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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.666321.live. 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,尼克松因為水門事件辭去總統職務,副總統杰拉爾德.福特臨危受命。尼克松是美國歷史上任期未滿辭職下臺的第一位總統,因為他涉嫌參與了掩蓋跟自己當選連任有關聯的非法活動。

美國民眾本來就因為在越戰的問題上被政府誤導而感到氣憤,水門事件的謊言更是雪上加霜。越戰和水門事件過后,很多人都不再信任政府官員。

1976年總統大選中,選民們拒絕了共和黨現任總統福特,把票投給了民主黨候選人吉米.卡特。

福特落選的原因之一是因為他特赦了尼克松,讓尼克松不因為任何罪名而受到起訴,這種做法讓很多人感到氣憤。此外,福特還駁回了紐約等城市提出的聯邦補助的請求。選民們可能覺得,福特對貧苦人民面臨的困難漠不關心。

也有人覺得,福特輸在了失業率和通貨膨脹上。在他短暫的總統任期內,福特沒能有效解決這些問題。1976年總統選舉,福特在共和黨內也遇到了對手,最主要的挑戰者是曾任兩屆加州州長的里根。

民主黨人覺得,選民對水門事件的憤怒有助于他們勝選,因此,一共有11個民主黨人參選提名。另外還有兩位著名政治家--一個是前副總統漢弗萊,另一個是參議員肯尼迪,他們兩人都表示,如果沒有哪位候選人能得到黨內支持,他們愿意出馬。

在諸多參選人中,有一位不大被外界所知,他就是前喬治亞州州長吉米.卡特。政治分析人士覺得,卡特提名無望,因為大多數民主黨人根本不知道他是何許人也。

做州長之前,吉米.卡特是海軍里的核能工程師,也在喬治亞州種過花生。他一遍遍地告訴大家,他是華盛頓政治圈子的圈外人,他篤信基督教,并因此在黨內提名前的州內初選里得到了很多選民的支持??ㄌ卦诜鹆_里達州州內初選的勝利尤其重要。他擊敗了另外一個南方政治家、阿拉巴馬州州長喬治.華萊士。

吉米.卡特代表了所謂的"新南方"。他明確表示,反對以歧視黑人為標志性特征的"舊南方"。他的競選對手喬治.華萊士表示,要改善黑人和白人的生活,但在他的大部分政治生涯里,他又一直堅定地捍衛種族隔離。很多人都清楚地記得1963年華萊士當州長時在阿拉巴馬大學的照片,照片上的他正在阻止兩個黑人學生進學校上課。

對希望參選連任的福特來說,共和黨的初選結果喜憂參半。比如,福特在新罕布什爾的初選中贏得了百分之51的選票,里根贏得了百分之49。但是在麻薩諸塞州,福特贏得的選票是里根的兩倍。

從選戰中可以看出,里根比福特更保守。例如,里根堅決主張美國繼續控制巴拿馬運河。他曾說:"運河是我們建的,我們的錢,就應該是我們的,不能給別人。"卡特當總統后做出了不同的決策。

福特在競選演說中,對極端主義思想提出譴責。很顯然,他的講話是在針對里根的。福特和里根在共和黨初選中勢均力敵,在共和黨總統提名大會上,很多代表還是搖擺不定。共和黨領袖們不想看到在提名大會上出現內斗,擔心共和黨內部意見不統一會影響到共和黨候選人最終當選的機會。

民主黨的情況大同小異。吉米.卡特得到的支持與日俱增,但是一些不喜歡他的人開始提出:"選誰也不能選卡特"??ㄌ氐母傔x主題是:他跟特殊利益集團沒有任何聯系,他跟其他候選人不一樣。

卡特在競選演說中曾表示:"我眼里的美國,遠離丑聞和腐??;我眼里的美國總統,充滿活力、遠見和篤定的領導能力,不會跟民眾隔絕,能體會民眾疾苦,能分享你們的夢想。我眼里的美國,開始繼續向前,團結一致,傷口已經愈合,充滿信心、競爭力和同情心地邁進第三個百年,一個忠實執行偉大憲法,充分展示民眾正直純樸的美國,這就是我對美國前景的構想,希望你們認同我的愿景,跟我一起為這一愿景而奮斗。"

