Jimmy Carter photo

Newark, New Jersey Remarks at the Essex County Democratic Committee Gala Dinner.

October 29, 1980

Chairman Ray Durkin, County Executive Peter Shapiro, Senator Bradley, Congressman Rodino, Joe Minish and Mrs. Minish, Bob Roe, Mr. Speaker, Governor Brendan Byrne:

It's a shame for me to come here and interfere with the thing that all politicians like most of all, and that is to have his home folks give a testimonial banquet to him before the funeral services are called. Brendan, alive and well, knows how much you think of him. And I know that although his relationships have not always been perfectly harmonious with Essex County, this was your chance to show what you think of one of the greatest Governors that this Nation has ever seen. I'm glad to be part of it.

Lately Brendan has had so much experience introducing me that he's got it down to kind of like playing a tape. He just punches a button and out it comes. And I hope to give his successor just as many opportunities to practice the same speech in the next 4 years.

Today I started off in Cleveland. I was in Cleveland last night. [Laughter] I went to Pittsburgh for several events and then to Rochester for rallies and then to Newark and now here with you. I go from here to Philadelphia. It's been a long day. I particularly wanted to be in Essex County, because I remembered what happened in 1960, when the Essex County votes put John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the White House. And I came to ask you to do the same thing for me in 1980.

When Democrats go into Governors' offices and when Democrats go into the White House following a Republican administration, we have a lot of extra hard work to do. I tried to think of a story to illustrate the point. The only one I could think of was one I'm sure you've heard a lot of times before, because it's one of my favorites. It's about an old man who was arrested and taken before the judge for being drunk and setting a bed on fire. And he said, "Judge, I plead guilty to being drunk, but the bed was on fire when I got in it." [Laughter] Well, the same thing happens to Democrats who go into office following a long Republican administration. And I think tonight in the next 8 or 10 minutes that I'll spend with you, it would be incumbent on me as a Democratic President to remind you of the differences that have been made in your own lives, in my life, in the lives of people that you love and who look to you for leadership by the Democratic Party.

Last night was a good and sharp debate which drew distinctions which perhaps had not been recognized adequately between me and Governor Reagan. But this campaign is not just one between two men. It is not just one between two parties, as a matter of fact; it's between two futures, two commitments, two ideals, two concepts of what this Nation is.

But tonight I want to look back just a few minutes at my own life as a young farmboy in the south Georgia area, small town—and perhaps the same changes took place in your life if you have the same age roughly as mine. I remember the Great Depression when I grew up—I was born in 1924—and the fact that people then had no hope for the future. We had suffered under a Republican administration, Herbert Hoover. Hoover wasn't a bad man, but he represented what the Republican Party was then and what the Republican still is. That's a fact. It hasn't changed in the last 50 or more years.

Franklin Roosevelt came into the office bringing a message of hope—not just to bring order out of chaos in our Nation's banking system and our esteem for one another and to eliminate the fear of fear, but he also had a compassion for people, along with a good administrative capability in the White House in Washington. He was a cripple. He understood what it meant to overcome disability. And he looked on the farmers throughout this country who didn't have electricity and who had to work from 4 o'clock in the morning until dark, and then come in from the field and hand-pump water for livestock. He proposed the REA. The Democrats supported him. The Republicans were against it.

Roosevelt was a rich man from a wealthy family with influence. But he saw the little children working in the sweatshops, and he saw grown men and women being paid wages that wouldn't give their loved ones adequate food or shelter or clothing, and certainly no chance for advancement in life. And he put forward the radical concept of a minimum wage, 25 cents an hour. The Republicans called it socialism, communism. How could the Government possibly interfere in the private enterprise system and pay a grown man or a woman 25 cents an hour? The Democrats prevailed. I finished high school in 1941. I got my first job at a minimum wage—10 hours a day, 40 cents an hour. That radical increase from 25 cents to 40 cents was put through the Congress by the Democrats. The Republicans, of course, opposed it.

