Jimmy Carter photo

White House Briefing for Civic and Community Leaders Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session.

April 30, 1980


THE PRESIDENT. I know you've had a very excellent briefing so far on both economics and energy, but I thought I would take a few minutes to put these issues in perspective for you from the point of view of the Oval Office of the President.

When we face each day here in Washington in the Government of the greatest nation on Earth, responsible for a multitude of issues, there is no way to separate one from another. Energy, inflation, interest rates, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the holding of our hostages in Iran, possible peace in the Middle East, dealing with the problems in Africa, moving forward with legislation on a broad basis, for budget matters both in defense as contrasted with and cooperative with domestic programs—they all fit in together in a common package.

Our country is faced with some very serious challenges, very serious problems, difficult issues. But the overall impression I have is a nation of strength, a nation of unity, a nation of commitment, a nation of confidence, a nation of-determination, and a nation with a history of not ever yielding to despair and not ever being willing to give up in a common effort to overcome whatever obstacle presents itself to us. We've been through much more difficult times in the past, and we have never failed, and there is no concern in my mind about the prospect of failure to meet these challenges which are so apparent to us now.

We do have extremely high inflation rates, very high interest rates. They are intimately tied to OPEC decisions on oil price. And as you know, in the last 16 months oil prices have increased 150 percent. This has been an extraordinary shock not only to our own domestic economic structure but to those of other nations around the world who are much more dependent on imported oil than are we.

To put in perspective how much we are dependent on imported oil, it's about 50 percent of the amount that we consume. We will spend this year about $90 billion in foreign countries to buy their oil. This amounts to about $400 for every man, woman, and child in our country. And as I said before, it's more than the total net income of all the Fortune 500 business corporations in our country. This is a drain of American assets of money that could be used to hold down the inflation rate, to redress our balance of trade problems, and to provide jobs and a better life for American people.

There are only two ways to deal with the energy problem. One is to save energy, to quit wasting energy, to be more conservation minded, not on a broad, uncertain, nonspecific basis, but in our own lives—in our homes, going' to and from work, on the job—to save energy. And the second thing, to cut down imports, is to produce more energy at home—oil, natural gas, coal, solar power, geothermal energy, hydroelectric energy, and of course, those kinds of energy that we can derive from coal and from shale deposits and other things with which our Nation is enormously blessed.

So, we've got the facilities in our country and we've been blessed with the natural resources in our country to solve our problems. We also have freedom in our own lives and in our free enterprise system, which gives us an opportunity to tap a wonderful educational system, the innovation and entrepreneurship that have let our Nation overcome business and economic problems in the past and be kind of a cutting edge for the rest of the world in technological advances that will open up vistas of a better life for us that we can't even dream about now.

I might point out, too, that conservation, which seems to be kind of an onerous or restricting thing, can be an exciting thing. It need not reduce the quality of life of American people to ride more efficiently to and from work or to stop a drafty house from leaking energy out in the wintertime or to keep a house naturally cooler in the summertime or to have a family closer together, walking or running or riding on short trips together rather than taking a big car and riding two blocks to and from the nearest shopping center. So, we can have a better life at the same time we stop wasting money, and also, of course, we can save money for ourselves and help our Nation at the same time.

I think we've made remarkable progress already since the anti-inflation effort was mounted, announced, the first part of March. It's not going to be an easy thing. There are no magic answers. You can't legislate inflation and interest rates down. There has to be a general sense among the financial community leaders of our Nation, the business and labor leaders of our country, government leaders at all levels of government, and average citizens that we are indeed going to succeed and, therefore, we need not build our lives' plans on rapidly decreasing value of money, rapidly increasing prices of products.

I think that realization is setting in. We have had remarkable reductions in interest rates, as you know; the last few weeks, a precipitous drop in interest rates. Home mortgage rates are going to go down. And I think by this summertime, if we are reasonably fortunate, we will have additional reductions in the inflation rate to bless our people. At the same time, we need to be sure that we don't let unemployment go up too much. And by the focusing of existing Federal programs and not cutting them back, we can provide jobs for those who need them most.

