Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks to the Iowa Democratic Party in Des Moines, Iowa

August 24, 1976

There is no way for me to describe how I feel coming home to Iowa. As Neal [Smith] was talking about change and opposition to change, and agriculture and farmland and historical developments, I thought about two or three weeks ago [when] I went down to our farm with one of the television network correspondents, and we were in the cemetery, there where our ancestors are buried who were born in 1787. We haven't moved very far. And I thought about my own children's great grandfather, who helped to clear that land. He went down into the swamp and he told me, when I first came home from the Navy, that it was so hot down there that he never wore trousers. He had long shirts that came down to about his knees.

And he used to plant com, before it was possible just to get a mule and a plow through the new fields, by poking a hole in the ground and dropping in a com grain and then hoeing around the stalk as it came up. "Mr. Captain," we called him. Never did like change either. And I asked "Mr. Captain" what was the thing that bothered him most. He said, well, he thought the thing that bothered him most was women's styles. He said, when he was a young man, that women wore their dresses very carefully and that you couldn't even see their instep. Nowadays, the dresses don't even cover up their step-ins.

All of us are reluctant to make unnecessary changes, but there are some changes that I have to admit that I like and that happens to be one of them. This morning, I was particularly aware of how many things have changed since the first time that I came to Iowa to campaign. This is where my whole effort started. And I'm grateful to be back with you.

I'll be speaking tomorrow at the State Fair, I'm sure with several thousand people there, about agriculture and farming. But I remember the first reception we had in Des Moines. We rented a very large hotel ballroom, and we had enough food for several hundred people. And four people came. So I stood around embarrassed for a little while, some of the hosts are here with me this afternoon. I walked over to the courthouse, as Tom Whitney suggested, to shake hands. But my campaign improved from there. We started off with nothing.

I come from a little town—683 people. My wife and I and my children and a few volunteers began to go from one living room to another, and from one labor hall to another, and from one shopping center to another, and from one fanners' market, livestock sales barn to another. And we made friends. Like many of you in this audience. And our campaign grew. And we got known. But it was hard, because in those early days, when I would get into a factory shift line, as I was this morning, I got up at 5:15 in Seattle to go to a Boeing plant. But at the first of the campaign, as the workers came by, I would shake hands with them, and I would say, "I'm Jimmy Carter, I've been Governor of Georgia; I'd like to have your vote; I'm running for President," and by that time they would be almost out of sight. And they'd stop, and they'd come back, and they'd say—President of what?

So, by that time, I'd lost fifty possible votes. But our campaign grew, and the major contributing factor to my own success was the confidence and the friendship and support that I got in the State of Iowa, and I will never forget it as long as I live. And I thank you for it.

[With] Dick Clark and John Culver, Neal Smith and, in the future, our new Congressman from the Third District, we will have I believe the kind of change made in Washington that will benefit not just your own state but also benefit the country and perhaps the world. I think it's time to reassess where we are and face frankly some of our defects, some of our mistakes, some of our failures, some of the unanswered questions. We've had too long the absolute absence of leadership in the White House. We've seen walls built around Washington, and we feel like we can't quite get through to guarantee the people of this country a government that's sensitive to our needs that we can understand and control, that is competent, well managed, efficient, economical, purposeful. And also a government of which we can be proud.

Now, a lot of people want to blame the Congress. I don't blame the Congress for it Because time after time after time, in the absence of leadership from the White House, the Congress—535 different people remember—has tried to come up, sometimes in a fumbling way, but always in a courageous way, with answers to questions about agriculture, education, housing, employment, inflation, [and] energy, without success. Because, every time, we've heard the word veto. President Ford has vetoed 53 bills in the last two years. Four times as many per year as Richard Nixon vetoed. And anybody that's four times as negative as Richard Nixon, I think he's stayed there too long.

You've got a state in which I feel at home, because I am a farmer, because I believe in the basic commitment of American human beings to preserving the family structure, because I believe in communities that are stable and idealistic and self-governing, and because I believe that people ought to control their own government. And not the other way around. I believe that the government ought to be open, and that those locked doors ought to be broken down. These kinds of changes will accommodate your own inclinations, I know.

