Jimmy Carter photo

Lakeland, Florida Remarks at a Rally With Area Residents.

October 31, 1980

First of all let me express my thanks to Senator Lawton Chiles, to Governor Bob Graham, Ambassador Askew, Congressman Allen, Mayor Oldham, and all the mayors who've come here from the surrounding territories. And from the bottom of my heart let me thank my neighbors, the Floridians, who gave me an overwhelming victory in '76 twice, early this spring, and who are going to give me a big victory on November the 4th over Ronald Reagan.

As you know, in the last 4 years I've been to a lot of places, and I've seen a lot of people. But I just want to say how great it is for me to be back down here in the South, at home, where I belong and where I'll be in 1985.

I grew up on a farm in south Georgia not far from the Florida line, and I've never forgotten those early values that were important to me—hard work, self-sacrifice, trust in our families, closeness with our neighbors, and trust in our God. And I pray that we in the South and the people of this Nation will never get away from those ideals and commitments which although other things change, those ideals and commitments never change.

Most of you have the same background, the same kind of families, the same kind of upbringing that I have had in my own life. You share with me the values and my love of this country. It was you who put me on the road to the highest honor that any American can have, to serve as your President. It was you, the people of Florida, who launched my campaign in 1975 and 1976, who kept me on the road early this year, in the spring, when I had a tough opposition. It's you who stood with me all the time in the past. You've got a great political tradition of supporting Jimmy Carter. We are people of traditions. Let's don't change it. Okay? [Applause]

I want to be frank and honest with you. I've come back to my part of this country to ask you to join with me once again in a great and a noble campaign. It's a campaign for peace. It's a campaign for jobs. It's a campaign for a secure and prosperous and progressive and united future for the country that we love. Without your help I cannot win. If the election were held today, the issue would be very much in doubt. It's a close election.

Throughout the Nation—and as you know it's a close election in Florida itself-we must not allow a defeat for the Democratic Party, its candidates, and for all we stand for. There's too much at stake. This is not just a matter of personality between myself and Governor Reagan. It's not just an issue of whether or not a Democrat sits in the Oval Office. The question is, are we going to finish the work we've begun on energy security, on revitalizing our economy, on an effective, steady, carefully planned rebuilding of our Nation's military forces, on peace for our country, on peace for the Middle East, and on control of the most powerful weapon that ever has been known or envisioned in the history of mankind?

I have confidence in the American people, and I have confidence in their judgment. I have confidence in you. When it comes down to a time of decision, when you go into the voting booth next Tuesday, Americans will choose wisely. They will choose continuity. They'll choose to get on with the job that we've set for ourselves.

Many questions have been raised in this campaign. The hardest questions of all is the one American people must ask yourselves: Who should serve in the Oval Office? Who should hold power over peace and war? Who should hold the power to lead our Nation into the future? If you've been listening to the Republican candidate in recent weeks, then you know he's trying to wrap himself in the mantle of great Democratic Presidents. It happens every election year. Let me read you what Franklin D. Roosevelt said back in 1944 about how Republicans changed their tune in the few weeks before an election. This is Roosevelt's words: "The whole purpose of Republican oratory these days seems to be to switch labels. Now imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I'm afraid that in this case, it's the most obvious common or garden variety of fraud." And now the Republicans have the nerve to come back and quote Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.

John Kennedy said in 1960 about the Republicans: "They're even beginning to say a few kind words about Franklin Roosevelt. Twenty years from now, they might even speak a good word for Harry Truman. But Harry Truman will never say a good word about Republicans." You can depend on that. And I make this prediction about the future myself. I predict that 20 years from now, Republican candidates for President will be saying nice things about Jimmy Carter's second term.

The Republican candidate, Governor Reagan, said this year, 1980, "Fascism was really the basis of the New Deal." Do you think that Franklin Roosevelt, the father of the New Deal, who brought us the minimum wage, who brought us social security, who brought us the REA, who brought us the first steps to a good medical care for our people would have wanted to be quoted by that candidate?

