Jimmy Carter photo

Nashville, Tennessee Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Townhall Meeting.

October 09, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. It is really good to be back down home. You probably think I came down here to campaign for President, but I really came down here to hear Bill Monroe and his band.

Not long ago Bill Monroe and his wonderful band were at the White House, on the South Lawn, playing some of the best music the White House has ever heard in 200 years. And it brought back memories to me then, because, as you know, I grew up listening to that music and other like it coming from Nashville when I was a small boy on the farm.

We didn't have electricity, but we had a battery radio. And I had two ambitions then. My daddy said, "Forget it." One was to be President of the United States and the other one was to stand on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. I have to admit I never dreamed at the time that I'd have to be President in order to stand on the stage— [laughter] —at the Grand Ole Opry, but I'm really glad to be here with you.

Unlike Georgia, as you know, Tennessee has been the home of great Presidents, not only Andrew Jackson, one of the fathers of the Democratic Party and a man who planted the big magnolia trees that are just outside the entrance of the White House, where Bill Monroe played, but Andrew Johnson, who had a lot of trouble with those radical Republicans in Washington, and also, of course, James K. Polk, was a Tennessean. In 1976 the only thing the press knew about James K. Polk or could remember, apparently, was that he was the last southerner to be elected President of the United States, and that was in 1844.

So, the chances of a southern boy becoming President of this country at that time were very remote. And I have to say that I would not be in the White House had it not been for people like you who had confidence in me then. As a matter of fact, second only to Georgia, Tennessee gave me the biggest victory of any State in the Nation, and I want to thank you for it.

We're going to spend an hour together. I'm going to spend almost all our time answering your questions, but before I do, there's one particular issue that I would like to discuss with you that concerns me very much. It's kind of a serious issue, but it's been my custom to describe one before the question period at all my townhall meetings.


First of all, we have lived under the threat of war ever since World War II-under the terrible new threat of nuclear war, atomic weapons that could wipe out an entire city and destroy hundreds of millions of people in our country in just a few hours if that kind of combat took place. We've said these words now and reminded ourselves of it for a full generation. Yet, we've not yet learned how to deal with the real meaning of that serious threat. But we have learned one thing in the last 20 or 30 years, and that is that peace is no accident.

I said those words on the front lawn of the White House not much more than a year ago when we signed the treaty between Israel and Egypt, that peace and the maintenance of peace is not an accident. War with all its horror can be an accident, a terrible misunderstanding, a critical miscalculation of intentions or will or capability or a misguided concept of what honor really is. But peace is no accident. It has to be won every day, against all the forces willing to sacrifice others for their causes, against all who would gamble the fate of nations and the world. People everywhere long for peace. But the peace of all nations is in danger.

We live in a troubled world and, as you know, in Iran, Iraq, other places, they don't know peace today. The first responsibility of every President—Johnson, Jackson, Polk, other Presidents—is for the security of our Nation. It's a responsibility that's on my shoulder every moment.

I was trained as a naval officer, later in the nuclear submarine force, trained for nuclear warfare, and I know what it can do. I chose a military career not because I loved war, but because I knew that a strong, well-trained, dedicated, and prepared military was the surest way to keep the peace. I've watched the awesome power of nuclear weapons grow all my adult life, and I'm not about to do anything that would risk letting that kind of devastation threaten to rain death on any American city.

I'm not saying that we don't face serious challenges and that we don't have serious problems, but the strength of the United States and of our allies is unequaled, unsurpassed, and our strength is growing. That's good for us.

During the 8 years before I became President, in 7 of those years we had a decrease in budget commitment for adequate defense. Our expenditures on defense during the 8 years before I became President went down 35 percent. Since I've been President, we've had a steady, predictable, assured, effective increase every year in commitments for defense, in strategic weapons, nuclear weapons. Before I became President, the commitment had gone down steadily, 20 percent. Now, we've had a steady, predictable, wise increase.

We're overcoming the problems that I faced when I became President. The Trident submarine and its missiles were stalemated. We weren't building any. Now the first one's getting its sea trial, the second one is ready for launching. There was no long-range cruise missile program; now we've got one, a good one. We had no main battle tanks to fight conventional war on the ground. We didn't have any modern infantry fighting vehicle in production; now we do.

I want to say that there is no solution to the problem without commitment. We didn't have any way to solve the threat of vulnerability of our intercontinental ballistic missiles; now there is a mobile MX missile program. There was a growing gap in the long-range missiles between NATO Europe and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; now we're closing that gap. There was no comprehensive plan for improving our military forces in Europe. Now we've got a good, solid 15-year plan to build, steadily and predictably, strength for peace. All of us, all of our allies, are joining in the same program.

