Jimmy Carter photo

Independence, Missouri Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Townhall Meeting.

September 02, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Eagleton, Governor Teasdale, Congressman Bolling, Congressman Gephardt, Congressman Skelton, friends from Jackson County, Independence, Kansas City:

It's really fine for me to be in the home of Bess and Harry Truman, the Kansas City Royals, and George Brett.

How many of you think Harry Truman was a great President? [Applause] How many of you think the Royals are going all the way? [Applause] How many of you think George Brett's going to bat .400 this year? [Applause] I'm just as eager to see him do it as you are. He and I have a quiet arrangement that we made as I stepped off Air Force One at the airport a few minutes ago. He's not going to run for President this year— [laughter] —and I have promised not to support anybody against him for President in the future, okay? [Laughter]

Immediately before I came here I stopped by a famous place in our Nation to visit with Bess Truman, and she asked me as I come to the Truman School to express her love to all of you, her appreciation for your many kindnesses. And I'm particularly grateful that this wonderful school was named by the people in Independence not just for Harry Truman but for Bess and the Truman family. It's a pleasure for me to be here in one of the finest schools with one of the finest names in the United States of America.

And I'm also glad to be here with a fine and decent man, a friend of mine, a tireless worker for our Nation, Tom Eagleton, one of the greatest Senators I've ever known. As you may know, next year Tom Eagleton will become the chairman of the extremely important Government Operations Committee in the Senate. He'll be the first Missourian since Harry Truman to become chairman of a major committee.


I'm here today to answer your questions, not to give a long speech. But before we get started I want to say just a few things about Harry Truman, because as President I have a unique perspective of him, what he was, and what he meant to our country.

He's been an inspiration to a lot of Americans, but especially to Presidents. Once he was asked by a student if he would classify himself as one of the great Presidents of our Nation. He said he wasn't one of the great Presidents, but he had a good time trying to be one. [Laughter] I agree with almost everything Harry Truman said. That's one thing with which I disagree. He was indeed one of our great Presidents, and more and more people, particularly since he went out of office, are beginning to agree that of the very few among the 39 in total, he was one of the top leaders of our Nation, in the same class as Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson in my opinion.

Today our Nation faces some very difficult questions, challenges, opportunities. They were difficult when he was President; different, but difficult. And what's important to me is not the nature of the times when Truman served as President, but the nature of the man when he served for President. He set a tough standard for all those who've come after him to serve in the White House. Fortunately, that standard is a very fine example of what a President ought to be.

And as he had a good time trying to be a great President, so I've had a good time trying to be a President like Harry Truman. He had common sense; he was able to see a problem for what it was. He had the honesty not to mislead the American people at times when the truth hurt and when the truth was not popular. He did what he thought was right. No matter what anyone said he had to make a lot of hard decisions, and in the process quite often his public opinion poll ratings went down. But when he was criticized he responded, and I'll quote from him: "Any President who makes decisions on the basis of public opinion polls is not worthy to hold the office."

Harry Truman was a common man, some say an uncommon man, who spoke up for the common men and women of this country. He understood us, he spoke for us, and he said that it was important for a President to stand up against the lobbyists and against the special interests who sometimes seemed to fill the city of Washington, D.C. He said, quite often you had to be well-organized or very rich to have a lobbyist in Washington. But the President, he says, has to be the lobbyist for the people.

He was a courageous champion of social justice and fair play. His daughter, Margaret, wrote about an incident that took place in 1924, the year she was born, the year I was born. Her father was running for reelection as a county judge. And some members of the Ku Klux Klan threatened his life. Judge Truman astonished the Klansmen by going into one of their meetings. He marched right up on the stage and called them a bunch of "cheap, un-American fakers." That was dangerous and it was a lot more difficult to do in 1924 than it is in 1980.

He lost the election that year because he let the people know where he stood, but he won a lot of elections after that-because he let the people know where he stood. And what counted most, in 1948, although he didn't have much of a chance to win, he told the people the truth and he got his message across to the American people and he won the election. And I can't deny that that's one reason I wanted to talk to Ms. Bess Truman this morning—to find out some of his secrets.

When I have to make a tough decision now, which is often in the Oval Office, I think about the tough decisions he had to make. And when I take a step that's not very popular, I think of the unpopularity that Harry Truman had to suffer before he was finally vindicated. When I'm criticized in the media, I think about the much more severe criticism that he had to bear, and when I look at the public opinion polls, I remember how bad they were for him in 1948.

