Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks to the National Conference of Catholic Charities in Denver, Colorado

October 04, 1976

It is an honor for me to meet with an organization whose hundreds of constituent agencies and thousands of dedicated workers have since 1910 symbolized volunteerism and the tireless advocacy of social justice in America.

Ever since the founding days of Monsignor William Kerby, the National Conference of Catholic Charities has been a major force in maintaining diversity in the delivery of social services in America.

But in recent years we have suffered a failure of leadership at the highest level of our government. Instead of cooperation, your efforts have too often been greeted with indifference, negativism and neglect.

We saw a dramatic example of that negativism last week when President Ford vetoed the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare—a veto that was wisely and swiftly overridden by two-thirds majorities in both Houses of Congress.

If I become President, I intend to strengthen the American tradition of private volunteerism that is imperative if this nation is to meet its commitment to social justice.

Pluralism in social services is, of course, only a part of the larger pluralism—ethnic, cultural, and religious—that has made America great and will keep us great.

I have come more and more to appreciate the diversity and the greatness of our country as I have run for President. As you know, I am a Baptist from the South. You are Catholics from all parts of the country. Yet I am convinced that the basic beliefs and basic concerns that unite us—and none is more basic than freedom of religious expression—are far more important than the factors that divide us.

John Kennedy, speaking in 1960 to the Baptist ministers in Houston, said that while it was he, a Catholic, who faced suspicion that year, it would someday be a Jew or a Baptist.

His prediction has come to pass, and this year it is a Southern Baptist who faces the intense scrutiny that is so vital to our Democratic process. I welcome the scrutiny, and I have not the slightest doubt that this year, once again, our national tradition of tolerance and fairness will prevail— as it did in 1960 when my State of Georgia gave John Kennedy an even greater percentage of its vote than did his home State of Massachusetts.

I know that one of the common concerns that unites us is the preservation and strengthening of the American family. It is a concern I have often spoken out on during this campaign, and I would like to discuss it with you today.

The family is the cornerstone of American life. I am deeply troubled by its deterioration in recent years, and by the fact that our elected leaders and our government agencies have at times, through ignorance or indifference, pursued policies that have damaged families rather than supporting and strengthening them.

If we want less government, we must work for stronger families, for when our family structure is weak our government will tend to fill the vacuum, however unsatisfactorily.

The evidence of family breakdown is all around us. Two out of five marriages now end in divorce. One child in eight is now born outside of marriage. One American child in six now lives in a single-parent family. A million young Americans now run away from home each year.

The problem is severe. The question is what our government is now doing to lessen—or worsen—the problem. The next question is what our government could be doing, if the proper leadership existed.

I am deeply concerned about the impact that the Republican mismanagement of the economy is having on family life in America.

The Republicans have given us both high inflation and high unemployment—the unemployment forces people from work to welfare, and the inflation picks the pockets of those working people who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs.

Mr. Ford says he is proud of his economic record and that he is running on it. He ought to be running from it. Is he proud of the fact that 2.5 million Americans last year fell below the official poverty line—the greatest number since we started keeping records?

Is he proud of the 6 percent annual inflation rate that he and his advisers are trying to convince us is normal? The fact is that during the eight Kennedy-Johnson years the inflation rate averaged 2 percent, a third of the 6 percent rate that Mr. Ford now runs on so proudly.

Have you ever listened to Mr. Ford and his advisers try to explain away their economic mismanagement? Whenever they think they can get away with it, they tell us, "You've never had it so good!" And when that won't wash, they fall back on, "Trust us—prosperity is just around the comer."

But we've been around the comer with the Republicans too many times, looking for the prosperity they promise, and all we ever find there is more empty speeches and broken promises and WIN buttons and hard times for the ordinary working people of America.

Let me tell you one disturbing new statistic that was called to my attention recently. This administration sometimes says that the present 7.9 percent unemployment rate really isn't hurting families because joblessness falls mainly on teenagers or on the elderly or on women who allegedly don't need work. But recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that the unemployment rate for fathers of intact families with children under age six rose from 3.4 percent in 1974 to 7.2 percent in 1975. And the unemployment rate for mothers who head single parent families rose during that same year from 13 percent to almost 20 percent.

I sometimes wonder how often the people who set the economic policies for this administration stop and think of human realities that lie behind the unemployment and inflation statistics that they find so encouraging.

Do they consider what it is like to be men or women who are laid off, and can't find work, and can't provide for their children, and have to go stand in an unemployment line or a welfare line after a lifetime of honest and satisfying work?

Do they think about the loss of pride and independence and self-respect that accompanies forced unemployment?

Are they aware of the mounting evidence that unemployment contributes directly to increases in alcoholism, child abuse, mental illness, divorce, juvenile delinquency and even suicide?

These are some of the human realities that all of you know only too well, realities that I don't think this administration considers when it boasts of its economic record.

In addition to its economic mismanagement, this administration has pursued policies that, through ignorance or indifference, we have harmed families instead of helping families.

For example:

• Welfare policies in almost half the states deny benefits unless and until the father leaves home.

