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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at the City Hall in Buffalo.
Lyndon B. Johnson
667 - Remarks at the City Hall in Buffalo.
October 15, 1964
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1963-64: Book II
Lyndon B. Johnson
1963-64: Book II

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New York
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General Kennedy--thank you, Bob Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, Congressman Dulski, Mayor Kowal, my beloved friend Bob Wagner, whose father I knew and whose father was one of the greatest Americans we ever produced that represented this State of New York in the Senate of the United States for many years, Governor Harriman, who now serves with such distinction, my old friend Chairman McKeon of the State Committee, Peter Crotty, your very able leader in Erie County:

We need some help down in Washington in the Congress. We have a Democratic Congress, but sometimes we win President Kennedy's program and my program by just two or three votes.

So we want to ask you between now and November 3d to talk to your friends and your neighbors, and ask them if they won't replace this fellow Bill Miller with Wesley Hilts. He could join the majority party instead of having a man representing the minority.

He could join the majority party and he and Richard (Max) McCarthy, working close together with the other members of the Democratic majority in the House--and the Senate is made up of about two-thirds Democratic Senators, so it is going to be a Democratic Senate even if you should have a Republican President--and I can't imagine the intelligent people of Buffalo wanting to send a Republican down to work with a bunch of Democrats that are in control of the Congress.

So let's do our job; let's take Wesley Hilts, Max McCarthy, and Bob Kennedy and send a real fighting team.

There are a good many reasons why this is important and I will touch on them very briefly because I know you don't want a long speech.

But New York State, the leading State in the Union, needs a Democratic Senator to work with the leading Senators in the Senate. You don't often, when you go out to select an employee, find one with the experience and with the training and with the knowledge and with the associations and with the understanding not only in Washington with the Cabinet, with the Senate, with the House, but throughout the world--you don't very often find a person that has the understanding and the ability and the heart, the compassion, that Bob Kennedy has.

He has been leading the fight in the United States on fighting crime. He has been an authority in the field of education. He has worked closely with the late President and all of us on developing new housing programs.

He has associated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense in planning the strongest defense any nation ever had, and in the all-important--and, really, this is the most important, the only thing that is really important--in the all-important field of peace in the world. He has traveled around the world and he knows the leaders, and he is in a position to help us obtain peace in the world. And that is the most important job we have for you.

It doesn't do you any good to come when they are taking your boys away from you or they are marching away to war and say, "I am for peace." The time to do something about peace is right now, and you ought not to do it just in the world. You ought to have peace at home. You ought to try to have peace among the races.

One of the proudest things in my life was when President Kennedy paid me the compliment of permitting me to join with him to prove not just to the United States, but all the world, that we had no religious bigotry, and he could be elected President of the United States.

We have had problems in our constitutional rights field because of our educational problems, because of our poverty problems, because of our dropout problems, because of our not treating Americans equally.

We had these problems in the streets. We have tried, because we are a nation of laws, to bring these problems from the streets into the courts where they could be adjusted and all Americans could be treated equally. And we are making progress in that field.

I was talking to some folks coming up on the plane this morning and Bob Kennedy said this to me: "We have international conferences. The United Nations has averted a number of wars because men sat down and reasoned together." He said, "Somehow or other I don't believe that our people talk enough with each other about their own problems. So why, if we can take the people from the Asian Continent and from the African Continent and from the European Continent, and from the Western Hemisphere and bring them all together, a hundred-odd in the United Nations, why shouldn't we try to obtain peace at home between business, the men who employ our people, the capitalists who make the investments, the workers who produce the goods, the Government who has a 52 percent take in everything that they make?

"Why couldn't we have a meeting of all those people, area by area, and try to find out what it is that we can do--for instance, to keep New York the outstanding State in the Union and to keep all of her people employed-to make plans to expand business instead of contracting it and closing it, to make plans for extra jobs instead of trying to find some unemployment insurance program to take care of them after they have lost their job, to make plans to retrain them so they will have skills in the space age, to find ways and means that the Government and the employers, and the labor unions and the schools, and the Republicans and the Independents and the Democrats can all work together to have peace at home and to have prosperity at home, so that every man that wants to work can have a job?"

