicated, closely knit, hard-working, successful Democrats assembled." And I wonder if I came to the right place. Did I? [Applause]

For 2 years, in 1975 and 1976, I traveled around our great country in every State. At the beginning of my campaign, no one knew who I was. I was often timid and afraid and lonesome. But every time I came into Chicago, I not only saw the beauty of your city and how well it was managed but I also felt a warmth and a friendship extended to me which I shall never forget.

In 1976, I came here to attend this same annual Cook County Democratic fundraising banquet. My escort that night was a longtime friend, a quiet man, a modest man, a dedicated man who was compassionate, someone who was a good administrator, a good Democrat, a good political leader, Mayor Richard Daley.

And tonight I come back as the first President to visit with you in, I think, more than 9 years, escorted by a quiet man, a modest man, a man filled with sensitivity and compassion, a man who is trusted, a man who's a good administrator, a man who's a good Democrat, a man who is a great political leader, my longtime friend, Mike Bilandic.

It's no accident that you have elected these two great leaders to guide Chicago through difficult times. It's no accident that your city government has a reputation of being the best in the country, because there is something special about the Democratic Party in Cook County.

George and Mike and I were discussing it briefly before we began to go around to the different rooms. And there are two things that are special about you. The first one is that there is a closeness that exists between the average citizen, who may be very poor, who may be even illiterate, who may be black, who may just be learning to speak English, who may be very young or very old, who has a timid voice, who's still close, in Cook County at least, to the highest elected officials in government. And the reason for it is the Cook County Democratic organizational structure.

Now, you might, having lived here all your lives, not see what you have that most other Americans don't have, because here a timid voice with a doubt or a fear or a concern or a need or a hope or a dream can be heard. But in many parts of our country that's not the case. And when your committeeman or your alderman or others, every Monday night, or one night in the week, is there in the precinct, in a block, accessible, and you can take your problems to him and say, "I'm out of a job," or I need this or that, you have access directly to the mayor and even higher officials in Washington.

So, the closeness that exists because of this organizational structure is something of which you should be very proud. And the other one is the essence of the Democratic Party everywhere. We know who put us in office. We don't forget. And to the extent that we remember that and provide, to the best we can, service, to that extent we deserve to stay in office.

Well, this is a special honor for me, to come and meet with this group, hundreds of people in this room, a part of a much larger group tonight, a family of 7,000 representing tens of thousands of others who can't be here with us. Your successes in the past have been notable. You are admired by people all over the country. And this tight-knit organization is one that I hope you will not only cherish but even strengthen. And although you have made a contribution tonight just by being here and you might be committed that in November you'll go to the polls and vote, and maybe take your own family, I hope that you'll recognize 1978 is going to be a very difficult year in Illinois for Democrats, because at the highest levels of government Democrats are the challengers, and it's hard to upset an incumbent.

So, I hope that this year, remembering your past successes and your past history, each one of you will become a very enthusiastic, unselfish campaign manager and to try to spread your influence as wide as you can to be successful in this tough election period. And I believe that if you will, that this coming November, on election night, you and I together will again be celebrating a tremendous Democratic victory in Illinois and also in Cook County.

Thank you for letting me be part of it. God bless all of you. Thank you.

[The President spoke at 8:02 p.m. and then proceeded to the International Ballroom for the major portion of the program. His remarks follow:]

Mayor Bilandic, Senator Stevenson, Chairman Dunne, Mrs. Daley, distinguished friends of mine, and loyal Democrats of Cook County and of Illinois:

I was here 2 years ago, but not as President. It's been a long time since a Democratic President came to address the Cook County Democratic fundraising banquet, but I predict that for the next 15 or 20 years, you'll have that opportunity.

I'm always glad to come back here. I don't know what to think of a chairman who would tell a joke about President's kinfolks. [Laughter] We've never learned how to spell very good on the farm. I think I know how to spell the chairman's name, though. D-o-n-e. [Laughter]

As the mayor and others have pointed out, my administration, my family, have been very close to Chicago since I've been in office. You've got a beautiful city, a superb administration here, the envy of the Nation. Beautiful architecture, which has already been pointed out, great buildings that have meant a lot to my predecessors in the White House, the Merchandise Mart and the Kennedy [laughter] .

