New Orleans, Louisiana Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraising Dinner.
Now I see how David Treen feels. It's awful difficult to follow Edwin Edwards. [Laughter] You might think this is a campaign between me and Governor Reagan. As a matter of fact, we are just surrogates. The contest in Louisiana, and I'm thankful for it, is between Edwin Edwards and the Republican Governor who took his place temporarily. And I don't want you friends of Edwin's and mine to let him and me down. Right? [Applause]
When I ran for President in 1976, the chairman of my campaign here was Bennett Johnston. And we had a tremendous rally in Jackson Square shortly before the election. Not many people thought I had a chance. It's very difficult to defeat an incumbent President who took over and brought the Nation out of the embarrassment of Watergate. That rally, I think, showed the Nation that my strength was a little greater than had been thought and, for the first time since James Polk was elected in 1844, a President went to Washington from the Deep South.
Edwin was quoting Harry Truman. A lot of people looked on me with suspicion when I went north to campaign. I went to Illinois to try to get Adlai Stevenson and others to support me there, and I made a speech one night. They were worried about southern loyalty to the Democratic Party and what it stands for. Adlai introduced me. He had some little sly things to say about southerners, and they weren't quite in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, you know. And I said, "Adlai, I remember in 1952 when your father ran for President. Illinois didn't vote for him, but Georgia did." And in 1956 when Adlai Stevenson ran for President as a Democrat, Illinois didn't vote for him, but Georgia did.
And the other night I was at the Al Smith dinner. And I pointed out that in 1928, when he ran and he was killed politically because he was a Catholic, and there was a lot of prejudice against him, Georgia voted for Al Smith; New York didn't. And when I went to Massachusetts in 1976, there were a lot of people who said, "Well, is this Deep South Democrat in the mainstream of our party? Does he know what the Democratic Party stands for?" And I pointed out to them that when John Kennedy ran for President of the United States, he got a bigger majority in Georgia than he did in Massachusetts.
We've understood down here what it means to be a Democrat. I think we represent some of the finest elements of the Democratic Party. Sometimes those principles have been betrayed, and we have had in the public's mind an image as Democrats that were not compatible in the national party with southern beliefs. I'm not prejudiced, but I think maybe the national party made some mistakes, and we were always right.
And the other night I was at the Al Smith dinner, as I mentioned earlier. Governor Reagan was there. It's the first time I've seen him since we were Governors. And I told him that the burdens of the Presidency are very heavy. It's an onerous job. The trials and tribulations of the Oval Office are almost unbearable for a human being. It's difficult, it breaks you down—always worrying. He listened very carefully. But I can tell you that 3 1/2 years sure passes fast when you're having a lot of fun. [Laughter]
We in Georgia and Louisiana and other parts of the Nation remember what the Democratic Party has done for us. I mentioned a few things at Jackson Square tonight, personal things, things that are important. My father was a farmer. Our people moved to this country over 300 years ago—all been farmers, every one; none of my family ever finished high school until I came along—looking for a better life and found it, because Democratic leaders had confidence in human beings.
They saw a certain worth in farmers that didn't have running water, didn't have electricity and needed it. The Republicans, when the REA was founded, called it socialism and communism, because the Government was going to help farmers have a better life.
People who had to work for a living have always been a special concern of Democrats. I worked in the field when I was a boy. It didn't hurt me. But we went to work before daybreak and quit when the sun went down and went and pumped water and fed the livestock—went to bed after dark, got up at 4:30 in the morning. It was normal routine for my family and for maybe some of yours. And those who worked in the nearby shirt factory, the women folks whose husbands couldn't make a living on a small farm with a couple of mules, couple of plows, didn't get paid fairly. The folks that owned the factories weren't southerners; they were from up north.
And the Democrats saw something wrong with that and proposed a minimum wage—25 cents an hour, a radical proposal. Republicans opposed it. But it gave the working people a new dignity, a new self-respect, a new chance in life they'd never had before. And then slowly and methodically, always over Republican opposition, the minimum wage was gradually increased, just to let average people have a chance in life.
And I'm not going to dwell any further on social security, on the rural free delivery of mail a little bit earlier, on Medicare, on Medicaid, on better education, housing programs, a stable farm economy where the farmers themselves had a little control over the marketing of their own crops, stable prices. Those kinds of things all came from the Democrats, and every one of them were opposed by Republicans. I don't want to dwell on that anymore.
