Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1980-1981

Author: Jimmy Carter  | Date: May 22, 1980

Asian/Pacific American Democratic Caucus
Remarks at the First Annual Dinner.
May 22, 1980

First of all, let me thank my friends Danny Inouye, Senator Sparky Matsunaga, Congressman Norm Mineta, Congressman Matsui, Congressman Akaka, and all the wonderful Asian Americans who’ve come here tonight to thrill the heart of a Democratic President and to thrill the heart of a chairman of the Democratic National Committee and all Americans who believe in freedom, who believe in strength through unity, and who see the past history of this Nation-just a preview of what wonderful life we have ahead of us in the years to come.

I’m very delighted to be here at this first annual meeting of the Asian Americans in the Congress. Danny Inouye gave me an invitation I could not refuse. He said, "Mr. President, if you’ll come and be the speaker at our first annual meeting, I promise you that the next 4 years we’ll invite you back."

I’m sorry I’m a little late. I just came in from a trip out west. And some of you could understand, but I’m sure that Congressman Akaka and Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga could not understand what a long and difficult a trip it is all the way to the State of Washington and back. [Laughter]

I went because we had a terrible catastrophe there, perhaps the most devastating explosion ever to take place in the continental region of the United States in the last 4,000 years. A volcano, Mount St. Helens, in the State of Washington, literally exploded and transformed a major part of 1 cubic mile of stone and earth and ice, most of it into ash the consistency of face powder, obviously with a large quantity of heavy stones and large particles of ice instantaneously. This explosion was equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb—10 million tons of TNT. It literally destroyed everything within a 150-mile square region and catapulted all of this material down into what was formerly a large lake, and dammed this lake up with a new dam 400 feet deep and 12 miles long.

We don’t know how many people were killed. Seventy-one people are still missing in the region. I flew over it this morning in a helicopter as close as I could get safely to observe the damage and to prepare our Nation to help correct in human life the devastation that has already taken place in that region. I found the people there not to have panicked, but to have shown immense courage, great care for one another, a sense of community, a sense of common commitment, typical, in my opinion, of what our Nation is. In a time of trial, of test, of catastrophe, trouble, challenge, our Nation has never failed to be united, to be courageous, to care for one another, and to demonstrate strength.

Economically we are facing serious challenges. We are facing the challenge of international terrorism, condoned and supported by the Government of Iran, against 53 Americans. We are facing the challenge of aggression, with the Soviets having marshaled 110,000 heavily armed troops to stamp out freedom in the nation of Afghanistan. We are facing the challenge of uniting, not only in our own country but among our allies, to face these difficulties together. I feel confident about the outcome, because our future is based on strength, economic strength.

The gross national product of this country is far greater than any other on Earth.This year, we’ll produce $2,000 billion worth of economic goods and products for our people. The nation with the highest productivity among its workers on Earth is the United States of America.

We feel a great deal of concern about OPEC and their control of the energy resources of the world. We sometimes forget that all the OPEC nations put together have about 6 percent of the energy resources on Earth. This country has more than 20 percent of the energy resources. And ours is not just confined to oil and natural gas. We have that, yes. But we also have coal and shale and geothermal supplies and a wide diversity of opportunities for the future plus rich land that can produce energy sources forever.

We are a land whose strength is dependent upon our people. And I would say the greatest single source of strength is the diversity of our people. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of refugees. My own family came here many years ago, more than 300 years ago, searching for freedom, searching for a better life, searching for the right to worship as we pleased, searching for a chance to carve out a future based on the value of a human being, an individual, not dominated by the government, but with a government dominated by the people.

And in that diversity we have accumulated in this country large numbers of citizens with direct ties to every other nation on Earth—a tremendous resource and benefit for our country. Those ties of kinship, ties of love, ties of understanding, common heritage, religious faith provide us with beneficial influence to guarantee a future that will be guaranteeing a better life for us, a life of peace, and a life of good relationships with others.

In the last few months, even, we’ve had a tremendous movement forward in accumulation of friendships. The normalization of relationships with China has brought more than a billion people, a fourth of all the population on Earth, into a new opportunity as it relates to this country. At the same time we have not damaged at all our friendship and our trade responsibilities and a common future with the people of Taiwan. As a matter of fact, in the first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of last year, trade with Taiwan increased 65 percent.

