Jimmy Carter photo

Democratic National Committee Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Committee's Spring Meeting

May 25, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Coleman said that was a good poll.

I would have been here a little earlier, but my carpool was late. [Laughter] When I arrived, I noticed that my free parking place had been taken away. [Laughter]

We have some problems in our country. One of them is energy. I told the Congress today—they're going home on recess, leaving Washington—that I could guarantee them enough gasoline to get home. [Laughter] Now, the trip back— [laughter] —we will have to look into that. Maybe John White, our great chairman, can assess the advisability of a nationwide application of the killer bee program. [Laughter]

I didn't come here to announce, and I didn't come here to outline past achievements. I want to speak to you this morning in kind of a rare way for a politician, for a President speaking to his own party leaders and his own personal friends.

I intend to answer questions in a few minutes, but first, I want to talk to you about the responsibility that we share as leaders of the Democratic Party. We won a great victory together in 1976, but the words which Adlai Stevenson used at the Democratic Convention still prey on my mind. He said, "Even more important than winning an election is governing the Nation. When the tumult and the shouting die," he said, "there is the stark reality of responsibility in an hour of history."

The responsibility for governing this Nation belongs to us Democrats. We fought for it, and we won this privilege. And the American people now are looking closely to see how we discharge this responsibility. Some of that responsibility is very pleasant, very enjoyable, but some of it is very difficult.

You can inventory what we've already done in cities, in jobs, world peace. But at times like these, it's not adequate, even when Democratic leaders assemble, just to inventory what we have done. The challenge is to look at now, and the challenge is to look to the future and not to sit here and congratulate one another when our Nation still faces troubled times.

In times like these, we must make decisions to deal with those problems, to answer those questions in a way that is not always easy and that's not always popular.

The founders of our Nation wondered whether a government of free people could rise above narrow, sectional interests in times of crisis and work for the good of the whole country. That is exactly the challenge that we face today.

The American people are disturbed, the American people are doubtful, the American people are uncertain about the future, the American people do not have automatic trust in you or me or other Democratic officials.

Too many Americans today are watching the spectacle of politicians grappling with the complex problems, for instance, of energy and inflation. They see the demagoguery and they see political timidity, and they wonder if we who are in office are equal to the challenge.

The American people are looking to us for honest answers—not false claims, not evasiveness, not politics as usual—but they look to us for clear leadership. What they often see here in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government, which we love and which we are sworn to protect, which seems incapable of action. They see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. They see every extreme position imaginable defended to the last breath, almost, to the last vote, by one unyielding, powerful group or another. They often see a balanced and fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends. Often they see paralysis, stagnation, and drift. The American people don't like it and neither do I.

This country was not founded by people who said, "Me first, me last, and always." We've not prevailed as a free people in the face of challenge and crisis for more than two centuries by practicing the politics of selfishness. We've not continually enlarged individual liberty, freedom, responsibility, opportunity, human dignity for all the people by listening to the voices of those who say, "We must have 100 percent, now or nothing, and I will not listen to other voices who are seeking a common goal for our country."

The times we live in call for plain talk and call for political courage. Slogans will not do the job. Press conferences will not solve serious problems that we face in inflation, in energy, in maintaining peace in a troubled world.

We have already wasted years, as you know, under Republican leadership, looking for quick fixes, often just before a national election. This is a time to tell the American people the truth. The days of the quick fix and the painless solution, if they ever existed, are gone.

We can argue, we can debate, we can evade, we can duck, but one fact remains clear: So long as we spend our time searching for scapegoats or weeping or wringing our hands and just hoping for some kind of miraculous deliverance, our problems will get worse, the decisions will get more difficult, the choices will diminish, our people will get more cynical, and the future for our great Nation will be less bright.

I'm not asking you to support verbatim every recommendation which I make. The question today is not whether government reaches solutions which any of us support 100 percent; the question is whether government, on these extremely difficult questions, can reach any acceptable solution at all.

The issue is not one of political philosophies, but a failure of will and a failure of the political process itself. The bottom line is clear. We need positive political solutions in America today, not just a sustained record of negative votes to appease some special, powerful political group back home. Whatever solutions we offer, there should be no illusions in the Democratic Party: No one in public office, in Detroit or in Washington, can escape having to make difficult decisions.

Every public official lives in Harry Truman's kitchen, and there is no way of avoiding the heat if we're going to meet the responsibilities of leadership which the American people have given to us.

