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Wyoming, Michigan Remarks and a Question-and. Answer Session With High School Students.

October 24, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Ms. Schooley may or may not have known it, but my first public job after I came home from the Navy was to be a member of the Sumter County Library Board, and I was very proud of it. They put me on the board because I read more books than anybody else in the county— [laughter] —and my library card number in Sumter County is 005. So, I got in on the ground floor.

And my second job in public life was as a member of the Sumter County School Board, and then I ran for the State senate. And when I got to the senate, I only had one request, and that was that I be appointed to the Education Committee. And later I got to be secretary of the committee and chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Then I ran for Governor, got defeated once, ran again and won, and then got this jobs [laughter] which I'm planning on keeping for a while. [Laughter]

I'm very delighted to be here tonight. I think it's especially fitting for me to come to meet the parents of Roger Chaffee. As the Commander in Chief of our military forces and as the President of maybe 230 million Americans, it's always important to recognize great achievement and the pioneering spirit and superb heroism and courage. And I was delighted to receive a book about their son from them outside. It touched my heart, and I look forward to reading it, because I know it will be an inspiration to me as it has been to so many people.


Also, I read about your community here, both Wyoming and Cedar [Grand] Rapids, to think about what our country has been and how it was formed. We are a nation of refugees, a nation of immigrants. Possibly everyone's family represented in this room came here from a foreign country, looking for a better life, expecting to have freedom, to worship as we please, to be innovative if we chose, to preserve our heritage and our background, our beliefs, to take pride in our own families, to make them strong and cohesive, to build communities all the way across the vast expanse of this Nation; at the same time, not to let that diversity in our Nation weaken us.

We have somehow or another, in a democratic system where each person is precious and respected, taken that diverse makeup of what is the American population and welded it together in a beautiful mosaic, at the same time very strong.

We have difficult times. In the past we've been through some terrible times, beginning with the Revolution, going through the Civil War, later the First World War; the Second World War, in my lifetime; the Great Depression, which I mentioned outside; the change that we've taken in social affairs to give black people and those who speak Spanish, finally, full citizenship rights, and that was a shock to our country; the divisiveness of the Vietnam war, when Americans were hungering for peace; and then later on, of course, the embarrassment of Watergate.

Our country has been tested many times over, with economic deprivation, with the divisions among our people, with the great challenge to the security of our Nation. But no matter how difficult those problems have been, no matter how serious the questions that have been put to us, no matter how high the obstacles that we've had to face, this country when united has never failed: We have never failed to answer a question; we've never failed to solve a problem; we've never failed to overcome an obstacle.

And now there are problems in this area. In Michigan the unemployment rate is very high, because inevitable changes that take place with the rapid increase in the price of oil has shocked the American customer, who in the past have preferred a certain kind of automobile and now, because of very high prices foisted on us from overseas, prefer a different kind of automobile. But as fast as America can retool and rebuild and put out a product to meet changing times, those cars are selling like hotcakes, long waiting lists for the new automobiles in America.

But we go through this transient period. The function of government is to make sure that those families that are adversely affected by those changing times, which are inevitable, don't suffer to an extraordinary degree, that there's no actual hunger or actual loss of the family structure. And that's a part of a democratic society. That's why we care about people. And that's why I'm very glad to come here tonight to meet with young people and also to meet particularly in the library.

Socrates, as you know, was a great teacher, and there was a kind of give and take. So, if you ask me questions tonight that I can't answer, I'll go with the reference section— [laughter] —and find the answer very quick, and I'll scuttle back and I'll ask Ms. Schooley to help me.

Do you all have any question? I was hoping maybe one question or two. Okay, great.




Q. My name is Dave—[inaudible].


Q. Mr. President, in recent weeks there have been reports by the media that your administration has juggled Government figures to try and make the economy look better than it is, and that only today it has been reported that the Consumer Price Index was manipulated to make inflation appear not too much as bad as it is. In the past, data from Government agencies has always been insulated from politics, but it is apparently not so in the final days of your election campaign. How do you respond to these reports?

THE PRESIDENT. They're all false, of course. The reports are put out by an absolutely independent Government agency, both dealing with unemployment, with inflation, with the change in the gross national product. Those kind of statistical data that come out on economics are derived from interviews with-like on employment—40,000 families and also an inventory among businesses around the Nation about how many people they have employed, whether they're working 40 hours a week or an average of 38¼ hours a week. And all that information is put together completely independently of me or anyone who works for me in the campaign or in my own direct administration.

