Jimmy Carter photo

Democratic National Committee - Remarks at a Luncheon for Members of the Committee's National Finance Council

April 28, 1977

It would be hard for any of you to know how deep an emotional experience it is for me to walk through this crowd and to shake hands with those among you who were my friends a year or 2 years or more ago, when many people did not know who I was and had little confidence in me. But you did.

We formed a personal friendship that is dear to me. I learned a lot from you about our great country, and I am very deeply grateful to all of you for coming here today to join me and Ken Curtis in reminding ourselves of what our country is, what it can be, what the Democratic Party is, and what it can be.

Ours is a nation of people who believe in individuality, freedom, responsibility, hard work, idealism, and we also are courageous enough and strong enough to analyze our own faults and our own mistakes. And we are capable enough to make plans for the future where those faults or mistakes could be corrected.

I've been blessed with the highest elected office in the world with your help. But I recognized very clearly that the day after election that I am no better qualified, no more intelligent, no more experienced than I was the day before election.

The advantage that I have, though, as President, in addition to our great form of government, is the relationship that I can maintain with you and others like you around this country who believe as I do in the past, present, and future greatness of the United States.

We have come through some trying times, as you know, in the last few years when the very fabric of our political structure of society was tested and it was found to be strong and whole. And it provides us with a basis on which we can predicate the realization of future dreams and where we can heal our disharmonies and our lack of communication and lack of understanding, where we can reestablish the people of our country and our own deep commitments as kind of a beacon light for the rest of the world, based on basic human rights and on the free enterprise system and on the right of individuals to make our own decisions and to control our own government.

I've been in office now a little over 3 months. I've enjoyed being President. I've had a few surprises. The diversity of questions that come to me has been surprising. The good reception of the congressional leaders has been a pleasant surprise. But I would say the most gratifying has been the overwhelming support that I have had from the American people, expressed in an outpouring of letters and telegrams and telephone calls, but also in the public opinion polls, which show that although they recognize that we haven't accomplished our goals yet, that we have a mutual commitment to do our best.

The responsible party in this country, the Democratic Party, has shown again our willingness to tackle difficult challenges which have been ignored or covered up or circumvented for the last 8 years. It's time for you and me and the Congress to evolve and to implement a comprehensive energy policy that's fair, that's far-reaching, and that's adequate.

It's important for us to bring order out of chaos in the bureaucratic jungle in Washington, which in the past has made it very difficult for well-meaning people to adequately serve our own constituents in an effective and an efficient way. And the Congress has moved on this to give me the authority for reorganizing the structure of Government.

We have a means now to put into effect a new budgeting system which I have described many times in the last 2 years, called zero-based budgeting, that will let us go deep within the Government as the 1979 fiscal year budget is prepared to eliminate unnecessary programs and to reexamine those things that are now accepted as impervious to criticism and scrutiny and analysis, and to bring them to the surface and look them over again and see which ones need to be continued, which ones enhanced, which one reduced or abolished.

On Monday, I'll spell out to the American people my own concepts of what the American welfare system ought to be. I think when you listen to this relatively brief statement you will be pleased and you will see that for the first time in many years we are addressing one of the most difficult and challenging responsibilities of government--to hold families together, to encourage people to go to work who are able to work, to give adequate support and help to those who are necessarily dependent, and to restore a sense of pride both to the public servants, to private citizens who pay taxes on a regular basis, and those who are dependent to some degree.

I have been surprised at the difficulty of it. But shortly thereafter, we will begin to consult with Governors in all 50 States and with the leaders of Congress to come up not too long afterwards with a comprehensive legislative package. So, welfare reform is something that's important to us.

The income tax structure must be revised and made fair and simple. We need to reduce the intrusion of government into our lives when it's not necessary and to eliminate the long-standing requirements on regulations, guidelines, bureaucratic decisions, unnecessary reports that prevent an efficient functioning of our economic system.

If there's one thing I am determined to do in addition, it's to restore a well-deserved reputation within the Democratic Party for fiscal responsibility. For too long we've been stigmatized with a reputation of inadequate planning, irresponsible spending, uncontrolled growth because of a lack of commitment and an absence of communication and consultation between employees and employers, between producers and consumers, and between the private sector and government.

These matters must be addressed, and it's a very difficult undertaking. And that's why it's absolutely crucial to me to have you leaders in the business and professional world of our country to be constant partners with me. We have a lot to learn, both in the executive branch of Government and within the Congress. And I think the new resurgence of support and trust in the Democratic Party gives you now a chance to let your own voice be heard in a much more clear and effective way.

We are trying to deal also with some of the very crucial problems in foreign affairs, working with the Soviet Union as best we can to bring about a limit and then a drastic reduction in the future in dependence on atomic weapons. We are trying to prevent the spread of explosive capability in nuclear power to countries where it doesn't presently exist.

We believe that atomic power is an integral part of our energy picture in the future to produce electricity. But we are trying to make sure that this does not degenerate into the capability for explosives among nations that need the power but don't need atomic bombs. These kinds of things are important to us all.

There are many trouble spots around the world--in the Far Pacific, in the Middle East, in southern Africa. And we are trying to address those in a very effective and, I hope, well-constructed way.