As President, I've made mistakes, but I have made and I will continue to make decisions without fear which call for you and for your States to make some sacrifices. These decisions will not always be popular, but I didn't seek the Presidency for 2 or 3 or 4 years with my utmost capability because I wanted to live in some self-imposed comfort in the White House. I sought this office to lead our country, and I will never duck any decision which is vital to the welfare of this Nation just because the popularity polls might go down.

You, the leaders of our party—I need your help and support. And those of us-among those of us who are in positions of responsibility today, if we are unwilling to take the heat to make unpopular decisions, stick together in a semblance of unity to fight difficult battles without fear, to set our goals high, to be inspired, to recognize the potential greatness of our country, to stand up and fight when it's necessary, to offer answers to complicated and complex questions when we know there's no easy way—if we don't do these things, then we will have failed in our own hour of history.

The Democratic Party has a great history. Democrats have never been elected to office just because we wanted to avoid problems, to offer a timid Course or a simple solution in difficult times. We are the party of the people not just because we most often win a majority of the votes, but because we believe in an America that's united by a common purpose and not united by a conglomeration of special interests.

Ours is a nation, ours is an America that lives on hope—hope based on a real expectation of fulfillment, not based on fear or cynicism or hatred or divisiveness or selfishness or despair, but based on justice, equality, optimism, and faith. If we are true to these principles, to these values, if we are true to that faith, then we will meet the challenge of leadership in the Democratic Party today. Together, we will succeed in our present task, and under those circumstances, I have absolutely no doubt that we will win again in 1980.
Thank you very much.

I'd like to answer a few questions. I think there are some microphones, and you'll have to go to the microphone, if you don't mind.



Q. Mr. President, we are today the party in power, the dominant party. You are our public and party leader, and yet, Mr. President, it often appears that you may be reticent to fully exercise the entire prestige and power of those positions to bring about all these solutions which you espouse. Could you comment on that, please?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I'll try.

I didn't take this opportunity today to list the things we've done. The consummation of a Panama Canal Treaty after 14 years of fruitless effort; the bringing together of Israel and Egypt in a successful peace treaty after 30 years of warfare and hatred and death and destruction and divisiveness; or the conclusion of a SALT agreement after 7 years, when it had been unsuccessful; or the presentation to the Congress of these difficult issues which they have so far successfully resolved—and I didn't talk about civil service reform and the reduction in the unemployment rate by 25 percent and the rejuvenation of our cities, like Detroit-I haven't talked about those things.

But there are many areas of life that still prey on my mind, and I feel on my shoulders the responsibility that we have not successfully addressed and I need your help with them. And I'd like to respond to this question without blaming other people. There's enough blame to go around when we don't succeed. And I know that the President has that responsibility as the preeminent person, and I get my share of the blame, and I am not too weak to take it.

Now, energy is becoming the burning issue in our country. In 1980, I predict to you that how we handle the energy question is going to decide who wins and who loses, because the American people are interested in seeing can we work together.

Before I ever took oath of office, for the first time in the history of our Nation, in spite of devastating potential consequences because of an absence of an energy policy, we put one together in 90 days. And I have put more time on energy than I have SALT, the Mideast, Panama Canal Treaty, or any other foreign policy questions all put together.

And in April of 1977, I presented to the Congress a comprehensive, reasonable energy proposal. And I have been scorned and ridiculed by the press or others because I said this was the moral equivalent of war and that we actually have a very serious question. In many ways, I have been a lonely voice up until this moment. We've got a serious energy question, not only in the United States but around the world.

The Congress passed about 60, 65 percent of all of our energy proposals after almost 2 years of begging and pleading and threatening and hard work. They did not pass one sentence about oil. Now, I recognize that's a difficult proposition, because our Nation is not only one of the largest users and wasters of oil, but we are also one of the largest producers of oil. And the producers of oil have a powerful lobby, perhaps the most powerful lobby on Earth. And the Congress has not acted yet on a single issue that relates to oil.

Nobody here has forgotten about 1973, 1974 when we had gas lines. The situation has not improved. We're running now 2 or 3 million barrels a day less oil being produced than we are consuming on a worldwide basis, and American production of oil has been going down about 6 percent per year for the last 10 years.

It is obvious to anyone that looks at it that we've got a problem that's serious now. It's going to get more serious in the future. We're going to have less oil; we're going to have to pay more for it. Those are facts. They are unpleasant facts. And so far, the American people, whom I do not want to condemn, and the Congress of the United States, who I do not want to condemn, have refused to accept that simple fact.

We are now using, for instance, in California, 7 percent more gasoline than we used a year ago. And we have less gasoline to go around. We're trying to plant crops in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, and madly trying to move enough diesel fuel so the tractors won't stop, trying to build up reserve supplies of fuel in New England to heat homes this fall.