And you have a Democratic Party here that, over almost insurmountable obstacles, has exerted your own strength without controlling the State House. You've built [it] from scratch. And you now have a superb delegation in Congress that's waiting for a good Democratic President with whom they can work, and you'll have that next January too.

There's another thing that I think has changed. And that is the attitude of political analysts and, perhaps newspaper and other news media representatives, about our people's character. Too often, the people of this country have been underestimated. I remember back in 1960 a lot of people said that the South, being conservative, being basically Protestant, would never support a young, liberal Catholic Senator from Boston. But when the returns came in in November of 1960, John Kennedy got a bigger margin of victory in Georgia than he did in Massachusetts. I might add also that in 1928, we did not vote for Herbert Hoover, we voted for Al Smith in Georgia.

So we've had a demonstration, I think, in the South, that the reputation for prejudice against someone from a region, or because of a religion, has been overestimated. The American people are better than politicians or leaders quite often recognize. And my own success this year has been a demonstration of that attitude, I believe.

Well, I don't want to talk about the past. What I want to talk about just very briefly is the future.

We've embarked already in the Democratic Party on a great crusade to register people to vote. This has been a problem throughout our history. To try to match together freedom and liberty on the one hand, and equality on the other. Almost invariably in other countries, down through the years, they were not compatible. When you had a lot of liberty and a lot of freedom, the powerful overran and overcame the rights of the weak. And then when you had equality guaranteed by the government, quite often it was accomplished, as in the Communist nations, by the abolition of freedom.

Our country has struggled with this now for two hundred years. We've made a lot of progress. Our country was not perfect when it was formed. We look back on our early founders of our nation almost in a worshipful way. We think that Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, and John Adams, and others couldn't make mistakes. But that's not exactly true. But it's because our country, when it was originally founded, was founded on the proposition that slavery was okay. It took us a hundred years almost to eliminate slavery. And women couldn't vote; young people couldn't vote. The people couldn't choose their own U.S. Senators. But we've changed those things as we've gone along. And now it's time to make a quantum jump into the future, and bind together as best we can, liberty, and independence, and individuality for our people with equality of opportunity in a fair, open, sensitive, and well managed government.

[With] the President and the Congress cooperating with one another, and with the people being represented in every decision that's made, I believe we can do those things, and, if I'm elected President, I'll join with these leaders on this platform and others to bring that about.

I want to say a few specific things. We've been hurt lately in our country, and embarrassed, and sometimes ashamed at what we've seen happen in our own government. The Vietnamese War, the invasion of Cambodia, the Watergate tragedy, the CIA revelations, have been an embarrassment to us. And we've said, what could have happened to the United States of America to bring about this circumstance among our leaders? I don't claim to be better than anyone else. I've got a lot to learn. I'm just like you all. I worked almost all my life at manual labor. My folks have been in Georgia two hundred years. Nobody in my daddy's family ever finished high school before me. I grew up on a farm during the depression years. We didn't have electricity or running water, but I had a good life. And I learned that government can be effective. I'm not afraid of government. It's not effective now— it's drifting. We don't have any long-range commitments or predictable policies in agriculture, or energy, or education, or environmental quality, transportation, even foreign affairs. That needs to be done. There's no way for government, industry, manufacturers, labor, agriculture, education, science, and other entities of our society to work together in harmony. We need to have a good agriculture policy. I'm going to talk about that tomorrow, I'll skip over it now.

We also need to have a sunshine law passed in Washington to strip away the secrecy that now surrounds government And that's going to come. We're going to have a complete reorganization of the Executive Branch of government to make it efficient, economical, purposeful, and manageable for a change. If I'm elected, it's going to be done. And you can depend on that.

We're going to have complete, comprehensive welfare reform. Now the American people are compassionate, and we want to take care of those who are not able to work. But I believe that anybody that's able to work ought to work.

And this can only come about, in my opinion, [by having] a simple system. We now have two million welfare workers. We've only got three million adult welfare recipients. That's right. We've got almost a hundred different federal welfare programs in all categories. That system needs to be simplified. I believe the American people, including myself, the Senators and Congressmen on this platform, are intelligent enough to devise a fair, equitable, compassionate welfare system. To divide those who can work and the ones who can't, to educate and train those who are not employable now but can be, and to deal sensitively with those that are subject to being dependent on government.