Ours is a country that is a superpower. Other nations look to us for leadership. We do not shirk that leadership. We’re on the cutting edge of change. We’ve never been afraid of change. And as we’ve been tempered by challenge, by difficulty, by meeting and solving problems, by meeting and answering questions, by meeting and overcoming obstacles, our Nation has carved out for itself a better life.

This doesn’t mean that we think that we’re better than others, because we know that we are part of others. We respect other people around the world. We’re trying to find a common basis on which we can predicate a common future with them. We do not want to dominate any other people on Earth. We want to live in harmony and live in peace with them.

As Danny Inouye pointed out, this is a time of transition. World history is being changed in this present day, not only a limitation on energy supplies that have transformed economic problems and created enormous pressure of inflation, which we are meeting successfully, but a change in lifestyle. There’s a hunger for the realization of human rights, a hunger and a demand for the right of each human being in many nations on Earth now to control one’s own destiny, to have the elements of the rudiments of democracy, the benefits of freedom.

That’s a new development that is making turmoil in the political interrelationships among nations. We are not afraid of that. We can meet challenges of this kind without resort to military weapons and do is successfully, because we know how and we’ve proven in our own country the benefits that can be derived from that revolutionary spirit based upon freedom, democracy, and the honoring of human rights.

In the world today, there are probably 3 million refugees, 8 or 9 hundred thousand refugees who’ve escaped from Afghanistan, most into Pakistan, some into Iran. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have escaped from the Ethiopian area into Somalia and into other countries that border on Ethiopia. There’s a potential flood of refugees trying to escape from the Castro regime in Cuba, hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping from the domination by the Vietnamese, the people in Kampuchea.

In almost every instance, the escapees are trying to get away from communism, sponsored by, condoned by, supported by, financed by the Soviet Union. This is not said to condemn the Soviet Union, although they are subject to legitimate condemnation for many things. But the worldwide problem of refugees is caused by the deprivation of freedom and the attempt by governments to subjugate their own people. That makes our country even more attractive. When the wall was built around Berlin, East Germany, it was not to keep people from coming into East Germany; it was built to prevent people from escaping from East Germany into a democratic western world.

We’ve tried, as you know, to be a nation with open arms still and to receive those refugees as best we can in an orderly fashion in accordance with our own laws. You, perhaps above all other Americans, understand the benefits of foreign aid. A difficult political issue, one easy to demagog, and your congressional leaders sitting on this dais with me know that if we are to meet those challenges from communism, from totalitarian governments in a nonmilitary way, we must reach out an economic hand with a good investment-not a gift, but an investment—to let others buy our goods and to know that mutual advantages can be derived from trade and from understanding and from loans that they’ll repay and from the production of food and from the production of energy—the direct results of economic aid coming from our rich country. But one of the most difficult things to get through the Congress by a President is an adequate foreign aid bill.

Our friendships with the ASEAN nations-growing week by week, month by month, because we see that accurately as the fastest growing economic region of the world. As we look to Asia, to all the countries there, from countries bordering on the northern part of the China Sea all the way up through Korea, to island countries, we are proud of those ties of friendship and blood kinship that gives us the potential of being one international family.

As President I’m very deeply grateful to you. As a Democrat I’m very deeply grateful to you, because our party represents concern for people. It’s not a misnomer that for generations we’ve been known as the people’s party, the party of the people. Our concern is for the poor and for the deprived, for the handicapped, for those that don’t speak English well, because we know that our original strength came from immigrants, those searching for a better life, and those who believe even more deeply in the first fewgenerations in the values of our Nation, which never change.

You’ve honored me by letting me come to be with you tonight. And I hope this will be an ever-growing annual affair when we can reassess our debt to Asian people who gave us such a tremendous strength, represented by you, as in the past we’ve been indebted to Europe and to other regions of the world. And this new evolution of political awareness on the part of Asian Americans will greatly benefit our country.

And I hope these five Members of Congress will be many more as you have succeeding annual banquets, and eventually perhaps all these head tables will be filled by Members of Congress who are Asian Americans. So, don’t be timid. Don’t run against the ones who are already incumbents. [Laughter] But pick out wonderful, non-Asian Republicans— [laughter] —and help us win a great victory in November and in years to come.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:47 pan. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.