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Dinner Honoring Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia Remarks at the Dinner Sponsored by the West Virginia State Society.

May 17, 1978

I had a lot to do tonight but somebody said there might be a free fiddle concert. [Laughter] I would have been here earlier. We had President Kaunda, Kenneth Kaunda, from Zambia tonight. And we had finished our evening meal and the formal toasts, and we discovered that he's a guitar player. [Laughter] And he sang three songs for us. And then he gathered all of his cabinet around him and they sang a special song about revolution in south Africa. [Laughter] So, that made us a little tardy in arriving. If there's one audience that can understand this, it would be the people from West Virginia here. [Laughter]

In the life of a President, it's necessary to establish priorities, because the demands on one's time and one's attention are very severe. And at this moment, I'm doing the thing that I believe is the highest priority in my life as President, and that is to join with you in paying my respects to one of the finest men and one of the greatest leaders I've ever known, Senator Robert Byrd. I don't believe that anyone can appreciate that kind of legislative experience and leadership and the trust of one's fellow Senators as much as can a new President who's not been in the White House very long, who has never lived nor served in Washington before, and who has so much to learn.

I came here about 16 months ago, leaning very heavily upon Senator Byrd for advice and counsel. At the time I got here my rating in the public opinion polls was 75. And after taking his advice for 16 months— [laughter] . I asked Bob the other day to explain the dramatic shift, and he said there was a rising level of lowered expectations. [Laughter]

After the first year of that political progress, I decided to reward Senator Byrd. We had a very difficult legislative agenda in 1977. And we decided to reward him, that we would avoid the controversial issues in 1978. [Laughter] So, as soon as the Panama Canal, Mideast arms sales, labor law reform are over, I told him the agenda would be quite uncluttered from then for the rest of the year. [Laughter]

I would like to say just a few additional words. He is a man who has a very keen interest and understanding of international affairs. Our country's policies are changing. A vivid example of that was the banquet that I just left. Our interest in Africa is growing and new. It's proper and it's benevolent. It's fair. Our dedication now is to the establishment of the same principles for the people of that tortured part of the world that we espouse here with our voices and sometimes with our hearts, but had not espoused in the past with our tangible evidence of interest and courage.

Senator Byrd sees this very clearly. He's spent a lot of time with me and with Cy Vance, with Dr. Brzezinski, in private meetings, unpublicized meetings, to try to be part of a process of beneficial change throughout the world. Because of his past and present responsibilities in the Senate, he's had to understand all 50 States, the highly focused conflicts of interest and opinion, background and experience, concerns, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations of an America that derives its strength from diversity. But it takes a statesman of superb qualities to be able to balance those potential conflicts.

Among a hundred Senators who are proud, who share with all fellow politicians some degree of ego, either for themselves personally or primarily for their people who trust them and have chosen them to lead, and the careful balancing of these forces in a democratic Senate requires the most superb judgment and sensitivity and, I would say, above all, the respect of those whom he leads.

There has to be absolute integrity, absolute truth, because any deviation from that standard would destroy the effectiveness of that leadership, and that's what he shows.

But I think in addition to his international and national interest and accomplishment, the thing that impresses me most is that he knows where his roots are.

I know when I'm in Liberia or when I'm in Germany or when I'm in South America, or traveling around in our great country, I remember Georgia and I remember Plains. And I derive a great strength from that base of trust and friendship, family, and I remember where my roots are.

And I think one of the most superb characteristics of Bob Byrd is his closeness to the people of West Virginia. You have honored him, but I think at least equally he has honored you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 p.m. at the Officers' Club at Bolling Air Force Base.

Jimmy Carter, Dinner Honoring Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia Remarks at the Dinner Sponsored by the West Virginia State Society. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244770

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