This is an election year, and I have to say that the state of our defenses is a legitimate subject for political debate. But political candidates make a mistake when they run down America's strength. When they say falsely that America is weak, it causes Americans ourselves to be concerned. It causes our allies to lose confidence in us. It gives our potential adversaries false hope that they might prevail against us in a showdown.

In every campaign when a candidate charged that the Russians were ahead of us, after the campaign those charges were proven to be false. A perfect example is my Republican opponent's recent suggestion that United States weakness is what caused us to stay neutral in the war between Iran and Iraq. It's a sign of weakness if you have to get involved militarily in a combat. It's a sign of strength if you can protect our Nation's interests peacefully. He also said that somehow or another, our Nation being weak, which it's not, helped even to cause the war between Iran and Iraq. That kind of statement doesn't help.

We've got two carrier battle groups and almost 150 aircraft in that region of the Persian Gulf. We have clear naval superiority; we've got clear air superiority in that whole region. These aircraft include F-14's, which are capable of tracking six enemy aircraft at the same time and shooting them down. If candidates want to contribute to American security, the most important thing they can do is to talk accurately about our military strength in a more balanced and a more responsible manner. It's a subject that's too important to be discussed any other way. It's a point I wanted to make to you, one of many important issues that face our country.

Ours is such a strong country. It's such a good country. It's such a united country. And I just don't like anybody to be saying that we're weak or that somebody else can push us around, because it's not true. Now, the first question.



Q. My name is Linda Turner. I'm thrilled and honored to be here. Before I ask my question I would like to tell you that I am a Democrat all the way. You have done a good job for the past 4 years, and you will continue to do the same good job in the next 4 years.

THE PRESIDENT. That's enough already if you want to stop right there. [Laughter] Go ahead.

Q. Mr. President, you will be reelected in November, but what I would like to know, in case you are not reelected, what are your plans for the future? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. That's one of the most hypothetical questions I ever heard. [Laughter]

I am a southerner, a Georgian, and after I finish my service in the White House in January of 1985— [laughter] —I intend to go back and live in Plains, Georgia. My family's been there for a long time. My own Carter ancestors, who were born in the 1790's, are buried right there near Plains. My wife's ancestors, who were born in 1787, are buried right there in Plains. They're the first people who lived on the farm we still own, after the Indians moved out back in 1828.

So, my roots are deep in the South, and I look forward to coming back to the South after I get through being President.


Q. Mr. President, before I ask my question I'd also like to say that I'm very definitely a Jimmy Carter supporter.


Q. Judging from the answer to your last question, I'll take it for granted that you are from a rural background and that your roots do lie in rural communities, and, being from a rural background, this question is twofold, Mr. President. How do you feel about small country schools, and the learning that takes place in these schools? And secondly, isn't the present trend to consolidate these schools, to tear down the small country schools and build the large multimillion dollar building programs, isn't this very inflationary and isn't this bad for us at the present time?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a good question. It's one that's had to be faced everywhere. I think I know what answer you would prefer.

I might say that in my own graduating class I had 23 classmates, and I went on to become Governor of Georgia and then become President of our country. Nowadays, of course, the breadth of technological instruction, the need to study foreign languages, the enormous pressures on a person to compete in a world where a career or training is important, I think, are more significant than when I was a boy.

As President my commitment has been to keep the Federal Government's nose out of the affairs of the local school boards and the local schools. I think that's extremely important. But let me say one more thing.

If the local country school cannot provide the curriculum and the background and the educational program that the children need, obviously sometimes they have to be consolidated to make the classrooms adequate to provide a good staff and a good curriculum and a good offering. But that's just a judgment that has to be made locally.

I'm not trying to avoid the answer to your question, but I wouldn't want to comment, because you're probably referring to a local situation where you live, and I don't want to say that it ought to be consolidated or not consolidated. I'll take the typical politician's attitude. I've played it both ways.

I was on the school board in Sumter County, and on occasion we had to consolidate some schools. I might give you the reason why, and I'll be very brief. This is a southern audience, and you'll understand what I'm saying.

I came out of the Navy in '53, and my first political job was the local school board. It was when we were going through the years of school integration-difficult issue, difficult times for the South. I was a typical white, prosperous member of the community. It took me a long time on the school board before I realized that the white kids were riding buses to school and the black kids were walking. It took me a long time—and I was a member of the school board—to realize that the only schoolbooks the black kids had were the ones that were too dilapidated and worn out for the white kids to use anymore. And so, when it finally dawned on me after several months, I asked the school board members, the other four, to join me and go around and look at some of the schools in the county.