And the Congress has still not given me the authority that I have asked for. They rejected, including the Democrats, the proposals that I have made on rationing-not even willing to give me the authority to hold down waste of illumination on buildings and on billboards; not giving me the authority, if the Governors fail and request it, to reduce the sale of gasoline 1 day a week; not even willing to give me the authority to develop a standby rationing plan, just to develop one that could not go into effect unless a crisis existed and the President and the Congress agreed to put it into effect.

I'm not blaming the Congress, because the American people have not yet demanded this. They think that somehow or another a miracle is going to occur and a lot of oil is going to be released from secret hiding places, and if the Federal Government and the oil companies would just quit cheating everybody, the energy problem is going to blow over. That's not going to happen.

The Congress has got two proposals this year on inflation—real wage insurance, to tell the working people, whom you and I care about, "If you'll agree to hold down your wage demands and the inflation rate goes up, we'll give you a tax reduction so you won't lose by trying to be patriotic." I have not been able to get legislation out of committee. And the other bill that we have proposed to the Congress is on hospital cost containment. And I said a few minutes ago that the oil companies had the biggest and most powerful lobby. It's almost matched by hospital owners and doctors, many of whom are the same people, and you think, where is the competitive nature of health care? Who keeps the hospitals from putting people in the beds unnecessarily, performing operations that are not necessary? If somebody is going to be operated on Tuesday morning, put them in the bed on Friday so the hospitals can derive more profit, perform procedures that are not necessary—that's what we're trying to stamp out.

I'm having a terrible time getting that bill out of the Ways and Means Committee. I can't get it out of the commerce committee in the House, and I admit that this failure that I just described to you is, to a major degree, my fault. Maybe if I was a better politician, I would have gotten these bills through the Congress.

I've done the best I could. I have never backed down. I'm going to continue to fight. But I guarantee you, almost, this: that if everyone in this room would put 10 percent as much time trying to get hospital cost containment passed and to deal with our energy problem, I believe we could succeed. What Member of Congress, as a Democrat, could stand up against you? Very few.

We're coming up now with SALT. I have one life to live on this Earth. I've got one political career. And I will never face an issue—unless our country actually goes to war, God knows I hope it doesn't happen-but absent that, I will never face an issue so important as getting SALT ratified by the Senate. I won't tell you all the reasons now. But I need you to help me with it, not in a quiet way, saying, "I think that's a great idea, I hope it passes," but in there fighting for it.

And I haven't made my announcement of what I'm going to do in 1980, but I've never backed down from a fight; I've never been afraid of the public opinion polls. And if and when I decide to run, it would be in every precinct in this country, no matter who else ran. And I have no doubt that it would be successful, because we've got a good record. And if we can prevail on these three issues—energy, inflation, and SALT—we'll have an even better record.

And I think with the courage that you asked me to exhibit—and I'll do the best I can to alleviate your concerns—if you will help me, we'll win, because we deserve to win, not because we're Democrats, but because we deserve to win.


Q. Mr. President, first of all, I'm delighted to see that you have the sign behind you that you used in Virginia when you addressed our Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. You addressed that group with the same courage and conviction that you have addressed us. I happen to be a . Democrat. I've supported Democrats always from the courthouse to the White House. I started with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and moved right up to Jimmy Carter, and I've never regretted supporting the Democratic nominee and feel that we have offered the best the entire time.

I waited a while before I supported Jimmy Carter because, simply, I felt I was supporting one of the greatest men that I've ever had the privilege of supporting, and that was Hubert Humphrey. When I was assured that Hubert Humphrey was not going to be a Presidential candidate again, I've had the pleasure of supporting the man that I place in the same category that I placed Hubert Humphrey, a man of conviction and courage and vision, who has really led the Democratic Party, and one in which we can be proud.

And I want you to know that I feel that I speak for the majority of the group of the people here, as well as the majority of the group of people in America, that we want Jimmy Carter as our President again in 1980.

Mr. President, in World War II, I never saw controls bring about more of anything that we needed, and I simply support your theory of decontrol today, but we need some help in explaining that to the American people. Please give us that answer.


Well, you know, this is one of the-that's one of the best questions I've ever had, by the way. [Laughter] You know, I've sweated over this energy thing in the face of repetitive disappointments. We put forward a COET tax last year, you remember, a crude oil equalization tax that would have decontrolled oil, brought in to the Government a substantial amount of money—and we couldn't get it out of the Senate committee.

