Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the National Convention of the Future Farmers of America in Kansas City, Missouri

November 09, 1978

President Ken Johnson, former FFA adviser of Plains High School, L. K. Moss, fellow members of the FFA:

I'm proud to be with you today as a man who comes on behalf of 220 million Americans to say congratulations on your 50th anniversary.

I'm not here as a senior statesman of the FFA, to give you advice and counsel on how to run your lives. When I was in my final stages of campaigning for Governor, I went to Macon, Georgia, to attend the Governor's Honors Program, a group of the 400 brightest students in Georgia who were honored each summer with an 8-week training course. And they have a special day called Careers Day, and I was invited to be the main speaker.

I was very proud of myself. And when I was introduced by the host, a young man from south Georgia, he said, "We are very glad to have with us"—at that time—"State Senator Jimmy Carter. He's from Plains, Georgia. He went to Georgia Southwestern College, where he studied chemistry. He went to Georgia Tech, where he studied engineering. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied naval science. He did graduate work in nuclear physics at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Now he's growing peanuts." [Laughter] "And he's here to tell us how to plan our life's career."

Well, my speech was over before I got the audience back. So, I'm not here to give you advice on how to plan your life's career.

The first thing I joined in my life was the Baptist Church. The second thing I joined in my life was the FFA. Our great organization was then only 9 years old. And as I began to prepare this talk—I don't have any text at all—I thought I would give you some observations from the point of view of the President of the United States and from the point of view of the secretary of the FFA Chapter in Plains, about the changes that have taken place in those years since I became a member of this great organization and began to learn about myself, my community, my Nation, my responsibilities.

In 1937, when I joined the FFA, farm life was much more similar to farm life in the time of Christ or the time of the pharaohs thousands of years ago than it was similar to farming today. We had no tractors on our farm. We had no hybrid seed to plant. Fertilizers were very limited. Excessive cultivation robbed our crops of their .basic strength. The only pesticide we had was arsenic, applied by hand. We had no indoor plumbing. We had no running water. We didn't have electricity until I was 14 years old. Our life was confined to a tiny community. And the center of my own existence was my family; close-knit, mutually dependent on one another. Americans were not mobile then. It was a very rare occasion for a family to move. How different it is today.

We still have the greatest agricultural economy on Earth to provide food, fiber for other people not so fortunate as we. Our productivity has increased enormously. Farm population has gone down. Mechanisms, chemicals, advanced pesticides of all kinds have become an integral part of life. Family structures are not nearly so sound nor stable. With the advent of television and extensive news media coverage available to us, the horizon of our knowledge and our community within which we exist has increased tremendously.

Change has taken place so rapidly that many of us are concerned about it; it causes us trouble and doubts about the future, uncertainty. Americans are mobile. A dwelling place is a transient thing. But some things in the life of Americans-you as young men, I, when I was 13, 14 years old—don't change. The needs of a human being or a nation, the basic needs, have not changed. The basic values on which we predicate our lives as individuals and as a nation haven't changed. The aspirations of free people for the future have not changed.

It's not even necessary for me to say that you as leaders now will shape our own great Nation's future. Many people have said this to you in your own local chapters, even in your own homes. But one point I want to make to you is that you need not wait until the future, until you have finished college or have established a family or have a sound, dependable income, to begin to shape the future of the United States of America. Tap now and invest in your own community—no matter how broad it might be, even to the limits of the shores of our country—the advantages and characteristics of youth. Idealism, hope, innovation, and ability and eagerness to change things that you do not like; tough criticism of the status quo without fear of punishment or being fired from a job or disruption of a family; the exemplification of courage in making difficult decisions, taking unpopular stands—these are things that sometimes are almost unique with young people of your age.

I know all of you, because you are leaders in FFA, have a commitment in your personal lives to stretch your mind; to learn more about God's world, the technicalities of it, the history of it, the future of it, the expanding universe, the microscopic, even atomic, details that escaped knowledge just a few generations ago; and also to stretch your hearts to encompass more friends, to know more people, to love others, to know about them, to search for truth. I think it's accurate to say that the excitement of one's life depends on how deeply you become involved as a person in knowing and helping to shape the community within which you live, no matter how small or how large that community might be.