The Republican candidate, in 1980, this year, said, and I quote, "I'm opposed to national health insurance. There is no health crisis in America." Do you think that Harry Truman, who first proposed national health insurance, would be rooting for that candidate today? The Republican candidate, this year, said that we could threaten a nuclear arms race. Do you imagine that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who negotiated the nuclear test ban treaty, would have agreed with that? Of course not. Of course not. History doesn't change. There's a thrust of history that separates the Democratic Party and Democratic Presidents from those of the Republicans.

Many of you grew up like I did in the South. You saw your lives changed by Democratic administrations. They faced difficult issues. They made tough decisions. And almost always the Republicans were there in opposition to the Democrats giving the working people of this Nation, the elderly people of this Nation, a good life. Republicans were against the minimum wage when it was 25 cents an hour. Republicans were against social security. They called it socialism or even communism. Republicans were against the rural electrification program. They said that the power companies themselves ought not to have any competition from those TVA dams that gave our farmers a better life. The Republicans have always been against those programs that give people of this country a better life.

Let me say this too: Guess what Governor Reagan said about social security this week? For years he had a habit of suggesting that social security ought to be voluntary. But as the election time approached, he began to change his tune, but not very much. This week, in the debate, he said that social security is a bad investment. That is absolutely untrue. As a matter of fact, a typical married worker with dependents, starting out paying even the age of 22, will get back 3 1/2 times more than he's paid into social security. And all those years, when that young person is getting toward retirement age, he has the protection, if he becomes disabled—or if a husband dies, as you know the wife and the children until they're 18 years old are covered by social security. But Governor Reagan has a commitment to change that program established by Democrats which means so much to the people of this country.

For years, Governor Reagan opposed Medicare. He started in politics as a traveling salesman for the anti-Medicare lobby. All across this country he said that Medicare was socialism. That should not be too surprising. After all this is the same person who said the New Deal was based on fascism. It is the same person who said, just this year, that the minimum wage was the primary cause of unemployment. And this is also the same person who said that trees are the number-one came of pollution. [Laughter]

Let me say a few words about the Presidency. Last night I was in Missouri before I went to Columbia, South Carolina. We had a rally like this in St. Louis, and the memory of everyone in that audience was about Harry Truman. Harry Truman understood what the Presidency is. So did Franklin Roosevelt. So did Lyndon Johnson, and so did John Kennedy. There is a continuity in serving in the White House, almost always shared among Democrats, often by Republicans as well. We must have a strong nation, and as long as I'm President we will have a strong military force, because Democrats have known, and especially those of us from the South, that only through strength can we keep our Nation at peace.

In 7 of the last 8 years before I became President, when Republicans were in the White House, we had a decrease in real funds allotted in the Federal budget for our Nation's defense. Since I've been in office, we've had a steady, orderly, and effective increase above and beyond inflation every single year. When I came into office there was no long-range cruise missile program. Now we have one. There was no new battle tank or modern, armored personnel carrier. Now they're in production. There was no answer to the potential vulnerability of our ICBM's and silos to protect our Nation from strategic attack. Now there is an answer, the mobile MX missiles. Our purchases of Army equipment, jet fighters and aircraft, had dropped by two-thirds in the 8 years before I became President. Since then we've increased them by 50 percent.

I'm not trying to point out these changes since I've been in office in a deeper commitment for our national defense to frighten anyone. The point is that the only way to keep our Nation at peace is to keep our Nation militarily strong, to let the American people know it, to let our allies know it, and to let any potential adversary know that if they attack the United States of America, they will be committing national suicide.

I can stand here before you today, the first President in 50 years who can, and say that since I've been in the Oval Office, this Nation that we love has not been at war. We have been at peace. Every American wants peace. I'm sure my opponent wants peace. But you must carefully consider the consequences of his habit of calling for the use of armed forces. In 1975 he called for sending U.S. military forces to Ecuador and to Angola. In 1976 it was Rhodesia and Cyprus. This year, so far, Governor Reagan has advocated sending military forces of our country to Cuba, to Pakistan, and to the Middle East. It's important for you and me to make sure Tuesday that we don't have to find out in 1981 where he wants to send American military forces next year.

