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#221: Little Known Democrat Defeats President Gerald Ford in 1976 Election

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Jimmy Carter smiles at the crowd during the Democratic National Convention in New York on July 15, 1976
Jimmy Carter smiles at the crowd during the Democratic National Convention in New York on July 15, 1976

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

This week in our series, we look back at the presidential election of nineteen seventy-six.

When Vice President Gerald Ford became president in nineteen seventy-four, he took office during a crisis. For the first time in American history, a president -- Richard Nixon -- had resigned.

Nixon resigned as a result of the case known as Watergate. It involved the cover-up of illegal activities related to his re-election campaign. Lies about Watergate only added to the mistrust of Americans angry at having been misled about the war in Vietnam. After Vietnam and Watergate, many people no longer believed their public officials.

Voters rejected Gerald Ford, a Republican, in the presidential election of nineteen seventy-six. Instead they chose Jimmy Carter, the candidate of the Democrats. Why?

(MUSIC)

One reason was that Ford had pardoned Nixon. He declared a pardon for any crimes that Nixon might have committed. This made many people angry. Also, he refused requests for federal aid for New York and other cities. Voters may have felt that he was not concerned about the problems of poor people.

Others believe that unemployment and inflation defeated Gerald Ford. He was not able to deal effectively with these problems during his short presidency.

There was competition for the Republican Party nomination in nineteen seventy-six. Ford's chief opponent was Ronald Reagan, who had just served two terms as governor of California.

Democrats thought that voter anger about Watergate would help their party win the White House. Eleven Democrats campaigned for the nomination. Two well-known politicians did not campaign, but they said they would serve if no other candidate won the party's support. They were former vice president Hubert Humphrey and Senator Ted Kennedy.

One of the lesser-known candidates was the former governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter.

JIMMY CARTER: "My name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm running for president."

Political experts gave him little chance of winning the nomination. Most Democrats did not even know who he was.

(MUSIC)

Before becoming governor, he had been a nuclear power engineer in the Navy and a peanut farmer in Georgia. Again and again, he told people that he was not part of the political establishment in Washington. He also had strong Christian beliefs. This appealed to a lot of voters.

Jimmy Carter greets supporters in downtown Fort Myers as he makes his presidential campaign swing through Florida in March of 1976
Jimmy Carter greets supporters in downtown Fort Myers as he makes his presidential campaign swing through Florida in March of 1976

Many voters supported Carter in the primary elections leading up to the party's nominating convention. His victory in the Florida primary was especially important. He defeated another politician from the South, Governor George Wallace of Alabama.

Jimmy Carter represented what was called the "New South." He made it clear that he opposed the ideas of the "Old South," like discrimination against blacks.

George Wallace spoke of creating a better life for both blacks and whites. Yet he had strongly defended racial separation for most of his political life. Many people remembered pictures of Governor Wallace at the University of Alabama in nineteen sixty-three. The pictures showed him blocking the door to prevent two young blacks from attending the school.

The Republican primaries had mixed results for President Ford.

PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: "Right now, I predict that the American people are going to say that night, 'Gerry, you've done a good job - Keep right on doing it.'"

For example, in New Hampshire he won only fifty-one percent of the vote. Ronald Reagan won forty-nine percent. But in Massachusetts, Ford won twice as many votes as Reagan did.

The campaign showed that Reagan was more conservative than Ford. For example, Reagan talked strongly about United States control of the Panama Canal. In his words: "We built it, we paid for it, it's ours, and we are going to keep it." President Carter would later decide differently.

Ford, in his campaign speeches, denounced extremism. It was clear that he was talking about his opponent, Ronald Reagan.

Ford and Reagan won almost the same amount of support in the Republican primaries. Yet many delegates at the nominating convention remained undecided. This was a dangerous situation for the Republican Party. Party leaders did not want a fight over undecided votes at the convention. They worried that a lack of unity could damage the party's chances in the general election.

The situation was similar for the Democrats. Support for Jimmy Carter increased. But some Democrats who did not like him began to say, "Anybody but Carter."

(MUSIC)

Carter's campaign message was that he did not have ties to special interest groups, that he would be different.

JIMMY CARTER (in campaign film): "I see an America that has turned away from scandals and corruption. I see an American president who governs with vigor and vision and affirmative leadership. A president who is not isolated from our people, but a president who feels your pain and who shares your dreams.

"I see an America on the move again, united, its wounds healed, an America entering its third century with confidence and competence and compassion. An America that lives up to the majesty of its Constitution, and the simple decency of its people. This is my vision of America. I hope you share it. And I hope you will help me fight for it."

Many people liked what they heard. Carter won the Democratic primaries in Georgia, Alabama and Indiana. The other candidates fell hopelessly behind.

At the party convention, he was nominated on the first vote. In his acceptance speech, he repeated the line that he continually used with voters.

JIMMY CARTER: "My name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm running for president."

Carter said there was a fear that America's best years were over. He said the nation's best was still to come.

