Jimmy Carter photo

Democratic Congressional Campaign Dinner Remarks at the Dinner.

May 09, 1979

After that introduction, I'll have to quit thinking about Fritz Mondale as a lameduck Vice President. [Laughter] I would have been here earlier tonight to enjoy the first part of the program with you, but I heard it was going to be a partisan affair. [Laughter] Some joker told me you had baloney for supper. [Laughter]

As a matter of fact, the last few months, I have been looking for invitations to speak. [Laughter] On a strictly nonpolitical basis, of course. I even visited one State that does not have an early primary next year. The darned scheduler resigned before I could fire him. [Laughter]

I've traveled a lot around the country. I know some of you have, too. And I have noticed a few people quite upset about inflation. Maybe you've noticed this. [Laughter] It's hard for me to understand. I've watched this trend very carefully from the perspective of Washington. You can still get a wonderful meal, good entertainment, pleasant company, beautiful surroundings, same price as last year, $1,000 a plate. [Laughter]

I think we owe our tremendous victories over inflation to one man. And I hope you'll join in with me in giving a wonderful round of applause to the number one inflation fighter, proven by his record in our country, the honorable Bob Strauss. [Applause] Our hats are off to you Bob-those of us who still have a hat. [Laughter]

I called Bob in not too long ago and said, "Because of your superb work in fighting inflation, I'm going to give you a new job." He smiled with great anticipation, looking forward to rushing out and holding another press conference. [Laughter] And I said, "Bob, it's not an easy job. It's one of the most difficult jobs on Earth." I said, "I want you to be responsible for establishing peace between people who have been at war since ancient times, filled with hatred, combat." And he interrupted, "Mr. President," he said, "I have already been chairman of the Democratic Party once." [Laughter]

But I think you know he's helped these fine fund raisers on my left, using his new job as the Mideast negotiator as kind of an unofficial lever in his inimitable style. I understand that he's even sold five tables' worth of tickets, jointly, to the Egyptian and the Israeli Embassies— [laughter] — and got the Saudis to pay for it. [Laughter] He told them that Arafat was the main speaker, unfortunately. [Laughter]

And this afternoon they tried to stop payment on the check but were unsuccessful. I know from experience how fast they can move down at the National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta. [Laughter]

The problem in the Middle East, as it is in our own country, is the difficulty of people just to get to know each other. I guess it's a problem everywhere. I've been President now for 2 1/2 years, almost, and some of the columnists, my dear friends and yours— [laughter] —say that even some people in the country still don't know me.

Well, I don't put much faith in that kind of talk, but I was in Iowa last Friday morning. I was talking to a small group of men and women about my plans for the Nation, what I thought we could do as a combined partnership of all kinds of people. And one fellow came up after the little meeting, and 'he said, "Mr. Carter, you make a lot of sense to me." He said, "Have you ever considered running for public office?" [Laughter] And I said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I've even thought about the Presidency." And he said, "Well, would you mind if I organize kind of a 'Draft Carter' movement?" He said, "We have to get that dope out of the Oval Office that's there now." [Laughter]

I didn't mind that much, but he said, "I understand he's just a wishy-washy hairdresser." [Laughter]

This is a serious thing tonight. I have tried to keep my speech on that plane. [Laughter] The main thing I want to do is to recognize the ,great work of Congress. And I have to admit, as a newcomer to Washington, I think about the achievements of Congress every time Rosalynn and I drive by the National Visitors Center. [Laughter] And it's not just brick and mortar that has made you great. It's not just accurate assessment of budget costs for prospective projects. I think you've helped to deal inflation a death blow by providing free parking for congressional employees. That's helped a great deal. [Laughter]

And the Senate, as you know, has shown superb personal courage. I remember last year I read about the sacrifice that the Senators have been willing to implement by putting a real limit on their own personal income. And I want to congratulate them on that great move. [Laughter]

And then, of course, as I said earlier, there's the National Visitors Center. I can't give you all the credit for it. I know almost all of you are Democrats, or either Republican contributors who think the Democrats are going to be here for a long time—which I think we will. [Laughter] So, it's more or less a bipartisan achievement, those I've outlined for you.

Today, the Senate even gave me, in a very gracious manner, I thought, the full responsibility for implementing in the future gas rationing when it's needed. [Laughter]

I've wondered ever since the vote why the Republicans voted unanimously for the proposal. But I think the analysis of past achievements and past glory has been adequately covered, and I'd like to take the time to look to the future.

We're here tonight to lay the groundwork, the financial groundwork, for next year's congressional elections, 1980, a year of victory for Democrats.