Now we've got a good package. Decontrol will be phased in over 28 months, slow, steady, and controllable. We can watch what goes on. We'll tax the oil companies heavily—and I don't care if the Congress makes it a little bit heavier-as the price of oil goes up, either because of OPEC or because of decontrol here, with a windfall profits tax. That profits tax is not a sure thing. It seems like a sure thing now. The day after I made my announcement, everybody said it didn't have a chance in the world to pass; now, everybody says it's going to pass whether we work or not. It's not.

Out of that windfall profits tax, which will grow year by year, we will create an energy security fund. That energy security fund will be a very important element of dealing with the energy question. It will go, first of all, to help the very poor families, who cannot afford the rapidly increasing, inevitable prices of energy.

Secondly, it'll go to help us with mass transit, because a lot of people either don't have automobiles or, as is the case right now in California, for instance, people are beginning to see that it's better for them to go to and from a fixed destination, like a work place, on public transportation. That'll be a great boost.

And the third thing is to have a substantial amount of money growing every year for research and development, to let us have new sources of energy, like solar power, like liquefaction and gasification of coal, like geothermal power, the very things that all of you want. And it will leave the oil companies about 29 cents out of each dollar to put back into the exploration in the United States for increased supplies of oil and gas. To me it's a balanced program.

The Congress is wasting its time now passing resolutions about, "Are we or are we not going to decontrol?" That serves to cloud the issue so much on the windfall profits tax that it puts it in danger. And I hope that the Democrats and Republicans, the President and the Congress, all of you, and the American citizens will join in together and say, "Let's pass this package once and for all."

I would hate to see it fail. But it's going to require a concerted effort by all those who are interested in the future of our country. There is not a single vote, I guarantee you, in the energy question.

I have made many mistakes in my life. One of the worst mistakes I made was the evening in April of 1977 when I told the American public we've never had a comprehensive energy policy. When I propose this energy policy and fight for it, I said, to about 40 million people, my public opinion poll is going to go down 15 points. The mistake I made was, it has gone down much more than that— [laughter] —and I think energy is one reason. But we can't back down. And I'm willing to fight this fight and to win it, and we will win it with your help.


Q. Mr. President, my name is George Schwartz from Philadelphia, the birthplace of our Nation. And all I want is a little equal time with the mayor from Detroit. [Laughter]

I am presently the chairman of the host committee for the site selection committee when they come to Philadelphia June 7 and 8. I was also chairman of the delegation that came down here several weeks ago to make our presentation.

I merely want to bring to your attention the fact—and you mentioned Harry S. Truman and the heat in the kitchen, and I agree with you—in 1948, President Truman was under attack, was under criticism, very much like yourself, and what do you think he did? He came to Philadelphia. [Laughter] And it was a very successful convention for Mr. Truman, and he was reelected. Thank you very much, Mr. President. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I've got to go now, but let me say this, in closing, to you.

We talk about problems, and we talk about fears and doubts, we talk about divisiveness, we talk about concerns among the American people about government. I was facing about a thousand or so people in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, not too long ago. I hadn't planned to say it, but watching those people and their dreams and their hopes and their genuine concerns—I'm sure there were a lot of Republicans and Democrats in the audience—I felt that every one of them wanted their President to do a good job. I think a lot of them there, most of them, were willing to give me help. And I closed my remarks by pointing out to them that in the news media, what we always see is the argument, the debate, the contention, the difference, the adverse vote, the criticism, the statistic that's not going well. But what we fail to remember-and I don't think that the news media ought to have to publicize this; I'm not saying that—what we fail to remember is our country is so strong economically, politically, militarily, morally, philosophically. We live in the strongest country on Earth, and we have a degree of freedom and a sense of individuality that lets us debate issues and lets us resolve those issues in a political context.

I can't dominate a single person in this Nation. I don't want to. That's not the role of a President. But the strength that we have can tide us over if we are threatened from overseas, or as we deal with a tiny nation looking to us for fairness, or as we reap the consequences of worldwide inflation, or as we acknowledge among ourselves, eventually, that we do waste too much energy. These kinds of things can be resolved, and that's why I'm so sure that the future for our Nation is going to be much greater than its past has been. And I'm very proud to be part of you and the leader of a party that has always espoused not fear, but hope; not divisiveness, although we're so different one from another, but cohesion and unity when it was critical for our Nation.

We have never failed our country—we Democrats—and I don't believe we'll fail in the future. So, in spite of our problems, I look forward to the future, including 1980.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:53 a.m. in the Park Ballroom at the Sheraton-Park Hotel. He was introduced by Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit.

Jimmy Carter, Democratic National Committee Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Committee's Spring Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249602

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