When I give a speech to a group like this, I recall that Harry Truman said that he was not a great orator, but he did know how to talk with people. And he also said, "I know of no better way of communicating with the people of this Nation in the shortest period of time than a question-and-answer method." I agree with President Harry Truman.

Now let's have the first question.



Q. My dear Mr. President, it is a great pleasure to meet you face to face

THE PRESIDENT. That's a wonderful question. Thank you very much. [Laughter]

Q. I just want you to know that my husband, Bill, and I are wholehearted supporters of yours and we are praying for you all the time.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Q. Here's my question. We know that you are a born-again Christian. Do you feel that your spiritual life has suffered because of the incredible pressures of your job?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I believe very deeply as a Baptist and a Christian that there ought to be a proper separation of the church and the state, and I've never let my beliefs interfere in my administration of the duties as President. But I've never found any incompatibility. I pray more than I did when I was not President, because the burdens on my shoulders are much greater than they were when I was a Governor or when I didn't hold public office.

This Nation is one that's been acknowledged by our Founding Fathers since the first days of the idea to be founded under God. "In God We Trust" is on our coins. It's not a bad thing for Americans to believe deeply in God, but the fact is that the Constitution gives us a right to worship God or to worship as we choose. And the Congress cannot pass any law respecting the establishment of religion.

But my own personal faith and my personal belief is stronger now than it's ever been before. I pray more than I did, and I don't find any incompatibility between being a Christian, on the one hand, and being President of this country, on the other.


Q. Mr. President, welcome to Independence.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. Tell me what your name is.

Q. I'm Don Pennel.

THE PRESIDENT. Don, thank you.

Q. What level of unemployment do you feel is healthy for our economy, and what plans do you have to reach this level of unemployment?

THE PRESIDENT. What I have as a goal is that every able-bodied person in our Nation would have a job available to them. Now the unemployment rate is between 7 and 8 percent, a little bit under 8 percent. For the last 6 weeks we've had a decrease in the unemployment compensation claims filed by Americans, and we've had a chance to go through a very serious ordeal where the price of oil on a nationwide, worldwide basis increased 120 percent just since the beginning of 1979. This has created unemployment and high inflation all over the world.

One of the proudest things of my own administration so far has been that in the first 3 years I was President, in spite of these shocks to the economic system of the world, we increased the net numbers of jobs in this country by more than 8 million. This is the biggest and fastest increase in employment that our Nation has ever experienced or any nation in the world has ever had, even in time of war.

At the same time, as people got new jobs, a lot of their discouraged neighbors, like young teenagers, saw "My neighbor got a job, now put my name on the job rolls." So, we've had a great increase in the number of people seeking jobs. I think this is very healthy, but I would like to continue my effort to get the unemployment rate down so that every able-bodied American who wants a job can find one.

I might say one other thing. We cannot abandon the struggle against inflation. It's a temptation, as you well know, in a Presidential election year, to offer people something for nothing, enormous tax decreases, gifts to people of maybe a few dollars on their income tax payment, but that would, in effect, mean that inflation in the future was going to rob back more than they got with a massive tax reduction in an election year.

So, what I've planned for our Nation is a steady growth in economic recovery, carefully targeted programs to create jobs, not in government jobs or handout jobs or temporary jobs, but in permanent jobs, and to bring the unemployment rate down that way. So, we'll continue to work in that respect, putting our basic steel industry, our automobile industry, back on its feet, competitive with any foreign imports, and I believe that's the best way to approach it. We'll continue to work until the unemployment rate goes down to meet the goal that I described to you.

Thank you very much, Don.


Q. Hello. As a host sister to an Egyptian student who's here in the local area studying year-long, I would like to ask, are there any indications of change in America's policy with Egypt and the Middle East in the near future?

THE PRESIDENT. We will not change our policy in the Middle East anytime in the foreseeable future.

It's easy for us to get discouraged about the faltering, sometimes excessive delays in the peace process that was initiated at Camp David exactly 2 years ago. Before we went there, with myself and Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, nobody thought we'd be successful. I had serious doubts, and of course, I think Begin and Sadat had even more serious doubts that we could bring peace between two nations whose whole existence the last 30 years had been based on the prospective war and sometimes intense hatred among their people. In 30 years at that time four different wars had broken out between Israel and Egypt.

We were successful at Camp David. There is now a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and we're working with great determination to continue that process and to bring a comprehensive peace to the Middle East with security for Israel and with the realization of the legitimate aims of the Palestinian people. This is something that Begin, Sadat, and I have all agreed to do.