Those allegations are completely false. If I could control the figures on the Consumer Price Index, it would have been better today than it came out. [Laughter]

I would like to say that the last 3 months, we have had an inflation rate of about 7 percent. Early this year, as you know, it was up approaching 20 percent. But it's still too high, and I think this 12-percent figure we got today sends us a clear signal that we cannot forget about the threat of inflation.

Last year the price of OPEC oil and oil all over the world increased more in 1 year than it had all the other times since oil was discovered in the 1800's. And all the nations on Earth have been shocked by this change, and we're trying to accommodate those changes. Our Nation is strong enough to withstand it. And we are suffering some temporary inconvenience, and it's very serious to some people and of great concern about the future.

But there would be no way to doctor those figures, because there are many independent groups with computerized facilities, like the Chase Manhattan Bank and the great universities and, of course, the Congressional Budget Office, that corroborates those figures with their own independent data. And if it was ever shown that anybody distorted those figures, it would be just a devastating indictment and would destroy the fabric of our country. It's not true.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Mike Williams, and I go to Godwin High School. And I'd like to know if you think I will see a third world war in my time and what you can do to prevent a major world war if you're reelected.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. That's an excellent question.

In the last 50 years no President has been able to say that they did not send American troops into combat, until this last 3 1/2 years that I've been in office. We'd lost eight brave young men who went into Iran to try to save the hostages, but they were not sent into combat.

The attitude of a nation is determined pretty much by the people's desires and also by the character of the President and the restraints that are placed on a President by Congress and other factors in an international basis. I've not been in office a single day since I have been President that there wasn't a serious trouble spot somewhere in the world or sometimes several trouble spots at the same time.

I have built up the Nation's defense capability since I've been in office. For 7 of the previous 8 years before I got in office, our commitment for defense went down every year; there was a 37-percent reduction. But since then, since I've been there, we have increased it steadily, in a very carefully planned way, in a very orderly way, and we've encouraged our allies in Europe to do the same thing so that we won't be vulnerable.

The best way for a nation to stay at peace is to be strong militarily, economically, and politically, and for our own people to know we're strong, for our allies to know we are strong, and for our potential adversaries to know that we are strong.

Also, all of my predecessors in the White House have believed very deeply that when there is a troubled place in the world that the best way to resolve it is through political means and diplomatic means, not by the use of American military forces to be injected into some place which might erupt into combat and get us in a larger war.

There are two factors involved that are perhaps even more important than that. One is the control of nuclear weapons. Every President since Harry Truman has worked hard to control nuclear weapons, to have equivalent or balanced nuclear forces between ourselves and the Soviet Union, with tight controls on them, a way to monitor whether or not we were both complying with a treaty or an agreement, and with the ultimate goal to reduce those nuclear arsenals.

Lately, however, there has been a threat to that commitment. Governor Reagan, my opponent, has said that he wants to tear up the SALT treaty that was negotiated under President Nixon, President Ford, and myself. He has threatened the possibility of a nuclear arms race as a trump card to be played against the Soviet Union to try to force them into more favorable terms on a possible future nuclear agreement. This won't work.

If President Brezhnev announced that he was tearing up the treaty that had been negotiated over a 7-year period, was going to insist on the Soviets being superior to us, not equal, but superior to us in nuclear capability, and would start an arms race in order to force us to comply with not so favorable terms, we would reject that, obviously, would we not? And we would say, we'll match you missile for missile, and all of a sudden we'd be embarked in a major nuclear arms race.

Several times in the past number of years, some three or four times this year, Governor Reagan has also advocated the injection of American military forces into one of those troubled areas around the world. A few that come to mind where he's advocated this is North Korea; Ecuador, when there was a little fishing dispute; this year he advocated putting a blockade around Cuba; earlier, send in American military forces to Cyprus, to the Middle East, to Angola, to Rhodesia to prop a white supremacy government, to Pakistan. Those kinds of statements by him, I believe all since he's been wanting to be President, concern me very much.

So, I'm not saying that any President would want our Nation to get into war, but there has to be a calm, moderate, reasonable approach, insisting on diplomacy, not having to show that we've got the strongest nation on Earth by using military force, and a calm approach also to controlling nuclear weapons. This is the kind of thing that I believe we will do. And the American people are quite concerned about these two issues.