The Mideast, the Persian Gulf region provides about 90 percent of all the oil that's sold for export in the world. It's a 12,000-mile pipeline from there to here and from there to other countries on Earth. And when there is a disturbance in the Middle East, when there is a Palestinian problem in the Middle East not resolved, when there's enmity between Egypt and Israel or between Israel and her neighbors, or when there's an unstable Iran or an invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, this aggravates our Nation's energy problems, because our security, both military and economic security, is predicated on an adequate supply of energy. There is no way to separate one from another.

We've got strong allies. We are now in a mood in this country to recognize, for the first time, that there are limits on what Americans can use. Energy will be a precious thing in the future, precious in that it will be increasingly scarce, precious in that it will be more costly. It's an exciting challenge to us to deal with this problem together. We need not he afraid. We need not search for scapegoats. We need not turn one against another. We need not be selfish and grasp for some privilege within a society of which we are all a part.

So, my report to you is one of confidence and a call for unity and a call for personal commitment and a reasonable amount of sacrifice. Those are characteristics of great Americans, not famous Americans, but average, great Americans in a family home, on a job, caring for one another, proud of our opportunities to participate in the political and economic structure of our country.

I'd be glad to answer a few questions for you now.



Q. Mr. President, it has been mentioned that the revenue sharing program would be severed. I represent—I'm a city councilman as well as a county commissioner of a small town.

THE PRESIDENT. Where about?

Q. Dyersburg, Tennessee. Hopefully, if' those programs are severed, the administration will carefully consider a phasing out gradually over, say, a 5-year period of time, to give the small governmental officials the time to adjust and to try and work out our budgets. And we'd certainly appreciate your consideration on that, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. There will be no reduction, if my recommendations are carried out, in the local portion of revenue sharing that goes to cities and counties. You can depend upon that. I think the Congress will abide by that recommendation. And of the revenue sharing money that has been going to States, we're asking for $500 million each year for 2 years to continue to go not to the States, but passed through to the local governments to help tide over that slight reduction for the next 2 years.


Q. Mr. President, out of the problems and challenges in life, we all know, come many opportunities. In view of the most recent developments in Iran, is there a chance that the people can see you, that you can be with them and you can get out in the countryside, you can get out in the States and be with us?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. As you know, it's been a long time that I have stayed in the White House, under extraordinary circumstances that have demanded my presence here and which still demand almost all of my time. But times change, and a lot of the responsibilities that have been on my shoulders in the past few months have now been alleviated to some degree.

I'm determined that I will always keep before the American people, vividly in our minds and hearts, the plight of the American hostages. But we now have completed a rescue operation which was complicated and which was, unfortunately, not successful. We have now convinced our major allies around the world to join us in an effort to convince the Iranians that it's to their advantage to resolve this hostage crisis at the earliest possible moment.

We have completed our economic sanctions or actions against the Soviet Union as a result of their invasion of Afghanistan, and we are inducing dozens and dozens of other nations to join with us in a boycott of the Moscow Olympics this summer, an issue that was severely in doubt a few months ago. We're trying to convince the Soviets that they made a mistake by going into Afghanistan, that they will suffer the consequences of it, and they ought not to depend upon armed aggression to carry out their purposes in that part of the world.

We've also completed the anti-inflation proposals to the Congress, and they seem to be well on the way to being accepted, not only there but within the financial community and the Federal Reserve Board and also among the people of this country. I can't predict immediate success, but the trend is in the right direction.

And of course, the energy legislation-the windfall profits tax and, I think, the energy mobilization board is now in good shape. We're working on the last piece of legislation. We will have very shortly, in my opinion, a comprehensive energy policy for our country for the first time.

None of these challenges are completely removed, but I believe they are manageable enough now for me to leave the White House for a limited travel schedule, including some campaigning if I choose to do so, in order to explain to the American people how these things can be brought to a successful conclusion and to receive at firsthand, as I have in the past through the Vice President, my family, and others, direct opinions of the American people. So, I will, in the next few weeks, in a limited way, travel more than I have been doing in the past.


Q. Mr. President, I come from a rural area in Tennessee, and the reaction of people to the rescue attempt was pride in your courage in ordering the mission and pride in the men who went on the mission. But there was deep concern and a feeling of frustration over the maintenance problems that caused the mission to be scrubbed and a feeling perhaps that we've lost our maintenance skills in the military. Would you comment on that please, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll be glad to.