For 24 years, Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate of the United States Congress. Each Democratic President—John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and myself—have depended upon and have never been disappointed with the cooperation and the support of these strong Democratic majorities.

I may be biased or I may be prejudiced, but I firmly believe that there have never been two finer congressional leaders than Speaker Tip O'Neill and Majority Leader Robert Byrd.

There is a responsibility on all of us to preserve that team as our leaders. We must preserve those Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. We must not return to the dark days of divided government. We must not afflict this country with Republican victories in 1980. And we'll work together to achieve those goals, and you can depend on it.

But we will win if we give the American people what they want—strong, competent, and compassionate Democratic leadership.

Above all, we will win if we tell the American people the truth, and if you and I, under some of the most difficult possible political circumstances, have the courage to make the tough decisions when they are necessary.

The last 2 years have been years of rebuilding in our country. Often in small groups I ask a particular crowd to think back 3 years or 4 years or 5 years. There's no need to enumerate the discouragement and the despair, the embarrassment, the failure that we were experiencing in those days. But working together, we have accomplished a great deal. We obviously have a long way to go. A great deal more remains to be done. But when they write the history of these years, I want them to say four things about what you and I've done together.

I want them to say that you and I have made America prosperous and that we have put Americans back to work. And we've done that.

And I want them to say that you and I have never lacked the courage to tackle controversial problems and that we placed the long-term good of our beloved Nation above any short-term political benefit for ourselves. And we have done that.

And I want them to say that we have restored the trust and the confidence of the American people in our own Government. And, most of all, I want them to say that America, under our leadership, has been at peace and that we have led the rest of the world away from war. And we've done that.

This is the record that we will take to the American people next year, and it's a record that makes me confident that we will reelect Democrats here tonight who are in the House and Senate.

In the last 2 years we've taught the country the difference, for instance, between Republican and Democratic economics. You remember Republican economics—continued high inflation 'being fought with the jobs and the livelihood of working Americans. You and I know the high cost, human cost, of a planned recession combined with high prices.

The Democratic economic policies are built around jobs. We believe in hard work. And we believe that those who want to work can find a job. In 2 years, as you know, we have created more than 7 1/2 million jobs. We have cut the unemployment rate more than 25 percent. And in spite of the high inflation, we've kept the unemployment rate at that low level.

We're working to improve it even more. We have leveled with the American people. We've never tried to mislead them. We've not gone in for political gimmicks. We have told them that there is no instant or quick solution for chronic problems like inflation.

The Federal Government is now setting an example though, in its battle against inflation. We've restored sanity to the Federal budget. And I'm proud that with the 1980 fiscal year budget, the Democratic Congress will have reduced the Republican deficit by more than 55 percent just since I ran for office in 1976. And what is more important, we have done this while increasing substantially, often in an unprecedented way, our commitment to the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, to education, to housing, to transportation, and to better cities and towns and stronger farm families.

That's the record of Democratic economics-and it's a winning record.

As Democrats, we've also faced the hard truth about energy—perhaps the most complex issue ever faced by the United States Congress in the history of our Nation.

Last year, Congress passed the first comprehensive energy program in our Nation's history. It was not easy. It did not yet deal with oil, but it was a major achievement.

Now the challenge ahead of us is to pass the windfall profits tax and create the energy security fund. You remember when the armchair experts just a few weeks ago said that the Congress would never seriously consider passing a windfall profits tax, that it was a hopeless gesture. We've heard from the American people, though, and in a few short weeks this tune has changed. We know the fight is still to come, but they've learned something important about the strength and the courage and the responsibility of a Democratic Congress. We will have the energy security fund, financed by a real, genuine windfall profits tax, to protect the American people. And you can depend on that.

When I ran for President, I promised a government as good as the American people. Some critics said this was corny, some said it was just political rhetoric in an election year. But working together, we've proven them wrong. We have restored integrity and honesty to the American Government. There are no more official Government lies, no more enemies lists prepared in the Oval Office, and we are eliminating sellouts to special interests.

The American people were sick and tired of waste, redtape, and Government over-regulation. We heard their voices and we responded.
We've passed a landmark civil service reform bill. We've placed Inspectors General in every major Federal agency to root out fraud and dishonesty. We've shut off the regulatory assembly line. We've eliminated hundreds and hundreds of useless OSHA regulations and let that agency function as it should. And we've decontrolled airline rates and saved the consumers over $2.5 billion.

But no accomplishment is more important than our commitment to peace.
A foreign policy should be built upon the best instincts of the American people. It should not ever be based on cynicism or deceit.