What I want to point out is the other aspect of a Democratic Party, a Democratic Party of stability, of management competence, of the understanding of American industry and the strength that is inherent in our country not only because of human beings whom we love, but because of the stewardship that God's given us over natural resources.
I've only been in office 3¼ years. I saw some real needs when I was elected. My background is in the military, and the way I got a college education was because my daddy supported a Congressman who was elected, Mr. Steve Pace, and I got an appointment to Annapolis. It's all I wanted to do from the time I was 5 years old. I served in the submarine force. And when I went in the Oval Office, I was concerned because our national defense under 8 years of Republican administration was going down. Defense spending went down 7 out of 8 of those years and dropped 37 percent between 1959—between 1969 and the time I came in office-37 percent.
We've increased defense spending every year to give your country a better chance to defend itself. And because of military preparedness, worked out methodically, carefully, in advance, with businesslike principles of management, we've had a chance to keep our Nation at peace. I've not had to send our military forces into combat since I've been in the White House, and I hope I can go out of office at the end of 4 more years with that record still intact.
I'm the first President that can say that in more than 50 years. But the reason for it is that we've not only kept a strong defense, but we've worked for peace. We've used American strength to protect our interests and to extend the beneficial impact of America around the world.
We had never entered the great continent of Africa, with 50 or more nations, until I was inaugurated President. And now we have relationships with those countries that are paying rich dividends. Henry Kissinger, the last year he was Secretary of State, wasn't permitted to go into Nigeria. Now Nigeria, the largest and strongest and most economically sound and the most democratic black nation on Earth, is a staunch ally of the United States—tremendous trade potential there. It had never been done before. We didn't fire a shot; we didn't push anybody around. But we've opened up that vista of a better life not only for those people but for us, for our farmers and our merchants, those who work in the factories producing American goods. A billion people in China now are friends, allies, not in a military way, but providing tremendous stability and strategic strength to keep eastern Asia at peace.
Not long ago I was in a little steel plant in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The workers in that plant produce more steel per year per worker than in any plant on Earth. They take scrap metal that used to go overseas and they make steel rods. I asked the manager of it, "Where does this steel go?" He said, "Half of it goes to China." They make steel cheaper in New Jersey and ship it halfway around the world and beat the price of the Japanese right next door. But we've got a market there that's giving us a bright future.
We've got 44,000 fewer employees in the Federal Government now, full-time employees, than we had the day I came in office. But we're giving better service to our people, better housing programs under Moon Landrieu, better education for our children. In the United States today, there is not a single child, boy or girl, who finishes high school who's able to do college work that cannot get a college education because their family is too poor. That's a human achievement, but it also strengthens our country.
Agriculture is important to me. We've tried to get government's nose out of the free enterprise system of this country. Republicans have talked that way for generations, but with the help of your congressional delegation and others, we've finally done it. We have not only decontrolled the price of oil and gas, which every Republican President has always promised, and which will give us this year, in 1980, the largest number of oil and gas wells being drilled than any year in history, but the United States is also producing more coal this year than any year in history. And we can sell all the American coal we can transport to a port and load on a ship. There're ships in Hampton Roads, Virginia, right now, waiting 25 days to come alongside the pier and load. This is the result of a new energy policy, sound business principles, looking to the future, recognizing our natural resources, that a Democratic administration has put into effect. The Republicans have talked about it ever since many of us were born; the Democrats have finally done it.
We've not just deregulated a major element of the energy industry, we've also deregulated the railroads. We've deregulated the airlines; we've deregulated the trucking industry; we've deregulated financial institutions; we're working on the deregulation of communications, to let the free enterprise system of our country-which the Republicans always claim is theirs—be free of government intrusion and let the competitive spirit of America prove once again that economically, America is great. We've got the most productive workers on Earth at this moment. Their productivity's not been increasing as rapidly as it has in some other countries, but now that we have an energy policy to give us a base, we are ready to move ahead with major investments to modernize our plants.
I've been in a textile mill not long ago in Spartanburg, South Carolina—an old, dilapidated building, but a very modern plant. In the last 2 years, we have increased American textile exports—exports-$2 billion. At the same time, we have reduced American textile imports. That's a remarkable achievement by a Democratic administration who believes that it's a better for our country to sell goods overseas than unnecessarily to buy goods overseas and import them to this country to put American workers out of their jobs.