I think I can predict to you that you will not see a third world war. My judgment is that the Soviet leaders also want to avoid a nuclear war. And with constant communication with them, with our allies, with our friends around the world, an insistence on human rights, the honoring of the natural inclinations of people to be free, not injecting ourselves into the internal affairs of another country, dealing with crises, like the capture of our hostages or the Middle East, with a benevolent attitude, insisting that other countries move toward democracy if it's their will, like in the recent, the formed country of Zimbabwe—those are the kind of ways to use America's enormous strength, not to push people around, but to let them realize the ideals and hopes that have nurtured and inspired us, and do it all peacefully.

I believe we can keep this Nation at peace.

Q. Thank you.



Q. Hi. I'm Missy Stewart. I'm from Godwin High School, also. Since you pardoned the Vietnam draft dodgers, are you also planning on pardoning the 19-year-olds who did not register, and if not, what will their punishment be?


I hope they'll register. [Laughter] We had a very good sign-up. And the last time we had a draft registration, in the first period that it was required I think about 75 percent signed up. This time, although there was some displeasure expressed, we had about 93 percent sign up. Of those 93 percent, 15 percent of them said they wanted more information about a career in the military forces. So, I think it's going to encourage recruitment.

It would not be appropriate for me ahead of time to say that I would excuse or pardon a violation of the American laws. My oath is to carry out the law, to enforce the law, and to enforce the United States Constitution.

I think as the young people who opposed the registration realize that we're not going to have a draft—no law permits a draft in this country. The only way we would ever propose a possible draft of young people in this Nation is if our security was directly threatened and if the President and the Congress agreed that we needed a new law, which we don't have now, passed to let people actually be drafted.

We're not even going to examine young people, you know, physically and so forth to get them ready. It's just a matter of having people put their name on the list, their age, if they want to get information about the military, if they're a conscientious objector or not, so that if we do have to marshal our forces in the future, it'll save us about 90 or 100 days in getting our Nation ready.

So, I can't answer your question directly about if I will or will not pardon them. They'll have to comply with the law, and I hope now that they know there won't be a draft, but just registration, that they'll comply with it. So, you encourage your boyfriends to register. [Laughter]

Q. Okay.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sure you've got a lot of them. [Laughter]

Yes, sir, in the back. Yes.


Q. My name is John—[inaudible]from Godwin High School. Last spring a Navy—[inaudible]—did not meet its deployment schedule, because of undermining and critical ratings. In September of 1980, the New York Times reported only 6 of our 13 aircraft carriers were combat ready. The same article reported naval air squadrons were in a poor state of readiness. Assuming your reelection, how would you attempt to resolve these problems, strictly in manpower and materiel ready.

THE PRESIDENT. Our military forces are much closer to full readiness now than they were when I took over. There are always fighting units that are not fully ready.

One thing is that we deployed very rapidly when the Persian Gulf threats arose, when our hostages were captured and when it became obvious that there was a disturbance there because of the revolution in Iran a little earlier, we deployed two major aircraft carrier task forces into the northern part of the Indian Ocean. And we have now pre-positioned equipment and materiel for about 10,000 marines and enough to operate 500 of our airplanes, and we've got five different places over there in that region now that we can use not as permanent bases, but as facilities.

And we've also begun to develop a rapid deployment force that we can send to a troubled area in the world quickly if we need to to protect our interests. We have a much higher percentage of our ground divisions, our regular land forces in a state of readiness, for instance, than do the Soviet Union. All of our divisions that are stationed overseas, like in Europe or South Korea and so forth, are at a full state of readiness. But some of those that we keep in this country. would only be brought up to a full state of readiness if we had to marshal additional forces, and then you would call up the Reserves or call up the National Guard on a temporary basis until we could get more permanent military people marshaled.

We've made a lot of progress, I think, in improving the military forces with a steady buildup, a very predictable buildup in budget allocations. And I think this also ought to be pointed out. We are still and always will be on the cutting edge of technological developments in our nuclear weaponry, which we pray God we'll never have to use, in our airplanes, and so forth.

You probably have noticed that some of the American planes that we have sold to Israel, the F-15's, when they have used them and they've been challenged by the MIG-25's from Syria, the MIG-25's went down. And lately, even when Iran has some F-4's, which are not the most modern planes of our own, those planes are so formidable that in the war between Iran and Iraq, when those F-4's attacked the capital city of Iraq, Baghdad, the Iraqis don't even put up planes to try to stop them.