We've had some setbacks lately. The peace process is still alive. President Sadat has called for another summit conference sometime later on this year. I'm sure that when the invitations are extended for that summit conference that Prime Minister Begin would also respond affirmatively. I have just sent, last Friday night, Sol Linowitz, my chief negotiator, back to see Prime Minister Begin. So far, tomorrow he'll go to Egypt to talk to President Sadat. When he comes back we'll have a clearer picture of what are the prospects for immediate progress.

But I think it would be a mistake for the American people to give up hope and to be discouraged because of transient obstacles that are foreseeable. I think if you talk to President Sadat or Prime Minister Begin, you would find that they are very gratified at what's taken place so far. And when I see Egyptian Ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Israeli Ambassadors in Cairo, when I see the borders open, airplane flights now back and forth between Alexandria and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Cairo, tourists going back and forth, it really thrills my heart.

In the last week there have been a series of top Israeli officials who have been over to visit Sadat. Prime Minister Begin has not visited with him lately. But the peace prospect is still alive, and this is an important thing, not only for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but it's also extremely important for our country.

I'm glad that our Nation is strong; I'm glad that for the last 4 years we have been at peace. I pray God that when I go out of office—hopefully the end of the next 4 years—we will have been at peace for 8 years. And I'm also proud that peace in the Middle East has brought our own Nation additional security. Our policy with the Middle East has not changed and is not going to change.


Q. Mr. President, we're very pleased and honored to have you here in Independence.

Most economic indicators point toward a serious decline in national productivity. My question is two-fold: Can the administration affect this downward spiral, and if so, what solutions do you, as President, propose? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Last month's economic indicators, as you know, showed the greatest improvement in the history of the economic indicator, and also last month, for the first time in 13 years, showed that the inflation rate was zero. I don't expect that extremely good month to continue in the future. It would be hoping for too much.

I see in our own Nation the same kind of challenge in the 1980's that we faced in the 1930's, when Roosevelt, with the New Deal, followed by President Truman, continuing those programs, put our Nation back on its economic feet.

We have for too long had the American workers expected to constantly increase their productivity with an industrial plant and with machinery that was not constantly modernized. After World War II, because of the Marshall plan which was initiated by President Truman, the nations that we had defeated in the war had nothing to start with, but they built all new plants—Japan and Germany are the two best examples of that. It's now time for us to rebuild the American industrial machinery when it's needed. Steel is one example; automobiles is another but different example.

We have now completed in the first 3 years of my own term a comprehensive energy policy to' take cognizance of and take advantage of the most profound economic challenge to the world, that is, an enormous increase in the price of oil. We've got to do two things—hold down American waste of energy, by having strong conservation programs, and secondly, produce more energy in our own country..

We're making good progress. We have now cut back oil imports by 20 percent or more this year compared to the first year I was in office. Every day like today, we import 1 1/2 million barrels of oil less than we did in 1977—very good progress.

On that new base, we are now ready to move forward to deal with the energy question and to revitalize American industry simultaneously. The new energy policy financed by the windfall profits tax on the unearned profits of the oil companies will give us a better investment program than we had with the Interstate Highway System, the space program, and the Marshall plan all combined.

This can give us an exciting, dynamic, growing chance in America to take advantage of our natural resources and also to take advantage of our human resources and our ingenuity and our good education system and our free enterprise system to move forward. So, I think now is the time to take advantage of these opportunities.

This past week I outlined to the Nation my proposals to move our Nation forward, which would mean, in effect, that business would be encouraged to put investments in new plants, private and public money would be used, productivity would be greatly improved for American workers—and I might add parenthetically something that people don't know, the highest productivity in the world among workers is right here in the United States. We are still far more productive, American workers on the average, than any other nation. The problem is that we haven't been growing as fast in productivity lately.

So, with that combination of tax incentives, narrowly targeted programs to help communities make those changes, we can expect a much brighter future than we have had in the past.

Two things that you ought to remember. One is we talk about the great strategic advantage of oil in Saudi Arabia. We have a much greater strategic advantage in the soil of the United States. And secondly, we think that the OPEC nations have all the reserves of energy. All the Arab countries combined have about 6 percent of the world's energy reserves, 6 percent. The United States has 24 percent. So, we need to change our style of living for the better, invest in the future, and I believe we'll have a better life with higher productivity for Americans in the years ahead.


Q. Mr. President?


Q. Welcome to the home of a great President.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to be here.

Q. And with the thoughts that you put forward here today I would like for you to answer one question.


Q. Why in the hell could Reagan, do you think Reagan would want to be President, and why do you think you want your job? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I can't speak for Governor Reagan. But I will say that although the Presidency is the most difficult job, maybe, on Earth, because it's complex, complicated, and all the hard decisions come to the Oval Office to be made, at the same time it's one of the most exciting and gratifying jobs on Earth, because the President can be kind of a spokesman for and a representative of the 240 million people who live in the greatest Nation on Earth.

