Tallahassee, Florida Remarks at a Fundraising Fish Fry for State Democratic House Nominees.
Governor Bob Graham, Speaker Ralph Havens, my friends and neighbors:
I've got two or three things to say to you to start with. First of all, I am really glad to be home in the South. That is a great feeling. I remember your commissioner of agriculture said when I ran for Governor in 1970 that I did so well in south Georgia that I swept Georgia and carried four counties in Florida. [Laughter] It's always been hard for me to tell where the line was. [Laughter] You know, to me it's just one people who love each other.
Secondly, I'm here because I came to remind you that we've got 26 days to get ready to whip the Republicans, from the courthouse to the White House, on November the 4th. I'll never forget what Florida did for me in 1976. My wife spent 113 days campaigning in Florida before that most significant primary election, and you gave me those expressions of support. In the general election the Florida electors voted for me. This spring, as you know, it was a very tough campaign. You gave me another strong expression of support. You've established a wonderful tradition— [laughter] —which I know you're going to continue to carry out in 4 weeks. Right? [Applause]
And I might say that since I've been in the White House, a very special place, holding the highest elective office, in the free world at least, perhaps in the entire world, an office respected and revered by the American people, I have called on Florida leaders to help me.
One of the greatest troublespots that we have is our next door neighbors in the Caribbean. And when I got ready to put together a nationwide organization of leaders from education, from local and State government, from business, and from labor, I cast about in my own mind for the best person in this entire Nation, a leader with integrity, sensitivity, courage, who could head this commission to re-cement relations with this crucial part of the world. And I settled on the best man I could find, and that's Bob Graham, your Governor.
Our country has a lot of domestic challenges, opportunities, but internationally our country is growing by leaps and bounds. In the last 3 1/2 years, we have opened up, for United States beneficial influence, the entire continent of Africa, about 50 nations, a vast area of the world, with hundreds of millions of people that had never been touched really by American diplomacy or American trade. We've formed now a friendship with a billion new people in the People's Republic of China, one-fourth of the total population on Earth, and we've kept intact and have increased the trade with the people on Taiwan at the same time. This hand of friendship opens up opportunities for us that will touch the life of every person here and every person who looks to you for leadership.
We're increasing our agricultural products sales to those countries. We've put some restraints on sales this year to the Soviet Union, but in spite of that, we've had the largest increase in agricultural exports in the history of the world. We have increased exports to $40 billion this year, $8 billion more than 1979. 1979 set a world record, 1978 set a world record, 1977 set a world record on agricultural exports. One of the reasons for that is that we've come down here to Florida to get two men, one to be our Special Trade Representative to open up opportunities in textiles, automobiles, steel, agriculture—and you trained him well-Reubin Askew, your former Governor. And I thank you for him.
And I've got one special love, I have to admit. My folks have lived in the South for a long time, since before this country was formed. We've all been farmers. My father nor his father nor anyone back ever finished high school until I came along. Our roots are in the earth. We believe in the same thing you do—strong families, strong communities, God, the stewardship of the land, integrity, neighborliness, patriotism. Those characteristics are very important.
And to me, agriculture is the greatest single resource that God has given us in this country. And I needed someone to represent the South, who understood thoroughly agriculture, to put in at a top position in the Department of Agriculture. And you trained Jim Williams for that job. And he's done a superb job with it.
And you gave me Fred Schultz for the Federal Reserve Board and Jay Janis to help get the home loan industry back on its feet. We're making good progress with that. Every month for the last few months, 4 or 5 months in a row, we've had an increase in new home starts.
And I'm just grateful to you and wanted to point out very quickly some of the reasons why my ties to Florida are permanent.
There are a lot of things I could talk about tonight. I'm just going to talk about one, because as you go around the country as Democrats, running for the State legislature, it's important for you to carry a message—a message of sharp comparison between the principles of our party, represented by Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Jack Kennedy, Harry Truman, who've seen clearly the same things we see.
Those of us who grew up in the Great Depression remember the elderly living in poor folks' homes, with no sense of self-decency or respect and no security. And Franklin Roosevelt proposed social security; Republicans were against it, but it passed.
We believe that a man who works or a woman who works ought to be paid a decent wage. This has not always been the case. I remember the first minimum wage bill proposed, when I was a very young man—25 cents an hour. Democrats supported it, finally got it passed, Republicans against it. My first job as a high school senior—at the minimum wage of 40 cents. That enormous increase from 25 to 40 cents Democrats supported, Republicans opposed. The working families have always been important to us.
My Republican opponent has said that the minimum wage has caused more suffering and hardship than the Great Depression, and he's said that fascism is the basis for the New Deal that gave us social security, gave us REA, gave us the minimum wage. He said that unemployment compensation for husbands and and wives who are temporarily out of a job is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. When Medicare was proposed, to give some modicum of health care for old people, he traveled this Nation back and forth, working to defeat it.
The sensitivity to human beings is important, and those things affect you and those who look to you to lead them in the Florida legislature in the future.
But the point I want to make to you tonight is as a President, responsible for our Nation's defense, because this is an issue that has been distorted too much in this campaign. It is a crucial issue. It affects the life of every person who lives in this country, perhaps the entire world.
