Jimmy Carter photo

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Tour Remarks to Participants in the Tour.

June 15, 1977

Midge seemed to have lost part of our audience, and I thought I'd rescue her. When she talks about being close to the people, you know, I have to prove that I can do that.

You are nice to come to Washington, and you are nice to come out to the White House this afternoon. I understand that after a few minutes you will have a chance to see the center of the executive branch of Government.

As you know, John Adams was the first President who lived here. He was not only the second President but George Washington's Vice President. And this is a place of great historic importance.

You represent, this afternoon, a very important part of my own life. I grew up on a farm that didn't have any electricity. I don't know how many of you have ever milked six cows by hand or spent half the summer with a cross-cut saw cutting oakwood for the fireplace or chopping stove wood or putting kerosene in lamps or watching Aladdin lamps go up in smoke.

I don't know if you've ever had any of those experiences. But I think the best day of my life, the one that I remember most vividly, with the possible exception of my wedding day, was the day they turned the lights on in our house back in 1936 or 1937.

Also, the bringing of the rural electric program to the farms of our Nation made it possible for us to stretch our hearts and stretch our minds to encompass public involvement in affairs that would not have been possible without the rural electric program.

My own father was bound to the farm because our workday started before daylight and it didn't get over in the field until sundown, and there was no time left over for the shaping of policy in the school system or the hospital authority or the State legislature or in national affairs, concerning the REA at that time. And with that coming of electricity came a liberation of people from the drudgery of farm work.

I am very glad that this program was initiated, I think, by then Senator Lyndon Johnson, who thought that young people who were interested in agriculture directly or indirectly ought to have a chance to expand your own interests and to stretch your hearts and minds and come to Washington to see the inner workings of the Government.

You've been in Washington almost as long as I have. I'm not an old hand here. With the exception of my Navy service, I never had a chance to work in the Federal Government before. But I'm learning very rapidly. I found that many Members of the Congress are eager to give me their advice and their criticisms and to teach me how to be a better President.

And I think the thing that is most important is the chance that I had for 2 years to travel around to every one of your States, to get to know people that you know in politics or other public affairs, and to learn how great our Nation is and how much greater it can be in the future.

The last point I want to make is this: You, being young, have a sense of innovation, a lack of reverence of what is our present societal structure, and a willingness to analyze and to put into effect changes and improvements. And I hope you won't ever forget to do that during this formative stage of your lives because we have got a lot to do together.

Our country has made some bad mistakes in the past. We are trying to correct some of those mistakes. We are trying to move to the future with confidence.

As I said at Notre Dame last month, I have complete, sure feeling that the democratic systems in the world can prevail because our governmental structure, our political structure is based on human freedom, on the preservation of the individualities that comprise each person, and on the protection of basic human rights.

And I hope that in your own lives, no matter what it might be in the future, in business or professions or agriculture or education or politics, that you will keep those thoughts in mind.

What did George Washington stand for? What did John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and others who have lived here in this house stand for? What was their original concept of our country? How can it be an even better nation? And what can you contribute?

You are lucky to be able to come to Washington. Many other young people who are in your class in school are just as competent, just as intelligent as you are, but this gives you a chance to go back with a new vision of what our country is.

I'm glad that you have come to be with us this afternoon. We have enjoyed being here in the White House this first 5 months. I hope that what I have done has opened up some of the difficult decisions to public scrutiny, understanding, and debate among our people.

I feel at ease with the job. I don't feel that I know all the answers, but I do know that I am constantly searching for answers. And your advice and the support that you might give me in the programs with which you agree would be very crucial.

So, when you get back home, tell the folks that we've still got a good country, we've got a good Government, it can be better, and that you and I together are trying to make it better.

Thank you very much for letting me be with you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House before a group of approximately 900 young people representing rural electric systems in 24 States.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to Midge Costanza, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.

Jimmy Carter, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Tour Remarks to Participants in the Tour. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243759

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