Leadership has characteristics that have challenged men and women for centuries. As a young man, and as President, I've learned some things about leadership. One is that the fear of failure is one of the greatest obstacles to progress. How timid we are when we challenge some obstacle or engage in some contest or set a high goal for ourselves. How timid we are that we might fail in the effort and perhaps be the subject of ridicule or criticism or scorn. And so we are tempted to sit quietly and not do anything and let the world pass us by. Or perhaps we become so obsessed with our own personal problems or transient problems that are temporary in nature that we have no driving inclination for personal and superb achievement commensurate with our own native ability and potential.

I acknowledge as a politician that attacking problems can sometimes be dangerous. This morning I signed a comprehensive energy bill, five major pieces of legislation, perhaps the most difficult, complicated, far-reaching that the Congress has considered in its long existence. There was no political benefit to be derived, because it's highly contentious, separates from one another producers from consumers.

The Panama Canal treaties, finally approved by the Senate, were difficult for the Members of the Senate to address. There was no political gain to be derived from taking a courageous stand to treat this small country with deference, as a powerful nation should.

The Mideast questions are some that we might very well avoid, because any failure there now or in the future could redound to the discredit of the leaders who tried to bring peace.

Inflation, my biggest domestic challenge of the present and the future months—there is no way to win, because when you try to control inflation, control spending, it's inevitable that you aggravate very fine special interest groups, perhaps students, perhaps farmers, perhaps the aged, perhaps some who are unemployed, because there has to be a limit to Federal spending or a reduction of deficits and a much sounder management of Government money than has been the case in the past.

Even when you are successful partially-in cutting the unemployment rate 25 percent, adding 6 1/2 million new jobs, increasing farm income 25 percent in the last year, trying to impose economic justice on our Nation—you still become identified with not necessarily the solution, but you'¥e become identified with the remaining portion of the problem.

It's always a mistake to try for universal approbation, universal approval, because if you fear making anyone mad, then you ultimately probe for the lowest common denominator of human achievement.

I have found it much more difficult to be a leader in a time of calm than in a time of crisis. Leaders are very popular in a time of crisis, because it's easy to arouse support for the interests of those who are concerned with the crisis itself. But to take action to prevent a future crisis that can't be easily detected nor proven is a very difficult task indeed.

Leaders in FFA at the national, State, or local level, Governors, Presidents, have a lot of advisers, very valuable. But the most difficult decisions of all, the toughest decisions almost invariably, I have found, must be made alone.

I've also found that the less you know about a subject, the easier it is to make a decision about it. When you know the complexities of a question and have to balance one set of arguments against another, learn the details of a complicated issue, it's much more difficult to make a decision. But if you take a simplistic approach, only look at the surface of a question, one side of an argument, it's indeed quite easy to make a decision.

I agree with President Harry Truman, who said he wished he had economic advisers with only one hand, because they always say, "On one hand this, and on the other hand this. Now, Mr. President, you make the decision."

As a candidate, as a young leader, and now as President, I've also found that there is absolutely no substitute for detailed knowledge nor for hard work. I planned my Presidential campaign for 2 years before I made my plans public, and I campaigned, I and my family and many helpers, for 2 more years.

In the energy bill passed this morning, there were literally tens of thousands of hours of work put in by me, my assistants in the executive branch of Government, the Members of the Congress, their staff members and advisers.

When I prepared to go to Camp David to meet with President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, I put in hundreds of hours studying the history of the Middle East, the character of the two leaders, the attitudes of the people involved, the issues involved, the disputes, the future.

Only with tenacity and knowledge and hard work can any achievement be reached. I've never seen an exception to this, at least in my own life.

Everyone has limits on authority or influence. You do, and so do I. The Constitution of the United States puts very severe limits on a President. This is often seen in a President's struggle to deal with the problems of the day.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was well known as one of the most powerful and influential Presidents of history. But in the last 7 years of his administration, ever since 1938, until he died in 1945, he was never able to get a single important piece of legislation through the Congress.