The white kids were in pretty nice schools, some old; the black children were going to school in the back kitchen of houses and on the porches and in the basements of old dilapidated churches and so forth. We had 26 black grammar schools in that county, and the total population was about 30,000 total people. So, there was a case where we were cheating the black children without realizing it, and so we made changes and had to do some consolidation.

And later the people in the South were very courageous in changing a way of life to give black children an equal chance. It's one of the best things that ever happened to the South. And I would not be President if it hadn't happened.

So, I'll let the local school boards decide about consolidation, but that's a couple of experiences that I've had. I came from a tiny school and did okay in politics. But on occasion, consolidation is necessary.


Q. How are you doing, Mr. President?


Q. My name is Jamie Lucas, and my question is on interest rates and on housing. And I'd like to know what you and the Federal Government would do to lower these interest rates so the people like myself could afford to buy a home and the people in the construction industry and real estate can earn more money?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Jamie. For the last 3 months we've had a steady increase in the number of houses being built or begun in this country. We're up now almost to 1 1/2 million homes per year as a rate. As you know, back in March—first of March and before that-the interest rates were up around 18 or 19 percent. Now they're down around 13 percent, which is still too high.

We've taken several steps during that time to bring those interest rates down, and they went down, as you remember, about 1 percent per week for several weeks. We put some restraint on credit in order to encourage American people to save more money. We've got the lowest level of savings of perhaps any developed nation on Earth. We spend about 96 or 97 percent of all we earn, and we save about 3 or 4- percent. In the other countries, like, say, Japan or Germany, they save 15 or 20 percent and spend 80 or 85 percent. So, how much people save and invest in savings and loan institutions and maybe put in savings accounts in banks and so forth determines how much money is available to be loaned. And also it takes money out of circulation in the country so that the price of products is not bid up with inflation. That's one point.

Another one is the policies set by the Federal Reserve Board. It's a completely independent agency. I don't have a thing in the world to do with how they function or what decisions they make. I have said that I think the narrow formula that they use—just measuring money supply and nothing else, almost nothing else—is not an adequate basis on which to make a decision about their policies that drive up interest rates on occasion. And I think recently, the Citibank in New York and a few others have raised their prime rate too much, more than the economic circumstances in our country warrant.

The other thing that we can do is to hold down unnecessary Government spending and make sure that our deficits are constantly reduced. We've had tremendously good luck since I've been in the White House in cutting out unnecessary expenditures and holding down the deficits. We've not yet reached a balanced budget, but that's one of my goals. We've got 44,000 fewer Federal employees right now than we had the day I took office, and we're giving better services, I think, to the American people.

And the other thing is to provide federally assisted homes, where the Federal Government supplements interest rates and monthly payments and also encourages under section 8 and other programs, the construction of homes available to people, keep the GI bill strong, and keep homes for the elderly being built. I just signed a bill day before yesterday that will provide about a 30-percent increase in this fiscal year, that started the 1st of October, compared to last fiscal year on federally assisted housing.

Those are some of the things that can be done by the public, in saving more money; by the Federal Reserve Board and the banks, in holding down interest rates; by myself as President and the Congress, in determining expenditures from the Federal budget; and in the housing industry itself, helping people to buy homes.

We've also raised the value on homes that can be subject to Federal assistance. And another thing that we've done is on homes that are federally assisted when the husband or wife making the payments is temporarily ill or unemployed, then the Housing and Urban Development Department in the Federal Government now, HUD, can make those payments for the family for a few months until the husband or wife is well or back on the job so the family doesn't lose a home where they've already bought a lot of equity in it.

Briefly, those are a few things that can be done. The interest rates are too high now. I believe that you'll see them coming down in the future.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Suzanne Lowenstein. Everyone makes mistakes. What do you think has been the greatest mistake you have made since you took office close to 4 years ago?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you a lot. That's a great question.

You're right. Everyone makes mistakes, even Presidents. It's hard to know how to address that question, because looking back on history, if I had known 3 years ago what I know now and was a fortune teller, I could have made different judgments.

I would say the most important one was the lack of adequate preparation for the enormous increase in oil prices last year. We were concentrating on putting American people back to work, because when I took office we had a very high unemployment rate, and the inflation rate was fairly low, because OPEC had not raised their oil prices all during 1976. It was a kind of a stable economy. So, we emphasized the first year I was in office jobs. In this first 3¼ years we have added 8 1/2 million net new jobs in America never done before in the history of our country in wartime or peace. But in the process we didn't adequately restrain inflation.

