Secaucus, New Jersey Remarks at a Meeting With New Jersey Labor Leaders.
That is the kind of introduction I really like. If I could just put together in New Jersey all the friends of Ted Kennedy and all the friends of Bill Bradley, I'll have it made, right? [Applause] That's what I want.
I want to talk to you seriously tonight about a matter that's serious to you, a matter that touches the life of every person in this room, your families, and the people that you love, and those that look to you for leadership in the trade union movement. Three weeks from tonight you will make a decision in New Jersey that will affect the future of this country.
What Ted Kennedy has pointed out as the principle and ideals and commitments of my Republican opponent is not something new. Some of you in this room are as old as I am. I was born in 1924. I grew up on a farm in south Georgia during the Depression years. I remember when Franklin D. Roosevelt put forward the idea of social security. The Democrats passed it over enormous opposition from the Republicans. The Democrats proposed a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, finally passed it; the Republicans opposed it. I finished high school in 1941. My first job at the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour. The Democrats approved that increase from 25 to 40 cents. The Republicans were against it. That has not changed.
As Ted Kennedy just pointed out, Ronald Reagan's attitude toward minimum wage is that the minimum wage has caused more suffering, more unemployment than anything in this country since the Great Depression. He's advocated four different times that social security be made voluntary, that anybody that wants to withdraw from social security and not pay into the social security fund could be allowed to do so. This would be the end of social security.
He got his start in politics traveling around this country, paid to do it, to fight Medicare. That hasn't changed. Now he says that national health insurance ought to be defeated. He said that labor law reform ought to be defeated, that Davis-Bacon ought to be defeated. They asked him about OSHA, to protect the safety and health of American workers. Somebody said it ought to be abolished; his response, "Amen." This is the kind of person representing a party whose principles are well known that now is challenging me and the Democratic Party and its principles to lead this Nation.
Unemployment compensation is important to a family temporarily out of work with hungry children, perhaps, and needing to meet the vital necessities of life. Ronald Reagan says that unemployment compensation is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. In the time of Franklin Roosevelt, in the time of Jack Kennedy, they pointed out to the American working people that for a few weeks before election day, Republicans sounded like Democrats. You know and I know what Ronald Reagan, who quotes Franklin Roosevelt quite often, says about the New Deal. He says the basis for the New Deal was fascism. These kinds of statements have been repeated down through the years, sometimes a little bit of change right before an election time, but they accurately express the principles of his party and of my opponent.
This election in New Jersey is extremely close. I don't know yet how it's going to turn out. I'm going to work as hard as I have ever worked, because I believe that major issues are at stake in the country which I love and among the people whom I love.
I've been President now for 3 1/2 years. I sit in the same Oval Office where Jack Kennedy sat, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, with a heart full of understanding and compassion for working people. The decisions that come to my desk are not the easy ones. If a question can be answered easily, you answer it, yourself or in your own home, or in a county courthouse, or a city hall, or a State legislature, or a Governor's office. If it can't be answered in any of those places because it's too difficult or too complex, it comes to the President's desk, and then he has to sit down with people like Bob Roe, Bill Bradley, Ted Kennedy, and try to work it out for the country. The person in that Oval Office, however, sets the tone and the attitude of government, and as you well know, when the situs picketing bill had been passed by the Congress and Gerald Ford had committed himself to sign it, one man talked him out of it—my Republican opponent for President.
Labor is important, working people are important, but that's not all. We need to keep our Nation strong militarily, and we need to keep our Nation at peace. This is also a basic decision which a President must address every day. I have not been in office 1 day that there hasn't been a troublespot somewhere around the world. My predecessors, Democrats and Republicans, have tried to solve those troubled areas of the world peacefully, through diplomatic means, negotiation, using America's tremendous strength, yes, but using it without sending combat troops overseas.
My opponent, on many occasions in recent troubled times, has advocated sending American Armed Forces into those troubled areas in times when our country could have been involved militarily-North Korea, Ecuador, Cuba, Cyprus, Rhodesia, Angola, Pakistan, the Middle East. Three times this year he has called for the injection of American military forces into those troubled areas of the world. A sign of strength of a country is when with calm assurance we can protect our national interest without using American military forces.
For 8 years before I became President, under two Republican Presidents, 7 of those years our commitment to a strong national defense went down in American budgetary funds—37-percent drop in real dollars. Since I've been in office, we have increased our commitment to defense every year, carefully, methodically, predictably, responsibly. In real dollars we've had an increase. I make no apology for it, because in my judgment we can only keep our Nation strong and at peace together. Our country's the strongest on Earth militarily. We're going to stay that way.
But let me close by saying two things. First of all, we've got the most outstanding weapons and the outstanding fighting men and women anywhere. But the best weapon is one that's never fired in combat, and the best soldier is one that never has to lay Iris life down or shed his blood on the field of battle. That is the kind of decision that must be made by a President.
I told you earlier, I don't know what New Jersey will do on November 4. There's no way I can predict it accurately, but if you have ever made a major decision in your life, this next 3 weeks you will make one. It's more important than the level of your income. It's more important than the quality of house that you have. It's more important than which college you can send your children. It's more important than the neighborhood where you and your wife might ultimately retire. The future of our country is in your hands, perhaps in this State. There is absolutely no reason why you, working with your speaker and others on every possible occasion in between five and six hundred communities in this State, can't put 25,000 workers out there in the streets, in the stores, talking to people and letting them know how crucial to the future of this country and to your State and to your families this election is.
My election can be in your hands, and what you decide the next few hours about the degree of your commitment—to raise money, you finance it; to designate workers, you do it; to lead those workers, you do it. And make sure that everybody in this State that looks to you for leadership understands the crucial issues to be involved-the quality of life of the people that you love and the status in the international community of the country that you love.
Those things are at stake. There could not possibly be a sharper difference between myself and. Ronald Reagan and between the Republican Party of 1980 and the Democratic Party of 1980. You know what I believe in, you know what Ted Kennedy believes in, you know what Bill Bradley believes in, you know what John Kennedy believed in, you know what Lyndon Johnson believed in and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. That's the kind of historical perspective and the continuing commitment that is at stake. And you remember very well the times of Richard Nixon and other Republicans who turned their back on the working people of this country.
I don't want you to turn your back on the working people of New Jersey or the working people of this Nation. I'll do all I can. I need you as partners. And my question to you is: Will you join with me with an absolute total commitment to see a tremendous Democratic victory on November 4? That's my question. [Applause]
Note: The President spoke at 7:56 p.m. in the Exhibition Hall at the Meadowlands Hilton Hotel.
Jimmy Carter, Secaucus, New Jersey Remarks at a Meeting With New Jersey Labor Leaders. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251184