CARTER: "Nineteen seventy-six will not be a year of politics as usual. It can be a year of inspiration and hope, and it will be a year of concern, of quiet and sober reassessment of our nation's character and purpose, a year when voters have confounded the experts. And I guarantee you that it will be the year when we give the government of this country back to the people of this country." [Cheering]

Walter Mondale, a senator from Minnesota, became the party's vice presidential candidate.

President Jimmy Carter, left, and Vice President Walter Mondale
President Jimmy Carter, left, and Vice President Walter Mondale

(MUSIC)

A month before the Republican Party convention, Ronald Reagan made a costly political mistake. He said that, if he won the nomination, he would want Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate. Conservatives got angry. Schweiker was a liberal Republican. Some political observers say this is why Reagan lost the nomination to President Ford.

Many of the delegates wanted Reagan to then be Ford's running mate. But Reagan was not interested in becoming vice president. Instead, the nominee was Senator Robert Dole of Kansas.

Nonetheless, Reagan received a long and enthusiastic response from the convention delegates when Gerald Ford motioned for him to come down and join him at the podium.

RONALD REAGAN: "If I could just take a moment, I had an assignment the other day. Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now.

"We live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive at each other's country and destroy virtually the civilized world we live in.

"And suddenly it dawned on me; those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired.  They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here. Mister President..." [Cheering]

It was a preview of the strong and confident speaking style that would serve Reagan well four years later. Indeed, as the future president, Ronald Reagan would be known as "the Great Communicator."

The general election campaign started in September nineteen seventy-six. One newspaper said the campaign left voters feeling sleepy because it was not very interesting.

Ford and Carter agreed to debate each other on television. Nobody had done that since nineteen sixty, when Richard Nixon and John Kennedy had several televised debates.

Many people thought Ford did a little better than Carter in the first debate. In the second debate, however, President Ford made a mistake. He wrongly suggested that the Soviet Union did not control Eastern Europe.

FORD: "I don't believe that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent or autonomous. It has its own territorial integrity, and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union."

Carter responded:

CARTER: "I would like to see Mister Ford convince the Polish-Americans, and the Czech-Americans, and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don't live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union, behind the Iron Curtain."

The third debate did not have a clear winner. Opinion polls showed that many voters were still undecided.

(MUSIC)

President Gerald Ford in the White House Press Room in Washington, November 3, 1976, concedes defeat to Jimmy Carter
President Gerald Ford in the White House Press Room in Washington, November 3, 1976, concedes defeat to Jimmy Carter

In November, Jimmy Carter won the election. He received fifty-one percent of the popular vote. President Ford won forty-eight percent.

A lot had changed in the two years since Jimmy Carter began to receive national attention. Most Americans had never heard of him before. Now, many of those same people had just elected him the thirty-ninth president of the United States.

A look at the Carter presidency, next week.

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

Contributing: Jerilyn Watson

This was program #221. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

1974年,尼克松因为水门事件辞去总统职务,副总统杰拉尔德.福特临危受命。尼克松是美国历史上任期未满辞职下台的第一位总统,因为他涉嫌参与了掩盖跟自己当选连任有关联的非法活动。

美国民众本来就因为在越战的问题上被政府误导而感到气愤,水门事件的谎言更是雪上加霜。越战和水门事件过后,很多人都不再信任政府官员。

1976年总统大选中,选民们拒绝了共和党现任总统福特,把票投给了民主党候选人吉米.卡特。

福特落选的原因之一是因为他特赦了尼克松,让尼克松不因为任何罪名而受到起诉,这种做法让很多人感到气愤。此外,福特还驳回了纽约等城市提出的联邦补助的请求。选民们可能觉得,福特对贫苦人民面临的困难漠不关心。

也有人觉得,福特输在了失业率和通货膨胀上。在他短暂的总统任期内,福特没能有效解决这些问题。1976年总统选举,福特在共和党内也遇到了对手,最主要的挑战者是曾任两届加州州长的里根。

民主党人觉得,选民对水门事件的愤怒有助于他们胜选,因此,一共有11个民主党人参选提名。另外还有两位著名政治家--一个是前副总统汉弗莱,另一个是参议员肯尼迪,他们两人都表示,如果没有哪位候选人能得到党内支持,他们愿意出马。

在诸多参选人中,有一位不大被外界所知,他就是前乔治亚州州长吉米.卡特。政治分析人士觉得,卡特提名无望,因为大多数民主党人根本不知道他是何许人也。

做州长之前,吉米.卡特是海军里的核能工程师,也在乔治亚州种过花生。他一遍遍地告诉大家,他是华盛顿政治圈子的圈外人,他笃信基督教,并因此在党内提名前的州内初选里得到了很多选民的支持。卡特在佛罗里达州州内初选的胜利尤其重要。他击败了另外一个南方政治家、阿拉巴马州州长乔治.华莱士。

吉米.卡特代表了所谓的"新南方"。他明确表示,反对以歧视黑人为标志性特征的"旧南方"。他的竞选对手乔治.华莱士表示,要改善黑人和白人的生活,但在他的大部分政治生涯里,他又一直坚定地捍卫种族隔离。很多人都清楚地记得1963年华莱士当州长时在阿拉巴马大学的照片,照片上的他正在阻止两个黑人学生进学校上课。