So, that just shows that the best the Soviets can build, that is the MIG—25's, and the best that we can build, even not the most modern planes of all—we stand up very well. So, we're going to stay strong, keep at an adequate state of readiness.

And I believe that we can always stick in the foreseeable future with a fully voluntary military force. I don't see any reason for us to go to a draft. But as I pointed out earlier, we have had about 15 percent of our 18- and 19-year-olds who've registered saying, "We would like to have more information about a career in the military services." I wish that all of you young people, men and women, would carefully consider the possibility of serving in 'the military for a couple of years or 3 years, whatever suits you.

I went into the Navy when I was 18, and I stayed 11 years. I went to the Naval Academy, and then I did graduate work, and I was on submarines. And as you can see, it didn't hurt my political career very much. [Laughter] And no matter what career you're going to take up, politics or medicine or being a lawyer or being a teacher or whatever, this is a good way to serve your country, to do a patriotic thing, to see the world, to have an exciting life, to learn a career, to get experience, and to mature a little bit before you finally make a permanent decision about what you want to do in your lives. So, I would hope that everyone who's listening to my voice would seriously consider getting information about serving in the military.

We will see a buildup, all volunteer—I'm not talking about draft—we'll see a buildup very rapidly in young women who are serving in the military. And 95 percent of all the billets or positions in the military now can be filled by women. Only a very few, in actual combat roles, are not using women.

So, I would like to put in a plug for my military forces and yours while I have a chance. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am.


Q. Jo Weaver, Lee High School. I'd like to know, is it true that the American hostages in Iran are going to be released on Sunday or Monday?

THE PRESIDENT. Jo, I wouldn't get my hopes up. I hate to be discouraging. But I've been involved in this now for more than 11 months, and we've had private messages and also some public statements time after time after time that the hostages were going to be released imminently, soon. We've always been disappointed. And I think it's good for the American people to be very cautious about building up expectations about an early release of the hostages.

I have literally prayed every day, sometimes several times during the day, that our hostages would be safe, would not lose their lives, and would come back to freedom, and I've always wished they would come back that day.

But I don't want to build up your hopes too much. We don't have any clear signal from the Iranian leaders about when the hostages will or will not be released, and we don't know their terms, because the Majles, or parliament, committee still has not reported their terms.

I have an additional responsibility on my shoulders above and beyond or at least equal to the safety of the hostages, and that is not to betray my country, not to do anything that would bring discredit on my country or violate our honor or interfere with the interests of my Nation. I have never found those two things to be incompatible, protecting my Nation and protecting the hostages. But I cannot predict to you that they'll be released anytime soon. I wish I could:

Yes, ma'am.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Pain Cramer, and I'm from Lee High School. I was wondering how you feel [about] having a 6-year term of Presidency, instead of a 4-year where a person could get reelected twice, and what you feel your greatest achievement is as President.

THE. PRESIDENT. Fine. I could probably answer your question a little bit better November the 5th. [Laughter] If I'm successful, the 8 years might look a little bit better.

I have said several times since I've been in the White House that I thought one 6-year term would be preferable, because as soon as I got into the Oval Office to serve, I hadn't been in there more than a year when the general presumption in the press and among others was that everything I did was designed just to get reelected. And I can't deny that sometimes I think about reelection, certainly lately. [Laughter] But it takes away the stature of the office.

And I've seen in other countries, like Mexico and Venezuela and, to some degree, in France, that a longer term for President is better. I doubt if the Congress and the people will ever change the Constitution, but if they did, I think it would serve the country well.

Let me say one other thing about the greatest achievement. It's hard to know. I think the first question I got exemplifies my greatest achievement—to keep this Nation strong and secure and at peace. And another prayer that I have is that when I go out of office, hopefully January of '85, that I can say that I never had to send a young man or woman into combat. That's what I hope. That's my best achievement so far, and I think maybe extended peace to others, as well.

I think history might look back on this administration and say that the Mideast peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was a notable thing. I think they might say that the opening up of Africa to beneficial influence and trade and understanding with our country was an innovation that will pay rich dividends in the future. And I would guess the normalizing of relationships with China, with a billion new people there who are now our friends, will help to stabilize the situation in Asia, preserve the peace over there, and give us wonderful opportunities to sell American products and to have new and exciting relationships with the people of China.