I might say, first of all, that I don't deserve any credit for any degree of courage. The only thing I risked was some criticism that I didn't handle it well or that I was not a decisive leader or that I was incompetent and some adverse fallout, maybe, from the electorate on primary days. That's absolutely insignificant as contrasted with the courage shown by the men who were not only willing but eager to lay down their lives—and some did—for the freedom and the safety of the American people. So, the credit ought to go to those who undertook the mission.

There is no question in my mind that the degree of maintenance and the capability of our equipment was very good. There is no other nation on Earth, including the Soviet Union, who could possibly have even attempted such a mission—the placement of our forces in the Indian Ocean with two major carrier task forces, the careful planning and training that was required, the travel of 600 land miles, nonstop flight in the dark, through storms, over mountains, into an isolated area of the jungle [desert], 1 where night vision devices were required to land, the sure knowledge from aerial surveillance that this was a proper place to land, when none of these people had had a chance to practice there.

1 White House correction.

These kinds of extremely complicated technical problems did strain the equipment. And it's obvious that no one anticipated this high a degree of failure in the helicopters, at least two mechanical failures and some problem with the other that had to turn back to the carrier. It was unpredictable, and we had bad luck as far as the number that were afflicted. But it's no reflection on our country.

And I can assure you that those helicopters were the finest that could be designed. They were not designed. for that kind of mission. They were minesweepers, and they had been converted. And the crew had trained in the same kind of helicopters in many instances, simulating that mission that was not successful. And the maintenance of those helicopters was done by the finest, best trained maintenance people that we have in this country, perhaps in the world. So, you need not be concerned about that.

It was highly likely to succeed. There was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that caused us to interrupt the mission. Our country is the only one that could have possibly tried that kind of mission.


Q. I'm a city councilman in a small city to the north of here called Baltimore. [Laughter] First, the people that I've talked to certainly support your actions to attempt the rescue of the hostages. And I'm not going to be a Monday morning quarterback and say you should've done this, that, or the other; I'll offer my services in the future, if you ever decide to- [laughter] .

A concern we have, I think, with your current budget—and it's one, I think, that all major cities feel—is that we have a very, very high unemployment rate of blacks, [inaudible], teenagers, and we're very much afraid that cutbacks in the programs will exacerbate the conditions that exist in unemployment in that group of people.

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say that this is a matter that's been of great concern to us also, that in this transition phase from high inflation and high interest into a slower growing economy, with a recession, I think, already commenced, to minimize the impact of a recession on the unemployment rate.

We're very proud of what's been done in this last 3 years, with a net increase of 9 million new jobs, at least a million of those going to minority employees. And we hope to maintain that. In the budget revisions, we have not cut back on employment programs. We still have scheduled, for instance, a million youth jobs for this summer. The CETA jobs—400,000—are still intact. As a matter of fact, we are adding a youth program that, if passed by this year's Congress, can add a large number of additional jobs in the future.

We've also not cut back on programs like social security, SSI benefits, Aid for Families with Dependent .Children, Meals on Wheels. Those kind of things have not been cut back.

On housing, which is a heavily afflicted industry, we are increasing substantially our federally assisted housing units—a very large increase in money involved for 1981 fiscal year compared to this year. We've got a 25-percent increase, not a decrease, in federally assisted housing next year compared to this year. And in addition to that, we'll add another hundred thousand units, under the 235 program, which will have low interest loans. I think, on top of all that, we'll see a decrease in mortgage rates now that interest rates are coming down.

I would like to ask all of you who are interested in the same question to compare my budget, for which we're going to scrap as hard as we can in the Congress, with either the House Budget Committee's recommendation or, even worse, the Senate Budget Committee's recommendation. We've got a tough battle on our hands.

And those of you who are interested in employment, those of you who are interested in housing, those of you who are interested in the elderly and the poor, those of you who are interested in the cities had better join in with us on the same team to protect the budget that I proposed to the Congress, because it's under severe attack. Votes are being taken this day, and other votes tomorrow and perhaps carried over till Monday in the House, that could cut another $5 billion out of those very programs that are of concern to us.