When I grew up, once people got to a senior year in life, if they didn't have a family to support them, they went to what we call the po' folks farm—no security, deprivation, no self-respect. Franklin Roosevelt put forward the idea of social security. Republicans opposed it, predictably, but it went into effect, and the program has been expanded since then to give a better life for senior citizens who finance through their own contributions at work, insurance for their senior years. Every single advance has been opposed by the Republican Party. It is not an accident. These kinds of concepts for the poor, the working families, the deprived, the aged, are still the commitments of our party.

As a young man in the South, having served 11 years in the Navy, I went back home. I served on the local school board. And it took me a while to realize that the white children were riding to school in buses and the black children were walking. It took me a while to realize that the only books that the black kids had in school were the ones that the white kids had already worn out and discarded. We had, then, under our law, separate but equal ruling by the Supreme Court. The Democrats in the White House, that you helped to elect, thought that after 300 years it was time for our Nation to provide equality of opportunity and an end to official deprivation and discrimination. It was a radical change that swept my part of the country, and it made it possible for a man like me, ultimately, following along behind Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, to be considered as President of our country. We had not had a President from the Deep South since 1844.

But it opened up a time for us to see ourselves as human beings, yes, but to see our neighbors as human beings with equal rights—a radical departure from what had been accepted in our great Nation; a radical departure proposed by Democrats, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, in the mainstream of our party, to transform the lives of people for the better.

Governor Reagan said at the time that the civil rights laws were bad legislation. Democrats wanted older people to have better health care and put forward Medicare. Governor Reagan worked full time as an employee or a lobbyist for the American Medical Association, going around this country pointing out that Medicare was a radical proposal involving socialistic tendencies and the intrusion of the Federal Government into the private affairs of patients and their doctors.

Several times in recent years he's advocated that social security ought to be voluntary and just last night he said that when a young person invests in social security it's a bad investment. The policies, the attitudes, the concerns of the Democrats toward people have not changed, and these same concerns that have exemplified what the Republican Party has done in bygone years still exist.

When I took over as President, my greatest concern was that for the last 50 years no President had served without our Nation being at war. I saw our Nation's defense in danger, because 7 out of the last 8 years under Republican administrations we had had a decrease in budget commitments for defense, 37-percent decrease in our commitment to a strong defense. We've changed that. The Democrats have changed that, because we realize that only through a strong nation can we keep the peace, and we've kept peace not only for ourselves but for others around the world.

We have worked hard as a strong, leading nation to open up the continent of Africa for the beneficial impact of American principles and ideals and commitments. There are 4 billion people on Earth. A billion of them live in China, and now they are our new friends, and we've doubled our trade with Taiwan in the process.

And we've seen President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin come together with a new peace treaty and the recognition of Israel's right to exist, direct negotiations, open borders, diplomatic recognition, exchange of ambassadors, and now a prospect for Israel to be secure and to be at peace. And we recognize there too that what we've done for Israel, half the total aid that Israel has received in 32 years has come in the last 3 1/2 years as an investment in our Nation's own security, a typical commitment of the Democrats, begun by Harry Truman, who 12 minutes after Israel declared their independence recognized them as an independent nation—a tide and a thrust and a commitment of our party that's a source of pride to me. And which we sometimes tend to forget, there's a sharply differing concept with the Republicans.

I remember in 1973 when Israel was struggling with a major war, the last one, the fourth one in 25 years. There was an official hesitation or reassessment in order to force Israel to take action desired by a Republican President and a Republican Secretary of State, in Washington, completely contrary to what the Democrats have always done and the way we have always felt, because we see that a strong and independent democracy, at peace in the Middle East, is the best thing for our security in that troubled region of the world. And we also see very clearly that to be overly dependent on OPEC Arab oil is a threat to our own Nation's energy security. And we've moved to take action, with the help of your superb congressional delegation, and we now have an energy policy that was hammered out over the most difficult possible circumstances, new, only recently completed, but we already see great benefits.