Republicans were in the White House 8 years before I got there. My background is in the military. I'm a Naval Academy graduate, a submarine officer. For 7 of those years, our Nation's expenditure for defense went down. In 8 years our defense commitment decreased by 35 percent. Since I've been in the White House, every single year we've had a steady, predictable, orderly, constructive increase in the commitment that our Nation has made for defense. This is important, but I'd like to remind you that the reason for a nation to have a strong defense is not to kill or be killed; it's to keep peace. We've kept the Nation at peace.
And it doesn't help our country for false statements to be made that our Nation is militarily weak, because of two or three reasons. One, it creates a sense of uneasiness or concern in the minds of American people when they hear statements like this that are not true. It also weakens the ties that bind our country to our Western European allies and to other allies around the country [world] like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and others. The worst thing it does, when these false statements are made that the United States is somehow militarily weak and vulnerable, is it might lead a potential adversary to misjudge us and to challenge us, in a way that would be suicidal, based on a distorted picture of what our Nation is. Our Nation militarily is the strongest nation on Earth, and we will never be second to any nation on Earth.
Just two more quick points. One is that a plane with only one wing wouldn't fly, and a nation with just a strong defense establishment cannot preserve the peace. Along with that strong defense capability must go the realization that the best weapon is one that's never used in combat and, secondly, the best soldier is one that never lays his life down on the field of battle or sheds his blood in war. That's important to remember.
So, along with a strong defense you've got to have two other things. One is arms control, particularly nuclear arms control. Ever since Truman was in the White House, every President—Republican and Democrat, Eisenhower, Ford, Nixon, all the Democrats who've preceded me in the White House—have worked to negotiate with the Soviet Union, an agreement to limit nuclear weapons, to have rough equivalency or balance, strict limits, and a way to prove compliance with the SALT treaties, and then the goal of lowering those limits to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Recently Governor Reagan announced that SALT II treaty would be withdrawn from consideration if he should become President, and he advocated the end to this treaty, which has been negotiated by me, Nixon, and Ford, and somehow advocated a nuclear arms race or a playing of a card with the threat of a nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. This is a profoundly important and radical departure in the attitude of our Nation. It hurts our people, because Americans ought to be eager to remove the threat of nuclear destruction from the world in a balanced way. Our allies and friends, those who have nuclear weapons and who don't have nuclear weapons, would be deeply disturbed with this new departure. And of course, we want to be at peace and negotiate with the Soviet Union for this ultimate goal. That's one thing that bothers me in this campaign, a very serious development.
And the other thing is that no matter who's in the White House, you have crises that come up. I've not been there one day since I was inaugurated that there wasn't a trouble spot in the world somewhere that directly impinged on my decisions. I and all my predecessors, Republican and Democratic, when those trouble spots arose, have tried to deal with them in a diplomatic way, without the use of American military forces, to negotiate or to work them out not through weakness but through strength.
Repeatedly, for the last 8 or 10 years, my opponent has time after time after time called for the injection of American military forces into those sensitive trouble areas, in our own hemisphere, in Ecuador, in Cuba, in Korea, in the Middle East, Cyprus, Angola, Pakistan. Eight or 10 times, either as a candidate for President or potential candidate for President, he has called for the use of American military forces in those troubled areas. I don't have any idea what he would do if he was in the Oval Office, but that pattern concerns me deeply.
The point I want to make to you in closing is that a lot is at stake in this election, and your responsibility as supporters of the Florida Democratic legislative candidates and as future members of the legislature, as well, are the same responsibilities as mine. We represent the same party, the same concept, the same principles, the same ideals, the same heritage, the same commitments. There's no way to separate you from me.
The Presidency is a lonely job, because I deal with problems that are important to you. If I deal with them properly, with sound judgment, in accordance with that heritage that I've just outlined to you, you may never know about them. But if I make a mistake or a misjudgment, that potential crisis can affect your life or the life of everyone on Earth. It is a lonely job, but I don't feel neglected or secluded or isolated, because of the partnership I've just described to you, because I've got people like Reubin Askew and Bob Graham and others to work with me to represent you. And many of you in this room feel that you're part of my administration.
And as a Democratic President, the nominee of our party, the titular head of the Democratic Party itself, I'm part of your organization. And as you take your message in this next 4 weeks to the people of Florida, to be reelected or elected to the State legislature, hope you'll remember those principles that do not change, the things that bind us together.
We've got the greatest nation on Earth. We have never had, when this country was unified, a question that we could not answer or a problem that we could not solve or an obstacle that we could not overcome. We've got some problems now, yes. But don't let anybody fool you about this Nation being weak or about us being debilitated or our problems being insoluble, because we've faced much more problems, much more serious ones than the ones we face now. The First and Second World Wars, the Korean war, the Vietnam war that divided us, the Great Depression, the social changes between blacks and whites in the South, the Watergate scandals—all those things were much more serious than what we face now.
And I'd just like to remind you that we've got a great country, a unified people, a strong party, a platform on which we can run with pride, a future that holds promise and confidence, not despair and fear and trepidation. We've always been on the cutting edge of progress. Our party, our Nation are the greatest on Earth. And if we are victorious on November the 4th, with common commitments and hard work—and there's no shortcut that I know in politics—we'll make the greatest nation on Earth even greater in the years ahead. That's my goal. You help me to do it.
Note: The President spoke at 9:36 p.m. at the North Florida Fairgrounds.
Following his appearance at the fish fry, the President went to the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee, where he stayed overnight.
Jimmy Carter, Tallahassee, Florida Remarks at a Fundraising Fish Fry for State Democratic House Nominees. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250887