Woodrow Wilson, a great and inspiring leader, was not able to implement through the Senate of the United States the ratification of the League of Nations, which might very well have prevented World War II.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, an inspirational leader, admired by the world, had a very ineffective dealing with the Congress on major legislation like civil fights and others.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was very effective in dealing with the Congress, was never able to extricate our country from a bitter and divisive war in Vietnam.

Teddy Roosevelt said that the White House was a bully pulpit. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the primary purpose of a President was to be a moral leader. And it's always a danger for those in positions of leadership to moralize or to preach to others or to ascribe superior characteristics to oneself or to those one leads. And it's very difficult for Americans to realize that we are not superior to other people.

We need to have increased trust in our Nation, the recognition of its innate strength, trust in its elected officials, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest and sincere and dedicated and only wanting to do one thing, and that's a good job, if for no other reason just to be elected. But I believe they're all dedicated in trying to have a better country through a better government.

In the past we have seen trust in government lost, and the only way I know to restore trust in government is for the government to be trustworthy, to be be open and honest, ethical, committed to peace, epitomizing the ideals and aspirations on which our country was originally founded.

Well, for you and for me, present, potential, and future leaders, we face possibly an escalating or growing prospect for change and for conflict within our country's people.

Ours is a nation of diversity. We've now got about 150 other nations on Earth. Social, economic, military, political interrelationships change very rapidly, and the conflicts are inevitable. But we have a great responsibility as a leading nation and as leaders within our Nation to orient this change and this conflict in a constructive way toward better security for all, obviously for our own country: strength, not based just on military might but on the strength of convictions, on the strength of the quality of our government—solving an age-old problem about which I spoke often to young people during the campaign: Liberty—on the one hand, to do what you choose, to be an individual, to stand on your own feet, to make your own decisions, to shape your own life; and on the other, equality of opportunity sometimes in conflict one with another, because we might say if we are superior and have a superior position in life, why should not we enjoy the benefits of it? Why should we grant equality to someone not so competent, not so rich, not so powerful, not so influential as we? But our Nation's moved a long way since 200 years ago, when it was founded on freedom and equality, to correlate the innate conflict between these two ideals.

And ours ought to be a nation, and you ought to have a life, dedicated to peace. Diversity can be shaped into a common purpose. But we have to understand the ideas involved in the historic life of our Nation. We have to express clearly the underlying ideas in the historic life of our Nation. And then we have to implement progress based on the innate ideas in the historic life of our Nation.

Your leadership, my leadership as President even, must be shared. In Government, I have to share responsibility with the Congress, with the courts, State and local officials. And so do you. But the fount of power in our country rests in an informed public—an informed public-a public that's aware of the alternatives that we have available to us, to explore those alternatives through open debate, through democratic processes, through freedom of speech, and then shape common goals that are worthy of a great nation like our own.

All of you are leaders; young people are potential leaders, but leaders toward what? Toward hatred? Toward division? Toward prejudice? Toward a defiance of the law? Toward a tearing of the fabric of the society that sustains us? Toward the destruction of one's body with drugs, alcohol? Obviously, for you, no, because this is completely contrary to what the FFA stands for. But knowing this and being blessed with your present leadership capability, where others look to you with that blue jacket on and say, "There is a member of the Future Farmers of America, what is she or he like?"

There's a great opportunity for you to repair the damage that has been done through inadvertence or laziness or withdrawal from among your own circle of friends to raise high the banner of idealism and commitment and truth and honesty and compassion and love and competence, human rights that epitomizes our Nation.

Those are the things that you can do. So, whether one is the secretary of a local FFA chapter, which I was, or the President of the greatest nation on Earth, it's our responsibility together as partners, as common leaders, to bring out the best in the people who observe us and to make even greater the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in the municipal Auditorium Arena In his opening remarks he referred to J. Ken Johnson, national president of the Future Farmers of America,

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the National Convention of the Future Farmers of America in Kansas City, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244012

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