Remarks at a Kennedy-Lawrence Dinner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I'm glad to be back in Pennsylvania. I'm very glad that my good friend Milton Shapp is here and your fine Lieutenant Governor and Mayor Pete Flaherty, and others who have helped me so much in the last 22 months or more to become the nominee of our party. I know that you're going to eat supper after I leave. I'd like to make my own remarks fairly brief tonight. And I'd like to speak to you in a fairly serious tone.
Many people in the last eight years have come to the conclusion that our nation has been irreparably damaged in the aftermath of the bombing of Cambodia and the Watergate scandal and the CIA revelations, and the problems in the FBI, the high unemployment rate, the resignation in disgrace of a President of the United States and a Vice President.
A lot of people feel that what we started here in Pennsylvania 200 years ago has somehow slipped out of our grasp. But that's not true at all.
And I've learned a lot in the last two years that I didn't know before. I'm a farmer. My people have farmed in Georgia for more than 210 years. But I've learned a lot about agriculture as I traveled through the Imperial Valley of California, and seen the cheese manufacturers in Wisconsin, the syrup manufacturers in New Hampshire, and the broad cotton and com fields of the Middle West, and I've learned a lot.
I've learned a lot about our government—the system of federalism. The proper interrelationship that ought to exist between the federal, state and local levels of government. I've learned a lot about history. And in the preparation for the three 90 minute debates, I learned more facts, more figures, more names, more places, than you could ever dream of, in hundreds of hours on my part and thousands of hours on the part of my staff. If they'd asked me a question about the Kurds, I could have answered it. If they'd asked me a question about Eutrians, I could have answered it. I know history now much better than I ever have before.
And in the process, I've come to realize that we have a strength in this nation that is waiting to be tapped. A lot of people feel that an 8 percent unemployment rate is a characteristic of our nation. It isn't A lot of people feel that 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 percent inflation is inevitable in the years to come. It isn't. A lot of people feel that a $60 to $70 billion deficit, which we had last year, is typical of our nation. But it isn't.
But when you claim, in a political campaign, that things can be better, quite often the voters think that you're making an idle promise. And there's a general feeling we cannot trust the political system, we cannot trust political leaders any more. We've been betrayed too much.
But the one thing that we in this room remember is that in the last 24 years, we've had Republicans in the White House 16 years. But there's been a difference in attitude and tone and commitment and achievement and spirit when Democrats were in the White House.
The first time I voted was in 1948. I was at submarine school in New London, Connecticut. There were 61 of us there in school—young Naval officers. Sixty of them voted for Thomas Dewey; I voted for Harry Truman. And I remember very seriously how this country was under his leadership
When he spoke, I never doubted he told the truth. When our country made a mistake, Harry Truman said "I'm the President." When our country had a difficult decision to be made, recognition of Israel, formation of the United Nations, aid to Turkey and Greece, the Marshall Plan, NATO, Harry Truman said, "I'm the President." He had strong leaders with him— Dean Acheson, George Marshall—but the President represented our country and there was a sense of trust, although he was not always popular, but there was a sense of trust. He had a sign on his desk. It said "The Buck Stops Here." Nowadays, the buck can run all over Washington looking for a place to stop. Nobody is in charge, the country is drifting. The sign's going back on next January 20th.
But there's a great difference between Democrats and Republicans. Truman felt, Roosevelt felt, Johnson felt, Kennedy felt, an affinity with common, ordinary, unselfish, hard-working Americans, and that makes a difference. Truman was in office seven years. He didn't have an average deficit, he had an average surplus of $2 billion a year. Tough times—Korean War came along. When he went out of office the unemployment rate was under 3 percent, inflation rate was less than 1 percent. The interest on an FHA loan 4 percent. And then came Eisenhower. When he left office the unemployment rate had jumped up to 6.7 percent. And in four years, without a war by the way, Kennedy brought it down to 4 percent. When Johnson went out of office, we had a lot of new social programs. Maybe some of them weren't advisable. The country was dynamic and moving and aggressive. But Nixon inherited a balanced budget. And the inflation rate was not 6 or 7 percent under Johnson and Kennedy—it was 2 percent.
This is the kind of management that can come, but it's dependent on American people being at work. Now since the conventions have been over we've had a tough campaign. It's not going to be easy the next six days. And what you do—those of you who are in this room—will decide how Pennsylvania goes to a major degree. It's going to be close. But I've never looked for a sure thing. I've been willing to fight and I know that you feel the same way. President Ford and I have had one major decision to make so far. The choice of a running mate.