There are a few things that come back fondly to me, and I think the maintenance of peace is the most important.

Thank you, Pam.

One more? Let me have one more question.

Yes, sir.



Q. My name is Larry Hibel from Rogers High School.

THE PRESIDENT. Larry? Is that right?

Q. Larry.


Q. Right. And the Republican candidate has attacked the minimum wage as inflationary—


Q.—and the cause of teenage unemployment.


Q. What is your position of the issue?

THE PRESIDENT. All right. If you don't mind, let me elaborate on that a little bit, because what you've asked vividly demonstrates the difference between the thrust of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. I don't want to alienate Republicans who might be inclined to support me, but you know this attitude on the minimum wage is important.

The' first minimum wage law, that I mentioned outside, was for 25 cents an hour. The Democrats were for it, and the Republicans were against it. And the next one was 40 cents an hour. That's when I got my first job. The Democrats were for it; Republicans were against it.

I think all the way down through the years, Democrats have been more inclined to care about the working family and what it means for a husband or a wife to bring an adequate paycheck home to give the children a better life than they had themselves. Now we look back on the 25-cent-an-hour wage, it doesn't seem like much, but then it was a lot. Around where I live in Georgia, a lot of people, particularly women, work for the minimum wage now in the textile mills. The minimum wage is pretty much the prevailing wage there for many people. Governor Reagan has said, not too long ago, that the minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.

And I know that in this area, where many hard-working, dedicated people, because of change in buying habits for automobiles, .are temporarily out of work. I feel very strongly that we need to have an unemployment compensation pro. gram. Governor Reagan says, not too long .ago, that unemployment compensation is just a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. Well, you know, I don't believe that it's right for a person who wants to be President to say that a temporarily unemployed automobile worker is a freeloader, because that unemployment compensation is partially paid, as you know, by the employer and costs the employee also directly or indirectly, kind of an insurance program.

These are the kinds of issues that I believe are at stake in the election. It's not a matter of liberal or conservative. On fiscal matters, I consider myself to be reasonably conservative. In the tax program that I put forth for next year, for instance, it's anti-inflationary in nature.

The so-called Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal would mean a reduction in taxes between now and 1987 of a thousand billion dollars, heavily oriented toward very rich people, that would flood this country with excessive money and create high inflation. George Bush, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, said that the Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal would create 30 percent inflation or more, and he called it "voodoo economics."

So, the thing is that a stable, mature, responsible approach to the betterment of working families, the protection of people if they are unemployed, an adequate social security program to give people security in their older age, a responsible approach toward inflation—these are things that are at stake in this session.

One of the good achievements of my administration has been to put minimum wage tied to the average prevailing industrial wage paid in industry, so that as the other wages go up the minimum wage goes up, almost always behind it, but along with it. In the past the minimum wage sometimes would lag behind 6 years, and you'd have to have a real fight in the Congress to get the minimum wage built up so that the family wouldn't suffer severely with the impact of inflation. We've indexed, in effect, minimum wage, not to the Consumer Price Index, but to the average prevailing industrial wage.

That's my attitude toward the minimum wage. I don't think it's caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression, and I don't think unemployment compensation is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. That's a profound difference that's going to be decided by the voters on November the 4th.

Let me say this in closing. I wish I had more time. I've got one more event tonight, and I've had a long day. I'm going to go to Toledo, Ohio, tomorrow. I'll have a town meeting like this with 2 or 3,000 people, and I'll have good questions like you asked. I try to do that every day when I'm out, several times. And I'll also be making a major speech tomorrow on agriculture. I'm a farmer, before I ran for Governor, and my family have always been farmers, and I'm interested in that subject.

But it's been a delight to be with you. You've asked some very good questions, and I think that your questions will carry throughout the Nation, because the national press is here to report not only your questions but my answers. And to have these questions from young people gives me a different perspective than what I would have gotten had I not come to be with you.

Thank you again. It's been an honor for me to be with you. I thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:50 p.m. in the Main Reading Room of the Wyoming Public Library. He was introduced by Edna Schooley, librarian of the Wyoming Public Library.

Jimmy Carter, Wyoming, Michigan Remarks and a Question-and. Answer Session With High School Students. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251631

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