Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1979

Author: Jimmy Carter  | Date: March 31, 1979

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Remarks at the State Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.
March 31, 1979

Secretary of State Vel Phillips, Chairman Bleicher, Senator Nelson, Senator Proxmire, Chairman Reuss, Congressman Aspin, Chairman Zablocki, Al Baldus, Mayor Maier, Ambassador Lucey, my good friends in Wisconsin: I’m glad to be back with you.

This is indeed a great week for me and for our Nation. I have personal gratitude for one single event that I’ll never forget the rest of my life, and that is an opportunity to come here and join you at the Jefferson-Jackson Day banquet in Wisconsin.

Seriously, it’s a gratifying experience indeed to work very closely with two men of wide ethnic background differences, different religion, who have to live and work closely in proximity to one another, sometimes divided by strife and differences in the past, and to see them come together in the spirit of harmony and cooperation. I believe this arrangement might be permanent. As a matter of fact, Dr. Brzezinski and Cy Vance have been friends ever since Monday, and I’m very grateful for it. [Laughter]

We have an opportunity to observe from the White House superb achievement. This Wisconsin congressional delegation is a source of great pride to me. You occupy, because of seniority and sound judgment and competence, chairmanships of some of the major committees, as you well know.

But in addition to the congressional delegation, this State, this city has a lot of which to be proud. Mayor Maier is one of the leaders among the leaders of the great metropolitan mayors and county officials of our country. And when I have a very serious problem to address that relates to improving the life of people in the cities throughout the country, Henry is one of those to whom I turn for advice and counsel and support. And I thank him for it.

One of my earliest friends in Wisconsin is your former Governor, Pat Lucey. I asked Pat to take a very major responsibility on Iris shoulders a few months ago, :rs you know.

I have visited a lot of foreign countries. I have been with a lot of our own diplomatic leaders. I’ve had assessments made by many heads of state, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings. I have never been to a country since I’ve been President and had more repetitive and enthusiastic congratulations on the superb service of an Ambassador, than I did when I went to Mexico City recently and talked to the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Roel, and the President of Mexico, Lopez Portillo, when they told me that they had never had an Ambassador in Mexico as good as Pat Lucey, and they hoped that I would keep him there. And I will keep him there as long as he wants to stay, because I have the utmost confidence in him.

You know what he did for Wisconsin. I don’t think any State has ever had a better Governor. He was an adviser for me, a partner with me, and a personal friend when we were Governors together.

And this afternoon as I flew up toward your State, I looked down the list of achievements in one area only, that of energy, and found that the programs that he initiated as Governor are now paying rich dividends not only for Wisconsin but for the rest of the Nation.

In spite of the fact that your State ranks 12th in industrial commitment, and in spite of the fact that Wisconsin has very severe climatic conditions that require extra heat during the winter, the average person in Wisconsin used 20 percent less energy than the rest of the Nation.

You have inventories and assessments made of homes to cut down on the waste of fuels, and the business community in Wisconsin, almost without exception, have committed themselves to a program which [ hope the rest of the Nation will emulate, thanks to the superb leadership of Pat Lucey when he was your Governor. And I want to thank you, Pat, and the people of Wisconsin for setting an example for the rest of the people.

It’s good to come and speak to a Democratic organization that also has set an example for the rest of the Nation for many years of openness, honesty, and a progressive commitment. I also have a personal appreciation for the superb, overwhelming victory you gave me in the Wisconsin primary. I’ll never forget that evening— [laughter] and I thank you again for your sound judgment then, and also in the general election.

Our country is comprised of people with widely divergent backgrounds. When I was in Israel recently and spoke to the Knesset there, I reminded those friends of ours that the United States of America is a country of immigrants. It’s a country of refugees.

We will never be a homogeneous population. We pride ourselves on individuality. We pride ourselves on maintaining our ethnic ties. It gives us an opportunity to lead the rest of the world in many areas of life, because we can understand the special sensitivities of those who live in other regions of the world.

We are tied to them because of common commitments of philosophy. Our security is often interrelated with that of people of other countries, and we have a blood-kin relationship with the people of almost every nation on Earth.

We are a country which has never been afraid of challenge. We are still a country of pioneers. We have the strongest nation on Earth economically, militarily, politically, and, I believe, also ethically and morally.

We are a nation that has been able to struggle with diversity and even deep disappointment and embarrassment, without permanently damaging the fabric of our societal structure.

Often it’s time for us to stop and take stock of where we are, what we are, where we might go in the future. We are a nation inclined toward open debate, and we’re also a nation which has never been fearful of exposing our mistakes, our trials, our tribulations, and our problems.