When I came to Chicago in the early stages of my campaign, I didn't have much to do, so I went around and looked at some of the buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My mother Lillian's favorite is the Sears Building, because we grew up with the Sears catalog. My brother Billy prefers Playboy Towers. [Laughter]

But I would like for you all to know that you're not the only progressive community in the Nation; Plains is making a lot of progress. We've got running water and electricity now. When you plug in the electric razor, the streetlights go out, but it's still a good city. [Laughter]

I was down there this past weekend at the wedding of my brother Billy's daughter. It was a tremendous celebration out in the country, and the only problem was when Billy got up to offer a toast to the bride with several hundred people watching, the pull tab wouldn't work. [Laughter]

I was impressed, as were you, with the quality of your Democratic slate of candidates. Alex Seith has been a friend of mine for a long time. He's a hard worker. He's going from door to door. He's listening to the people of Illinois. He's got a tough campaign on his hands. With your help, his tremendous experience in international affairs and his knowledge of your State, growing every day, will make it possible for him to come to Washington and to join me and the other members of the Illinois Delegation.

Mike Bilandic, a fresh and exciting young man, who needs your help, not just tonight with a contribution to the Democratic Party, but a dedication to make sure that these men and women who run as Democrats are not disappointed on Election Day. And every one of you are to commit yourselves in a difficult election year, in some cases challenging incumbents who are difficult to dislodge, but you are to become, in effect, individual campaign managers and use your own influence, your own time, your own effort for the next few months until November, getting your family and your neighbors, the folks with whom you work, to go out and help them be successful in November. No matter how hard they work, no matter how exciting they are, they can't win unless there's a sustained commitment to them by all of you 7,000 tonight and all the others who look to you with envy and with admiration for your own leadership positions.

These men know the State of Illinois. They know the people. Mike Bakalis knows the name of the capital is Springfield. His opponent thinks it's "Springboard," I think. [Laughter]

I wouldn't want to go any further without complimenting and thanking the superb congressional delegation, who have really helped me in every possible way. Adlai Stevenson has been staunch; I'll mention him later on in my talk. Danny Rostenkowski has been not only helpful in his leadership position in the Congress, but he gives me good advice and counsel in foreign affairs as well. He suggested one of his closest friends as my Polish interpreter when I made my foreign trip. And, Danny, I hope you'll give your brother-in-law my regards when you see him. [Laughter]

I was able to go around to the different rooms to meet with the groups, and there was one point that I made to all of them, and that is that you have a unique political organization here in Cook County. You may not recognize what you have, you may not appreciate what you have. For 2 years I campaigned around this country in every State, at the beginning, very lonely, a little bit frightened of the enormity of my own campaign effort, but every time I came to Chicago, I could see something special. And I would just like to point it out to you tonight.

The basis for our democratic political system is the worth of the individual, but quite often those who need government services most are the ones who have a very weak voice. They are the ones who are poor. They are ones who are weak, themselves, who are insecure. Quite often they might be black, or they may not speak English very well. They may be even illiterate. They may be very young or very old.
In most parts of our country they would have no way to reach out with that weak voice, expressing fear or concern or doubt or a hope or a dream and reach the core of government. But here in Cook County, they can do it.

And the connecting link is the Democratic Party and its structure, because they know that every Monday night or Thursday night on a regular schedule that the alderman or the committeeman, committeewoman will be sitting there waiting to listen to that weak voice and that that committeeman, that alderman has direct access to the top political leaders of this county.

I wish it was that way all over the country. It's not. But I hope you will preserve it and appreciate it and cherish it, because it's the kind of interrelationship between politics and government on which our Nation was founded, and it's the source of its present strength.

There's nothing like a quiet evening in Chicago with a few friends, Democratic friends especially. I know that God must love Cook County Democrats, because he made so many of you, and I am glad he did.

As I've looked into your faces tonight, I remember the 1972 Republican slogan. Do you remember "Bring us together"? Well, the Republicans have really brought us Democrats together. And I've learned from my own experience in Cook County and my own experience in the rest of the Nation that the best Democratic organization in the United States is yours.

You are following the advice that former Governor Adlai Stevenson gave us all when he said, "If you want to live like a Republican, you've got to vote Democratic." And that's what you put into practice, and that's why you're here tonight.

The last time I was here to speak to many of you was in 1976. My host and my escort was a quiet man, a modest man, a dedicated, humane, and compassionate man, a natural leader, a good administrator, loyal, unselfish, good Democrat, great political figure, Mayor Richard Daley.

I wish he could be here tonight. But as I went to visit the groups assembled here 2 years later, my escort was a quiet man, a modest man, a compassionate, dedicated man, good administrator, loyal, good Democrat, good political leader, Mike Bilandic.

