Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fund Raiser in New York City

October 19, 1976

This is one of the great evenings of my life because I'm celebrating two birthday parties, Amy's when I get home about 2 o'clock in the morning; I'm going to pretend it's still today. And this is also the birthday of Bob Strauss. Bob, happy birthday to you. [applause]

Bob mentioned last July, following the last primaries in Ohio and New Jersey, and California, the one I remember best is the one in Ohio, and I did call him on the phone and Bob said earlier that he did not want to stay on as National Party Chairman. He said that he was very surprised that he had gotten a telephone call asking him to be chairman. He said he was even more surprised that I was the one that made it. I think this mutual relationship has been very good for us.

This afternoon I was in Harlem, at a really tremendous rally. I wish that all of you could have been there. It was a large crowd of people, the street, the sidewalks, the windows, the porches were covered with people. But there was kind of a spirit about it. A spirit of concern and hope at the same time. And a spirit of despair in ways, but anticipation in another. They told me that I was the first Democratic nominee who's been to campaign in Harlem since 1968.

I thought about it a lot. But then I remembered that I'm the first Democratic nominee who ever campaigned in the State of Alabama, or in the State of Mississippi. And my own effort for the last 22 months, and this is another birthday, this is my twenty-second month tonight [of campaigning]. I began the twentieth day of January, 1975, so I'm finishing my twenty-second month tonight.

In the last almost two years I've learned a lot about this country. And I've been places where candidates have never been before. And as many of you know having observed my campaign, when I began it I didn't have much money; I believe I had $43,000. And I didn't have a built-in campaign organization, and I didn't hold public office, and not many people knew who I was. I doubt if one of a hundred of you had ever heard my name. And I, my wife, and a few volunteers and my children began to go around the country. And we talked a little and we listened a lot.

And we had to go where people already were because they wouldn't come when we invited them. We would invite a whole neighborhood to come to a living room, and maybe four people would show up. And we'd go to a labor hall that held 200, 300 people and only ten people would come. I remember once we had a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, a tremendous ballroom, about this large, and 3 people came. So we'd walk the streets, and barber shops and beauty parlors, and restaurants and stood in factory shift lines and went to farmers' markets, and livestock sale barns, and county courthouses and city halls, just to learn about our country and let them get to know us.

We now have two weeks to go. And there's a great decision to be made. Tonight I want to talk to you a few minutes about the word federalism— it's one that I learned in grammar school about the proper interrelationship between the federal, state and local levels of government, and the people themselves; a businesslike, practical, mature commitment to the proposition that there needn't be a division between people and their government And there needn't be a division between local, state and federal levels of government, because those of us who are elected—mayors, governors, Congress, President—we all represent the same people. In recent years we've seen that concept partially destroyed, but it need not be.

We face a clear cut choice this year between the past and the future. Between more of the same and a new beginning. The Republicans have no new ideas; they don't even pretend to. All they can say is, in effect, it can't be any better, so why worry about the election. Why worry about the government. And they imply that somehow or another we ought to fear progress. Or fear the future. But Americans have never feared progress and we've never feared the future. The American dream is based on a belief, and with hard work and good government we can build better lives and build a better nation for ourselves and for our children. More of the same economic problems that we've experienced means more unemployment. In the last four months we've had 500,000 more Americans become unemployed. In the last few years, since Richard Nixon left the White House, 2 1/2 million American families have gone on the unemployed rolls. It means more inflation; since the beginning of the year the inflation rate has doubled.

This also means additional recession or additional human suffering. People like us don't suffer nearly as much as the ones to whom I talked in Harlem this afternoon. And in Winston-Salem this afternoon. And in Miami this morning, on the beach. And last night in Tampa. They come, having suffered when the unemployment rolls increase, because their families stand in line looking for a job. And they come having suffered when the unemployment rate rises, because they have to cut into their own personal expenses—food, clothing, housing. Most of us don't. And they come having suffered with a loss of a commitment to a nation and ideals and principles that have been damaged very seriously in the last eight years.

