IT IS A PLEASURE for me to welcome so many of my old friends to Washington.
I want to talk to you tonight about the future of the Democratic Party, and of our Nation.
All of us cherish the vitality of our two-party system. I would be unforgivably partisan if I suggested to you that the fate of the Nation hinges on the success of the Democratic Party in 1968.
A Republican victory in 1968 would not destroy the Nation, but--as their record clearly indicates--it would signal a retreat in the 35-year campaign for a modern, responsible, compassionate America.
I do not believe that retreat will occur. But I know it can occur unless we make clear what we are doing in our time for the people we serve.
Inevitably the party in power is subject to daily attacks--in the press and on the stump. Our job is to build; the opponent's to tear down.
But there is no need for us to be defensive in any fundamental sense.
Never in American history has any party matched our record of responsibility. Never has a party fulfilled as many of the promises it made to the American voter.
I am somewhat chagrined when I read about the trouble our party is supposed to be in. You hear stories of dissension and disaffection that almost make you believe there are no Democrats left--despite the majorities we have in both Houses of Congress, despite the greatest victory--in 1964--that any party ever enjoyed. Some of the columnists, a great many Republicans, and even a few Democrats are unpacking the crepe for next year.
As he did so often, Speaker Rayburn had just the right prescription for this kind of ailment. At the Democratic convention in 1948 the atmosphere grew so thick with bitterness and despair that Mr. Sam had to take an even stronger hand than usual in bringing things back on the track. He had this to say:
"The Democratic Party has been the majority party in the United States of America for 16 years, and for God's sake at this convention let us act like it."
Now, in 1967, the Democratic Party is still the majority party. We ought to act like it.
In politics, after awhile one side learns the responsibilities that go with winning, and the other gets accustomed to the pain of losing. I recommend that we leave to the Republicans the dubious pleasure of behaving like losers. Let them make the job of being State chairmen difficult. Let us not do their work for them. Let them try to raise Republican funds in a climate of do-nothing Republican defeatism. Let's don't help them by outcrying them.
We have the winning issues. We have legislated as winners. For 35 years we have behaved as winners. The last Congress-the 89th--was controlled almost two to one by Democrats; and it enacted more and better legislation than any previous Congress.
But does every family in every precinct in your State know about these accomplishments, and do they know who brought them about?
If you have any doubt about that, it's time now to get to work and make sure the people know where the credit belongs.
We have a capable, industrious Democratic National Committee. You can count on it for support. It has recently added some extremely competent officials. It has blended its work effectively with the Senate and House Campaign Committees.
But the Democratic National Committee cannot register voters in the precincts. It cannot discover the most intelligent and attractive candidates. It can help, but it has to rely on leaders such as you to broaden the base of the party in each of the 50 States. The final responsibility for this job is where it always is--on the leaders.
Finally, I want to speak about Vietnam. Every American wants peace. Every American is concerned about the war in Vietnam.
In the months to come, every American must realize why we have taken on the obligations of freedom in Vietnam--not only for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, but for hundreds of millions throughout the world who prefer the possibility of democracy to the certainty of totalitarianism.
Thus our obligations in Vietnam are obligations to the future: to generations yet unborn, as well as to those who must suffer the agonies of the present conflict.
I have not viewed the war as a political matter. I never will.
I believe that there is a basic understanding in America today regarding Vietnam that is shared by Republicans as well as Democrats--hawks as well as doves-- Easterners as well as Westerners.
But if the conduct of this struggle is brought into our public discussions in 1968, let us be ready for that. Let us ask any of those who challenge us how they would pursue this engagement with terror: by gambling with a total worldwide war, or by running from their responsibilities or by permitting our adversaries to descend, unimpeded on the men who fight for us in the hills and jungles and rice paddies--or instead, by pursuing a policy that will stop the aggressor in the South, increase his costs in the North, and bring him ultimately to the bargaining table.
Democrats have fought for a policy of measured strength before. America and the free world are the stronger for what we did. The names of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy are inscribed on the rolls of American honor not because they were foolhardy or weak--but because they were wise and courageous when it counted. As you go back to your people, you take with you a record that you can be proud of--and that Americans can endorse with a free mind and conscience. For my part, I have no fear of the outcome.