He's given me some news tonight that I am going to use and share with Danny Rostenkowski and with Adlai Stevenson. He said when the board of aldermen meet in Chicago, he can predict that the vote's going to be 47 to 3. [Laughter] And that's the kind of organization, Danny, that I'm counting on in the House. But Democrats are independents. We're individuals. We share problems, we share successes, we're not afraid to deal with difficult issues. And I think this is the essence of our strength.

As a candidate in 1976, I drew strength from the support of Richard Daley and many of you, and I know that the candidates that you have supported and sent to Springfield and to Washington cannot be excelled anywhere in America. It was Jake Garvey and the Cook County Democrats who put together the great ticket of Paul Douglass, Adlai Stevenson in 1948, and who sent Tom Dewey back to New York and sent Harry Truman to the White House again.

And it was Dick Daley and the Cook County Democrats again who helped our Nation and Illinois by working to send another Adlai Stevenson to Washington in 1970.

This year, it'll be George Dunne and Jack Touhy, Mike Bilandic and the rest of the Cook County Democrats and State Democrats who will send Alex Seith to Washington and Mike Bakalis to the Governor's mansion in Springfield. You've done it before and I know you can do it again.

Now, I know that the Republicans can outspend us. They just about always have more money to spend in an election year than Democrats, but they can't outwork us. They can't outwork the Democrats in the Southside, in Bridgeport, Evanston, Cicero, Oak Park, or any of the other towns and neighborhoods around Cook County. And the Republican Party, although they have had some victories, of course, has never been able to earn the deep and penetrating and abiding loyalties of the people of this country.

The men and women who remember the great Presidents of this century, Democrats—Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson—they remember the promises the Democrats made and the promises that we have worked to keep, men and women in your tradition have gone to the polls again and again to send Democratic candidates to Washington and to Springfield.

Because of loyal Democrats committed to principles and ideals that bind us together, we've been the majority party in the United States for nearly 50 years. We've set the political agenda for our Nation. We've provided the leadership, the reforms, the great social and economic advances. We have brought prosperity and jobs. We've provided the new ideas, the new faces, the progressive changes, and now we are leading the way on the new challenge of our own era, making our government lean and efficient, so that it can do the job that the people want it to do.

We have brought into our political system people who were formerly excluded, working families, women, young people, immigrants, minorities, and we've provided dignity and hope for all of them.
Franklin Roosevelt said it well in 1932, and I quote from him: "These unhappy times call for the building of plans, from the bottom up, and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid."

Now, compare that with the Republican Party. Its answer to just about every serious question and problem in this country has been one word—"no." Before I got elected with your help, the Republican administration even said no to putting people back to work. But we Democrats are saying yes to better education, yes to decent health care, yes to a real effort to stop inflation with mutual sacrifice, yes to tax reduction and tax reform, yes to solving our energy crisis, yes to reorganization and efficiency in government, and yes to human rights in our own country and throughout the world.

Well, in 1976, because of these differences, the Nation said no to the Republicans, and we will tell them, the Republicans, the same thing again in November, in Cook County, in Illinois, and in every other State in the Nation.

With the help of Adlai Stevenson, Danny Rostenkowski, and many others, all the Illinois Democratic Delegation, we've already begun to tackle our most serious problems, some of them almost insoluble, some of them long ignored because they are politically difficult. They are not popular, but we've had success already.

We've added 5.5 million net new jobs to our economy since January of last year. This is a record that's never before been equaled in the history of our country, and we are still expanding jobs for Americans

Last month alone, we created more than a half million more jobs, and we are making sure, as the mayor pointed out, that Cook County gets its fair share of those jobs. And the reason for it is because you are willing to do your part.

The mayor was very gracious in saying that we were financing from Washington Chicago's plan for development. As a matter of fact, we committed yesterday to provide $7 million—later on this year, perhaps $12 million more. But when Juanita Kreps, the Secretary of Commerce, came to talk to Mayor Bilandic and she said, "What are you going to do? What are your local lending institutions going to do to finance this program?" he said, "Our banks will put up $250 million." And she looked quizzical, so he presented it to her in writing.

And that sort of partnership between the Federal, State, and local government, Democrats working together with private industry, private labor, will be responsible over the next 3 years for an additional 17,000 industrial jobs.

We are also facing up to inflation, the most difficult single domestic issue that I have on my shoulder and that you have on your shoulder. We are not addressing inflation by keeping people out of work. We are not imposing mandatory price and wage controls. But by a voluntary partnership to pull down the wage-price spiral, we've frozen salaries for Federal executives to make sure that the Government sets an example of restraint.

We are bringing the huge Federal bureaucracy under control. We are reorganizing it. We are cutting redtape. We are eliminating useless regulations.