After Bob Kennedy made that suggestion, I talked to Congressman Dulski. And if you will send me these other two Democratic Congressmen, when we get this little detail of the election behind us, we will start out here on this eastern seaboard--we are not going to cut it off and throw it out in the Atlantic, either; we don't believe in that--we will start out here and we will go all across this Nation by areas.

We will take the best economists, we will take the best business leaders, we will take the best labor leaders, we will take the best Government leaders, we will take the best educators, and we will say, "What is it that we can do for America so that everyone can have a job, every kid can have an education, we can get these folks off the streets, we can put an end to this crime, and, in time, we can have the Great Society that we are all entitled to?"

A hundred years ago there were a good many ugly things being said about another President. His name was Abraham Lincoln. I was reading what he said the other day about when he went back to Illinois. He said he went down the street and no one would speak to him except one woman, and she wouldn't have if she could have avoided it.

In this day and time, instead of us talking about each other, why don't we look back to Lincoln's day and see the real mistakes we made and the problems he had, and let's try to profit from it.

Abraham Lincoln had a slavery problem. A good many of the citizens of this land were in bondage and were slaves, and he abolished slavery.

Franklin Roosevelt came along. And you people in New York that gave us Al Smith and gave us Bob Wagner, gave us Franklin Roosevelt. You sent him to the Presidency in a day when the Republic was wavering. We didn't know whether we could sustain our society or not. He stood there in his inaugural address and he said to the people, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And that is as true today as it was then. We must not be afraid.

So if Lincoln could abolish slavery and if Roosevelt could take the one-third that were ill clad and the one-third that were ill housed and the one-third that were ill fed and move them from 33 percent down to 20 percent, where it is one-fifth now, why can't you and Bob Kennedy and Congressman Dulski and the Democratic leadership in this country ask the Republican leadership to join us, because they are patriots, too? And if Lincoln abolished slavery, let us abolish poverty.

There will be some ugly things said about us. They will say that we are do-gooders, and that we ought to let everybody root for himself, and all this kind of stuff--that they don't need any education anyway. But that doesn't bother us. The things that I am proudest of in my life are the things that were the most difficult to do and the things that they quarreled with me most about doing when I did them.

Four years ago, you folks here in Erie County gave John F. Kennedy a record-breaking plurality of 72,000 votes. Up to his last moment he was always so proud of that, and proud of you. That was the greatest increase in the Democratic vote in any single county of the more than 3,000 in the United States. Aren't you proud of that?

I didn't just come up here to brag on you; I came up here to ask you to do that again.

This campaign has really become a crusade, not against anyone, because I am not going to get down to personalities or mudslinging, or muckraking, or questioning people's patriotism.

I think that most of the men, and this includes my opponents, most of the men that I have served in Congress with for 30 years love their country just as much as I do. We have different ideas about how to go about saving it. Some of them want to do something and some want to do nothing.

We had that problem when President Roosevelt came in. That was one of our problems. We had been doing nothing. So we had great relief lines, people were hungry. In our country they were burning cotton, and the calves were dying. They were giving the hogs away. The corn wouldn't sell for anything. You couldn't get a job. If you got one, it just paid a dollar a day.

The law we passed on civil rights is in effect in practically all the States of the Union except 19. We just said that if a man is working, we want him treated right, and we don't want him displaced. We think everybody ought to be employed on merit. Merit ought to be the test. If you are there and you have seniority and you have your job, it ought to be preserved. We ought not to hire people on any other basis than merit.

But a friend of mine told me on a trip that I made last week, when Lady Bird wanted to go back home and tell her people what she thought about conditions in the world, and ask their help--I went down to meet her.

One of the men came in that I had known a long time that was a laboringman. You know, they have a lot of time to think when they are fixing their rivets or using their saw, or taking up their steel rods. He said, "Lyndon, we got a serious problem here on this so-called civil rights thing, and our people don't understand it. They think some way or other that it is going to take a job away from one man and give it to the other. I know it isn't at all, because it really helps the man who has a job to preserve it.