And I remember when Harry Truman learned that Franklin Roosevelt was dead. He said he felt as though the Moon and the Sun and all the stars had fallen on him. I don't believe that anyone is completely qualified to be President, certainly not if you try to stand alone. But with prayer, with faith, with a knowledge of our Nation, with support from people like you who are unselfish and patriotic, with the democratic system where the President is not alone, but who represents the will and the strength and the courage and the commitment and the idealism and the hope of 240 million strong and free people, it makes the job a lot easier.

Our country does face problems, and we do face difficulties, and we do make mistakes on occasion. But in spite of all that, the President still leads the greatest nation on Earth. This is proven by the fact that when people are displaced from their own homes or when they want to find freedom or find better opportunity, or when they want to worship in their own way or join a dynamic, exciting prospect for the future, where do they want to come? They want to come to the United States. And you don't see any boats lined up at Key West getting filled up with Americans trying to escape to Cuba, right? And they didn't build the Berlin Wall to keep you from going into Communist Germany. So, people want freedom, they want democracy, they want an opportunity in life.

I don't have any doubt that as the people assess myself, with good experience and a proven record, representing the Democratic Party, having kept our Nation at peace, having helped to unite our country, compared to Governor Reagan and what he has to offer and what the Republicans have to offer, that the people will make the right decision.

This year will be the sharpest difference in the voters' choice that I remember in my lifetime that the Americans have had to make. Reagan is different from me in almost every basic element of commitment and experience and promise to the American people, and the Republican Party now is sharply different from what the Democratic Party is. And I might add parenthetically that the Republican Party now is sharply different under Reagan from what it was under Gerald Ford and Presidents all the way back to Eisenhower.

I believe in peace, I believe in arms control, I believe in controlling nuclear weapons, I believe in the rights of working people of this country, I believe in looking forward and not backward. I don't believe the Nation ought to be divided one region from another. In all these respects Governor Reagan is different from me, and I have confidence that when November 4 comes that the people will make the right decision as they did in November of 1948.


Q. Mr. President, I'd like to direct a question towards the energy program. Recently a hydrogen firm has located here in Independence, and I want to know if you think that hydrogen energy is a viable alternative and what role does it have in the energy program.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes I do. In my opinion our Nation is just approaching the threshold of not only wonderful job opportunities that will come from the massive energy commitment that our Nation's making, but it's also the threshold of wonderful, scientific and technological discoveries. Obviously, hydrogen itself and the products that can be produced from it as a fuel are one of those kinds of opportunities that we need to explore further. It would be a serious mistake for us to discount the opportunities that exist in hydrogen or the other fuels that we're presently exploring.

We have now an opportunity not only to turn to hydrogen, as well as methanol derived from growing crops, liquid fuels and gaseous fuels from shale and from coal, but also solar power to a major degree. But I think that now with the new energy program intact, which these Members of the Congress have helped to initiate, and with massive financial resources that can be used primarily by the private sector but also by the public sector that we've got vast areas of scientific and technological job opportunities to explore. Hydrogen is obviously one of those that holds great promise.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Karen Garrison, and I'm a teacher here at Truman High School, and I have the opportunity to work with young debaters. And I feel like the debaters are a vital part of America's future. And our topic this year is on consumer product safety. This question is on that topic and in behalf of my debaters.

According to a Department of Transportation ruling, all cars must be equipped with passive passenger restraints by 1983. How will this ruling be enforced on foreign car imports, and would this be a possible way of lowering our high import level?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe in debates too, and I'm looking forward to a chance to debate Governor Reagan. We've already accepted three invitations, and I'm looking forward to a chance to carry that commitment that you described on.

The passive restraints basically apply to seatbelts that are automatically in place when the door is closed and also with the air bags, depending upon the choice of the automobile manufacturers and also the purchasers of those cars. Any requirements for safety that fall upon the American manufactured cars that are sold here apply in an equally stringent way to imports that are sold in the American market.

I think you all noticed in the news a couple of weeks ago—it was on television quite frequently—the tests of the American small cars compared to the foreign small cars as it related to the safety of the person involved in a head-on collision. The American small cars, equally efficient and equally clean in their operation, were much safer in the tests that I saw described on television. So, we will require with equal stringency the same safety equipment on imports as we require on the American cars themselves.