Last year, in '79, OPEC increased the price of oil more in 1 year than oil prices had increased since oil was first discovered back in the 1800's, and this enormous buildup in oil prices has driven inflation high and interest rates high all over the world. Had I known ahead of time that that would happen, I would have put much more emphasis the first couple of years on controlling inflation than I did. In retrospect it's obvious, but no one, I believe, could have anticipated that enormous increase in OPEC oil prices. So, that's the kind of thing that you can look back on and say, "I wish I had done it differently." At the time we consulted and, I think, made good decisions.

And I might point out too that we've come through it fairly well. You know, we still have very high employment. The unemployment rate is reasonably low. The housing industry is fairly stable. And we've made enormous progress now in cutting down our dependence on foreign oil. So, in the future, if OPEC should jack up its prices too high, we're not importing nearly as much as we were. We've cut oil imports 24 percent since I've been in office. This day and every day in 1980 we are importing 2 million barrels a day less each day from overseas than we did the first year I was in office.

We're making progress, but if I had it to do over again, I'd put more emphasis on inflation.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Jerry Jarrett, and I'm a junior at Brentwood Academy, and that's a private high school outside of Nashville. And with the situation that public education is in today, a lot of people feel that they might not have any choice other than to send their children to private schools. But there's been a lot of talk lately about the proposal by the IRS to take the tax-exempt status off of our schools, and I was wondering what your feelings are on this proposal and your feelings on private education in general?

THE PRESIDENT. What's your first name?

Q. Jerry.

THE PRESIDENT. Jerry. Thank you.

I think there's a real important place in our Nation for both private and public schools at all levels, from kindergarten all the way up through graduate schools. This is important for our Nation to understand, that ever since the early 1600's we've had both private and public education on this continent.

I'm not in favor of the IRS taking away the tax-exempt status for private schools. But—I've got to have a "but"—but if the private school is organized and designed and functions just to exclude children who are a certain race or have a certain religious belief, that's a violation of the United States Constitution as interpreted by the court. And under that circumstance, I think that the tax-exempt status should be withheld, but I also believe that the burden of proof that that is the case ought to be on the Government. So, if-with that one exception, I believe that the tax-exempt status ought to be retained, and if there is an allegation or a charge that the school is discriminating against the person because of their race or beliefs, then I think the Federal Government, IRS, ought to have to prove that the school is guilty before the tax exempt status is withheld.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Christie Newkirk from Nashville, and I'd like to say I think you've done a tremendous job under very difficult situations.


Q. I do have a question for you. In view of the inflammable situation in the Middle East, especially the prolonged Iran-Iraq conflict and the willingness of some Arab leaders to supply arms and other war materials to these nations and the everpresent potentials for increased Soviet influence in the situation, what specific role do you foresee for the United States to play in promoting peace in the area, ending the American hostage crisis, and checking Soviet influence and/or aggression in the Persian Gulf area?

THE PRESIDENT. Good question. That's a very important and a very thoughtful question, Christie, and I thank you for it.

In my opening comments, I tried to make clear that our Nation can only stay at peace if we are strong. That's an important concept. But in order to fly an airplane has to have two wings. You can't just have a strong military in order to keep a nation at peace. You've got to also have a commitment of the American people to work for arms control and not to use our military forces around the world every time some troubled area develops.

I've not been in office yet a single day when there wasn't an intense focusing of trouble or problems somewhere in the world. And the best way I know how to deal with this is to keep our people aware, our allies knowledgeable, and also our potential adversaries knowing that we are there and that we are strong and we're going to protect American interests peacefully—peacefully.

I had a chance, as you know, in the Afghanistan situation, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, to either take military action or economic and political action. We decided to take economic and political action. It's been very effective. Now in the Iran-Iraq war our country is staying neutral. We're not going to inject ourselves into that combat, and we're not staying neutral because we are weak.

We do have, however, vital interests in the Persian Gulf region. From the Persian Gulf the rest of the world gets about 15 million barrels of oil per day-from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and, primarily, from Saudi Arabia. If that Persian Gulf was closed and tankers couldn't go in and out to load and bring their oil to us and to other nations, it would be a devastating blow to the rest of the world. Oil prices would skyrocket, nations would have to shut down their industrial plants, and we would be threatened. Our security would be threatened. So, I have announced that we will take action, if necessary, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and to make sure that that Persian Gulf region is accessible to the rest of the world.

I can't spell out to you this morning in public what I would do or will do. But we will take necessary action to make sure that goal is realized. We've also consulted very closely with our allies and friends to say, "What would you do to help us if the Strait of Hormuz is threatened to be closed and if the rest of the world is threatened with this deprivation of oil?"

We're working for peace between Israel and her neighbors. The peace treaty that was signed between Israel and Egypt is a major step forward in preserving a democracy there, an ally of ours, a strong and staunch defender of freedom, and a stabilizing force. We're going to do what we can. We'll do whatever is necessary to keep Israel secure and to keep Israel at peace. It's a tiny nation, about 3 million people, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Arabs. And we work very closely with some of her Arab neighbors as well.