"But," he said, "I want you to know this: I am not as upset as some of them. What I want is all Americans to have a chance to eat, and sleep, and worship their God, because they will be more peaceful and it will be a stronger Nation. They all fight for it." He said, "I had much rather stand by the side of a good American Negro in a plant working where he earns money for his children than stand behind him in a soup line where the Government handout has to feed us all."

That is what we have to plan to do something about. When President Kennedy was up here in 1960, he said that America was fired and worn out, according to what his opposition was saying, and that we were doing all we could. He said that some of them thought we had lost our vitality, and that the economy had reached its peak. Well, they said that, the opponents, but not John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

There are people today that are crying out against these programs of getting our country moving. There are people who want to arrest our progress. There are people who want to turn back the gains. There are people that say, "You are doing enough, and let's have the status quo." But one of them is not your President, Lyndon Johnson.

With the help of the men you give me, with the help of the leaders of both parties, I intend to press forward the attack on all these problems, the enemies of idleness, of health, of ignorance, and the infirmities of old age.

First, I will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a decent job. We have 72 million working today, and for the first time in history the workers in manufacturing average $104 a week.

The second enemy that we have is ignorance. And the crisis of our schools is appalling. Beginning in 1960, and between 1960 and 1970, there will be 5 million more children in elementary school--5 million more youngsters in high school; 3 million more in college; 13 million more in elementary, high school, and college. And unless we act, our educational system is going to be deficient, and it will really crack under the pressure.

Every community has the right to run its schools as the people see fit, and my administration will not interfere with the operation. But we must intend to see that every child born in this world, boy or girl, poor or rich, has a right to all the education he can take in this space age.

The third enemy we face is infirmity of the aged.

Half of the aged couples in this country have incomes of less than $200 a month. Half of those living alone have incomes of less than $80 a month.

The old get sick more often and the old stay in hospitals twice as long. When sickness strikes, it wipes out their savings that they have carefully put away for a lifetime. It is gone overnight.

What can we say to these people? Can we say, "Yes, you have given a lifetime of toil for your country; you have produced the boys that have fought and carried that flag around the world and brought it back without a stain on it; you have helped us become great, but we no longer need you, and your troubles are not our concern; go see your kinfolks"?

Well, that is not what I think you ought to do about it, and that is not what the Johnson administration is going to do about it.

When Congress is back in session again, I am going to ask them to do what the Senate did this year--fight for medical care for the aged--as long as I have energy at my command. And if you will give me Wesley Hilts, Max McCarthy, and Bob Kennedy, we will put up a fight, and we will fulfill our obligations to the most noble of our duties--the care of the sick and the helpless. I think this is what you want. Am I wrong?

These are just the first steps toward a Great Society where everyone worships as they please; where every child has a classroom and every classroom has a teacher; where we have a countryside to spend our recreation; where we have abolished the things that bring us to death early, like heart disease, cancer, polio, and all those things; where we have a healthy nation; where we have peace in the world; where we have our businessmen making good profits, dividing those profits with the laboringmen who do good production; the farmer coming in and producing at fair prices the food we need to eat and the fiber we need to wear; and the Government reaching in and getting its slice of the pie, because the bigger that pie is, the better off it is for everybody.

What can you do about this?

Well, one thing you can do about it, and this is what has encouraged me all over this Nation--the biggest crowds that ever came out in the history of a presidential campaign are coming out this year. They are eager, they want to learn, they want to make up their minds, they want to see what they can do about it. You just have 2 1/2 weeks now.

In that 2 1/2 weeks you cannot only come to these meetings, you not only can help Bill, Max, and Bob, and if you are really generous you can help Hubert and me a little bit as we go along--but you can talk to your neighbor. You can say, "You have a big decision to make."

You can put a bumper sticker on your car. I will bet you there are cars here today, and I will bet you Peter Crotty could get you a sticker some way to put on your car to let the people know that you are good Americans and you are really going to stand up and be counted November 3d. You would do it if we called you to war, so why don't you do it in peace?

Eleven months ago, in the greatest tragedy in my lifetime, in a matter of moments, without any chance to talk to anybody or get any information, or go to a library, I had to become President, to carry on for the man who had faith in me and trust in me. I said to all of you that night on television that with God's help, and with your prayers, and support, I would just do my best. I have done my best.