对希望参选连任的福特来说,共和党的初选结果喜忧参半。比如,福特在新罕布什尔的初选中赢得了百分之51的选票,里根赢得了百分之49。但是在麻萨诸塞州,福特赢得的选票是里根的两倍。

从选战中可以看出,里根比福特更保守。例如,里根坚决主张美国继续控制巴拿马运河。他曾说:"运河是我们建的,我们的钱,就应该是我们的,不能给别人。"卡特当总统后做出了不同的决策。

福特在竞选演说中,对极端主义思想提出谴责。很显然,他的讲话是在针对里根的。福特和里根在共和党初选中势均力敌,在共和党总统提名大会上,很多代表还是摇摆不定。共和党领袖们不想看到在提名大会上出现内斗,担心共和党内部意见不统一会影响到共和党候选人最终当选的机会。

民主党的情况大同小异。吉米.卡特得到的支持与日俱增,但是一些不喜欢他的人开始提出:"选谁也不能选卡特"。卡特的竞选主题是:他跟特殊利益集团没有任何联系,他跟其他候选人不一样。

卡特在竞选演说中曾表示:"我眼里的美国,远离丑闻和腐败;我眼里的美国总统,充满活力、远见和笃定的领导能力,不会跟民众隔绝,能体会民众疾苦,能分享你们的梦想。我眼里的美国,开始继续向前,团结一致,伤口已经愈合,充满信心、竞争力和同情心地迈进第三个百年,一个忠实执行伟大宪法,充分展示民众正直纯朴的美国,这就是我对美国前景的构想,希望你们认同我的愿景,跟我一起为这一愿景而奋斗。"

吉米.卡特的竞选主题,吸引了很多选民。卡特先后赢得了乔治亚、阿拉巴马和印第安纳州的初选,把其他候选人远远地落在了后面。民主党总统提名大会,第一轮投票就确定卡特为总统候选人。

卡特在接受提名的讲话中说:"我的名字叫吉米.卡特,我要竞选总统。"卡特说,有些人担心,美国的黄金时代已经过去,但是卡特说,美国的明天会更好。卡特说:"1976年这一年的政治不会一成不变。这可以是充满希望和鼓舞的一年,是充满关切的一年,是对我们国家的品质和目标重新严肃评价的一年,是选民的意愿让专家感到困惑的一年。我保证,这将是我们把政府交还给人民的一年。"明尼苏达州参议员沃尔特.蒙代尔担任民主党的副总统候选人,成为卡特的竞选伙伴。

共和党总统候选人提名大会召开的一个月前,里根犯了一个致命的政治错误。他表示,如果赢得提名,就要让宾夕法尼亚州参议员理查德.施韦克做自己的竞选伙伴。里根的表态引起了共和党保守派的愤怒,因为施韦克参议员是自由派。一些政治观察家说,里根就是因为这个,最终输给了福特。

福特获得提名后,很多人希望里根做福特的竞选伙伴,但里根对副总统的位子不感兴趣,因此共和党副总统候选人就成了堪萨斯州参议员罗伯特.多尔。尽管如此,福特接受提名时,邀请里根到讲台上来的时候,观众对里根还是抱以经久不息的热烈掌声。

里根说:"我只要几分钟。那天有人给我布置功课,让我写封信,一百年后在洛杉矶打开看。我们生活的世界,各大强国都把可怕的大规模杀伤性武器,把核武器对准彼此,几分钟内就能打到对方,摧毁我们生活的文明世界。我突然意识到,一百年后看到我这封信的人,一定知道我们有没有发射这些导弹。他们会知道我们是否战胜了挑战。他们是否能继续享受我们今天享受的自由,将取决于我们怎样做。"里根的演讲强劲有力,这种风格在他四年后当总统时发挥了巨大的效力,在美国历史上,里根有着"伟大的沟通者"之称。

1976年9月,美国大选拉开帷幕。一家报纸评论说,这次选战实在无聊,让选民们昏昏欲睡。福特和卡特同意在电视上展开辩论。自从1960年尼克松和肯尼迪展开电视辩论后,再没有候选人这样做过。

第一场辩论下来,很多人觉得福特的表现比卡特略胜一筹。在第二场辩论中,福特错误地表示,苏联不曾控制东欧。

福特说:"我不认为南斯拉夫人觉得自己是受苏联控制的。我不认为罗马尼亚人觉得自己是受苏联控制的。我不认为波兰人觉得自己是受苏联控制的。这些国家都是独立自主的,有自己的领土完整,美国也不承认这些国家是在苏联的控制之下。"

卡特反驳道:"我倒是想看看福特先生怎么才能说服这个国家里的波兰裔美国人,捷克裔美国人,匈牙利裔美国人,让他们接受,这些国家并不是生活在铁幕后,生活在苏联的控制之下。"

第三场辩论没有明显胜负。民意调查显示,很多选民都还拿不定主意。卡特最终赢得了11月的总统大选,得票率百分之51,险胜福特的百分之48。

吉米.卡特走上全国政治舞台的两年内,经历了很大变化。两年前,大多数美国人还不知道卡特是谁,而两年后,其中很多人却推举他为美国的第39位总统。

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