One of the phrases that I always remember that I used in my announcement speech on December of 1974, is a quote from a Chinese philosopher called Kuang Hsu, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. And Kuang Hsu said, "You give a man a fish, he has one meal. You teach a man how to fish, he can feed himself for life." That ought to be the attitude of government.

There is one other specific thing I want to mention. And that is taxation. I think most Americans don't mind their taxes if we feel that the system is fair, and our neighbors who have the same valued property and who have the same basic income pay the same amount of taxes. I know I don't mind. I don't believe other people mind. But our present income tax system is a disgrace. It's got to be changed. Now the Congress has tried to struggle with this problem and with others, without any beneficial or helpful assistance from the White House. So far, the efforts have not been successful. Quite often, when we hear about tax reform, I kind of shrink up a little bit, because tax reform has meant in the past, quite often, that the special interest groups who are powerful, influential, have high paid lobbyists, good lawyers—in a tax reform bill, they benefit. But the average Americans get cheated. So we need a change in the whole basic structure of the income tax system. Not amendments, but a basic change.

Now, I recognize the difficulty of these things. And a lot of people say, well, I've heard it before. I've heard about government reorganization. I've heard about welfare reform. I've heard about tax reform. I don't intend to break my promises to you. I've had a chance to meet with the leaders in the House and Senate, those who head the Democratic Caucuses, and those who head the committees. And I believe they share with me an overwhelming hope that the next administration, working harmoniously with the Congress, can make these long delayed changes come to pass.

I believe that it's not only possible, but mandatory. And if I do have difficulty with special interest groups and others, I'm going to come to you for help and present my case to you, and I don't believe you'll let me down.

The last thing I want to say is this. We've got a long way to go in this country. And it's not going to be easy. And no President can do it alone. And no 535 Members of Congress working with the President can do it alone. On election day, that's just the beginning of making these changes in our society. And, if there are things that you don't like in your own government, if there are questions that you have not yet found the answer to, if we've made mistakes that you don't want to see made again, or if there are hopes or dreams in your own lives or in the lives of your children that you'd like to see realized, or if there are things that you've learned in the small towns and farms and cities, Iowa and other places in the country, that you have admired, and you'd like to see repeated throughout this country, I hope that you'll join me in a personal commitment to change our government for the better. I see no reason why government should be confused and wasteful when the American people are not confused and don't waste. I see no reason why government should not be honest when the American people are honest. I see no reason why we should divide rural people from urban people, or young people from old people, or black people from white people, or different regions or races from one another, or religions. These divisions have sapped us of strength. And now is the time to correct it.

Every now and then there comes along a special time, and this is it. We've suffered, yes. But we're celebrating our two hundredth birthday. It's a time for reassessment, to look back and see what we've done wrong, to encapsulate in our own minds the vision of our country, to bind ourselves together. The Democratic Party demonstrated, I believe, in Madison Square Garden, the most remarkable unity of purpose that I have ever seen in my life. It wasn't unity brought about by me as a candidate, or by Bob Strauss as the Democratic National Chairman. It was unity brought about by common concern, and a common interest, and a common willingness not to be personally selfish for awhile, but to make a small sacrifice for the common good of our nation. The Democrats have a strong position now in the polls—25 points ahead. It would be a serious mistake for us to take a victory for granted. The only fatal mistake that I can see that I could make would be to take a state or a voter for granted. I know how hard it is for the average American citizen in this time to fed proud and self-reliant and worthy. I want to make sure that I as a political leader never underestimate the worth of any human being. I'm not anybody's boss; I don't ever want to be. I want to be everybody's servant And I want to learn from you individually what you think this country ought to be.

I'm going to run a hard campaign. And as I said to the surprise of many people on my first trip to Des Moines, "I don't intend to lose the nomination. I believe I can win on the first ballot." A lot of people smiled, some laughed out loud. Well, I'm going to make another prediction to you now. I don't intend to lose in November. I intend to be your next President. If you'll help me, I'll do it.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks to the Iowa Democratic Party in Des Moines, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347645

Simple Search of Our Archives