President Jimmy Carter, with the Shrine of Texas Liberty as his backdrop, stood before hundreds of San Antonio residents just a few days before the November 4, 1980 election between him and California Governor Ronald Reagan to say he wanted “to make a prediction to you today here in front of the Alamo. I predict that 20 years from now, Republican candidates will be saying nice things about Jimmy Carter’s second term.”
“Standing here reminds me of courage,” President Carter, dressed in a dark blue suit, with a diagonally striped red, white, and blue tie. “Standing here reminds me of the dedication of brave men. Standing here as Commander in Chief, it would be inappropriate for me not to comment on the Kelly Air Force Base, which has the largest concentration of Air Force personnel anywhere in the world.”
“My background, my training, is as a professional military officer,” the President continued. “I went to the Naval Academy, and I served 11 years in the Navy. I was an officer in the submarine force. I want to point out to you what has happened about defense in recent years. As long as I’m President, we will have a strong nation, because I know that only through strength can we have peace. In the last 50 years, no President has been able to make the statement that I’m going to make now. In my term of office, we have not had war. We have stayed at peace.”
Hearing the former president speak 35 years later, on August 20, 2015, to announce he will begin treatment for “four spots of melanoma” cancer on his brain, brought back memories of being a young reporter and meeting Carter at the Alamo. Joe Neaves, a captain with 31-years of experience on the San Antonio Police Department, was running for Bexar County Sheriff and was able to secure me a spot with the press for the occasion.
Neaves was selected to be on stage with other Democratic candidates and officials, including Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Lt. Governor Bill Hobby, Representatives Henry B. Gonzalez and Abraham Kazen during the speech. Daughters of the Texas Revolution, the caretakers of the Alamo, led by their president Mrs. Anthony Nicholas, some supporters of the Carter-Mondale campaign and some members were present to greet the president at his arrival.
I was only given a few minutes to ask questions before he went into a waiting area prior to his speech. My initial impression was that he looked somewhat tired, probably from his whirlwind trip across Texas beginning in Houston that morning, to Brownsville, and then to San Antonio before flying to Abilene. He quickly had face makeup reapplied and provided thought out answers to my quick questions before meeting with others, including local newspaper reporter, Jan Jarboe.
“I’ve been your president for almost four years now and made literally thousands of decisions and I have learned something from each one of those decisions,” he raised four fingers. “That is four years of a continuous learning process and consequently each decision I made leaves me more prepared for the next one. What I have learned in my first term, and what I am prepared for in my second term, are that these lessons made me a better president especially for the second term.”
“I am grateful to the American people because they know that there are major differences, radical differences, between myself and Governor Reagan on practically each major issue that effects their lives. Your life,” Carter emphasized. “These people do not want to wake up next Wednesday morning to face the prospect that a Republican will be in the Oval Office, the White House, for the next four years.”
“Senator Lloyd Bentsen here, is one of my greatest allies in Washington, and believe me, a president needs strong allies in Washington. I am very grateful to have Senator Bentsen and others as friends to help continue the good progress we have made in new job development, better tax programs, building new plants and industrial businesses, conserving energy and protecting our environment.”
“My mother was a nurse who worked for $4 a day during the recession. That was for a 12 hour day. If she could work 20 hours, she would bring home $6. She was always a working woman for the good of our family. Today, about one third of all American families have a woman as the head of the household who has to bring in a paycheck, and just like my mother, Lillian, to help feeds, us shelter us, clothe us. It’s just not right that he we are in 1980 and a woman earns only 59 cents compared to every dollar a man makes do the same kind of work.”
Soon Carter was escorted to the platform in front of the Alamo and gave about a ten minute speech criticizing the Republicans and mentioning some of the wins in his presidency. Although he had successes with lowering the deficit, the Camp David peace meetings, expanding on human rights, addressing energy conservation and increasing the size of the National Park System, Carter lost the election to Reagan.
High unemployment, inflation, energy crisis, and the Iran hostage crisis, coupled with the charm and hopeful message of Reagan, resulted in the first loss by an elected presidential incumbent in almost 50 years.
Now, 90-years-old, Carter seems at ease talking about his cancer.
“I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said.