We are importing now one-third less oil from overseas than we did 1 year ago. And we'll have more oil and gas wells drilled in the United States this year, in 1980, than in any year in history. And we are producing more coal in this country this year than any year in history.

And we believe that we ought to get the Government's nose out of the private enterprise of this country. We've deregulated rail, deregulated trucking, deregulated airlines, deregulated financial institutions, working on communications, to make sure that we have a free enterprise system that's competitive, that's competitive so that the customers get a better deal and the business community gets a better deal as well, completely contrary to the philosophy of and the commitment of and the record of the Republican Party.

And the final point I want to make is this: We're a nation that believes in the use of American strength for the benefit of others, and we're also a nation that represents and recognizes the hunger in the peoples' minds throughout the world for freedom from the threat of nuclear terror. I spent a large part of my time as President continuing the work that was done by my predecessors ever since Truman to have balanced, controlled, observable, confirmable agreements with the Soviet Union to limit and then reduce nuclear arsenals.

The destructive power is beyond the comprehension of the human mind. I described last night what one of our large warheads is, very briefly. It would take a train 2,500 miles long with 50 tons of TNT per car to have the equivalent of one major warhead, 10 megatons, and we've got literally thousands of megatons in this country and in the Soviet Union. And the control of that destruction is the single most important issue in this race, because Governor Reagan, in a radical departure from all past experience of Presidents, Democratic or Republican, said, "Let's scrap the treaty. Let's play a trump card against the Soviet Union. Let's insist upon superiority, not equality and balance and reduction, and let's not overlook the opportunity of the missing thing and that is a nuclear arms race."

And the threat to the world from terrorism is something that Democrats recognize. Just think what a few pounds of TNT do in Jerusalem on the streets or in Germany in a beer hall when. 100 people were killed—a few pounds. Think what a terrorist country like Libya could do with an atomic bomb. And when Governor Reagan was asked about this in New York by the New York Times, as published in the February 1st edition this year, he said, "the control of the spread of nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations or any other country is none of our business"—none of our business.

This is the issue, and I want to remind you of this in this Democratic county at this fundraising event, just a few days before the election, to think on these things. Think about the minimum wage, think about social security, think about energy policy, think about our relationship with our allies and friends around the world, think about strength, think about peace, think about nuclear weapons, think about yourself, your children, your family, the people who know you are a leader and the people whom you lead. Think on those things and decide whether or not this next 5 days you've got the time to invest in the outcome of this election.

I won't see the White House again until after the election. My wife and my boys, my Cabinet, my Vice President, many people around this Nation are working full time. This group in here, if you were dedicated, commensurate with the issues at stake, could spend at least 5 hours a day, not working on your own business or your own law firm, but working to make sure that New Jersey casts its vote on November the 4th in the Democratic column, because the issue is so close—one or two percentage points. The difference is, who is the likely voter, whether or not the Democrats will go to vote.

It wasn't' the Republicans who put Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in 1969 in January and kept Hubert Humphrey, one of the great men of all times, from serving as President; it was the Democrats. It was the Democrats who did not vote. It was the Democrats who did not work, because you have to expect the Republicans to support their nominee. Can't blame them. And the Gene McCarthy group who said Hubert Humphrey is not worthy to be our President because he served with Lyndon Johnson cost him the election. But a few more Democrats, working with a deep commitment based on the differences between our parties, recognizing the issues at stake, could have prevented a national tragedy.

I tell you that the differences between me and Ronald Reagan that I have outlined tonight are more deep and more penetrating differences even than those I've outlined to you about basic Democratic and Republican philosophy. And I ask you this next 5 days to make a sacrificial effort, not waiting to see what your neighbors would do, not judging by what you did in 1976, not judging by what other Democrats might expect you to do, but individually, alone, decide what you can do the next 5 days, and exert your maximum effort because I believe it's worth it to you, to your children, and to those you love, and to those who love you. If you'll help me, we'll win together on November the 4th.

Thank you very much and, God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:13 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Robert Treat Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Newark, New Jersey Remarks at the Essex County Democratic Committee Gala Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251783

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