I think the American press, the American people are inclined, as a matter of character, to emphasize the differences which divide us, the reasons for dispute and debate, to emphasize the problems that we’ve not yet solved, the questions that we have not yet answered.

And because of this, often Americans fail to remember the vast reservoir of common purpose, common belief, the superb achievements and the basic strength of our country. Often I meet with labor leaders, business leaders, political leaders, representatives of special interest groups—sometimes selfish, sometimes benevolent in nature—in the Oval Office, in the Cabinet Room, or in larger groups. And I remind them of all the things for which we can honestly give thanks in our country and ask them to recognize and to strive to overcome difficulties and obstacles, but to do it with a sense of realization, of innate strength worthy of our confidence, not to lose the boldness with which we face the future.

We are a nation that believes in justice, justice enshrined in an ever-improving United States Constitution, which started out as an example for the rest of the world almost 200 years ago, but which has constantly been improved because the people of our country demand more, not less freedom; more and not less equality of opportunity.

We’re a nation which believes in strength. We’re a nation which believes even in military strength, but we are also a nation which believes in investing that military strength for the cause of peace.

Sometimes we have departed from our basic principles in the past, and in the process, we have had a deterioration in the quality of our social life and our political life.

In recent years, because of the Vietnam war, Watergate, CIA revelations, we lost a great reservoir of trust and natural interrelationship between the people of our country and our own Government.

One of the major responsibilities of us Democrats, the last 2 years, has been to restore that element of trust, with openness of government, the passage of strict ethics legislation, more direct communication with the press, restoring the structural federal system, so that county, city, State, and Federal officials can work in harmony and not at odds.

We’ve been willing for a change to focus on crises and needs. And I can tell you that the Congress has had superb courage in the last 2 years to deal with inevitably divisive issues, within which there was no possibility of political gain, when courageous action was taken, when courageous votes were cast.

There was no way for a Member of the Congress to benefit politically by supporting the Panama Canal treaties. But the Senate, with superb courage, did so, and identified our Nation as having extra strength—strength not of a coward and a bully, but strength of quiet confidence, so that we can deal with a small nation equitably and fairly. And it gave our country a genuine reputation not only in this hemisphere but throughout the world as one that genuinely believed in human rights and didn’t just preach human rights for others.

We’re a nation which recently has been involved more and more deeply in trying to bring peace to southern Africa, based on one-person-one-vote, majority rule, an end to racism, an end to apartheid. We’ve suffered in the process, because a peacemaker often gets condemned from both sides. But our Nation has not been willing to shrink from this new involvement to ensure peace in a potentially troubled area of the World.

We’ve now opened our arms to embrace as friends, as new friends, a billion people who live in China and, in the process, to retain our commitment to the independence, the openness, the trade relationships, the cultural relationships, and the peaceful life of the people of Taiwan.

These decisions have not been easy ones, but our country has not shrunk from this commitment.

In the past, our Government has been too close to every dictatorship that exists throughout the world if it might benefit us in a selfish and transient way. But we’ve changed all that. As I mentioned this afternoon in Wausau, I and many of you formerly shrank from the prospect of the United Nations General Assembly beginning its annual fall debates, ’because we knew that our Nation, which we loved, would inevitably be the target of every attack, the butt of every joke cast at us by more than a hundred small, new, weak, black, brown, or yellow nations on Earth.

I thank God that time has changed, and now those struggling nations look on us as a friend and not an enemy, as an equal and not a superior, as a nation to be trusted, as a nation to be sought out as a source of help.

We are now approaching the conclusion of negotiations on a SALT treaty and on a comprehensive test ban agreement. I hope that when I go out of office that we will have taken a major stride toward the ultimate goal of our Nation which I espouse, and that is once and for all to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

This is not going to be an easy action for the Senate to take, to ratify the SALT II treaty. But I think the consequences of a rejection of this treaty will be so profound and so damaging to our country, its reputation, that ultimately the sound judgment of the American people will prevail. And I would like to ask every one of you in this room to extend your influence even beyond Wisconsin, and wherever you have a friend or an acquaintance or a customer or a relative, to encourage upon them the importance of joining in the support of this major step toward a nuclear-free world.

We have in addition to that many serious problems domestically. Inflation has been with us now for 10 years. The 3 years before I became President, the average inflation rate was about 8 percent; 6 years ago, it was 15 percent.

The inflation rate is still creeping up. Every group tends to lay the blame on someone else—business on labor, labor on business, the average citizen on the Government, Americans on OPEC. But we’re all in it together. It wild require a partnership not only of analysis but also of commitment and action. And every family in our country can make a major step toward assuaging inflationary pressures if we adopt an unselfish and an incisive and a knowledgeable attitude toward controlling this blight on our country.