I would like to add that I'm very proud of the transition that is now taking place in the automobile industry of our country. We have been caught in the last few months with a very quick change in the buying preferences of American consumers who wanted the small and efficient automobiles because of the rapid increase of worldwide oil prices.

The Germans, the Japanese, and other foreign manufacturers have always had gasoline prices in the neighborhood of $2 to $2.50 a gallon, while we were enjoying gasoline much cheaper than that, less than a dollar a gallon. They had to build those small cars in their own countries because of that, so they had a head start on American manufacturers. But as you know, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and others, American Motors, are all shifting very quickly to the small and efficient cars that will permanently be the preference of American consumers, and I have no doubt that we'll see a quick rebuilding of the American automobile industry and a quick transfer by the American consumers of their preferences toward American produced cars.

But we'll keep the same standards on the foreign cars as we require on American cars, making them constantly more efficient, cleaner burning to save our air quality, and also more safe. All three of these things can be done, they are being done on foreign and domestic cars as well.


Q. Mr. President, I'd like to ask you a question in the area of foreign policy. What improvements in Korea do you expect from the new Korean President, President Chun Doo Hwan?

THE PRESIDENT. We have enjoyed historically a very close relationship with the Republic of Korea. Ever since the war there, when President Truman, working with the United Nations, went in to preserve the freedom of the South Korean people, we've enjoyed that good relationship.

There have been ups and downs in the relationship as there have been between ourselves and all our allies. We believe that the Government of Korea should move faster for complete freedom of the people, on expression to the news media, to eliminate any imprisonment of political opponents by the incumbent leaders, and should move more rapidly toward complete democracy in their form of government than the Koreans so far have been able to do.

Our views are clear. They are well known by new President Chun and were known by President Park, with whom I met. We hope that the present commitments of the Korean leaders to have a new constitution which will move Korea toward more freedom of political expression and also more democracy will come true.

We'll continue to use our influence to bring about this desired goal, which I believe is the goal of most citizens of Korea as well, and in the meantime we will maintain our close relationships with the people of Korea and our shared security arrangements, which help to stabilize the whole northern part of the Asian Continent on the eastern coast.

Thank you very much for a good question.


Q. I'm Dorothy Stoeger of Platte County. Mr. President, is there any one thing that you would like to achieve during your second term that you were not able to accomplish during your first?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. There are several. The most important thing to me or to any President is to keep our Nation strong and secure and at peace. So far—and I thank God for it—I've been able to do that, and that's my highest hope. There are some needs, however, that have not yet had that degree of success.

One is, I want to continue the peace process in the Middle East and bring it to a firm conclusion. Secondly, I want to set the tone for the rest of this century by revitalizing American industry and accommodating the inevitable change that has been forced on the world by the energy problems brought about by OPEC.

So far, this has been kind of a negative development in the minds of Americans. It's caused us a little bit of concern, and we've been a little too doubtful about the future. I see it, after having been deeply involved in it now for more than 3 years, not as a problem for Americans to face, that causes us trepidation and concern, but as a wonderful opportunity to do some things in American industry that we should have done a long time ago: to modernize our steel industry; to retool our automobile industry; to provide new opportunities for farmers, for instance, to develop their land, to have better conservation practices, to be more productive, to have more storage on farms, and to produce crops at a much lower cost because they save energy in different cultural practices. So, the opportunities for us to move forward and take advantage of the energy problem are very fine.

I want to see a comprehensive nationwide health program for Americans with the emphasis on prevention of disease. And I also want to see our welfare system reformed to make sure that every able-bodied American who wants to work is encouraged to work. That's important to me. And finally, not to make too long an answer, I want to continue our peaceful relationships with other nations on Earth.

One of the things that I have done that history might see as most significant is opening up full diplomatic relationships with the People's Republic of China, with a fourth of the people on Earth, and that constant probing for better ways to get along with people of other nations is important to me. I would like to see our relationships with the Soviet Union improved, but I will not base that improvement on the invasion by the Soviet Union of Afghanistan and their ignoring of the principle of human rights. So, I would like to see our commitment to human rights continued as we continue peace.

Those are a few things that come to mind immediately. Some have been done fairly well. Some we still have a long way to go.


Q. Mr. President, welcome to Missouri.

THE PRESIDENT. I feel welcome.

Q. My question is pertaining to the SALT II treaty. When do you think this treaty will be ratified?

THE PRESIDENT. In my opinion, the SALT II treaty is very good for the United States of America. It puts balanced limits on the nuclear weaponry of ourselves and the Soviet Union. It would result, when implemented by the Senate through ratification, in a 10-percent cut in the number of missiles that the Soviet Union presently has. It would not cut our nuclear arsenal at all. It would prevent the development of future missiles and future weapons that might destabilize the international relationship and cause some movements toward a nuclear war.