In 1 day OSHA eliminated 1,100 regulations, a bright day. We've even begun to write the necessary regulations in English for a change that farmers and our kinfolks from Plains, Georgia, can understand. And I've even asked the authors of the regulations now to sign them, and I hope they will be proud of what they produce.

We are close to a national energy plan that our country has needed for decades, a goal for which Adlai Stevenson and your whole congressional delegation have worked so hard, to begin cutting down on our extraordinary dependence on foreign oil.

We are now importing about $43 billion worth of oil from overseas. That money comes out of your pocket and mine. It robs us of job opportunities and growth and a better living standard. We are importing now almost half of the total oil we use. But we are on the verge now of having a good energy policy for a change.

We've devised, as the mayor mentioned, a national urban policy to create a new partnership between all levels of government and the private sector, to put new life back into our great cities—and particularly those who haven't done quite as well as Chicago, but there's plenty there to help Chicago, too.

And when we evolved this program we did not do it in the isolation of a back room in the Oval Office of the White House. We consulted with Mayor Bilandic and other mayors around the country. We worked with the Members of Congress. We worked with Governors, State legislators, county officials to make sure that when we came out with a program it was sound, and we didn't add very much money to the Federal budget to carry it out. We primarily are now ensuring that partnership lets us get more benefit, more service from all the ongoing programs and for the few new ones that we are adding. We are revitalizing housing programs, job training, public transportation, environmental protection, civil rights protection, the Peace Corps. Under all this I'm completely dedicated to binding American families back together.

We ended the Republican cutbacks in aid to education. And I noticed from what Mike said, you've got the same philosophy in the State Capitol, to cut back education. We tried to change that. In fact, we've increased aid to education more than ever before in history, and we put the emphasis back on the efficient use of funds for basic learning skills.

We are keeping a strong defense and breathing new life into our vital military alliances like NATO. Our strength militarily, economically, politically, the harmony between the Congress and the White House, is preserving peace. We've gone for the past year and a half without having one single American soldier shed blood in any foreign war.

And I'm determined to sustain this record and create world peace. We've made progress in the movement toward peace in the Middle East, but not in any way at the expense of our special relationship with Israel or at any risk to Israel's security. As I have said many times, we will never waver from our deep friendship and partnership with Israel and our total commitment to its peace and security.

We are working to stop nuclear proliferation and to remove the threat of human destruction by atomic weapons. And I'm proud to say we've put our national prestige on the line for human rights in every corner of the world. Whether a country is behind the Iron Curtain or not, we will no longer be silent as a nation about oppression and injustice. We are saying, "Give your people freedom to worship, to express themselves, to shape their own destiny, to vote, to live in peace, and to live in freedom." And as long as I'm President, we will never back down on our struggle for human rights around the world.

Well, we've done all this in less than a year and a half. And it's just the beginning. We are going to reform our health care system to guarantee decent health care at minimum cost for American citizens.

We are going to reform our welfare system, to cut waste and to help break the tragic cycle of poverty once and for all.

We are working to cut taxes and to reform our tax system, to make it simple and fair. We are going to make sure that every tax dollar is spent wisely. We are going to wring out the waste from our system by taking a close hard look at every program that spends the taxpayers' money.

In short, we are putting aside the neglect of 8 long years, and we are getting back to work. We've started again on the unfinished agenda that Democrats set for ourselves nearly five decades ago during the Hoover Depression, and our steady progress will continue.

That still means a lot of hard work ahead, electing Democratic Senators and Members of Congress, and Governors and State officials and State legislators, mayors, county officials, aldermen who care about people, who represent the deep traditions of this party.

We're the oldest political party in the world, 186 years old, formed and led in the early years by Thomas Jefferson and other great Americans. But we didn't come this far by letting the system work by itself. It takes people of all colors, all backgrounds and ages, from all walks of life, to keep the Democratic Party fresh and active, to work not just at election time but every day. That's why we've been so successful and will be again this year in Cook County and in Illinois.

So, I call on you tonight to keep working for this great Nation and this great party of ours. Give it your support generously. It's an investment in your own future. Keep it alive and vital. Keep it open and responsive and caring about others. And above all, remember where we get our strength. Remember our Democratic Party history and keep it serving the people.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:08 p.m. Dinner guests included George W. Dunne, president, Cook County Board of Commissioners, and Cook County Democratic chairman, Jack Touhy, Illinois Democratic Party chairman, and Alex Seith, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Following the dinner, the President went to the home of James and Mary Eleanor Wall in Elmhurst, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where he spent the night.

Jimmy Carter, Chicago, Illinois Remarks at the 1978 Cook County Democratic Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245039

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