Why Not The Best For 1976 – Carter’s Candidate Announcement Speech

Published 3:17 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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Why Not the Best for 1976

What follows is an edited version of candidate announcement speech Jimmy Carter delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on December 12, 1974.  The speech was entitled, “Why Not the Best?”—the same title his 1976 campaign autobiography would have. Carter’s message of the need for decency, government openness, political vision, and strong leadership is a message needed also for today.      


We Americans are a great and diverse people. We take full advantage of our right to develop wide-ranging interests and responsibilities. For instance, I am a farmer, an engineer, a businessman, a planner, a scientist, a governor and a Christian.  Each of you is an individual and different from all the others.


Yet we Americans have shared one thing in common: a belief in the greatness of our country.


We have dared to dream great dreams for our nation. We have taken quite literally the promises of decency, equality, and freedom – of an honest and responsible government.


What has now become of these great dreams? That all Americans stand equal before the law. That we enjoy a right to pursue health, happiness and prosperity in privacy and safety. That government be controlled by its citizens and not the other way around. That this country set a standard within the community of nations of courage, compassion, integrity, and dedication to basic human rights and freedoms.


Our commitment to these dreams has been sapped by debilitating compromise, acceptance of mediocrity, subservience to special interests, and an absence of executive vision and direction.


Having worked during the last twenty years in local, state and national affairs, I have learned a great deal about our people.


I tell you that their great dreams still live within the collective heart of this nation.


Recently we have discovered that our trust has been betrayed.  The veils of secrecy have seemed to thicken around Washington. The purposes and goals of our country are uncertain and sometimes even suspect.


Our people are understandably concerned about this lack of competence and integrity. The root of the problem is not so much that our people have lost confidence in government, but that government has demonstrated time and again its lack of confidence in the people.


Our political leaders have simply underestimated the innate quality of our people.


With the shame of Watergate still with us and our 200th birthday just ahead, it is time for us to reaffirm and to strengthen our ethical and spiritual and political beliefs.


There must be no lowering of these standards, no acceptance of mediocrity in any aspect of our private or public lives.


In our homes or at worship we are ever reminded of what we ought to do and what we ought to be. Our government can and must represent the best and the highest ideals of those of us who voluntarily submit to its authority.


Politicians who seek to further their political careers through appeals to our doubts, fears and prejudices will be exposed and rejected.


For too long political leaders have been isolated from the people. They have made decisions from an ivory tower.  Few have ever seen personally the direct impact of government programs involving welfare, prisons, mental institutions, unemployment, school busing or public housing. Our people feel that they have little access to the core of government and little influence with elected officials.


Now it is time for this chasm between people and government to be bridged, and for American citizens to join in shaping our nation’s future.


Now is the time for new leadership and new ideas to make a reality of these dreams, still held by our people.


To begin with, the confidence of people in our own government must be restored.  But too many officials do not deserve that confidence.


There is a simple and effective way for public officials to regain public trust – be trustworthy!


…A government that is honest and competent, with clear purpose and strong leadership can work with the American people to meet the challenges of the present and the future…


Our people are hungry for integrity and competence in government. In this confused and fast-changing, technological world we still have within us the capability for national greatness.


About three months ago I met with the governors of the other twelve original states in Philadelphia. Exactly 200 years after the convening of the First Continental Congress we walked down the same streets, then turned left and entered a small building named Carpenter’s Hall. There we heard exactly the same prayer and sat in the same chairs occupied in September of 1774 by Samuel Adams, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and about forty-five other strong and opinionated leaders.


They held widely divergent views and they debated for weeks. They and others who joined them for the Second Continental Congress avoided the production of timid compromise resolutions. They were somehow inspired, and they reached for greatness. Their written premises formed the basis on which our nation was begun.


I don’t know whose chair I occupied, but sitting there I thought soberly about their times and ours. Their people were also discouraged, disillusioned and confused.  But these early leaders acted with purpose and conviction.


I wondered to myself: Were they more competent, more intelligent or better educated than we? Were they more courageous?  Did they have more compassion or love for their neighbors? Did they have deeper religious convictions? Were they more concerned about the future of their children than we?  I think not.


We are equally capable of correcting our faults, overcoming difficulties, managing our own affairs and facing the future with justifiable confidence.


I am convinced that among us 200 million Americans there is a willingness – even eagerness – to restore in our country what has been lost – if we have understandable purposes and goals and a modicum of bold and inspired leadership.


Our government can express the highest common ideals of human beings – if we demand of it standards of excellence.


It is now time to stop and to ask ourselves the question which my last commanding officer, Admiral Hyman Rickover, asked me and every other young naval officer who serves or has served in an atomic submarine.


For our nation – for all of us – that question is: “Why not the best?”

Visit the Americus Times-Recorder’s coverage of Jimmy Carter’s life and impact for more information.