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Lyndhurst, New Jersey Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Local Residents.

October 15, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Bradley and Governor Brendan Byrne, Congressman Ambrosio,1 friends from Lyndhurst, particularly the firemen who've just made me an honorary member of the post:

1Gabe Ambrosio, candidate for the House of Representatives.

I'm hoping no alarms for the next 30 minutes, because I would have to do my duty if we got a call. [Laughter]

AUDIENCE MEMBER. Can you drive the truck?

THE PRESIDENT. I've already checked off.


THE PRESIDENT. I'm pleased to be with you, because of several reasons. One is, it's important for me to see in America the spirit that is engendered by volunteerism, by the fact that people are willing to endanger their own safety for the love and care of others, a sense of family, because I know you have 3 minutes, I think, to get here in time of an alarm, and your families have to participate in meeting the threat to your own community.

I have had a lot of experience as a submarine officer, as an engineer officer on a submarine, the experimental submarines on which I served, going through firefighters school, and had one very serious fire which almost overcame me with acrid smoke. I also know the extreme danger of firemen. The danger to their lives is perhaps as great or greater than any other profession in our country.

I've been very interested in seeing the U.S. Fire Administration placed under the Federal Emergency Management Administration as part of our Nation's foremost defense forces against natural disaster or against a disaster from outside. And one of the things that I wanted to do when I became President is to establish a national firefighters academy to train people to be better firemen even in the future than they are in the past and to make sure that this very dangerous profession is more safe in the future.

Last week was National Firefighters Week. I called on firefighters, business, and the general public to work together to detect and to report and to prevent fires. It's the kind of cooperation that's important to a community, and of course, we need the same kind of cooperation in keeping our Nation strong—economically, socially, politically, morally, ethically—to realize the great potential that God's given us in this blessed land.

Tonight we have the time for some questions from you, and I look forward to giving the answers as best I can. And I don't know how to go about calling on the first person. If you have a question, I'll be glad to take it.


Q. I'd like to know what the state of the hostages are.

THE PRESIDENT. All right. As you know, since the hostages were taken, innocent people, by militants or terrorists in Iran, this has been a constant concern of mine. No day has gone by, no hour has gone by when I was awake that I wasn't thinking about and often praying for those hostages.

I've had two goals in mind, as your President and as their President: first of all, to protect the integrity and the principles and the interests of our own country; and secondly, and compatibly with it, not to take any action as a President that would endanger the lives or safety of those hostages or prevent their safe return to freedom as early as possible. We've been through a series of constant diplomatic, public and secret, negotiations with people in Iran who might possibly speak for that country. So far, we've not been successful except that we have protected our Nation's interests, we have served to protect the lives and safety of the hostages.

Now Iran finally has a government. They have an elected parliament, a Congress-they call it a Majles. They've elected their own speaker. They have a prime Minister, a President, and they're putting together a Cabinet. As you know, Iran is now being attacked by Iraq, an invading nation, and their own security is at stake. They're an isolated country. They're a kind of a pariah in the international community. Their trade with us has been cut off. And they are relatively serious in their suffering, just because they still hold those 52 innocent people.

We get fairly good intelligence on Iran from varying sources. So far as I know, all 52 hostages still in Iran are safe and well. We have some ability to talk to three of them; Bruce Laingen, who was in charge of the diplomatic corps there, and two others are in the state department, or the foreign ministry of Iran. And I think that's about all I can tell you about it.

Every day from the very beginning, we have used every avenue to try to reach someone who can speak for Iran. The President of Iran and most of their public officials now say publicly that they want those hostages to be returned here safely. The parliament, or the Majles has appointed a committee to work out the mechanism by which the hostages could be released. I can't mislead you by saying that there's an immediate prospect, or a sure prospect even, that they will be released, but my hope and prayer is that they will be. And I believe that we have made as much effort as possible to secure their safe return.

So, I don't feel discouraged about it. I think we've been through worse times than we are in right now. And perhaps now that they have a government and are in danger themselves, we have a better chance to get the hostages back than before.

Yes, sir.



Q. Mr. President, Governor Byrne has made the statement that in April and May of next year, if we continue to have the water shortage in north Jersey-excuse me, I'm a little nervous— [laughter] —the industrial area, we may lose some jobs. At what point will the Federal Government get involved? And also, can they help subsidize the jobless?