The biggest and strongest Arab nation, of course, in the world, is Egypt. And I'm very pleased that now, because of our influence to some degree, instead of facing each other through barbed wire and with guns and ships and planes killing each other, they now face each other across a bargaining table, a peace table. So, we try to use our influence there, just to calm things down.

One of the things that concerns me about Governor Reagan is that over the last few years in many instances when myself or President Nixon or President Ford or President Johnson were faced with one of these troubled times or places—we've tried to use diplomatic means to resolve the problems peacefully; but Governor Reagan on those occasions has called repeatedly for the use or injection of American military forces there. I don't know what he would do in the Oval Office, but I know what he's said as a candidate or a potential candidate for President. He has said, send American military forces to Ecuador, to Cuba, to the Middle East, to North Korea, to Pakistan, to Angola, and other places around the world when those areas were troubled. That's not the way to deal through strength to keep peace.

And the last thing is the Soviet Union. We have let the Soviet Union know very clearly that any encroachment on the Persian Gulf region by them would be a threat to our own security. I said this in my State of the Union speech last January, and the message went very clearly to them. I communicate on occasion with President Brezhnev. He writes me letters; I write him letters. We exchange ideas also through normal diplomatic channels. And so, the Soviets know very clearly that we would look upon this as a threat to our Nation's security, if the Soviet Union should move into that Persian Gulf region with their military forces.

So, just letting other nations, friends or potential adversaries, know clearly what we will do is a good way to restrain them from further threatening the peace. We'll also do all we can to end the Iran-Iraq war as quickly as possible, and if we can't end it soon, to keep it confined just to those two countries.


Q. Mr. President, welcome to Tennessee and Nashville.


Q. As a jogger I'd like to ask you something about your jogging. [Laughter]


Q. How long, how much, and are you going to run in New York? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I'm going to run in the election in New York November 4. [Laughter]

Last year I ran 6 or 7 miles a week—I mean, a day. Excuse me. I ran about 30, 35 miles a week. This year I've cut that about half because of the extra duties that I have to perform during an election year, but I get exercise every day, and my wife runs a couple of miles, and I generally run 3 or 4 miles. I'm not very fast. I generally, if I want to really try, I can do 3 miles in about 20 minutes. That's the best I can do. I'm 56 years old—not getting any younger—and stay in good physical shape.

My favorite pastime, though, is fishing. Whenever I get a chance I go fishing. I've been doing that ever since I was a little boy. But I would like to say that I think one of the best things that's happened to our country in recent years has been the new interest in personal physical fitness, and around the streets in Washington and New York and San Francisco, I'm sure Nashville, you can see a lot of people running or jogging and in the parks playing softball. I think that's a very fine thing for us to continue to do.

I stay in good shape, and jogging's something that I do daily.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Norma Walker from Gladeville, Tennessee, and my question is: For several years our Government has had programs providing public jobs. I'd like to know why these programs can't be coordinated through State and local welfare offices and then those deserving people be given a job instead of a check?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. We have a welfare reform bill before the Congress that I think has a good chance of passing next year, that will—I can't say force, but will strongly encourage every able-bodied person to get off welfare and take a job. Under the present confused laws it sometimes means that that person loses income if they take a full-time job. But with the combination of tax credits, the low-income tax credits, and the income that would come from a job under my new proposal, which is before the Congress now, it would always be attractive for that person to get a job.

I don't believe that it would be advisable for the welfare department to handle, though, the public job business. I think the Labor Department is better able to do that. We're also now moving toward a new youth bill—which has already passed the House of Representatives, has a good chance to pass the Senate this year—that would tie together for the first time, much more closely, the Labor Department, that knows in an area where the jobs are available, and the Education Department, with all of its breadth of graduates from high school, vocational technical schools, and so forth, that want jobs.

This would provide about $2 billion in training for young people from the junior high school, senior high school level, and on up, to get jobs not in the government, but in private industry. And during the first few weeks when that new jobholder is learning how to do simple arithmetic work and how to get there on time, how to punch a time clock and so forth, the Government would help pay part of the salary. But the Government role would be phased out very rapidly, and then that person could stand on his or her own and hold that job.