The SALT II treaty also puts stringent limits on what the Soviets can do secretly. It requires them to develop and to test any permitted nuclear weapons so that we can observe and monitor what the Soviets do. If we don't have a SALT treaty they can act in secret.

So, these are the reasons why the SALT II treaty ought to be implemented. Another very important reason is that going into SALT III with much greater reductions in nuclear weapons, which would be to our advantage as well as to that of all nations on Earth, is pretty well dependent on how well we do with SALT II.

When we see positive movement by the Soviets to withdraw their occupying troops from Afghanistan—at that point, I believe the Senate will then be ready to consider again the ratification of SALT II. When that time comes I'll be devoting my full time, working with Tom Eagleton, and with other Members of the Senate, to get SALT II treaty ratified, because it's best for our country and it's best for the entire world.


Q. Mr. President, I would like to have you explain your recent proposal to ease the marriage penalty tax and whether or not you think this would have an opportunity of passing through Congress.

THE PRESIDENT. All right. To me the stability of American families is crucial to the survival and the improvement of American society in general. Now we have a situation in our tax laws so that if a man and woman, both are employed—maybe one making a lot of money, the other one not making much money—and they live together as husband and wife, they pay a much higher income tax bill than if they live together and are not married. This is not right.

And so what we are asking the Congress to do—and I hope they'll start on it immediately after January 1—is to remove that penalty that's presently imposed against married couples. It would let the partner who has the lowest income get a credit for part of that income so that there would not be any more a penalty because the couple is married. It would move toward an equal opportunity for them to pay the same kind of income tax that they would pay if they were not married, whether or not they were living together.

So, this is something, in my opinion, that's long overdue. It will not mean that there would be an additional penalty placed on people who are single and who are not married, but it would just remove an inequitable circumstance in the income tax laws that have been there for a long time.


Q. I want to know if you're going to send any more rockets into outer space?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The answer is yes. It's extremely important to us to have a good space program.

Our next major move, as you know, is a space shuttle, where we can send up a space rocket, you might say, that can travel around and around the world a long time with people in it and with valuable cargoes in it, with telescopes in it to look into outer space further. And then we can bring that same thing that looks like a airplane back home, reload it, and fire it again. It'll be a wonderful new step for us,

In addition to that we will have explorations going beyond the Earth's atmosphere, past the Sun, out among the planets and even further, to take close looks at them and also to assess what is taking place in radio waves, to learn more about the universe and therefore about us. As you know, we've had very good luck with this, not only in landing a man on the Moon, and then followed by other Americans on the Moon, but also in taking a very close look at some of the planets further out than the Earth that we never had seen well before.

But we'll continue a good space program, the space shuttle in our own orbit around the Earth and exploration far beyond the Earth and the planets, even out among the stars eventually. So, the answer is yes.

That's a good question. What's your name?

Q. J. S.


Q. Martin.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to meet you, J.B. Martin. Thanks a lot.


Q. We want to welcome you to Independence, Missouri, Mr. President. And my name is Abdul Muamin Khalifah, and I'm a member of that great religious movement here in America, the American Muslim Mission, led by a great leader, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. And I'd like to say before I get into my question that myself, as all of America, we're praying for our safe return of our hostages


Q. —and I'm sure that Allah willingly will return, and I pray constantly that you will win the reelection, because I believe that Mr. Reagan has an unhealthy fixation on a time and an era gone by.

My question is that I hope that you would use the powers of your office to help restore prayer or some form of prayer back in our American schools, because I find it sort of ironic or almost hypocritical to where our children can't say prayer in our public schools, but we teach them to say grace when they eat, to pray before they go to bed, and then when our children rise from grade school and ascend to the highest office in our land, which is the President, and at your Inauguration, then we invoke the blessings of God, of Allah, through prayer. And so, I know you just stated that the Congress can't do anything or pass any legislation about religion, but if you would just relook that issue over. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Let me respond to your question.

I think there is a place for prayer in the home, in the Oval Office, and in school. I don't believe that our Government should ever interfere in the right of an American citizen to worship and to worship as they see fit.

I believe that there ought to be a place and a time in school for voluntary prayer. The thing that I'm against, as President-and as a Baptist, coincidentally—is the Government telling people they have to worship at a certain time and in a certain way. To me that violates the constitutional separation of church and state. I would not want the Government to tell my children that they would have to worship in a Muslim way, and you would not want the Government to tell your children that they would have to worship just like a Southern Baptist.