THE PRESIDENT. I've been deeply concerned about the water shortage in New Jersey. I've talked to Governor Byrne about it, including tonight on the way in from the airport. I need to have a more direct, permanent relationship with the Governor and other officials in this State. And I will send Brendan one of my top FEMA officials to see you before this week is out to work out with you the best way to address this water shortage if it is a long-term, continuing problem.

One of the things that everyone in New Jersey can do is to comply with the conservation measures that Governor Byrne has asked, go an extra mile in saving water in every possible way. When the same thing happened in some communities, Marin County in California, they cut back water consumption in that entire county by 60 percent. It just shows what people can do if they really try. I don't want to bring up submarines too much, but I used to get by on the submarine with one quart of fresh water per day. I'm not asking you to do that, because we did have a lot of salt water- [laughter] —but I believe that you can do more yourselves.

In the long run, it's my belief that we can continue to care for those who are out of work temporarily. Now, we've asked the Congress—and I'm sure that Senator Bradley and others will continue to help us—to extend the unemployment compensation benefits if they are needed.

We've turned the corner now on the economic problems. The economic index figures for the last 3 months are the highest they have ever been in the last 31 years. For the last 4 months, we've had a steady increase in housing construction starts. And for the last 6 weeks, every week we've averaged 4,000 automobile workers going back to work, and the new American automobile models, as you know, are selling as fast as they can be produced. I believe that we've got a good prospect in the future for employment in general.

We have added, as you may know, more than a quarter of a million net new jobs in New Jersey since I've been in office. We've cut the unemployment rate in this State almost in half—because of your good work, not necessarily mine. And I think we'll continue that progress. We'll do all we can do to help you with your water shortage.

Yes, sir.


Q. Mr. President, if this war between Iran and Iraq should escalate in the near future, will you commit American troops to that area to protect the oil pipeline?

THE PRESIDENT. In the first place, let me say that I don't believe that the war is going to escalate to any major degree in the near future. We believe that disputes between countries over boundaries, international boundaries, should be settled not by invasion or aggression but by negotiation. And we are using all of our efforts in the United Nations, working with other countries, to bring those two countries to the bargaining table to settle this dispute peacefully.

Secondly, we do not intend to inject American troops into any sort of land war in the Persian Gulf region, barring some completely unpredictable circumstances like a Soviet invasion of Iran or something of that kind, which I don't think will happen.

We will take whatever steps are necessary to keep the Strait of Hormuz open so that our country and other nations will have access to the countries on the west side of the Gulf. This is important to us, because we're getting now between 12 and 15 million barrels a day of oil—all the consuming nations together—from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and also from the United Arab Emirates. And that supply of oil, if interrupted for an extended period of time, would cause severe economic problems and endanger our own Nation's security.

We have a very large naval task force there, with superb fighter planes, to take care of our needs to keep that strait open. So, I believe that those forces already in place, Navy and Naval Air, will be adequate in the future. I don't see any prospect of any ground forces or troops to go in and protect our interests.

Q. Thank you.



Q. Mr. President, over the past 2 months the media has reported on our defense capability. As the Commander in Chief of our military service, I'd like to know if we ought to believe that we're not in too good a shape. Are you doing anything at the present time to update our defense capability right now? [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, of course. The readiness of our defense forces now is much higher than it was 3 or 4 years ago, when I took over.

One of the worst things that can happen in a political campaign is to demagogue an issue like the status of our Nation's defense capability. When false statements are made that the United States is weak, that we're not able to protect ourselves, we're not able to protect our interests in other parts of the world, it's a very serious and damaging false statement, for three or four reasons. One, it creates concern in the minds of you and other Americans: "Is my Nation strong? Are we vulnerable? Can we defend ourselves?" Secondly, it creates a disturbance among our own allies. And third, and perhaps most significant, it creates a false impression in the minds of potential adversaries, who might think they can take advantage of a nonexistent American weakness and in the process commit suicide for themselves.

Our Nation is strong, the strongest nation on Earth. I guarantee you that we will not let any other nation become superior to ours in military strength.

When I came into office, as a professional military background and a deep understanding of what the Commander in Chief ought to do, for 8 years before I got in the White House, 7 of those years we had gone down every year in the commitment of our budget funds for defense. It had dropped 37 percent in the 8 years before I was there, under Republican administrations.

Every year since I've been in office, we've had a steady increase in commitment of budget funds for a stronger defense—careful, planned, orderly, understood by the Congress. We've strengthened our alliances overseas. And this increase has been above and beyond inflation. I don't apologize for that. It amounts to about 5 percent of our gross national product, to keep our Nation strong enough to defend ourselves under any circumstances.

