This is a painful time of transition of our nation. The economic arrangements, the cheap energy, the abundant natural resources, the lack of foreign competition on which our stability and prosperity depended for years are gone and they are gone forever. We were brought up to believe, uncritically, without thinking about it, that our system broke down in the Great Depression, was reconstructed by Franklin Roosevelt through the New Deal and World War II, and would never break again. And that all we had to do was to try to reach out and extend the benefits of America to those who had been dispossessed: minorities and women, the elderly, the handicapped, and children in need.
But the hard truth is that for ten long years through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, this economic system has been breaking down. We have seen high inflation, high unemployment, large government deficits, the loss of our competitive edge. In response to these developments, a dangerous and growing number of people are simply opting out of our system. Another dangerous and growing number are opting for special-interest and single-interest group politics, which threatens to take every last drop of blood out of our political system.
First of all, we should remember that things have been much worse than they are. Second, we must remember that we have no right to expect that this or any system will be permanently prosperous, free of all crises. For 30 years, the system worked as we set it up, and that is a long time to avoid the kind of problems we must now face today. Finally, we must realize that it does not matter whether Jimmy Carter or some perfect miracle worker, and there is none, is president: We did not get into these difficulties overnight, and we will not emerge from them immediately. It is not in the cards.
When Franklin Roosevelt ran for reelection in 1936, the election to which I hope this one will prove analogous, he was returned to office, but not because the depression was over, not because people were not unemployed, not because all the problems in the country had been solved. Far from it. We were still in the teeth of the depression. Why was he returned to office? Because people knew what sort of vision he had for America. They knew what action he was taking to transform the country. And they were willing, most important, to accept hardship for the present, because they believed they were part of a process that would lead them to a better tomorrow.
We are committed to the economic revitalization of America, but it will require far, far more than a big tax cut for bit business. It will require a redefinition of the relationship between the federal government and big business and labor.It will require a revitalization of our basic industrial structure. It will require us to admit we need to do more to increase risk taking and job creation in the small and new and growing businesses of our land. It will require us to work hard when it is difficult, to see that our agricultural sector continues to grow and export and save us in the international economic arena while we rebuild the rest of our economy.
It will, equally important, require us to recognize that our economic recovery and our very quality of life depend on having a sensible, safe, sane energy and environmental policy. Conservation matters, and it will work. Alternative sources of energy matter, and they can be developed. And we can develop our native sources of energy if only we are willing to pay the environmental price to do so. We must speak with a clear voice that we will not sacrifice the future of our nation by ruining the air, the water, the land because it seems expedient now and because we are having these troubles. And if we speak with this voice, I believe we can be heard.
Finally, we must say something pretty strong to the millions and millions of middle-class and upper-middle-class people who are so alienated from this process, even though they have educations, even though they have jobs in this country, that they are not bothering to vote, and they are not bothering to consider these issues seriously. We must say to them, you have no right to do that. That is a violation of this heritage of yours. This country deserves your best effort, now, and this crisis of our generation can be the exhilarating accomplishment of your lives if you will give that effort instead of drop out and cop out.