When I knew that I had the nomination, I had one criterion in my mind. One, who in this nation, available to serve with me, would be the best President if I should not serve out my term? And I chose Walter Mondale and I'm proud of it.
And President Ford chose Bob Dole.
But this difference—it's a difference of trust and vision and idealism and commitment and competence and compassion. And it's part of the character of the Democratic Party. If I'm elected, and I don't intend to lose, I intend to run the government like a business. I've worked all my life, I started my own business, I didn't have any employees except myself. My budget was balanced. When I was Governor of Georgia—four years—the budget was balanced. I had a cumulative surplus of $496 million and we had good services. We reorganized the structure of government, put in zero-based budgeting. Put clear goals for ourselves for the future. I'll do the same thing as President, with your help.
But we've made some normal projections. In the four years a balanced budget, yes. A normal growth rate 5 to 6 percent—which was there when Kennedy and Johnson were in office before the Vietnamese War. To get the unemployment rate down to 4 percent. And to phase in the increased revenues—estimated to be about $60 billion at the end of the four year period— partially with substantial tax reductions. I would think otherwise to phase in very methodically, very carefully, new programs that our people want. That's the kind of management that we can have. That's the kind of management that we want to have.
In closing, the point I want to make to you is that there is no incompatibility between competence and tough management and meeting our people's needs and putting our people back to work, and sensitivity and trust. [applause] Those things can go together.
Now, I want to talk to you in closing tonight about some of my thoughts as I come to the end of a long political campaign.
The campaign began for me as you know some 22 months ago. I didn't have a campaign organization. I didn't have much money. Not many people knew who I was. I didn't hold public office. But I and my family campaigned for President just like you would if you wanted to be elected to the highest office in our country. In factory shift lines, barber shops, beauty parlors, livestock sales barns, farmers' markets, county courthouses, in the streets, shopping centers. Talking a little, listening a lot. And we learned about this country. There wasn't much media representation in those days. I was lonely. And when I saw somebody with a scratch pad and a pencil or a microphone, I moved over their way and hoped they'd ask me a question. Most of the time they didn't.
But I learned. I learned about this country. And I understand the diversity of our nation much better than I did before. Our country is made up of pluralism or diversity. A lot of different kinds of people. But that's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. Some people have said that our nation is a melting pot. It's not. Whether we came to this country 2 years, 20 years, 200 years ago, it doesn't matter. The point is why we came to this country. But when we come here we haven't given up our individuality, our pride in our past history or background or commitments or habits. We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.
But all put together to make a beautiful picture of a common people. We came here because we wanted to. And we came here because we believed in this country. And we came here because we felt we could get along with one another even if sometimes we disagreed. And we haven't really been disappointed. I've learned that this country faces great problems. I've met many college graduates who cannot find a job. I've met many women who have worked all their lives and then suddenly for reasons that they don't understand and which they cannot control were forced out of jobs and for the first time into the unemployment line. And later, to draw their first welfare check. And that hurts a family when a man or woman, able to work, wanting to work, starts depending upon welfare. I've felt their anguish and I've experienced their embarrassment and I've talked to them quietly. And I've felt their shame when they lost their economic independence and their ability to care for their own families, and a sense of trust in looking up to the bread winner.
And then they became somebody's statistic. In the last two years since Mr. Nixon left office we've had two and a half million American families become unemployed. In the last two months alone, 500,000 Americans have become unemployed. And that hurts. I've met people who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs. But have been driven to the brink of deprivation by runaway inflation. And saw a growing realization that those who were still lucky enough to work, that they were paying the bills, the welfare, unemployment compensation and lost revenues. In the last two years we've had $23 billion added to our federal deficit, because of unemployment compensation and welfare costs. And the ones who pay the bill are the ones who still have jobs. I've met mothers and fathers who always felt sure in the past that they could plan for the future and that their children could go to college or they could buy a home. Nowadays, one of the most prevalent comments in our public opinion polls is "We can't plan anymore." Our savings account that used to bring in a net profit now loses money, because the interest paid on the deposit doesn't equal the losses to inflation. Over half the people in this country were able to own their own homes when Lyndon Johnson left the White House. Since then, the cost of the average home has doubled. Interest rates increased 50 percent. And now less than one-third of American families are financially able to own their own home. Property taxes are skyrocketed. Not because Pete Flaherty and other local leaders have increased costs, but because of what happens in Washington. As the welfare programs expand, as inflation hits all of us, property taxes go up. The home is worth more in the books, it's not worth any more to the family who lives there.