I want to remind you that our Nation has been at peace—we were talking on the way to the airport—for the first time in more than 50 years. I can sit here and tell you that I have kept our Nation at peace and I have not had to launch soldiers into combat anywhere on Earth. This is very important. But the peace has been maintained because we are strong; our weapons, the best on Earth, improving every year.

But don't forget that the best weapon is one that's never used in combat, and the best soldier is one that never lays down his life or sheds his blood on the field of battle. So, that's what I want. What I want is to keep our Nation strong and at peace. And the two go hand in hand.

Yes, I was looking for a woman. [Laughter]


Q. I'd like to buy a house some day. But with the mortgage rates the way they are and the cost of the houses, it seems the more I save, the less I have. Will I ever have a house? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I think I'll skip the women and go back to the gentlemen. [Laughter]

Yes, you will. You know, we've-Q. [Inaudible]


Q. Will you give me a loan? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. We've done what we could to keep the housing industry strong since I've been in office, in spite of the fact that the OPEC oil prices have more than doubled last year and inflation and high interest rates have swept the world. Our interest rates, our budget deficits are much lower than most major trading countries with whom we do business. The American dollar is strong overseas. But we have had very high interest rates.

Last March, as you know, interest rates got up, the prime rate got up 19 and 20 percent. We imposed some credit restraints and put forward a much more restrictive Federal budget, and the interest rates dropped about 1 percent per week, for 6 or 7 weeks. Now they have cut back up a little bit and now leveled off-still too high.

In the meantime, we have tried to make available to the homebuilding industry kinds of loans that they didn't previously have and encouraged people to save more. What makes money available for longrange lending, like homes, is when people save. Our country, lately, has not been saving much. We've been spending about 96 percent of all we earn. Whereas a country like Germany or Japan, they save 15 to 20 percent of all they earn, we save 4 percent. That's one thing.

Another thing that we've done is to provide, through the Government, guaranteed loans, subsidized interest rates, and also, under certain programs in housing, the construction of apartments and homes to be rented. This year we'll have at least a 40-percent increase in those homes, apartments, where the Government is subsidizing or helping to construct those homes.

We've had, as I said, for the last 4 months a substantial increase each month in the number of homes being begun in this country.

I don't know how to give you any prediction about the future. My own judgment is that the interest rates in this Nation now are too high, set primarily by the banks, compared to the economic status of our country. I think they've gone too high, and I believe and hope that in the future they'll come down. I can't guarantee it, but I believe that's true.

Also, the prime rate needs to be examined, because now a lot of loans to small business people and also the homeowners are made on the basis of so many percentage points above the prime rate. The prime rate used to mean the rate that banks loaned their best customers. But now some banks set the prime rate above what they lend to their best customers and then add 1 or 2 percent or more on top of the so-called prime rate for average small business people and homeowners and so forth.

The Federal courts are now looking at that potential abuse by some banks. I'm not trying to prejudge the issue. But I think the more the American public focuses on those interest rates, to force them down to be competitive and to make sure that the banks don't abuse the public, the better off we'll be.

But we'll continue to do everything we can to increase the number of homes being built and bought in this country and to provide subsidies or help from the Government to let people like you buy a home or, if you prefer, to rent one at a reasonable rate.

The last thing is, the first 3 years I was in office we had almost—I think we averaged about 1.8 million homes per year, which was a very high rate. We are now back up to about 1 1/2 million-homes-per-year rate, which is much better than it was before.

Yes, sir.


Q. Mr. President, on the problem of—[inaudible]—social security, and they're talking about taxing social security—[inaudible]—heating the homes. That seems to be a problem of—[inaudible]. What are you going to do about that?

THE PRESIDENT. As long as I am President, I think as long as we have a Democratic President, you will never see income from social security taxed. Also, as long as the Democrats are in the White House, you will never see the social security system be in danger of bankruptcy. When I went into the White House as President, after 8 years of Republican administrations, as you may well remember 4 years ago, everywhere I went people thought accurately that the social security system was about to go bankrupt. The Congress acted to put it back on its feet financially.

I'm running against an opponent who represents the Republican Party in its longstanding historical principles that don't change; except right before an election, sometimes those principles change.

I remember the depression years. I grew up—I was born in 1924. I remember the depression years. I remember the minimum wage that was proposed by the Democrats—25 cents an hour. The Republicans were against it: it passed. The first job I had—I got out of high school as a young man in 1941—the minimum wage then had been raised by the Democrats to 40 cents an hour. The Republicans opposed it. They called it socialism. Still, today, my Republican opponent calls the minimum wage the worst cause of unemployment and suffering since the Great Depression.