Another very important subject, more important than social security, more important than the minimum wage, more important than medicare, more important than any other issue that's before us this year, and that is how to limit atomic weapons, nuclear arms.

Every President since World War II, Democrats and Republicans, has sought agreements with the Soviet Union, balanced controls, confirmed agreement to limit nuclear weapons with a commitment to lower the level of nuclear arms in both countries in the future. The test ban treaty, under President Kennedy, the antiballistic missile or ABM treaty, under President Nixon, the Vladivostok agreement, under President Ford, the nuclear arms limitation agreement that I signed earlier in my administration, last year, negotiated 7 years by three Presidents, Governor Ronald Reagan has never supported a single one of these agreements to limit nuclear weapons. Instead, he proposes to tear up the existing agreement and threaten a massive, new nuclear arms race.

Also he says—and this is almost equally disturbing—that when other countries, like Iraq or Libya, try to develop and to build their own nuclear weapon, it's none of our business. During the debate this week, Governor Reagan flatly denied that he had ever said that, yet the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washing Star, and other news media around this country quoted him when he said it-not once, but more than once. Here's what the New York Times said February 1st, 1980: "Ronald Reagan indicated today that he believes the United States should not stand in the way of countries developing their own nuclear weapons." Governor Reagan said, and I quote him," 'I just don't think it's any of our business?"

It'll be too late to ask Governor Reagan what he meant by that statement after he gets in the Oval Office, if he should be elected. Now is the time for every American to stop and think about the consequences of casting aside nuclear arms limitation agreements and opening up the way for terrorist countries to have atomic weapons. The spread of nuclear weapons to all nations, and especially to those who harbor terrorists or even engage in terrorism themselves, is our business. And with your help and support, we will keep the commitment of this Nation, which has been the commitment of all Presidents, Democratic and Republican, to control those nuclear weapons and to avoid the threat of nuclear destruction which might come if a deviation from that policy should occur.

And finally let me say this: The President of the United States is not just the servant of the present, but he's also in many ways the guardian of the future. His actions echo down through the years in the judges he appoints, in the regulatory board members he chooses, the agenda he sets for this Nation. When he sits as a head of state with other leaders from around the world, he must always be aware that his every word is weighed and measured because his voice is the voice of America. He must be sensitive to other nations' concerns, but he must be adamant in the protection of American interests.

As Commander in Chief the President has within his power the unleashing of the most awesome destructive military force the world has ever seen. If he's skillful and wise, if he's understanding and tolerant, if he's moderate in his actions and committed to carrying out the desires of the American people, he'll never have to order that unleashing of great destructive power.

I know that you believe that we have a major task before us, and I know that you believe that the President of this country has a major responsibility on his shoulders. I'd like to point out in closing that November the 4th you'll have to make a judgment about what this Nation will be. A President represents himself, yes. A President represents his party, the Democratic Party, the mainstream of it. A President has to make judgments, when times of trouble or crisis or armed conflict arise in the world, about the level of our Nation's interest and what our Nation's involvement ought to be. A President can have advisers to come into the Oval Office and to sit with him and to consider what ought to be done. But my experience with advisers is that when the issue is very close, when the decision is very great and profound, the President must make that judgment alone. He must share with the American people the commitment of his life, the experience that he has, his knowledge of our country.

You will make a decision on November the 4th in a similar way. You'll be alone, and you'll decide between now and then how deeply your feelings will persist as you cast your votes. I presume that you'll be here and will be helping me as you go to the polls and vote, but I want to ask you to do this: Think about the future during these next few days. Think about your family members. Think about the people that you love and those who love you. Think about the severity of the consequences of the election day: peace, war, employment, civil rights, minimum wage, social security, protection of consumers, an energy policy, the stature of our Nation, moderation, progress. These are the kinds of issues that are important to every person who listens to my voice. And I ask you to go to the polls on November the 4th and between now and then to make a sacrificial effort to get all those over whom you have influence or listen to you to join with us in a noble crusade to make the greatest nation on Earth even greater in the future.

Thank you very much. I love you. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:59 a.m. at the Lakeland Civic Center.

Jimmy Carter, Lakeland, Florida Remarks at a Rally With Area Residents. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251974

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