Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Dallas, Texas

September 24, 1976

Bob Strauss [Chairman of the Democratic National Committee] has meant an awful lot to our party, and to our country. Shortly after the beautiful Texas primary in early May and immediately after the primaries in California, New Jersey, and Ohio, I asked Bob to stay on as Chairman of the Democratic Party and Bob agreed although he earlier had indicated he might step down. He is an outstanding chairman.

This state is one of greatness, of vision, of understanding and competence. You produced great leaders. I was pleased at the convention in Madison Square Garden that when I went down the list of Roosevelt, Truman. Kennedy, Johnson—that the Democratic delegates from all over this country, as well as myself, recognized the unbelievable contribution of Lyndon Johnson to our country—to the downtrodden and the poor.

And as I said in a recent magazine interview, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, no one in the history of our nation in 200 years has done more for basic human rights.

We started out our campaign 21 months ago. I didn't hold public office and I didn't have much money. I had $43,000 for a Presidential campaign. I came from a small town—683 people. I didn't have a nationwide campaign organization. And not many people knew who I was. But we began to campaign as a family with a few volunteers, going in living rooms. Four or five people would come to our meetings in labor halls and other places, and then we went to factory shift lines, and shopping centers, and livestock sales bams and farmers' markets, and beauty parlors and barbershops and restaurants to meet people, to talk to people, but mostly to listen.

And to absorb in the consciousness of a candidate for President of the United States what our people are, what our nation is, and what we can be. Today I want to talk about two things, leadership and people.

Ours is a government, ours is a nation that requires strong leadership in the White House. There's only one person in this country who can speak with a clear voice to the American people. There's only one person who can set a standard of ethics and morality and excellence and greatness. There's only one person that can call on the American people to make that sacrifice and explain the purpose of the sacrifice. Or ask the difficult questions or propose solutions to problems or put forward to the Congress bold programs to meet our needs. Or provide for an adequate defense, or speak for this country in the council of nations. And that person is the President.

In the absence of that leadership, there is no leadership. And the country drifts. And lately the country has been drifting. That is not characteristic of the United States to drift. In the last 2 years, we've seen 2J4 million Americans added to the unemployment roles; 2/s million Americans in just 2 years. That's equivalent to the population of Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma—a. lot of people. In the last 3 months, we've seen the unemployment rolls grow 500,000. Last year, we saw the highest deficit this nation has ever seen, $55 billion. More than all the combined deficits of the 8 years that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson served in the White House; $65 billion in 1 year. This is not the America that we've known. That is not the America that we can have. Leadership must be derived not from an imperialistic attitude toward the Presidency, but from a constant realization of the source of thr leader's strength.

My political support in the primaries, my strength if I become President, will be derived directly from the people.

And this is the kind of leadership that can be maintained in a continuing way and make us all proud that the basic principles are inculcated in the minds and hearts of Texans and Georgians, and Americans all over this ountry. When it's a choice between the government doing something and private sector doing something, we believe that it's best to put the authority and the responsibility as near as possible to the individual human being, and if it's a choice between work and welfare, the American people prefer to go to work. We prefer a minimum of secrecy in government and a maximum of privacy in our own lives—a minimum of government secrecy. And we haven't had that lately. In the last 8 years we've been disillusioned, we've been held at arms length, we've been alienated, we've been discouraged, we've been embarrassed, sometimes we've been ashamed of our own government. That need not be. And politically speaking it draws clear issues in he 1976 campaign. But the thing that concerns me is the other side of the coin. How does this affect people?

Think about a father proud like you are, competent like you are, self-reliant like you are. The head of a household—like many of you, or a mother, eager to work—can't find a job. They come home at night, face the children with the authority and the responsibility and the respect that should go to he breadwinner stripped away. Put yourself in that position. Think of going down and drawing your first welfare check. When you've worked all yourlife. It tears a family apart. It destroys their self-respect, it eliminates basic human dignity. And in this last 2 years, 2 1/2 million more Americans have had to accept that circumstance. Let's look at inflation. When it was announced that the inflation rate was only 6 percent—President Ford and his press secretary said, "That's great, just 6 percent." And when Johnson and Kennedy were in office before the Vietnam War, the inflation rate was 3 perrent. When Harry Truman went out of office, it was less than 1 percent. A 6 percent inflation rate comes in and steals the ability of a family to be held together. Older people with fixed incomes fear the day that their lives are squeezed. An elderly person on a fixed retirement check buys inferior food, maybe has to leave one's own home, can't buy a new dress every year, and when Christmas time comes, if they can give their grandchildren a present, it's a cheap present That's a debilitating circumstance. Families that have been wise and prudent and worked hard and saved their money and put it in a savings account, [at] 5 percent interest, find that every year they've lost 1 percent on their life's savings. This is not the kind of nation that we had. It is not the kind of nation that we must have. I've worked all my life, with my hands mostly, except for the time I was in the Navy and the 4 years I was governor. I grew up on a farm. I balanced my family's budget. I balanced my farm's budget. I balanced my businessman's budget. I met payrolls. I didn't go into debt, except when I was sure I could repay the debt on time. I was governor for 4 years. The budget was always balanced. We had a healthy surplus every year.

If I'm elected President, one of the major goals of my administration will be to balance the federal budget, and you can depend on it. Now we can meet our needs. Nobody can say that Lyndon Johnson held back in meeting the needs of people and, when Richard Nixon went to the White House, he inherited a balanced budget. Truman was in office 7 years; he didn't have a deficit, he had an average surplus of $2 billion a year. In the last 8 years of the Republican Administration our total deficit—in 8 years—equals all the combined deficits of the preceding 92 years. Is that management? Right It is not management. That's not a characteristic of our nation. So tough, competent management has got to be combined with the meeting of people's needs. You can't have a balanced budget, you can't end inflationary spirals with 7 1/2 or 8 million Americans out of work who are looking for jobs.