I've been criticized to some degree by being too open in explaining to the public the options that we have, the goals that we've set for ourselves so that the American people might be part of the debate. I feel much more sure of myself as I make a decision concerning SALT negotiations or non-proliferation or international trade, with Bob Strauss' help, or a possible settlement in the Middle East--and I am determined to do the best we can to bring that about this year--or dealing with the war-threatened region of southern Africa, if the American people know what we are trying to do.

And I believe that many political figures and I believe that many news media figures underestimate the competence and intelligence and the sound judgment of the American people. And when we've failed in the past number of years and made serious mistakes in foreign policy, as I have said many times during my own campaign, it's been because the American people have been excluded from the process and you lose that basis of sound judgment that's very important to a relatively isolated political figure in the White House or in the Congress or in the State Department. And I want the American people to be part of the process from now on so that when I do speak the American people are part of it.

Last week I had four foreign leaders to come and see me, and we have an average of one head of state coming more frequently than every 2 weeks the whole year because of two things: One, they are very eager to get to know me and to see what the leadership of our great country can do in bilateral relationships now and in the future; and secondly, I learn from them.

And early next month I will be going to London to meet with the European leaders and the Prime Ministers of Japan and of Canada, and then to Geneva to meet with President Asad of Syria to complete my study and my basis for negotiations on economic matters and political matters with those world leaders.

I know that I have a lot to learn. I'm an eager student. Many of you have international experience and travel and business relationships that can be very important to me. And I hope that you will never be reticent in giving me your advice and your counsel and your criticisms when you consider it to be warranted.

The last point I want to make is this: There's no way for me to separate in my own life my involvement with my family, my involvement with my church, my involvement with government, my involvement with the Democratic Party and the people of our country. We have to depend on you.

The new campaign finance laws, which I strongly favor, made it possible, first of all, for me to be elected President. Secondly, they have made it possible for me to be elected President without having unwarranted obligations to people because of financial contributions. They give me a unique freedom to make my decisions as President based upon my current analysis of what's best for you and me and for this country. And that's a very precious thing that I would never want to see abridged. The separation of the political financial arrangement and governmental finances is also a very important heritage which I cherish.

The Republican Party has always had plenty .of money. The Democratic Party has always been broke. But I think we have at the same time learned to make the most out of every dollar we have. And I think that's proven by the remarkable success we have had in congressional elections, gubernatorial elections, Presidential elections in the last few years. I know that every one of you is expected to raise $5,000 a year for the next 4 years. That's not a difficult task if your heart is in it. And the fact that you have come here today to join in with me and ,others in this commitment is a great tribute to you, to your patriotism, your belief in our country, and your loyalty to the Democratic Party.

The diversity of our country and the diversity of our party is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength. And I think we can each preserve the deep commitments that we have philosophically and otherwise and, at the same time, feel that we are equal partners in shaping the future of our country.

You've never demanded anything from me that was at all embarrassing, and I thank you for it. You've given me your support. The only feeling I have is one of gratitude to you. I've got a lot to learn.

As a new President I have seen again in a much more vivid fashion the potential greatness of our country, even exceeding the greatness of the past. But that doesn't rest in the White House. It doesn't rest on Capitol Hill. It rests among the tens .of millions of American people who are your neighbors. And you are there in a constant way, seeing at first hand how circumstances change among people that I am trying to represent. And you represent, every one of yourselves, a tremendous, demonstrable leadership capability. If you hadn't had that ability, you wouldn't have the responsibilities that are yours today. And I recognize that tremendous reservoir of sound advice and experience and sensitivity to the aspirations and concerns of the American people.

The Democratic Party is a means by which you and I can stay close to one another. It's also a means through which you can stay close to the congressional leaders and Governors and others. And I hope you'll take full advantage of it, because there's no way to get around the fact that we share every decision made in government and every decision made in business, industry, agriculture, and the other professions.

The depth of this partnership is what is significant to me, and I hope that you will always be free with your aid for the Democratic Party itself, prepare ourselves for presentation to the American people in a frank and open way the issues that must be debated before each election, that you will join with me next year in having a successful election campaign. And I am always eager to learn from you and to derive benefit from your support and advice.

There's no way that I can repay all of you. I have just made my selection for Ambassador to Luxembourg. [Laughter] I have to admit that for the first time in a long time it was a professional diplomat. That's not the case with all the appointments.

Many of you can help me and have already been called upon to help me with specific assignments. If you have a special interest in finance or taxation or health care or mental health problems or agriculture, I hope that you will talk directly to my people in the White House or to Ken Curtis and his people, because we have a need for those kinds of services from you.

And the characteristic that exemplifies the lives of everyone in this room is that you are always eager to give much more than you ever expect to receive in return. That's typical of Americans. It's typical of the Democratic Party.

And I hope that in my own service, as President in the next few years, that I might live up to your expectations, and I hope that those expectations will always be very high.

Thank you very much. God bless every one of you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:58 p.m. in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capital Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Kenneth M. Curtis, chairman of the committee, and Robert S. Strauss, Special Representative for Trade Negotiations.

Jimmy Carter, Democratic National Committee - Remarks at a Luncheon for Members of the Committee's National Finance Council Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243729

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