吉米.卡特的競選主題,吸引了很多選民??ㄌ叵群筅A得了喬治亞、阿拉巴馬和印第安納州的初選,把其他候選人遠遠地落在了后面。民主黨總統提名大會,第一輪投票就確定卡特為總統候選人。

卡特在接受提名的講話中說:"我的名字叫吉米.卡特,我要競選總統。"卡特說,有些人擔心,美國的黃金時代已經過去,但是卡特說,美國的明天會更好??ㄌ卣f:"1976年這一年的政治不會一成不變。這可以是充滿希望和鼓舞的一年,是充滿關切的一年,是對我們國家的品質和目標重新嚴肅評價的一年,是選民的意愿讓專家感到困惑的一年。我保證,這將是我們把政府交還給人民的一年。"明尼蘇達州參議員沃爾特.蒙代爾擔任民主黨的副總統候選人,成為卡特的競選伙伴。

共和黨總統候選人提名大會召開的一個月前,里根犯了一個致命的政治錯誤。他表示,如果贏得提名,就要讓賓夕法尼亞州參議員理查德.施韋克做自己的競選伙伴。里根的表態引起了共和黨保守派的憤怒,因為施韋克參議員是自由派。一些政治觀察家說,里根就是因為這個,最終輸給了福特。

福特獲得提名后,很多人希望里根做福特的競選伙伴,但里根對副總統的位子不感興趣,因此共和黨副總統候選人就成了堪薩斯州參議員羅伯特.多爾。盡管如此,福特接受提名時,邀請里根到講臺上來的時候,觀眾對里根還是抱以經久不息的熱烈掌聲。

里根說:"我只要幾分鐘。那天有人給我布置功課,讓我寫封信,一百年后在洛杉磯打開看。我們生活的世界,各大強國都把可怕的大規模殺傷性武器,把核武器對準彼此,幾分鐘內就能打到對方,摧毀我們生活的文明世界。我突然意識到,一百年后看到我這封信的人,一定知道我們有沒有發射這些導彈。他們會知道我們是否戰勝了挑戰。他們是否能繼續享受我們今天享受的自由,將取決于我們怎樣做。"里根的演講強勁有力,這種風格在他四年后當總統時發揮了巨大的效力,在美國歷史上,里根有著"偉大的溝通者"之稱。

1976年9月,美國大選拉開帷幕。一家報紙評論說,這次選戰實在無聊,讓選民們昏昏欲睡。福特和卡特同意在電視上展開辯論。自從1960年尼克松和肯尼迪展開電視辯論后,再沒有候選人這樣做過。

第一場辯論下來,很多人覺得福特的表現比卡特略勝一籌。在第二場辯論中,福特錯誤地表示,蘇聯不曾控制東歐。

福特說:"我不認為南斯拉夫人覺得自己是受蘇聯控制的。我不認為羅馬尼亞人覺得自己是受蘇聯控制的。我不認為波蘭人覺得自己是受蘇聯控制的。這些國家都是獨立自主的,有自己的領土完整,美國也不承認這些國家是在蘇聯的控制之下。"

卡特反駁道:"我倒是想看看福特先生怎么才能說服這個國家里的波蘭裔美國人,捷克裔美國人,匈牙利裔美國人,讓他們接受,這些國家并不是生活在鐵幕后,生活在蘇聯的控制之下。"

第三場辯論沒有明顯勝負。民意調查顯示,很多選民都還拿不定主意??ㄌ刈罱K贏得了11月的總統大選,得票率百分之51,險勝福特的百分之48。

吉米.卡特走上全國政治舞臺的兩年內,經歷了很大變化。兩年前,大多數美國人還不知道卡特是誰,而兩年后,其中很多人卻推舉他為美國的第39位總統。

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