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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.
Lyndon B. Johnson
502 - Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.
November 20, 1967
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1967: Book II
Lyndon B. Johnson
1967: Book II

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Senator Dirksen, Senator Mansfield, Mr. McGinnis, distinguished head table guests, my friends and fellow agents:

I am delighted to be here for several reasons.

For one thing, I heard that many Members of Congress would be here tonight, and I thought I would honor an old OSS tradition by dropping in behind the enemy lines.

For another, the man whom you honored tonight is often accused of being my fifth column on the Hill. I want all of you to know that Everett Dirksen is the only column I haven't complained about all year long.

Of course, there are times when I think Senator Dirksen is a double agent. But I am comforted to know that Gerry Ford sometimes thinks so, too.

During World War II, when "Wild Bill" Donovan was operating with the OSS, there was a saying: "Things are so confused here in Washington, not even the spies know what to report."

I think that is still true on Capitol Hill. Sometimes when I hear the reports of what is happening up there, I feel like the spy who came in out of the cold.

But only in America could a Senator he the guest of honor at a cloak-and-dagger dinner.

But then there is only one Everett Dirksen in America.

He is uniquely qualified for your award. He carries his actor's cloak wherever he goes and there is always a dagger buried in his prose.
You see, Everett, I can rhyme a little myself.

But my final reason for coming here tonight is a very personal one. I wanted very much to share your salute to those who followed Bill Donovan.

The OSS was a very small and inconspicuous and incredibly brave elite. They remind me very much of my own followers who had their cover blown in the last Harris poll.

We Americans naturally take our institutions for granted.

We assume freedom of speech, freedom of press, and of opposition as constants in the political equation.

It is right that we do so. One of the finest qualities of American society is that our habits of freedom are so deeply ingrained-the defense of free speech so automatic.

Is there really any easier way to get a headline these days than to shout that one has been gagged?

The trouble is that in taking freedom for granted we often forget how revolutionary a concept is involved in the constitutional protection of the right of opposition.

Even in our Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, opposition was until a few centuries ago considered treason.

It was unthinkable that one could oppose but not betray.

And this distinction is, unfortunately, still not made in many nations of the world. Can any Communist state match, for example, the record of the Republic of Vietnam in turning to its people for the brand of legitimacy--success in free, competitive elections?

So tonight, in America and in other free nations, the opposition doesn't exist on tolerance. It has an independent vitality and a persistent disregard for any "official truths."

The Republicans have been known to win elections, and my friend Senator Dirksen has been working very hard to become Majority Leader of the United States Senate. So far, I am pleased to report in my very partisan capacity, that the American people have shared my view that he is ideally equipped for the task of opposition.

In fact, he is so well equipped that I am now trying to get him civil service tenure as Minority Leader of the United States Senate.

But I have had a terrible time getting him cleared with the Civil Service Commission which insists that be stop making recordings to prevent conflict of interest.

Quite seriously, my friends, I think all Americans should appreciate the problems of the leader of the opposition--as well as the temptations.
I know--because I have been there.

The problem is to stand firmly with the administration on a foundation of common idealism, while dissenting from those measures which do not fulfill these ideals.

In other words, the first allegiance of any American is to our heritage--to its protection-to its preservation and to its enlargement.

As George Washington put it in his Farewell Address: "The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism .... With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts; of common dangers, sufferings, and successes."

But at the same time, he must be loyal to the obligations of our free, competitive party system, the duties of partisanship
--which is the dynamo of our democracy,
--which denies that truth is a monopoly held by a privileged few,
--which insists that real issues be raised in their most vigorous terms for decision by the sovereign electorate.

These are the responsibilities of the opposition.

And I believe you will all agree with me that Senator Everett Dirksen has fulfilled them with very rare talent and great dedication.

I say this in the full knowledge that he has in the past felt that a number of my proposals were less than divinely inspired-a habit that I am afraid he will retain no matter how many nice things I might say about him here tonight.

And I want all of you to know, too, that I have known that awful feeling that comes when the votes are counted in the United States Senate and there is Ev smiling that cherubic smile.

This is perhaps the time for me to deny flatly the rumor that I like to lose, or that I really enjoy criticism.

I don't like to lose, not even to Ev Dirksen. What I can enjoy is criticism with no votes behind it.

Regretfully--I must add--that is not Everett Dirksen's specialty.

If Senator Dirksen has established his reputation for fulfilling the duties of partisanship, he has also quite avoided the temptations of irresponsibility.

From my own memory I can draw on episode after episode where opportunities existed to score fancy points on a Republican president named Dwight D. Eisenhower.

No one is really equipped to measure his own moral metabolism and it may be on occasion that I succumbed sometimes to that temptation. We all wrestle with our consciences and too often we win.

But when it was all over I received a tribute which I think I cherish above all others. President Eisenhower said of me that he valued our friendship. But much more important-in institutional terms--he said: "In perspective, he was far more helpful than obstructive .... For this I was grateful."

I value this not because of the President's personal sentiments--though I was, of course, pleased that the President thought of me as a friend.

I value it because I think it also sets forth the proper relationship between the President of the United States and the leader of his opponents in the United States Senate.

So I came here tonight to echo this combination of both personal esteem and institutional respect.

It is a very great pleasure for me to join the veterans of the Strategic Services in honoring my beloved friend, Senator Everett Dirksen--for no one--no one--has excelled his strategic service to the cause of freedom in the world and to the maintenance of our tradition of very responsible partisanship here at home.

He is a great American. He is a great human being. He is one of my dearest friends.

Note: The President spoke at 7:55 p.m. in the Main Ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. In his opening words he referred to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois, Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Majority Leader of the Senate, and Edward F. McGinnis, member of the William J. Donovan Medal Committee. During his remarks he referred to Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.

The Medal, presented to Senator Dirksen at the dinner, has been awarded annually since 1962 to that individual who most typifies the spirit and ideals of William J. Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Other recipients of the Medal have been Allen Dulles, John J. McCloy, Lt. Gen. William W. Quinn, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Earl Louis Mountbatten of the United Kingdom.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.," November 20, 1967. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28564.
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