I know what it means for a family to be unemployed—temporarily, hopefully—and to depend on unemployment compensation just to keep your kids eating food and going to school and buying clothes. My opponent has said recently that unemployment compensation is only a prepaid vacation for freeloaders.

I know how important social security is. On three different occasions in recent years, my opponent has called for social security participation to be voluntary, which means that anybody that wants to withdraw from social security can do so. It would bankrupt the system within a few weeks and destroy social security. It's tied in also with Medicare. My Republican opponent got his first political experience campaigning across this Nation against Medicare. That's how he got involved in public affairs.

And finally, you mentioned the cost of heating homes for older people. We've passed the windfall profits tax, a tax on the unearned income of the oil companies. Out of that windfall profits tax will come, on a permanent basis, money to be allotted through the Governors to older people and poor families to help them pay the cost of heating their homes in the winter. My Republican opponent was against the windfall profits tax. He wants to dismantle it now, do away with it. His proposal to solve the energy crisis is to repeal the legislation that we've passed in the last 3 years, to abolish the Department of Energy, to dismantle the windfall profits tax, and to let the oil companies handle the energy crisis.

I could go on and on about the sharp basic differences that separate me from him and my party from his party that will be decided 3 weeks from now. The decision that will be made on November the 4th will affect every life in this room and your families and the people for whom you care very deeply, whether it's the elderly, the working families, our Nation's security, based on freedom from unnecessary influence by the OPEC nations, and also other basic elements like the control of nuclear weapons and the carrying out of the principles that I've outlined to you so briefly this evening.

Yes, sir.


Q. Mr. President, Senator Anderson has been recognized as a Presidential candidate. Are you perhaps reconsidering a public debate with yourself, Governor Reagan, and Senator Anderson?

THE PRESIDENT. Congressman.

I have repeated today, through a message directly to Governor Reagan, a challenge that he meet me in a debate, under the auspices of the League of Women Voters, at a time or forum that we can work out among ourselves. I have accepted every invitation I have gotten for a two-man debate between me as the Democratic nominee and him as the Republican nominee. He has always refused. I hope now, with just a few weeks left, that he will accept and we can go ahead and have a debate.

John Anderson, so far as I know, is a good man. I don't know him very well, but I think he's a good man. He ran for the Senate, I mean for the—you got me talking about the Senate. [Laughter] He ran for President as a Republican. He entered primaries and caucus States all over this country, never won the first primary, never won the first caucus, got beat in his own home State. And only then, after he was defeated in the Republican primary, did he decide to run for President, with no party, as an Independent.

I have said before and I believe that John Anderson, as far as a Presidential candidate, is primarily a creation of the press. He doesn't have a mandate from the American people. And I think now, at least from the public opinion polls published, he seems to be sliding down.

I see nothing to be served by having a public forum where three candidates are on the stage answering questions for an hour and a half or two hours from the news media. I think it would confuse the issue and unnecessarily boost John Anderson, whom I respect, to the same status as two men who have fought a rough campaign through all the primaries and caucuses and come out with the nominations of our own party. I don't say this knocking him down, but I do believe that the best forum in this last few weeks is between me and Ronald Reagan.

The League of Women Voters set an arbitrary standard—I never did argue with it—that any candidate to be involved in the debate ought to have at least 15 percent in the public opinion polls. It was an arbitrary standard, but so be it. They were trying to exclude Barry Commoner, who is primarily an environmentalist, and, I think, Mr. Ed Clark, who is a Libertarian. And there are a hundred other candidates, you might be interested to know, in running for President. But they were trying to draw some lines. I don't think any public opinion polls now would show John Anderson to meet the League's standards that they set for themselves. I didn't have anything to do with it.

So, I think under these circumstances, this last few weeks, the proper debate that would be interesting to the American people is the debate between the two men who have a chance to be elected President and who have gone through the process of a two-party system and been nominated by our parties.

So, basically I see no prospect of my debating with John Anderson. I would take any reasonable opportunity, time or place or format to debate Governor Reagan, because I think it would be in the best interest of the people to see the sharp, stark, differences between me and him.

Thank you very much, everybody. I've got to go. I've enjoyed it.

Note: The President spoke at 7:01 p.m. at the Lyndhurst Volunteer Fire Department.

Jimmy Carter, Lyndhurst, New Jersey Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Local Residents. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251175

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