I particularly wanted to thank Senator Nelson, who has led the battle successfully in the Senate last year and who, I’m sure, will lead it again this year, to control hospital costs and to pass a hospital cost containment bill. At the present time, medicalcost in hospitals is doubling every 5 years. The inflationary rate in hospital costs has been almost twice the already excessively high inflation rate throughout the rest of the country. It extends into ways that you’ll never realize, not only your own family budget. If you’ve bought an average-priced car this past 12 months, $120 of the cost of that automobile had to go to pay hospital insurance for the workers who built it.

This is difficult to achieve. We were not able to pass hospital cost containment legislation last year, but I believe that we’ll succeed this year with your help.

When I was running for President in 1976, we had a Federal deficit of more than $66 billion. I think in times of adequate prosperity, which we are enjoying now, that the Federal budget deficit should be balanced. We’ve already cut this deficit more than half, and I’ll continue to work with the Congress with that goal in mind.

I might add that we also have a very serious problem that’s not yet resolved, concerning energy supplies for our country in the future. I doubt that the Congress of the United States has ever tackled a more difficult, complicated, and politically divisive piece of legislation. In the final stages of this debate and congressional action, which unfortunately lasted almost 18 months, almost every key vote between the conference committees was decided with one Senator or one Member of the House of Representatives finally being. persuaded to vote.

We achieved about 60 percent of what I originally proposed to the Congress almost exactly 2 years ago. We’ve got a long way to go. We do indeed have an energy crisis. Many Americans still believe that it does not exist, that they suffer from higher fuel costs because there’s some sort of collusion between the Federal Government and the oil companies designed to rip off the American family. This is not the case.

There is a dwindling supply of energy sources. The prices are going to rise in the future no matter who is President, no matter which party occupies the administration in Washington, no matter what we do. But Americans are going to have to conserve energy. We’re going to have to shift toward more plentiful supplies of fossil fuels like coal, and we are also going to have to open up the tremendous reservoir of technical ability and innovation and commitment of the American public and the free enterprise system to find adequate sources of energy from replenishable supplies like solar energy.

As you know, we presently have a very serious problem with one of the atomic powerplants on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. I’ve just had word from that site that the situation is still stable and slowly improving. But many people in that region have been severely frightened, and the crisis is not yet over.

I think the result of this will be, perhaps, to remind the American people that energy sources are doubtful. In the near future, we will have to continue to rely not only on coal but on nuclear power. And we will also have a joint responsibility—the private enterprise system and government at all levels and private citizens—to ensure that atomic plants that are presently in existence or now being constructed will indeed be even safer than we have thought them in the past. And this particular incident, I believe, will give us a knowledge and a renewed concern that will lead to improved safety precautions.

In the near future, I will be going to Three Mile Island to learn personallyabout the situation there, so that I, as President, can better represent you when plans for the future use of this source of power is continued.

Let me say one other thing, and I’d like to close.

Our Nation is one that’s been tested successfully. I think we have the admiration of many other people in the world.

The Democratic Party, to me, is a precious possession in my own political life. I’ve been inspired by its leaders. Our principles have never changed. We’ve always been in the forefront of exploring new ways to give people a freer life, a more independent life, a more democratic life, enhanced civil rights, increased prospects for peace, and to raise the standards of equity and fairness and basic human rights not only in our own country but throughout the world.

We have a lot to make us thankful. And I believe that if we harness our own efforts together in the future, we can be successful in resolving these very serious problems that still face our Nation—not with fear or timidity or trepidation or concern, not yielding to the temptations to be divisive, nor to try to cast blame on one another, but with a sure sense that with the confidence that our Nation gives us to deserve, and with the boldness that’s always exemplified Americans’ willingness or eagerness to meet difficult challenges, we together, as partners, can set an example for the rest of the world and make the greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America, even greater.

Thank you very much. God bless all of you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8: 25 p.m. in the East Hall of the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center and Arena. In his opening remarks, he referred to Michael M. Bleicher, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.


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Chicago: Jimmy Carter, "Milwaukee, Wisconsin Remarks at the State Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.," Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1979 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1979 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.2300-2302 577–578. Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022,

MLA: Carter, Jimmy. "Milwaukee, Wisconsin Remarks at the State Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner." Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1979, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1979 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.2300-2302, pp. 577–578. Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Carter, J, 'Milwaukee, Wisconsin Remarks at the State Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.' in Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1979. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1979 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.2300-2302, pp.577–578. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from