But as long as the Government stays out of it and permits people to worship as we see fit, including in the schools, that's what I want. But I am not in favor of the Government telling a child, "You've got to worship a certain god in a certain way in the classroom." That's where I draw the line.


Q. Mr. President?


Q. My name is Henry Stoever. I approve of your stances on protecting human rights, boycotting the Olympics, the grain embargo, mediating at Camp David between Egypt and Israel, and defending civil rights. I favor drastic cuts in defense spending. Presently defense spending is at an alltime high. I believe that you have said that you are willing to increase defense spending.


Q. I think that we can possibly learn a lesson from the Polish strikers, who won major concessions without the intervention of a Western military power, without guns or armed conflict. Their nonviolent action paralyzed their country, the military, and I believe that their courage, ethics, religious convictions, and determination would have made Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King proud of their actions.

Now, my question to you is, how do you differ from Mr. Reagan on defense spending? It seems both of you want to increase it.

THE PRESIDENT. Good. As I said earlier, above all other responsibilities of a President, the security of our Nation comes first. And only if our Nation is strong can we maintain peace. The best soldier that our Nation has is one who does not have to die in battle, and the best weapon that a nation can have is one that is never fired to kill others. But the fact that our Nation is strong and the fact that other nations know that we are going to stay strong, in my judgment, is the best thing to preserve peace for our Nation and for other countries around the world who look to us for leadership and who look to us to protect their basic freedoms, either directly or indirectly.

We now spend roughly 5 percent of our gross national product on defense. It's about the lowest level that we've ever experienced in modern times. I believe that that's a good investment. We also have encouraged our allies in Europe, also in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Korea, at least to invest enough of their national product to protect their own countries and to protect the world from blackmail or forcible control over them by Communists or other nations who have a much heavier investment in defense.

I'm determined that our Nation will never be second to any, certainly the Soviet Union, in defense capability. As long as the Soviets know that, then they will not be tempted to commit suicide for themselves by attacking the United States of America. And I believe that most Americans believe that we've got to have a calm, steady, determined, unwavering commitment to maintaining strong defense forces.

At the same time I'm committed to the negotiation for balanced reductions in the expenditure for nuclear weapons, and I pursued that in an aggressive way. There lies one of the sharpest possible differences between myself and Governor Reagan. President Eisenhower, Truman, and all the Presidents who have served since them have been deeply committed to the principle of controlling nuclear weapons and not launching a nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union which no one could win. Ronald Reagan is the first one to depart from that commitment.

He has announced that if he's elected President, that he will initiate a massive nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. This would mean that if he did that, then there would be no reason for the United States and the Soviet Union to try to negotiate an arms control treaty.

I consider this one of the most serious threats to the safety and the security and the peace of our Nation and the world that is being dramatized in this 1980 election. And therein lies the major difference. I think we ought to have a predictable, steady, slow but determined growth in defense capability right on up for the next 5 years—and that's what I intend to maintain. But at the same time, searching for peace and using our military strength, not only to keep our Nation secure but to keep us out of war, not in a war. Do you have a followup?

Q. Mr. President, we have limited resources, and we have to make a decision whether we want to rebuild the inner cities, revitalize American industry—and it appears that you're going to spend dollar per dollar the amount that Ronald Reagan will spend on defense. Is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't know what his defense figures are. All of the proposals that I have made for defense spending, not only this year and in 1981 but all the way through 1985, have now been made public in my proposals to the Congress. That's what I intend to do.


Q. Hello, Mr. President. My name is Scott Berry, and I welcome you to the Independence area and Kansas City, Missouri, area.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Scott.

Q. It's been said the United States spends 30 percent more energy than any other country in the world, and it's also been said of independent candidate John Anderson—which I'm a supporter for-that he's gone farther on a little bit of innovative thinking than any other candidate. You're an engineer yourself and have taken courses in nuclear energy. And Mr. Anderson has been—14 years sat on the board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And have you heard of Dr. Edward Teller? I'd like to quote from him.

He says in a true energy crash the only help that can come from energy conservation-we will have to cut our energy consumption in half. And my question is, what does the Department of Energy do, whose annual budget is greater in the after-tax profits of all major oil companies combined?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, what we've done so far is to try to change the attitude of American people, compared to what it was 3 years ago or even a year ago, to convince not only Americans but the rest of the world that we have to conserve energy and not waste it any longer, and secondly, produce more energy ourselves.