So, we are moving strongly, and as rapidly as the Congress will, to encourage people who are able to work to work, and at the same time, we are trying to tie together an opportunity for everybody to have a job through cooperation between the Labor Department, the welfare department, and also, of course, the Education Department.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Amy Jo Kee, and I am in the fifth grade at Walton Ferry School in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Does Amy ever have any of her friends in Georgia to come and visit her at the White House? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Your name is Amy Jo?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Beautiful name. [Laughter]

Yes, Amy's a very active young girl. She's 12 years old, as you know—soon be 13. She has a lot of her classmates and friends come from—she goes to the public school in Washington, D.C.—to come to the White House often. And whenever possible, when anybody from Plains or that we've known in Georgia, comes to Atlanta [Washington],1 they come by to see Amy; sometimes they spend the night with her. Amy is a fairly good student, and she's taking violin lessons, and she has a lot of outside activities.

1 White House correction.

Would you like to come and visit Amy?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Are your parents here, Amy Jo? Where are they?

Q. Over there.

THE PRESIDENT. If Amy invited Amy Jo to come and visit her, would you see that she gets there? [Laughter] I'll let one of my staff members get Amy Jo's address and phone number, and Amy will give you a call before long. And you can come up and see us, Amy Jo. Okay?


Q. Mr. President, my name is June Landers, and I'm delighted to see you in Nashville, Tennessee, today. My question is this: How do you feel about the decision of the TVA Board of Directors to finance construction of expensive nuclear powerplants beyond its projected energy needs of the Tennessee Valley?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think the TVA ought to build plants above and beyond their needs. I think the hard question that they have to answer, June, is what will be the needs 6 years from now, 8 years from now, 10 years from now, when this entire region that depends on TVA continues to grow, with new industry and new jobs and a larger population and more need for electricity. That balance is a very difficult one to reach, because you have to guess what's going to happen in the economy in the future.

I've been quite disturbed lately and have talked to the Chairman of the TVA and also have talked to some of your congressional leaders that are here today with us about the recent rapid increase in TVA rates. And I've asked the TVA Board, over whom, as you know, I have no control, to make sure that they implement the maximum amount of efficiency of operation to cut out waste; secondly, that they encourage the maximum amount of conservation in individual homes so electricity is not used and wasted, and also in factories and plants in the Southeast, where they serve to lower the amount of electricity capacity that will be needed in years to come; and, third, that they minimize construction for future years and don't build excessive capacity as ,you've described. I think that the TVA Board is now very much aware of my concern and your concern and that they will do all three of those things, and that in the future they'll be cautious like electric power companies all over the Nation in not building capacity that will not in the future be needed.

It's time for a reassessment, because Americans have much more commitment now to buying efficient automobiles and to keeping their homes insulated, cutting out lights when they're not needed, and reducing the cost of their electricity each month because the price has gone so high.

I might add, though, just in fairness to TVA, that even with their projected rate increases you will still pay in the TVA region 30 percent less for electric power than the national average, so TVA has done a good job in holding down rates in years gone by. They're going to be much more cautious in months ahead not to put additional plants in that are not needed, and my hope, and I'm sure your hope, is that any increase in the future in rates will be minimized.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Jim Hobson. And in the last year it's become increasingly clear that foreign policy is playing a very big role in the United States. My question is, there seems to be a constant rivalry between Dr. Brzezinski and your Secretary of State, Edmund Muskie. Is this playing a very devastating role in our foreign policy, and how is it affecting our foreign policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Jim, first of all that report is false. It's an error. The President is the one who makes foreign policy. I make the foreign policy. There have been Presidents in the past, maybe not too distant past, that let— [laughter] their Secretaries of State make foreign policy. I don't. I make my own decisions on foreign policy, and when there is a mistake made, now or in the future, as long as I'm in the White House, it would be wise and accurate for you to say, "The President made a mistake," not "Ed Muskie made a mistake," or "Dr. Brzezinski made a mistake." It's the President. Hopefully, if we have some successes in the future you can say, "The President made a good decision," and not the others.

Now, let me point out the need to have some diversity in advice. I meet frequently not every single day, but almost every day—with the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and my national security adviser, and the Vice President's there, and a couple of other people, a very small group. We go through the broad range of foreign policy questions that I have to address. It's extremely complicated—150 or more nations on Earth. Each one of them has different desires and different neighbors and different problems and different kinds of people, different kinds of leaders, and I have to understand them. It takes a lot of homework and a lot of study, of a lot of reading, a lot of prayer.

I can't just let the State Department give me advice on what to do in a time of trouble, because quite often the origin of the State Department opinion is a particular desk officer who has the responsibility just for one nation or for one small part of the world. He concentrates on that nation or that little group of nations, and his prime interest is to have extra good relationships between our country and that particular nation of his, although he's loyal to our country. But there'll be 150 other nations involved and our allies and friends and the Soviet Union and troubled areas in the Persian Gulf. So, I have to make sure that I get a breadth of understanding and advice.

