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CLOSE-UP Program Remarks to Participants in the Program.

April 21, 1977

Let me say just a few words to you. First of all, [ want to thank all of you for coming to Washington to try to learn about your Government and to come to. the White House to try to learn about your President. We have a lot in common. I've just come to Washington myself to learn about the Government.

The first time I was ever in the House Chamber was last night, when I went to make a speech about our energy policy. And I believe it's very important that while you are here in this remarkable program which, I think, has brought more than 21,000 students, I understand, to Washington--40,000?--40,000 students to Washington to learn about the Government-that when you go back home you take advantage of the tremendous opportunity that you've had to let your fellow classmates and friends and neighbors and members of your own family know about what you've learned.

I hope you've been behaving yourselves in Washington. I notice the Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment was still permitted in school, and I don't want you to get in trouble when you get back home.

I'd like to say just a few words to you. The one thing that I've learned since I've been in politics is that it's always a mistake to treat young people your age like children. I always have believed that you could be treated like adults. And you have on your shoulders, not 5 or 10 years in the future, but right now, a tremendous responsibility for what our country is-whether or not our Government functions well, whether trust can be restored, and what goes on here in Washington, whether you can demand accountability from those who have been elected to serve you.

You can participate just as much as your parents do in the election or defeat of public officials at the local, State, and Federal levels of Government. You have influence, you have mobility, you have insight, you have intelligence, you have knowledge, you have hopes and dreams and aspirations quite often that don't exist among older people who are established in a job or position and can't afford to leave it, or can't afford to disturb the status quo. You have that freedom of action and freedom of thought that's crucial in a democratic society like our own.

We are facing now, many difficult decisions that have not been addressed adequately in the past. I've moved as strongly as I could in the first 3 months to try to restore a sense of what our country is. I believe that we ought to hold down the dependence of our Nation and the Soviet Union on atomic weapons, and I proposed to Mr. Brezhnev and to the Soviet Government not just mutual targets that we work to reach but substantial reductions in how many nuclear weapons we can have in our arsenals.

I've also done the best I could to establish a realization around the world that we ought to reduce the sale of conventional weapons to the poor countries of the world and those that are still trying to develop, and to remove the competition from the manufacturers and the purchasers of weapons in all the nations on Earth.

We've also tried to establish the dangers of new countries having the ability to construct atomic weapons and to control the waste products that come out of atomic power plants that can be changed into explosives.

I've tried to address as best I could the concept that our Nation stands resolutely and also permanently for basic human rights. There has been some criticism about this position that I've taken, but the American people overwhelmingly believe that our Nation ought to be a beacon light for the rest of the world in an unequivocal commitment to the basic principles on which our own Nation has been founded. And I believe that we can do this and suffer, perhaps, some temporary disturbance in our relationship with a few countries around the world, but eventually we can have a good influence in establishing human rights even in countries where they are endangered at the present time.

I think our Nation ought to take the leadership in addressing for the first time, in a comprehensive way, the rapidly dwindling supplies of oil and natural gas and other energy sources.

No nation has yet established a strong, comprehensive, well-thought-out conservation plan. Our Nation has been blessed, as you know, with large quantities of energy, but we ought to be the one, I think first, to strive for strong conservation measures because we waste more.

We can have a better conservation effort because we're the most wasteful nation on Earth. We have about the same standard of living, as I said on my television speech the other night, as Sweden, Japan, Germany, but we use twice as much energy per person.

And if there is one group of people in our country who could play a leadership role in trying to save energy, it's you. You could monitor what goes on in your schools, in your public buildings that are owned by the State and local governments, in your own home, the kind of automobiles you 'buy, the kind of transportation that you use. I think this is the kind of thing where you could mount a nationwide effort to help me with all these conservation matters.

And the last thing that I'll mention, in order to save your time, is that I've tried to bring to our Government a new openness. I think that it's obvious, if you read the editorial comments, that sometimes we are criticized because I tell the American people things that haven't been made public before.

If I have a group of options in dealing with Turkey and Greece, or dealing with the Zairian problem, or dealing with the Middle East, or dealing with the SALT negotiations with the Soviet Union, or how to reopen relationships with Vietnam or Cuba or the People's Republic of China, I feel much more secure as President if I let the American people know what my thoughts are and let them know the facts about these international and very sensitive discussions. Because to the extent that the American people debate these issues, and to the extent that I can learn from the debate, I feel more sure that I will make the right decision. And when I do express an opinion or take a position with foreign leaders, I want to be sure that my position accurately represents what the American people are and what the American people want me to do.

So, we are trying to make some changes. We've made a lot of mistakes. We're going to make some more. But I hope that to the extent that you can, you'll stay involved in what we do, monitor the decisions that I make, and feel that you're part of the Government, just as I am.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone in this group, or some of those that are in this organization that are left 'behind, would be in Government in the future, perhaps President of the United States.

I never thought about being President when I was your ,age. All I wanted to do was to 'be sure I went to college and to get off the farm for a while. But the way things have worked out, with the help of Midge Costanza and others, I have been successful in reaching this very important position.

I don't look on it as something that separates me from you. I don't look on it as something that makes me better than anyone else. I hope that I can always serve you as President during this term of office in a way that would make you proud. I want you to stay close to me, let me have your suggestions, your support, your advice, your counsel, and your criticisms when you think I do the wrong thing.

But feel free always to try to shape the decisions that are made in Government, because it belongs to you as much as it does to me.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. The CLOSE-UP program, which was established as a memorial to Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana, brings high school students and their teachers from cities around the country to spend a week in Washington where they attend seminars with administration officials and Members of Congress.

Jimmy Carter, CLOSE-UP Program Remarks to Participants in the Program. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243511

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