OPEC oil is a great strategic possession. The Arab OPEC countries have about 6 percent of the nation's—of the world's reserves—6 percent. The United States alone has 24 percent. That's important, too, particularly to Louisiana and to Oklahoma and to Texas and a few other States. But American soil is perhaps the greatest natural resource that we have. And I would guess that 100 years from now or 1,000 years from now, our country will still be the breadbasket of the world.
We imposed sales restraints on the Soviet Union when they invaded Afghanistan. I had to either take military action, or economic and political action. I decided to take the latter two, to impose some restraints on them. Everybody knows it was not a political thing to do. It was about a week before the Iowa caucuses. We didn't want the American farmers to suffer.
I believe we ought to continue to build the markets for American products overseas. Democrats—in 1977, we set a world record on agricultural exports from this country. A lot came through here, New Orleans. In 1978, we set another world's record—agricultural exports. In 1979, we set another world's record in agricultural exports. This year with the Soviet restraints on, we opened up six marketing centers in the major buying points around the world and tried to set a new record.
This year we will export to other overseas countries $40 billion of American agricultural products—new record—$8 billion more than last year we increased this year, more than we've ever increased before in any year in history. We've tripled our sales to Mexico in the last 4 years, and we will sign tonight, in 30 more minutes, in the People's Republic of China and here, a new agricultural agreement on a long-term basis for a major annual sale of American grain. This is the kind of approach that pays rich dividends.
So, you've got a combination in the Democratic Party of sensitivity to human beings, the guarantee of a better life for Americans, the honoring of basic civil rights to give black people and Spanish speaking people and others an equal chance in life and, at the same time, a competence in management and an improvement in the business climate of this Nation, a freeing of the free enterprise system, an expansion of exports, a revitalization of industry, more profits—not under Republicans, but Democrats. The combination of those is extremely important.
And finally, let me say that military strength is not enough. We've worked for peace not only for ourselves, but for others—in the Middle East; we've stabilized the eastern Asian area. We're striving forward to make sure that we control the horrible threat of nuclear weapons.
I'm not going to stand here tonight and berate my Republican opponent. But all those elements of a better life that the Democrats espouse—I could quote to you verbatim what he has said in condemnation of those programs—social security, minimum wage, Medicare, unemployment compensation, better health care in the future, housing programs, all. But the most important single issue on which he and I stand apart is the control of nuclear weapons. Every single President since Harry Truman, Democrats and Republicans, have worked hard to control nuclear weapons, to have balanced, controlled, confirmable agreements between our two countries, with the goal in mind of lowering the arsenals of nuclear weaponry as a clear prospect for the future.
Governor Reagan has said, "Let's scrap the nuclear arms control treaty. Let's play a trump card against the Soviet Union. The prospect of a nuclear arms race," he said, "might contribute to more stability in the future." Nuclear superiority sounds good to a proud American, but it destroys the basis on which nuclear arms control can be enforced and on which agreements can be reached.
There is no way that an American President or an American citizen would sit quiet and subservient if Brezhnev made the same speech and said, "I'm going to tear up the treaty that has been negotiated under two Republican and one Democratic President. We're going to work for Soviet nuclear superiority. We're going to start an arms race. And we believe that now the United States will be more amenable to an agreement." What would our reply be? Our reply would be the same as theirs: "We'll match you missile for missile," and an arms race is the result.
Well, there are a lot of issues at stake on November the 4th—old, ancient, historical issues that have always divided our party, modern issues that are in the daily newspaper now, and issues for the future that might be even more significant to the lives of those who look to you for leadership in this State. My plea to you is that this next 10 days that you use every bit of influence you can to bring about a Democratic victory in Louisiana. It's crucial for us to win. I believe a lot is at stake, not just a job for me, but because the things in which we believe, the things that have made America great, will be decided on a future course as a result of November 4th.
We've got problems in this country, yes. I've made mistakes in the White House, yes; every President has. But the principles that have guided me have been the same as the ones that guided you. This next election will show what kind of country we have. We are a strong country, we are a prosperous country, we are a country blessed by God. We're the greatest nation on Earth, and with your help, we'll make it even greater in the future.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 9:10 p.m. in the Imperial Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel.
Jimmy Carter, New Orleans, Louisiana Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraising Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251506