Jimmy Carter photo

Democratic Congressional Campaign Dinner Remarks at the Dinner.

March 26, 1980

Mr. Speaker, I heard that delightful speech and good introduction. I appreciate it very much.

Majority Leader Senator Byrd, Senator Ford, Congressman Corman, Senator Humphrey, distinguished other hosts and executives of labor and business and the Democratic National Committee:

It is a distinct honor for me, as President of our Nation, and, as Tip said, as the leader of the Democratic Party, to be here. As Democrats and as politicians, I'm sure a lot of you are wondering what happened in New York and Connecticut yesterday. [Laughter] You're not the only ones. [Laughter]

I've spent all day doing a very close analysis, using the most modern, 1980 election techniques, and I have finally come to the conclusion that we won a tremendous victory yesterday. [Laughter] Fritz Mondale and I are very proud of the outcome last night. It's a great victory when you are able to improve. In 1976, I ran for President in the New York primary. I came in fourth, just behind "none of the above." [Laughter] And yesterday we came in second. [Laughter]

And it's also a great victory when you learn in the process of political campaigns. I discovered yesterday that States are not exactly the same. The Illinois people seem to be completely enamored with the oil import fee and the reduction of State revenue sharing. I discovered yesterday that New York is quite different. [Laughter]

Also you learn about other things not directly related to the campaign. When I first came to Washington a little more than 3 years ago, a good friend of mine, a man whom I admire very much, came up to see me and said, "Mr. President, I know that you are new in your office and I want to give you some advice about foreign affairs. You've just selected Andy Young to represent you in shaping international policy. And let me tell you from the bottom of my heart that I know from experience, having been in Washington for many years, that nobody pays any attention to what happens at the United Nations." [Laughter] I deeply appreciated that advice from my good friend. He happens to be a Senator—very knowledgeable about affairs of the Nation—from Massachusetts. [Laughter]

So, because we've improved and because we've learned—a great victory yesterday. As a matter of fact, in New York State there will be two Democratic contests this year. One was yesterday. The other one will be in August in Madison Square Garden. I'm willing to be fair. I'll settle for a split. [Laughter] As a matter of fact, we are thinking about changing the name of Madison Square Garden to Madison Square Rose Garden in August. [Laughter]

I think all of you know, in a time of trouble and trial and tribulation and challenge, it is very good for Democrats to join together, to be partners. I've spent a remarkable month working with the Democratic leadership in dealing with one of the most severe challenges which our Nation has faced, certainly in the last 3 years: the challenge of inflation and the need to slash Federal spending in 1981 to wind up with a balanced budget. These have not been easy sessions. They've been presided over by distinguished Members of the Congress.

At first, they were particularly difficult. The attitudes were not quite conducive to cooperation and compromise. The first session, Bob Byrd showed up with a coal miner's helmet and flashed his light in everybody's eyes. Alan Cranston came with his American Legion cap. Senator Stennis came with his admiral's uniform on. Tom Foley came with a straw hat, carrying a pitchfork. And we had a very difficult time getting them to change their uniform and work together, but it wasn't long before they began to see that we shared a common challenge and a common need to address our Nation's problems together.

There were a lot of arguments. And everybody seemed to be kind of ill at ease. It was strange to look around the room and see only one man completely relaxed, looking to the future with confidence and with complete complacency. We never did understand why Bob Giaimo felt that way until Monday— [laughter] -when he announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection—a great loss for the Nation, as all of you would agree, but it made Bob feel a lot easier toward the future.

It's always good for Democrats to get together to share with one another the trials and tribulations and also the enjoyment of one's company and also the excitement about the future of a great Nation. We do face difficult times, and we also face tremendous common challenges. Sometimes I, as President, get discouraged. I know you do also, because the answers are not easy ones, and the decisions quite often are very difficult. The responsibilities on our shoulders are sometimes very heavy.

This afternoon in the East Room of the White House, I met with a group-about 55 or 60—who will be the cochairpersons and the advisers on the White House Conference on the Aging, which is held every 10 years or so. This will be the fourth session, in 1981. I commented in my brief address to them that there were 5,000 special Americans today. On an average day, 5,000 Americans reach the age of 65. And I thought back about those particular Americans who reached that birthday today.

As they began their adulthood and perhaps took on the responsibilities of a family, it was in the depth of a severe depression-perhaps the most severe one that our Nation has ever experienced-in 1935, '36, and '37. But their lives were brightened by a Democratic administration that gave them the TVA and gave them and us the Rural Electrification Administration and gave them the promise of security in their old age, of social security.

And as I looked at that group of advisers, some of whom over a period of 40 years had attended four different major sessions when improvements in the lives of the aged in our country had been made, I thought about their own experiences and how much we could benefit from what they have learned about this Nation. They've been through two World Wars, through the war in Korea, the war in Vietnam, that was highly divisive for our country. They've been through the most severe depression that our Nation has ever experienced and the social changes that have taken place in the relationship among American citizens, when racial discrimination, under Democratic leadership, was wiped out of the consciousness of all our citizens.

Tremendous challenges, tremendous problems, tremendous questions that had to be resolved—much more severe than any that we face today. Ours pale in comparison to some of those when the very existence of our Nation was threatened and our Nation was highly divided. But with their own courage and with their own unity and with the principles and ideals of our party and our Nation, they've prevailed. And our Nation continued to grow and to increase its strength and to let all Americans have a brighter future and a clearer concept within themselves of their worth as individual human beings.