I have to admit to you that sometimes there is a sharp division of opinion between, say, the Vice President and the Secretary of State, or between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, or between Dr. Brzezinski and Harold Brown, the Secretary of Defense. I admit that. And they present their conflicting views to me, and I make a decision.

When I got ready, for instance, to go to Camp David with Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, I believe it's accurate to say that none of my advisers thought I ought to go, because the prospects for success were so remote and the embarrassment to me of a failure was potentially so great, they thought I ought to be more cautious. I decided to go, and it worked out well. Other times I've used my own initiative and it hasn't worked out nearly so well as that.

But I can guarantee you, there's no need for me to mislead anyone—I'm a man of honor and a man of truthfulness-I can tell you that there are no problems or differences between Brzezinski and Muskie that need cause you any concern or need be of any concern to the American people. On 95 percent of the cases they agree completely, and when they do have a difference of agreement, they both present their case to me. I make the judgment, and I stand by it. I take responsibility for it. That's the way it is.


Q. Hello, Mr. President, my name is Carol Boehms, and I'm a fourth grade public schoolteacher in Cheatham County. And I thought you'd like to know we held a Presidential election in our room, and you won. [Laughter]


Q. You beat out Reagan and Anderson and your brother too. [Laughter] My children really want an autograph from you if I can get one. I am a nervous wreck.

THE PRESIDENT. You'll get it.

Q. My question is if you can tell me how the newly formed Department of Education will help the public schoolteachers as well as the students?

THE PRESIDENT. All right. For too long in this country we've had education buried under health and welfare. I've said this many times, but when I was Governor, I probably spent at least 25 percent of my time on education, trying to get a better system, private and public schools, in Georgia.

When I got to be President, I was kind of taken aback by the fact that the only time I got involved in education was at a Cabinet meeting when there was some argument about a lawsuit or civil rights or how many players on a girls basketball team or something like that, and I feel that the Federal Government has a very important role to play in education. As I said earlier, in answer to Jerry's question about—I think it was Jerry's question—I think that the decision of our curriculum, the location of schools, consolidation of schools, the hiring of teachers, ought to be left completely to the local and State people. The Federal Government ought not to get involved in that. But we should provide some aid in money to help, particularly the poorer districts and particularly the poorer children who would not otherwise have an adequate education. And when our country has a special need, like after the Soviets put up Sputnik, the Federal Government provided under President Eisenhower, a Republican President, some additional help for science and mathematics. So, these kinds of things the Federal Government ought to do.

There's no doubt in my mind that the new Department of Education, under Shirley Hufstedler, will now be able to concentrate its effort on better cooperation between the Federal, State, and local governments and the private sector if they choose. They'll be able to concentrate their efforts on experimentation, new ideas for teaching, new use of communications. Also they'll be able to resolve the differences that arise before they get into the Federal courts. In the past if a school board member or a Governor had a problem with the Federal Government about education in Tennessee, there was nowhere to go. I mean if you went to the Secretary of HEW that Secretary was bogged down with health and welfare and all the thousands of things that they had to do.

Now everybody in education knows you go to Shirley Hufstedler, the Secretary of Education. When we have a Cabinet meeting she's there. She understands what all the other departments do, and I believe that through this process we'll have a much better chance for a problem that arises that involves the quality of life for teachers and how well you do your job, then we can resolve that problem through negotiation and understanding and communication. She can come to Tennessee and meet with the Governor. She can meet with the local school board if necessary and keep these lawsuits from ever taking place and keeping the Federal Government's nose out of local affairs and keeping us out of the Federal courts.

So, I think in every aspect of education protecting the local and State rights to run the schools the Federal Government can do a better job now and make the teachers' job more effective and avoid conflict that in the past has quite often debilitated the partnership that ought to exist in giving kids a better chance in life.


Q. Hello, President Carter. My name is David Mangum, and I'm in an American Government class at David Lipscomb High School. I have to say that Mr. Reagan and you have made my class much more interesting.


Q. It would just be great to see you at a day at the office.

I have read a lot of literature and watched many news shows. I believe that all Democrats agree that you are the most qualified for the 1980 Presidential election. Sir, why is it that if you are the right man for the job that you and your staff have to lower yourselves to the extent of slinging mud and making slanderous statements with your rival, Ronald Reagan? I've been brought up by being taught to respect other peoples' ideas and beliefs, and if I disagree with them I should not cut down their program, but I should show the good of my own.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, David. Good question.

I think in the last few weeks, the campaign has gotten sidetracked on too many personal references between me and Governor Reagan and between Governor Reagan and me. I was interviewed yesterday by Barbara Walters on ABC, and I explained to her that in my judgment, it was much better for the Nation to devote its time to the proper conduct of a campaign that was suitable for candidates for the highest office in the world, certainly in this land.