We've worked hard to construct a foreign policy that is worthy of our Nation's noble heritage. We've spoken out for human rights around the world with a strong voice, and we will continue to promote and to protect basic human rights as long as I'm President and as long as you serve in the Congress. And that's an important, unswerving commitment of the United States of America.

We must be committed to peace, but we must also be militarily strong. We do not need to prove our strength through rash or reckless military adventures. But our military forces must be adequate to deter any others who may be tempted toward adventurism. We Democrats will keep the United States of America strong. Peace will never be fully secure as long as the shadow of nuclear war hangs over the world. A SALT treaty will lessen the danger of nuclear destruction, while safeguarding our military security in a more stable, predictable, and a more peaceful world.

After more than 6 years of negotiations under three different administrations, we've essentially completed our work on a new SALT agreement. President Brezhnev and I will schedule a summit meeting as soon as it can be arranged, after which the treaty will be submitted to the Senate for ratification this year. We will announce a time and a place for the summit meeting this week.

During these long and tedious months, no President could possibly have a better Secretary of State or a better Secretary of Defense than Cyrus Vance and Harold Brown. And we can all be thankful for them.

SALT II continues and strengthens the process of controlling the nuclear arms race. It establishes for the first time the principle of equal numbers of strategic missile systems, both overall limits and limits on individual types of missiles, which will result in the first negotiated decrease in operational Soviet nuclear systems. It will also impose the first important restraints on the race to build new systems or to improve existing ones-the so-called qualitative nuclear arms race. This is the first time it's ever been done.

The SALT II treaty is not a substitute for a strong defense. We'll continue to maintain an effective and flexible strategic capability. The SALT II treaty and the protocol preserve our right to pursue all of the defense programs we've planned or which we may need, in my judgment or in the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But SALT II also helps to limit and define the threats that we must face. Thus, it will make our defense efforts more certain and less costly with this treaty.

This issue must be fully aired in open debate before the American people. I know that you will contribute to that discussion. And I look forward to working closely with you individually on this vital issue and to your support on this important step toward greater American security and world peace.

I've only got one life to live and one opportunity to serve in the highest elected office in our land. I will never have a chance so momentous to contribute to world peace as to negotiate and to see ratified this SALT treaty. And I don't believe that any Member of the Senate will ever cast a more important vote than when a final judgment is made to confirm and ratify this negotiated treaty.

A peaceful world is perhaps the most precious gift that we can pass on to our children. We won a victory for that kind of world when the peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel, as the Vice President mentioned. The United States was able to play a crucial role in that crucial time to make it possible.

But although I was proud to be a part, that treaty was not a personal accomplishment for us. The treaty was a tribute to two courageous leaders, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin. But it was also a tribute to the moral strength and to the leadership of this Nation. It was possible only because the people of Israel and the people of Egypt recognized that the American people will always support those who seek freedom and justice and peace.

That was the foundation on which the mutual trust was based that led to this achievement.

In 1818 the founder of our party, Thomas Jefferson, looked back on his long years of service to our Nation, and he noted with pride—and I quote in closing—"During the period of my Administration, not a drop of blood of a single fellow citizen was shed by the sword of war.'"

I'm also proud that during this administration, not a single drop of American blood has been shed in war. And I pray to God each day that when my years as President are over, that I can still share Thomas Jefferson's achievement.

Woodrow Wilson said, "A political party exists to serve a great and urgent purpose." In the last 2 years, our party has lived up to those high standards set by a Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson-by restoring prosperity, by displaying political courage, by demonstrating integrity in government, and by working for world peace.

There's one thought that I would like to leave with you tonight.

I hold, as you know, one of the most important political offices in the world. And I represent a nation made up of people who are absolutely free to express themselves—to agree, to disagree, to debate, to criticize the Members of Congress, as you well know, and also to criticize the President. This open debate, this freedom to criticize, is what makes our wonderful Nation so special among the 4 billion people who comprise the population of this Earth.

We set high standards for ourselves and for our Nation. That's why we sometimes become discouraged when the newspapers or the evening news broadcasts emphasize current problems or disagreements or failures or disappointments. But we don't hear enough, and perhaps we don't speak enough about the solid, stable, steady strength of a great nation.

So, as we face the future together, let us remember our blessings. And one of the finest blessings of all is our freedom to speak our minds, to join in the debate, to analyze our problems, to criticize, and to strive to make a great country even greater.

Free people striving for excellence— free people striving for excellence—is the true strength of America on which all else must rest and on which must rest our own Democratic political contributions. Good work in 1979 will certainly bring us good luck and a victory in 1980. I'm convinced of that.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:15 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/249197

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