My proposal, I believe, is a well-balanced proposal, and as this process goes on this year, we're going to fight as hard as we can to protect it. And we need your help very badly.

Maybe one more question—on the aisle, over there.


Q. Mr. President, over the past few years, there seems to be a growing sense of frustration in that we have seemed to have lost a hold on our ability to influence events. The Soviet Union seems to push us around with impunity and other smaller countries, too. Is there a crisis of will, a crisis of our political institutions and their ability to handle themselves, or what do you think is the most single problem that you should be addressing yourself to?

THE PRESIDENT. No, there's no loss of will. And I think that we ought to stop every now and then and not only inventory what we have but also think about what we have accomplished.

Ours is a nation of great strength-economically, politically, militarily, and as I say every time, I think morally and ethically as well. We're a nation of not decreasing, but growing strength.

We've got allies that are loyal to us. They have a new commitment, for instance, to strengthen NATO, to stand firmly in Japan—I'll be meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan tomorrow—with Australia, New Zealand, our other major military treaties. We have gained tremendously in the last few years. I'll just give you two or three examples, that will not be confined just to my own administration.

It hasn't been too long ago that the largest, most powerful, most heavily populated Arab country was a close associate and friend and a dependent of the Soviet Union; that's Egypt. Egypt is now a very close, firm, solid friend of ours.

The Soviets lost, we gained, the largest, most influential, most powerful, richest black nation on Earth—Nigeria. When I became President, it was strongly oriented away from us, toward the Soviet Union. When Secretary Kissinger tried to pay a visit to Nigeria, he was refused admittance to the country. And now Nigeria is one of not only our best trading partners but one of our closest friends and allies.

It wasn't too long ago that the Soviets and the Chinese—the People's Republic of China—were close associates, Communist friends, and allies. And just the last couple of years, as you know, we've formed a new friendship with a quarter of the total population on Earth, when we had not had diplomatic relationships with the people of China for many years. We've not severed our good trade relationships, friendship with the people on Taiwan, either.

I think our country is generally acknowledged to be the leader in the protection of principles which we hold very dear and which are a basis for our national strength, and that is a belief in human rights, democratic government, and the value of each individual human being. We've not yielded on that.

When I came into office, NATO was very troubled about our country's attitude toward the defense of Western Europe. It's only been a few years ago that a large number of Members of the United States Senate had called for the withdrawal of either half or all the American service people who serve in and help to protect Western Europe and our own freedom. Now there's a new sense of commitment and spirit and common purpose and partnership and confidence in one another in NATO that did not exist before.

It's just been a couple of years ago when it would have been inconceivable that any Arab leader would sit down with any Jewish leader representing Israel and even talk to them. I could not even get them to sit at the same table, under the auspices of the United Nations or us, the first year that I was President. And now we've seen peace established between Israel and the most important single Arab country. The borders are opened, diplomatic recognition established, Ambassadors exchanged, tourists flying back and forth between Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel.

We've seen a major new nation formed lately, with our help and the help of the British, when Rhodesia was changed into Zimbabwe, with free and open democratic elections. And the leader of Zimbabwe, who was formerly looked upon as a Marxist and a hater and an enemy of the United States—Mugabe—has now, I think, become one of our strong and potentially very good and loyal friends.

So, in the structure of things, I believe that our Nation is building its strength and not suffering. What gives us the impression is that when we read the newspapers and watch the television and listen to the radio, what impresses itself on our consciousness is that day's particular publicized events—the debate that takes place when people have an honest difference of agreement, the temporary disappointment that makes people sad or disturbed, or the transient inconveniences.

But when we assess who we are and where we are and what our blessings are and the strength of our country and where we have an opportunity to go in the future and what we've accomplished in the recent past and how we measure up in representing the principles and the morality and the commitments and the ideals that have made this country so great, God knows and I know that we are blessed beyond all people. And I'm determined, as your President, to remind people of those facts and to continue, with your help, to make the greatest nation on Earth even greater in the future.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:17 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, White House Briefing for Civic and Community Leaders Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249849

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