This has hurt our nation. I've seen these problems and I've felt the frustration of people who sense that their problems are being caused not by themselves but by some remote bureaucrat in Washington, and who feel and express to me quite often that, "There's been a wall built around Washington we can't quite penetrate. Governor, we don't know how to make our expression of complaint or suggestion heard anymore." There's been too much secrecy. And too little attention given to personal privacy. They've felt that the decisions had affected their lives and they didn't have any part in the decision making process.
I saw the disillusion of American people and so did you. With the assassinations of John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the shooting of George Wallace. And this hurt. And there was a sense that somehow or other our societal structure was coining apart. And the scandals that hit our own government destroyed our core of stability and trust and in some ways had even substituted for the families that are so seldom cohesive now in a fast changing, fast moving, technological society.
We've had a feeling that somehow the government that used to be our servant has become our master.
These are some of the impressions that I've got campaigning throughout the country in 30 primaries and since then in all 50 states, either I or my family. But that's not all I saw.
I saw the underlying, unconquerable spirit of our people. I've seen the American people's courage and I've seen the American people's hope. And I've seen our determination not to surrender to setbacks and adversity, and I've seen our determination to get off of welfare and back to work.
And I've seen in the midst of political scandal and corruption our determination to regain control of our governmental process and to restore to it competence, integrity, compassion and unity. And also excellence and greatness.
I've seen this determination and this courage and I know that I shall never lose confidence in America because American people have never lost confidence in themselves.
These are a few things that I've seen as I've run for President. And I've associated myself, not with the despair but with the hope.
Not with the discouragement, but with the optimism. Not with the negative aspects of life, but with the affirmative commitment. Not with the past, but with the future.
Because I know that these qualities that I've just described are what you yourselves have adopted in your own lives and hundreds of millions of Americans have adopted in their lives.
Tonight, almost on the eve of the election, an election that I do not intend to lose, [applause] I would like to look ahead with you for just a minute about what I see in the future.
I don't fear tough campaigns. Neither do you. I don't fear any dose elections, and neither do you. I have confidence in the American people's judgment and so do you. I have confidence in the future of our nation and so do you.
I see, on this 200th birthday celebration year of America, a new spirit. I see national pride restored. I see a revival of patriotism. I see an outpouring of a sense of volunteerism. Where American people without pay say, "Let me participate in the processes of government and society."
I see young Americans who don't drop out, but are eager to help out, as they did in the early 1960's with the Peace Corps, before we were divided by war and assassinations and scandal.
I see a double standard of justice abolished once and for all. Where the average American is sent to prison and the big shot crooks go free. I see everybody standing equal before the bar of justice.
And I see an American government where economic policies are concerned with people. And people's lives and people's families. And not with abstract theories that are modified to a major degree by special interests who have inroads into the decision making process and carve out for themselves niches of privilege that the average American can never occupy.
And I see an American tax system that does not cheat the average worker while offering an infinity of loopholes for the selfish special interests.
And I see an American government that is turned away from scandal and corruption and official cynicism and is once again as honest and as open and as decent as the American people.
And I see an American government that does not spy anymore on its own citizens, but respects our dignity and our privacy and our right to be left alone. [applause]
And I see an American foreign policy that we can be proud of once again. One that reflects the generosity and the common sense of the American people.
And I see an America back at work again. An America with a strong economy and a balanced budget, meeting our needs, with inflation under control.
And I see an American President who does not govern with negativism but with confidence in the future—with vigor and vision and aggressive leadership—working closely with mayors and the Congress and governors. [applause] A President who is not isolated from our people, but who takes his strength and his wisdom and his courage and his guidance and advice and criticism directly from American citizens like yourselves.
And I see an America on the move again. United, a diverse and tolerant nation, entering its third century with pride and confidence.
I see an America that lives up to the majesty of our Constitution. And the simple decency of our people.
That's the America that I want. That's the America you want. And this is the America that we can have if we'll work hard for the next six days and win this election and give the government of the people back to the people of this country. That's what I want to do.
Thank you very much.
Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Kennedy-Lawrence Dinner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347587