The Republicans have had eight years to solve the problems of this nation, but they failed. I don't doubt that they tried. They've employed economic policies in which they believe. Their methods just didn't work. They didn't work under Herbert Hoover, they didn't work under Richard Nixon, and they're not working under Gerald Ford. [applause]

By every measure of growth and stability and progress and the quality of life, our society is now worse than it was when Lyndon Johnson left the White House and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford moved in. Yet all they offer us is more of the same. Their intentions may be good; I don't doubt that. But we can't settle for good intentions while the people of our country are out of work and inflation continues to climb, and our nation's economy grinds to a halt. We got the results today of an analysis of the gross national product. It's dropped more than half since January. We just can't stand four more years of stagnation. Our nation is crying out for leadership, and our nation is crying out for a concept of greatness.

A great nation just can't stand still. If we're not moving forward, we're moving backward. Our nation has always been at its best when as a people we were boldly reaching out, striving, trying, growing, facing difficulties with courage, with a spirit of unity, and the concept of excellence, and sometimes sacrifice.

I think of the Civilian Conservation Corps that I knew about when I was a child on the farm. I was too young to participate but my first cousins did. And many of our neighbors did. I think about the REA when it turned on the electric lights in my house when I was fourteen years old. I think about the Marshall Plan under Truman, and aid to Turkey and Greece, and the United Nations, and the formation of the nation of Israel. I think about the Peace Corps in which my mother served when she was about 70 years old. [applause]

But we don't have those concepts any more, of sacrifice and a struggle upward, and inspiration and pride. We've had eight long tragic years, we've been stalled too long, we've got to get moving again. And only a new and fresh and vigorous and imaginative and dedicated Democratic leadership is going to get us moving, not just in my own right, as a potential President, but throughout the ranks of the federal, state and local levels of government, and among people who hunger for something clean and decent around which they can build their lives once again. The problem isn't just economic, it's a matter of the spirit. We as a nation have been disillusioned, we've suffered too much, and [in] too short a time, the assassination of great political leaders—John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.—a tragic war, hidden deceitfully from the American people in the case of Cambodia, a national scandal, the resignation and disgrace of a President of the United States, and the Vice President of the United States.

All of these things and others made millions of American people lose faith and trust in our own government. To all these people I say every day, many times, please, don't give up. Don't be apathetic. Give our system another chance. To those who are disgusted or filled with apathy, I say that our government can work, and it will work. [applause]

If we can only have leaders once again who have vision, and who are as good in office as the people who put them in office. That's what this campaign is all about. We must have a government that listens to our people and understands our people, and respects our people, and reflects the greatness of our people. [applause]

Government by the people—it's as simple as that. But our government in recent years has lost touch with our people.

It has become the servant of the few and not the many. That's what we must change, whether we are rich and powerful or poor and insecure. Whether we are socially prominent or not. Now I don't know all the answers. I'm just like you are. But I haven't given up hope for our country.

I believe in America.

Once the people rule again, we can solve our economic problems. Once the people rule again, we can have a fair tax system.

Once the people rule again, we can reorganize the government and make it work with competence and compassion because the American people are competent, and we're compassionate.

Once the people rule again, we can have a foreign policy to make us proud and not ashamed.

It all depends on the people and how accurately we represent them who have been selected by them as leaders. That's why we're going to win in November. [applause] Because we've gone to the people, and we've listened to the people and we've learned from the people. Because we take our strength and our hope and our courage from the people. Because we owe special interests [nothing], because we owe the people everything. So let us go through this last two weeks and throughout the campaign, gladly and proudly, and bravely. Let us go forth in the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, and John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, and all the others who made us proud to be Democrats. And let us always put our faith in the American people and their intelligence and in their decency and in their compassion and in their courage, for as long as we do, as long as they are with us, no power on earth can prevail against us or our nation.

Thank you very much.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fund Raiser in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347577

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