As you know, the Congress was quite reluctant to put into effect the energy proposals that I made to it in April of 1977. It's taken almost 3 years to get it done. But the results have been dramatic already.

I mentioned a little earlier this morning that we have had a 20-percent reduction this year in oil imports, compared to when I became President, first year, and also that we've cut oil purchases from overseas by 1 1/2 million barrels every day. That's part of it. The other part is that we now have more exploration going on for both new oil wells and new gas wells in the United States than we've had for the last 25 years. So, if we do two things-produce more American energy, which gives American technology, American jobs, American innovation a way to benefit Americans' lives; at the same time conserve energy—that's the best combination. That's the purpose of the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy also has other responsibilities. Part of the responsibility for developing nuclear power and fusion power, solar power, utilizing coal, the development of ways to export more coal, the shift toward the use of more hydroelectric power, in making it more efficient, the development of new kinds of electric motors and the use of shale oil-all those responsibilities and many others come under the aegis of the Department of Energy.

Most of the budget of the Department, by the way, is used to be invested in a better life for Americans. That not only applies to the development of new kinds of energy, which I've outlined, but also the weatherization of private homes and the making of public buildings more efficient. And of course the Department of Energy works very closely with the Department of Transportation to make sure that automobiles and buses, trains, and other parts of our transportation system are more efficient as well.

So, those are some of the things the Department does. We've made good progress in the last 3 years, and I don't have any doubt that if we elect the right President, we'll make even more progress in the future.

I have time for one more question, and I'd be glad to hear from you.


Q. Okay. My name is Mohammed Madani. I'm from Jordan, and I'm a student here. Mr. President, you are the only American President so far who mentioned about the Palestinian people homeland, they should have—


Q. So, my question is, American Government has 99 percent of the Palestinian problem solution in its hand, so why until now are you still ignoring the Palestinian people rights and you don't solve their problem? As you can see, President Sadat gave Israel a full chance to do justice, but Israel refused. And remember, Mr. President, if the Palestinian people lost faith in the past American Government, and they still have faith in you.

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Let me try to answer your question very briefly.

I don't know if you've had a chance to read the text of the Camp David accords. It's only a few pages, and if you'll give one of my aides here your name and address we'll send you a copy of it. It's a very interesting document, which points out that Prime Minister Begin, speaking for Israel, and President Sadat, speaking for Egypt, and myself committed ourselves to the resolving of the Palestinian issue in all its aspects, and it gives the Palestinian people—the Israelis say "Palestinian Arab people"—a voice in the determination of their own future.

For a long time, certainly since—in the last two or three decades we have had practically no progress made toward bringing peace between Israel and her neighbors nor recognizing the problem with the refugees and the Palestinians themselves. I don't claim that we've done enough yet, but we have laid a groundwork now, a basis for future progress. There is no reason for the Palestinian people to deny the good will that President Sadat has expressed in the Camp David accords and that I have expressed with my signature on the Camp David accords. The basic problem is still how to deal with the security of Israel being preserved and the peace between Israel and her neighbors, and the resolution of the Palestinian question in all its complicated aspects and the giving of the Palestinian people a voice in the determination of their own future. That is a complicated series of questions to resolve, but the fact is that for the first time in the history of the Mideast, Israel, Egypt, and the United States are committed to doing exactly what I've just outlined to you so briefly.

We cannot forget the Palestinian issue. It's foremost in the minds of the leaders of Israel and Egypt and the United States, along with the security of Israel, the unity of the city of Jerusalem, free access to the city of Jerusalem for the worship by all people. I hope that when the history books are written about my own administration, that a small paragraph at least will say that President Jimmy Carter was able to contribute to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East when Israel stayed secure, when Jerusalem was honored by those of all faiths, and the Palestinian people had a voice in the determination of their own future and the issue was solved in all its aspects. That's what I'm going to work for continuously.

Let me say in closing just a brief remark. I know that you were invited to come here not because you were supporters of mine but you came on a first come, first served basis, and I know there are supporters here of all the candidates who are running for President this year. I would like before I leave, though, to ask you for your understanding and your support, and I'd like to let you know again how crucial to our Nation the decision will be that you'll make this year. Nothing could be more important. And I would like to close by quoting from a favorite politician of mine, who's been mentioned before today, and that's Harry Truman. He said, "It's not the hand that signs the laws that holds the destiny of America. t's the hand that casts the ballot on election day."

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:38 a.m. in the Truman High School gymnasium.

Following the meeting, the President visited the Harry S. Truman Library and the gravesite of the former President.

Jimmy Carter, Independence, Missouri Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Townhall Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250582

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