Today, with courage and with unity, we can face the difficult challenges that Tip O'Neill just outlined to you. That's a. heritage of Democrats. The most severe economic challenge we have today is inflation. The most severe social challenge we face today is inflation. It's particularly burdensome on Democrats, because our hearts go out to those who suffer most. It's the most cruel tax of all, falling especially on those that are not mobile, who can't move from one community to another or even one grocery store to another, who can't change jobs, who live on frozen salaries, who have to survive on the receipts from fixed savings accounts, and who are particularly afflicted when every year their real income goes down.

We, as Democrats, recognize that challenge. And that's why we are trying to exercise now the severe discipline in the Federal Government posture that will be successful in turning the inflation rates down and also set an example for the rest of our Nation. Our Government will take the lead. As Tip O'Neill pointed out, we will have a balanced budget in 1981. We have only had one balanced budget in the last 20 years. And we will balance the budget with a special sensitivity so that we will not damage the people about whom we care most deeply.

As I talked to the senior citizens today, I pointed out to them that we are not cutting Medicare, we are not cutting social security, we are not cutting SSI benefits, we are not cutting housing construction assisted by the Federal budget. We are not cutting Meals on Wheels. We are being very careful not to damage the lives of those about whom we feel and for whom we feel responsibility.

This is not easy—to deal with inflation. Other nations who are our friends and allies and trading partners are suffering much more severely than we. There are a few who have inflation rates 10 times greater than our own. We're in it together, and we are resolved and we have the courage and a commitment to unity that, in my opinion, is unprecedented-at least since I've occupied the White House.

It's closely related to the energy problem. We are not going to get better any time in the foreseeable future, no matter how long we live, with more plentiful energy supplies or with cheaper energy. The last decade has put a terrible affliction on us. The price of energy has been multiplied a thousand percent—it's increased a thousand percent. American oil imports have increased 20 times over in the last 10 years. And as Tip pointed out, in 1 year the price of international oil has increased more than 115 percent; last month, 7 1/2 percent alone.

We are still importing so much oil it hurts to think about it. This year, in spite of reducing the quantity of oil that we import every day by more than a million barrels a day in the last 2 years, we will still send $80 billion of hard-earned American money to foreign countries to buy their oil. Eighty billion dollars is hard to understand. But it's easier to understand when you realize that on the average, every single American family will expend $1,500 to buy foreign oil. This is not an easy question to answer. But the Congress has dealt with it with tenacity and commitment and also with great political courage, because, again, the answers are not easy.

The Democratic agenda that faces us now is one adequate to make us proud. And I think in November we'll present to the people of this country both a list of commitments and a list of achievements that will result in a resounding Democratic victory. Our Nation is at peace, and that is a prevailing achievement of which all Americans are and will be proud. And we've not been satisfied to bring peace to Americans. For the first time in more than 50 years, under seven Presidents who've preceded me, we have not had a single soldier lost in combat, and I pray that we can keep that record.

And we are working hard to extend the blessings of peace to others. We have a relatively new presence in Africa. What we've seen lately in the nation of Rhodesia, soon to be Zimbabwe, the institution of a democratic government under the leadership of Great Britain, supported by us and others, that will bring majority rule there and add a sense of dignity to people who have too long been subjugated by racial discrimination. We hope to spread that concept, based on our own principles, to others who've suffered too long.

In the Mideast, I am absolutely determined to build on the Camp David accords and the Mideast peace treaty between Egypt and Israel to bring permanent peace to our close friend and ally, Israel, on whose security the American security is based. We share reciprocal benefits when Israel is free, strong, secure, and at peace. And the upcoming negotiations that I will take on with Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat I hope will lead to a culmination of this long effort, succeeding 30 years with four wars and horrible death and destruction and hatred on both sides.

We believe in a strong America, because that's the only basis for peace for ourselves and for others. A strong America economically, a strong dollar, a good balance of trade, massive American exports, strong agriculture, a free enterprise system admired by the rest of the world, a solution to energy problems and inflation problems that can be emulated by other countries who look to us with admiration and as the leaders of the Western World. A nation strong militarily, with a defense establishment, a defense capability and a commitment and a will second to none on Earth. A nation strong politically, with alliances strengthened, with 103 nations voting along with us recently to condemn the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and demanding withdrawal of those troops attempting to subjugate permanently a free and independent and a deeply religious nation. The trends are toward us, under a Democratic leadership—a nation strong morally, ethically, raising high the banner of human rights and not ever violating the principles and the standards and the ethics and the ideals on which our Nation was originally founded.

Democrats have never found any incompatibility between two things that start with a "c": One is competence in government, and the other one is compassion in government. Competence means that we believe that a government can deliver services to the people who need it efficiently. You can't feed children or care for the elderly or build great cities or a good transportation system or give good schooling with waste and corruption and inefficiency. And you can't have an efficient government that is meaningful unless the government has a heart open to encompass those who depend on us as Democrats for a better opportunity and a better life.

Economic opportunities, social justice have always been the hallmarks of the Democratic Party. I'm very proud we've got a good partnership between the President and the Congress and officials in the State and the local governments.

I'm determined to tap the strengths and the ideals of America in November. I am determined that we will win in November. And I'm also determined—and perhaps this is even more important—that we Democrats will deserve to win. We don't want to win just because we're the most popular party. We don't want to win just because we occupy the White House. We don't want to win just because we've got an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate. We want to win because we deserve to win, because we represent the American people better, because we believe in competence, but because we believe in love and compassion and concern for those who've had trust in us.

And because we're resolved in our hearts never to betray that trust and to live with the principles ever foremost, ever demonstrated in practical, tangible terms, of the oldest and the greatest party on Earth in the finest and best nation on Earth, I believe that's what we'll do in November.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:52 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Democratic Congressional Campaign Dinner Remarks at the Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250294

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