Remarks of the First Lady at the Gridiron Dinner, (24 March 1979) Washington, D.C.

Speech Text

[1] It’s a great pleasure for me to be here tonight. I appreciate your invitation, and I am honored by your kind and warm reception.

[2] It’s nice to be invited to the Gridiron Dinner. And it’s even nicer to be allowed in.

[3] I am indeed privileged to be the first woman to speak to the Gridiron. I know that the Gridiron is one hundred and ten years old. And I understand that some of the founding members are still with us here tonight.

[4] I wanted to thank Dr. Kissinger for those kind and very sweet words. I must confess, I just love to hear those Yankees talk.

[5] Jimmy really wanted to be here tonight with his friends in the press. Only matters of the highest and most urgent national importance could have kept him away. He just had to go to a town meeting in Elk City, Oklahoma.

[6] Actually, Jimmy was invited to the Gridiron by your former President Al Cromley of the Daily Oklahoman and Jimmy thought tonight’s dinner was being held in Al’s home state. Jimmy just called me from Elk City before I came over here, and he was pretty upset. He said he was the only person in Frankie’s Diner who’s dressed in white tie and tails.

[7] But he said the trip hasn’t really been a waste of time. He’s already spent five minutes with the Mayor of Elk City, and he said to tell you all that the Mayor has become one of his closest personal friends, that he is one of the outstanding leaders of the world, and that he is a national treasure.

[8] But truly, it is a great honor for me to be with you tonight. And I do consider it a privilege to share this podium with Henry Kissinger.

[9] Dr. Kissinger is still a celebrated figure here in Washington. Just a few months ago the director of the Smithsonian Institution called him about upcoming plans for the Einstein commemoration. The director said: “We want to honor a great man of this century who emigrated here from Germany… a man of towering intellect…a man who changed the thinking of our time…and pay tribute to his achievements on the one hundredth anniversary of his birth.” And Henry said: “I deeply appreciate the honor, but I’m only fifty-seven.”

[10] I want to compliment Alfred Kahn on his talents as a song and dance man. Jimmy always says that, with inflation the way it is, he hopes Fred has a fall-back career.

[11] But I seriously appreciate the chance to speak to the Gridiron Dinner.

[12] Anything to get out of the house.

[13] Despite the great pressures that are on my husband, I have tried to keep to a routine in our daily lives.

[14] We get up early and read the papers. I read Doonesbury and Peanuts and Evans and Novak. Then I turn to the serious news.

[15] And I always talk to Jimmy about what is current in the papers. I remember not so long ago I said: “Jimmy, I see the Congress has come back into session.” And he said: “I know. I can’t help it. They do it every year.”

[16] But I try to keep myself busy and occupied as First Lady. Not long ago I went to testify before Senator Kennedy’s Health Care Subcommittee. I knew I would be asked a lot of tough questions, so I did some real homework on the subject. But even though I was prepared I was a little surprised by Senator Kennedy’s questions.

[17] For instance, he asked: “How much staff does it take to run the White House? Are you still happy with the chef? Where do you park the cars? And is there room on the South Lawn for a good game of touch football?”

[18] When I went back to the White House for lunch with Jimmy, he asked me where I’d been. I said I was up on Capitol Hill with Ted Kennedy. And Jimmy said: “I know you’re a strong Democrat, Rosalynn but I was really counting on your support.”

[19] Just about that time Joe Califano called on the phone. He talked to Jimmy and told him what an outstanding job he was doing. Not Jimmy…Califano.

[20] Lunch is really my favorite time of day, because I get a chance to have a private intimate talk just between Jimmy and me. Until the waiter comes and Jimmy says: make it separate checks.

[21] And then there are those day-to-day frustrations that any mother feels. Like when Bobby Byrd’s office calls up and postpones Amy’s violin lesson.

[22] But I do get the chance to travel. I’ve just returned from a trip on behalf of volunteerism and local community efforts. It was a substantive, serious trip about issues in which I am deeply involved. I went to California, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

[23] I think I even went to a state that doesn’t have a primary.

[24] Hamilton Jordan apologized and said that would not happen again.

[25] My most memorable experience, of course, was going with Jimmy to the Middle East. Believe me, shuttle diplomacy isn’t easy. It’s Jerusalem and then Cairo, then Jerusalem then Cairo. Finally, you’re almost exhausted and the agreement is just about nailed down, and then comes the most risky trip of all… to Georgetown, to get final approval from Joe Kraft.

[26] But Jimmy proved in the Middle East that two leaders who have been separated by suspicion and mistrust for years…who come from totally different cultures… and who look at the world from different points of view…can be brought together through patience and perseverance and love. And today, Secretary Vance and Dr. Brzezinski are just the best of friends.

[27] Some people said that Jimmy was uncomfortable when there was all that shouting and screaming and heckling of Prime Minister Begin at the Israeli Knesset. But Jimmy’s used to it. He meets with his Congressional leaders every week.

[28] It’s always a bipartisan meeting… they’re all Democrats.

[29] But of course any President has to live with criticism. Some people say, for instance, that the performance of the CIA hasn’t improved under the Carter Administration. Let me say very emphatically that the CIA has not lost touch with the world. For instance, we just received a secret cable from the CIA on Iran. It started out: “Dear President Truman.”

[30] Of course, the duties of a First Lady are never done. I have a lot of work to do when I go back to the White House tonight. We’re having an official dinner on Tuesday for Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat. And, of course, I have to plan it. Jimmy told me there are two heads of state coming and that I could pull out all the stops and spend the full thirty-nine dollars.

[31] I knew I was in trouble when he said the catering was being handled by cousin Hugh.

[32] I talked to Hugh about the entertainment for the dinner. He said that we’ve had Rostropovich. We’ve had Baryshnikov. We’ve had Beverly Sills, and now we’ve used up our entertainment allowance. So for the next twelve state dinners we’re just going to have Jimmy’s sister Gloria playing the harmonica.

[33] Even though Jimmy hasn’t officially declared for re-election, we are ready for a tough campaign. We will go into every district… debate every criticism… answer every opponent.

[34] And when that’s over, we’ll take on the Republicans.

[35] This is certainly a time of great political turmoil. One reporter I talked to said he had asked Ronald Reagan what qualifications were needed in a President. And Mr. Reagan said: “A man who has held a major executive position like a governorship… someone who believes in the old Republican virtues… who is tough on welfare…who cares about a balanced budget… someone who has star quality… an actor who can play any role and play it well.” And the reporter said: “I didn’t know you were supporting Governor Brown.”

[36] Governor Brown, of course, is pushing hard for a constitutional convention to write a balanced budget amendment. Dr. Kissinger has his own amendment he would like to write to allow the election of a president who is foreign-born.

[37] Jimmy doesn’t object to this. He doesn’t care where a President is born, so long as he’s born twice.

[38] People always ask me when Jimmy started carrying his own luggage. It was about ten years ago, when his mother said that she was getting too old to carry it for him.

[39] It’s not that I miss Jimmy so much when he’s traveling. It’s just when I turn on the Secret Service radio and they say… it’s ten o’clock… do you know where your President is?

[40] But I look forward to his return. Then it will be just as it always is at the end of a long day, when we go up the staircase in the White House and go to our room and turn out the lights… “good night Jimmy… good night Rosalynn…good night Hamilton… good night Jody.”