• Medicaid programs in 21 states actually deny prenatal care to first time mothers, even though women who receive no prenatal care are three times as likely to give birth to children with birth defects.

• Urban renewal policies have time after time destroyed neighborhoods and shattered families.

• Civil service regulations have provided little opportunity for flexible scheduling or part-time work, and tax policies have discriminated against families in a variety of ways, such as the sQ-called "Grandmother Clause" which for years disallowed child care deductions for family members closer than a cousin.

The examples go on and on, and the point is clear: our government has often been blind to the needs of American families. One thing I intend to do as President is to make sure that every action our government takes helps our families rather than hurts them.

One step I intend to take soon after becoming President is to convene a White House Conference on the American Family. My goal will be to bring together leaders of government, leaders of the private sector like yourselves, and ordinary citizens and parents to discuss specific ways we can better support and strengthen our families. That Conference can be an important first step toward restoring the public-private partnership in social services that has been so hampered by Republican neglect.

Let me list for you some of the programs I will support as President which I believe will strengthen our families, our economy and our society:

I support a comprehensive program of national health care.

I will enact economic policies that will lower inflation, create jobs, and get our people off welfare and back to work again.

I intend to reform our present welfare system. About ten percent of the people on welfare are able-bodied and can work full-time and should be offered job training and jobs. If they refuse to accept a job offered to them. I would not give them any further benefits.

The other ninety percent on welfare cannot work full-time, and we need to treat them with respect. There should be a fairly uniform payment to meet the basic necessities of life, an encouragement to work part-time, and everything possible should be done to bind families together.

The present welfare system is anti-family and anti-work. It must be reformed.

I will propose tax reform to end the loopholes that now often have millionaires paying a lower percentage of their income than working people.

I will carry out a complete reorganization of the Executive Branch of government, to give us once again a government that is lean and competent and responsive to our people's needs, and which coordinates the various and sometimes conflicting social programs.

I saw first hand, as Governor of Georgia, what you have seen first hand in your own social agencies—that our federal bureaucracy is hopelessly confused and overlapping. But it does not have to be. A government that is not competent cannot be truly compassionate—and I intend to have a government that is both.

I intend for the Justice Department to pursue policies that will provide equal justice in America. The American people are sick of seeing a double standard of justice. The corporate executive and the petty thief must go before the bar of justice knowing that the law will treat them both fairly, impartially and firmly.

As perhaps you know, I believe that revenue sharing funds should go directly to the local communities. I also believe that we should end the present restrictions on the use of revenue sharing funds for education and other social programs, and I believe the language of the revenue sharing legislation should make it absolutely clear that charitable and religious organizations qualify for funding for their social and community programs.

As you may know, and despite recent, willful distortions of my position, have always favored tax exemption for church-owned properties, such as schools and hospitals, which are used for religious, cultural, educational or charitable purposes.

As governor, I proposed and passed legislation to remove taxes from church-operated hospitals.

I hope you are also aware of my commitment to seeking and finding ways to provide aid to parents whose children attend non-segregated private schools, so that those children can benefit fully from federal education programs.

As Governor of Georgia, I signed a bill which authorized annual grants or students attending private colleges in Georgia. We must develop similar institutionally acceptable programs for non-public elementary and secondary schools if we are to develop a healthy diversity of educational opportunity for all our children.

These are some of the domestic goals to which I am committed. I know you are committed to them, too. But more important than any single program, I think, is for the President, and the people around him, to view the problems of our people with concern and sensitivity and compassion.

We have been governed for too long by people who are isolated from the realities of life in America. Our leaders have spent too many years wandering through Washington's quiet corridors of power, or strolling along the plush green fairways of privilege. They seem not to know that there is hunger and despair in America.

I think it is time for America to have a President, and to have people around the President who, like yourselves, have been in the streets and have ministered to those in the prisons and the mental hospitals and have worked in the schools and the homes for the elderly—who know the reality of life in America—and who share the pain of our people and share the dreams of our people and understand the greatness of our people.

That is what this election is all about—government by the people—returning the government of this country back to the people of this country.

We must have leaders again who are not isolated but involved, leaders whose commitment is not to the privileged few but to the deserving many.

The proudest claim I can make to you is simply this: I owe the special interests nothing. I owe the people everything. And I intend to keep it that way.

I believe we can have liberty and justice for all in America—if the people rule again.

I believe we can provide a decent standard of living for all Americans— if the people rule again.

I believe that from out of our national diversity can come national unity—if the people rule again.

I believe that we have lived through a time of torment, and we are near a time of healing—if the people rule again.

I ask you to help us reach that point of healing, to help us bind up this nation's wounds.

I can think of no more fitting words to close with than those of your own Monsignor John O'Grady, who said:

"The Magna Carta of Catholic charity was written on Mount Olivet when Jesus Christ said to his disciples: Tor I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was in prison and you came to me ... I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.' "

That is the spirit that has made the Catholic Charities movement great It is the spirit than can restore our national greatness. It is the spirit in which I come before you today.

I ask your help.

You can count on mine.

Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks to the National Conference of Catholic Charities in Denver, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347561

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