President Kennedy left 51 programs for all Americans. This Congress had the biggest ever in any history--the test ban treaty, all those important bills, the tax bill, the civil rights bill, the works bill, education bills, the conservation bill, all for the good of each one of you. He had 51 pending. Last Friday night I looked over that list and somehow or other I thought he was looking over my shoulder wondering if I had done my job and if the Congress had done their job. We had passed every one of those 51 bills through the Senate, and all but four or five through the House.

Our friends in the other party wanted to go home and campaign and they wouldn't help me pass them through the House. But we are going to pass them when we get back there; that is, if you will help me, and give me men that will help me pass them.

A few months ago, about 2 years ago, we all met at the White House and looked at the pictures, and saw the Russian missiles in Cuba 90 miles from our shore. We had a lot of advice about bombs and invasions and sending in the Marines.

The President called every person that he could, including Republicans and Democrats from the Congress, Republican Director of the CIA, the Republican Secretary of Defense. They are all patriotic without regard to party. He tried to determine what he could do. He knew that he could mash a button and wipe out 100 million Russians in a matter of moments, and when he did that, they could mash a button and wipe out 100 million Americans. No sane man would want to mash that button and start that kind of an operation, but what else could you do? You couldn't sit there until the missiles were turned on us.

So we had 37 meetings, and I was present at 36 of them. Bob was present at all of them.

He and I sat on an Executive Committee of seven members, with a Republican CIA Director, Mr. McCone, with a Republican Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Dillon, with a Republican Secretary of Defense, Mr. McNamara, President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. And we considered everything, because they weren't just going to kill Democrats or Republicans.

This was America, and I am proud to testify to you today that it was one of the greatest things in my life.

Some people wondered why I ran for Vice President and quit the powerful majority leadership to help President Kennedy win over Mr. Nixon. I will tell you. I had all the satisfaction I ever needed when I sat in those meetings, because the coolest man at that table, the wisest man at that table, was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

We had trouble getting adequate communications, adequate information, adequate knowledge. A man's knowledge and a man's judgment are no better than the information he has. But out of those meetings, both leaders decided that it would be foolhardy, when they were eyeball to eyeball, to put their finger on that button.

So Mr. Khrushchev pulled his missiles out of Cuba and took them back home, and he agreed to a test ban treaty. We celebrated the anniversary of it last Saturday.

I am talking on the television about it tonight. The milk that your babies drink is no longer as dangerous as it was before. The chance of having a deformed baby is no longer as dangerous as it was before. The food that you eat from our soil that was contaminated is no longer as dangerous as it was before. The danger of men becoming sterile has been removed.

The results are truly marvelous because we agreed not to test in the atmosphere, and 108 other nations agreed not to test, too. So I am going to tell you about the results tonight in that.

Out of that came the "hot line" where we can call Moscow and they can call us. And we can say, "This is what we are disturbed about and you must not do that," and they can say it back to us.

You are going to decide which man, in your judgment, which party, you would rather have close to that button. You are going to decide which man you want to pick up that telephone when Moscow rings. You will never make a more important decision. It ought not to be based on how I look or where I come from, or how I spell my name or my ancestry. It ought to be based on what is best for your country and you and your children. I don't want it based on anything else.

So you go home today and you think about it, the alternatives that are open to you, and then you do what is good for your country. And you will do what is good for your party and what is good for yourself.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. at City Hall in Niagara Square in Buffalo, N.Y. In his opening remarks he referred to Robert F. Kennedy, Democratic candidate for Senator from New York and former U.S. Attorney General, and Mrs. Kennedy, Representative Thaddeus J. Dulski of New York, Mayor Chester Kowal of Buffalo, Mayor Robert F. Wagner of New York City, W. Averell Harriman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former Governor of New York, William H. McKeon, chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, and Peter Crotty, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee. Later he referred to Wesley J, Hilts and Richard D. (Max) McCarthy, Democratic candidates for Representative, and Representative William E. Miller, Republican candidate for Vice President.
Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at the City Hall in Buffalo.," October 15, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26606.
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