We need to reorganize the bureaucratic mess in Washington. And if I'm elected, it's going to be done. I give you my word of honor. I don't believe anybody who has been bogged down in Washington 25 or 30 years is going to make a change that's basic. When I was elected governor, we did it. We had 300 agencies, departments, bureaus, [and] commissions; we eliminated 278 of them. We cut them down to a manageable level. We opened up government so people could understand it and control it. As Briscoe pointed out, we instituted zero budgeting, and I'll do it as soon as I get to the White House—strip down the government and start from scratch. We will eliminate unnecessary programs, detect overlapping and duplication, and set priorities for our nation that meet our needs next year, and not what was needed 50 years ago. We need to decrease the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups. We must maintain sustained growth. God's blessed us in this country with rich farmland and mineral resources, manufacturing capabilities, and our religious ethic to work. We believe in the Ten Commandments. One of them says that, "Six days shalt thou labor and the other day you should honor the Lord's day." But most Americans remember the 6 days part as well. This resource that we have, needs to be adequately tapped. We've seen under this Republican Administration the first balance-of-trade deficit since the Great Depression, I think in 100 years, since the War Between the States. That's not a characteristic of our country. We need an aggressive sale of American products overseas, we need to put an end to the constant Republican farm embargoes, and we need to put someone in charge of the Agriculture Department that understands that what is best for the family farmer in the long run is exactly what's best for the consumer.

Those are just some thoughts that came to my mind. Now we've got some other problems. I talked to you about the destruction of the family. We need to protect the neighborhoods; we need to preserve our pride in our ethnic heritage, and past. And we need to be tough and deeply involved in correcting our mistakes, and not fearful about the future. Crime is something that's increased so greatly in the last few years, it's almost inconceivable. The crime rate in this country in the last 8 years has increased 58 percent, in the last 2 years, 29 percent of it. One of the things is that in our federal government in Washington, we have not seen a good example set. I'm not just talking about Watergate, which is bad enough. We've had two Attorneys General convicted of serious crimes.

The CIA has spied on our own people. The FBI has committed burglaries. I remember the time up until recently that when you said the three letters FBI, your heart kind of lifted up with pride. There is an institution of professionals who protect my life and who protect my property. And we thought they would never do anything that was shameful. But lately it's changed. And it hurts us all; that attitude comes down throughout our society. The unemployment rate contributes to crime. The overloaded judicial system contributes to crime. The thing that hurts, too, is the realization that if you don't have influence, if you're poor, an average member of a working American family, and you commit a crime, you've got a good chance of going to prison. But if you're rich, you'll never see the inside of a prison in this country.

And that's not right. I'm not trying to send rich people to prison, but the point I make is that there ought not to be a double standard.

The American people are fair. Our system of justice is not fair. The American people are honest. Our government hasn't been honest. The American people believe in work. We've developed in recent-years a welfare government. The American people believe in tough, competent management. We've seen evolve a bloated, confused, bureaucratic mess. The American people believe that we ought to control our government. On the other hand, we've seen government more and more controlling us. These things are not part of the consciousness of Texans or Americans.

And to close my remarks, I intend, with your help to change them. And I'm going to depend on you to help me. We ought to have a clear constant vision of what our country can be. We ought not to lower our standards of excellence and greatness. We ought to be sure that we have cooperation with one another. And at the same time respect the differences among us. There ought to be some inclination between the President and the Congress to cooperate for a change, between a mayor and a governor and a President [to] recognize that they represent exactly the same people. There ought to be some way for our free enterprise system—agriculture, manufacturing, and labor to work with the government, with mutual respect, achieving common goals, independent. Competition ought to be insured, tough competition, to protect the small businessman and not be a favor to the big businessman.

I don't believe any other human being in this country has traveled more than I have in the last 2 years. I've been to more places, talked to more people, listened to more questions, answered more questions. I see our country's economic strength solid, our system of government is the best on earth, Richard Nixon hasn't hurt it, Watergate hasn't hurt it, the Vietnam and Cambodian Wars didn't hurt it, the CIA revelations didn't hurt our system of government.

It's still as clean and decent, a basic foundation on which we can predicate an answer to complicated questions, correct our mistakes, bind ourselves together, and approach the future with confidence.

On one last point I want to say, sharing the program with the law enforcement agencies. Last night when I was commenting on the FBI and the CIA, the sound went off for 25 minutes. And I should have known better this afternoon.

So let me say this to you in closing. I've run, I think, with an adequate degree of modesty, an unprecedented kind of campaign. My strength has been derived from people like you. I owe special interests nothing. I owe the people everything. I want to keep it that way.

This is a time for change in our country. I don't want the people to change. I want the government to change. I can't win without you. It's going to be a tough, hard fought political contest. I look forward to it. Texas, Dallas are difficult for a Democrat to carry, as you know. But particularly to defeat as an outsider an incumbent President with a unified party. I can't do it without you. You and I in partnership—you can't agree with everything I say—but I think you agree with what I've said this afternoon. I hope that you'll commit yourselves, in spite of the non-political nature of the sponsoring group, to help me in the campaign.

How many of you think, in a non-political way, that's it's time for a change in Washington?

If you'll help me between now and November 2, then beginning in January of 1977, with the other elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, 1'11 work with you to bring about those changes just to restore what we've lost and once again have a government as good as you are.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Dallas, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347546

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