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National Governors' Association Toast at a White House Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the Association's Winter Session.

February 26, 1980

Again, I would like to say that Rosalynn and I are extremely pleased to have you with us tonight. Fritz and Joan join us in the welcome.

It's been difficult for me to keep my mind on the events of the evening. [Laughter] As Brendan Byrne 1 said when we came in, he won't be able to relax until he knows who won tonight. [Laughter] As you know, Penn and Princeton are playing for the Ivy League championship. [Laughter]

1 Governor of New Jersey.

This is the fourth year that we've been honored by having the Governors of our States come to be our guests here at the White House and to spend a few days, as you know, in Washington with my Cabinet, with my staff members, and with Members of the Congress, discussing the major issues of our country. This is a time of rapid change, not only for our own Nation but for the entire world. And the closeness with which we have dealt with these major issues is an extremely gratifying thing for me.

I'm the first President who was a Governor since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I think that that base of common experience has really stood me in good stead, not only in my own responsibilities as President in an isolated fashion but in being able to turn to you, individually on many occasions and collectively on almost every major issue, to discuss as full partners the present and the future circumstances in our country—the quality of Americans' lives, how to deal with domestic and foreign issues, how to meet difficult challenges, overcome obstacles, answer questions. I have been very deeply reassured and grateful to have you as my partners.

We do face many difficult challenges as executive officers of our States and territories and of this country, but I think the most reassuring thing of all is to recognize the insurance that we have. Sometimes we make mistakes; sometimes we delay a difficult decision; sometimes we have to change our position. And the fallibility of human leaders is always of deep concern, particularly to those leaders themselves. But there's an underlying stability and an underlying strength and an underlying unity in this country which we lead, which corrects our mistakes and repairs our errors and lets our Nation progress in spite of our human fallibilities.

In my opinion, our country rallies and shows its finest moments at a time of crisis. And during this last 3 or 4 months, there's been a remarkable absence of partisanship and a remarkable presence of common purpose and inspiration and unity.

Our Nation stands for what is right and what is clean and what is decent. Our Nation is a world leader. There is no way to avoid that responsibility. And other countries, no matter how independent they might appear or how strong they might be within themselves or how unified their own people may be or how different and fragmented their people might be, look to us for leadership. And if we stand firm and strong and resolved and definite in our purposes, then we can expect and have realized their support. If we waver and fail to exert leadership, then they themselves suffer and send out messages of concern.

All of us have been brought to our knees in prayer for 53 Americans who are held in Tehran. To me, there's a special demonstration here of one of the prime characteristics of American people, in that 220 million strong Americans have been almost completely obsessed with the lives of 53 relatively unknown Americans, formerly not very important—and not only their lives but their freedom. I think this has sent a clear message around the world that we do indeed practice human rights, because we respect life, individuality, and freedom.

And I think our Nation has also exhibited a reservoir of strength in facing the Soviet threat to our own vital interests in Southwest Asia when, in an unprecedented fashion, they invaded the freedom-loving, deeply religious country of Afghanistan. There's a sharp difference between that action and our own concern about our innocent Americans, who are presently, at this moment, being held prisoner.

We have not taken any steps that would lead to war or to conflict. Every action that our country has taken has been designed for peace. Every action has been peaceful in nature. Our opportunities are diverse and substantial, but they are confined to either economic or political or military action. We've not taken military action. We're prepared to do so if necessary, but we've not had to. But we have taken economic action unilaterally, and we've had adequate support from our allies and friends, many of whom are not as strong as we, some of whom are quite vulnerable and not as free to act as we.

We've taken political action. And there have been overwhelming expressions of concern about the Soviet Union's invasion, both with the 103 other nations who joined with us in the United Nations to condemn the Soviets' action and demand an immediate withdrawal of troops, and also independently of us, to a major degree, among the 34 Moslem countries who met in Islamabad and condemned the Soviets even more stringently and demanded more urgently that they withdraw from Afghanistan. Some of them are almost subservient to the Soviet Union, heavily dependent upon the Soviet Union, but they acted out of conviction and with a great deal of courage and with strength.

No one can predict any time schedule for the resolution of these issues, and I would certainly not deign to do so. But I think to the extent that our country is unified, is strong, our purposes are clear, our voice can be heard and understood, and a maximum support can be aroused among other nations—allies, friends, nonaligned countries, small, weak countries-to that extent, we will prevail and preserve the essence, freedom, and the individual life and also the independence and freedom of nations who might be threatened because they are relatively weak and relatively vulnerable.

I know that you all recognize that we've faced rapidly changing times in other areas of the world. I've pointed to two crises, but other things have changed.

Less than a year ago, just a few yards from here, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty after 30 years of war. And I had an urgent call from President Sadat just a few minutes before I joined you tonight, about 5 o'clock. And he said, "Mr. President, I just want to make a report to you. We've exchanged Ambassadors with Israel. Everything went well. The people of Egypt are very excited and very proud. And we want to express our deep gratitude to the people of the United States for helping to make this miracle come true."

And of course, we now have 1 billion new friends in the People's Republic of China, and we haven't lost our friends in Taiwan, as well.

So—I'm not going into a litany of things—but there are good achievements for our great country, and there are difficult times, which we face with courage and with conviction and in a spirit of unity of purpose.

Inflation is always present on my mind. The resolution of an energy problem, which is nationwide and going to get worse, is always present on my mind. You share that responsibility with me, and it's reassuring to me to know that you do.

As President of the greatest nation on Earth, I would like to raise my glass in a toast: To the leaders of our States, to the people that you and I both represent, and to the future of a free people, our leadership in the world, and the unity and commitment of the ideals and principles which have always made our country great and which will see us lead a greater country in the future.

Note: The President spoke at 6:52 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Following the dinner, the President and Mrs. Carter and their guests attended a performance of "The Elephant Man" at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Jimmy Carter, National Governors' Association Toast at a White House Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the Association's Winter Session. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250445

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