I have never intended to criticize Governor Reagan personally. Some issues affect me very deeply, and there have been occasions when the press has not covered the issue at all, that I consider to be extremely important. I'll just give you one quick example, because we've run out of time.

Not too long ago, last week, Governor Reagan said, for instance, that the SALT II treaty, which has been negotiated by President Nixon and Ford and me, ought to be withdrawn from the Senate and not considered. And he expressed a belief that an arms race might be commenced as a trump card or card to be played against the Soviet Union. That may sound on the surface to be a reasonable approach, but when I read it, knowing the importance of this issue and how the American people have got to be committed to nuclear arms control, and how our allies are depending on us to be the leaders in the world to prevent a nuclear war, and how a proper peaceful relationship between ourselves and the Soviet Union has got to be maintained, and how disturbing this would be to future negotiations on arms control, I felt motivated to speak out. And I got maybe overly enthusiastic about it.

Every President since Truman, Eisenhower, all the way through Johnson, Kennedy, Ford, and Nixon, have worked for arms control, and to abandon that concept now would be a radical change from what we've had in the past. I felt that the press should have covered that issue. Do you agree? [Applause]

That night I watched the evening news networks. ABC did not mention it. CBS did not mention it. NBC did not mention it. They covered the technique of the campaign and who was going to debate whom and all that kind of stuff-didn't even give one word to this, perhaps the most important issue that a President has to face. You know, when I decided to run for President, I had to make a decision: If I get in the Oval Office and if I have to, could I use nuclear weapons? That's the kind of issue about which candidates need to discuss.

The last point I'd like to make is this: There are three things in a campaign that not only are a privilege, but a duty of a campaigner, a candidate. One is to discuss my record, what I've done about education and about health and about peace and about war and about weapons and about defense and about jobs; second, to spell out what I'll do in the future, next 4: years; and third, is to point out the differences that exist between me and my opponents. That's a legitimate role to play.

I have accepted five or six invitations to debate Governor Reagan. He's refused to debate me without other people on the platform. He wants to debate with Anderson there, with others. I think that he and I, as the nominees of our two parties, ought to get on a platform like this, be questioned and question each other, to let the American people know these shard differences between us. And if I have misinterpreted what he says—

Q. It's important that we get back to the basics.

THE PRESIDENT. It is important.

Q. If we can do that, maybe we can solve our problems easier.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm determined this last 26 or 27 days, whatever it is, to be sharp in my accurate description of the differences between us and to spell out those issues. Yesterday, a television station in Tampa, Florida, invited me and Governor Reagan to a joint televised appearance tomorrow. The reason is, coincidentally, that both of us will be in Tampa, same day. They invited us to be cross-examined by reporters, maybe even in separate rooms—I don't know the exact details. I accepted immediately, just like I accepted the League of Women Voters invitation to debate Governor Reagan and then later to debate him and Anderson both. I understand that he's turning it down.

I hope that Governor Reagan will accept the invitation of that Tampa TV station to debate me tomorrow. I will be very eager to do it. It's unfortunate that he has decided not to debate. You have probably noticed lately that he is very cautious. He doesn't have townhall meetings like this. He doesn't have press conferences anymore. He's very cautious about what he says. So, I'll have to reserve the right, even though I'm going to be very careful to be both accurate and not attack him as a person, to spell out the sharp differences between me and him, and I'll try to do it in such a way that'll make you proud of me, yes.

Q. Thank you. I want to be.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you all very much. Let me say one other thing, a brief 1-minute statement. We've gone a little bit over time.

Our country's got problems. Our country faces critical choices. One of the most critical will be on November 4. I'm not going to make a campaign request here, but let me point this out: The situation in our Nation now is much better than we generally are willing to acknowledge. God has blessed this country with material wealth, with strength, with unity, and with peace.

Think back on the time when James K. Polk was running for President or Andrew Johnson was running for President, Andrew Jackson was running for President. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the divisive Vietnam war, the civil rights revolution, you might call it, the embarrassments of Watergate, the Great Depression—a lot of you experienced some of those things. They were troublous times, much worse than the times we live in today. But in every one of those times when the country was challenged the United States of America never failed. We have never failed to resolve a difficult problem. We have never failed to answer the toughest questions. We've never failed to overcome the most insurmountable obstacle. We have never failed to lead the world toward a better life.

And that's the message that I want to leave with you. We've got a great country.

Note: The President spoke at 12:04 p.m. in the Grand Ole Opry.

Jimmy Carter, Nashville, Tennessee 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/250831

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