Mr. Chairman, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Leader, Members of the Congress, and members of the Burro Club:
In a very real sense, it is good to be back home again--even if only for a brief visit. As your Chairman has told you, in this room some 35 years ago, I won my first political victory on Capitol Hill. I was elected Speaker of the "Little Congress"--an organization very similar to yours. And it was an upset.
On the way up here, I read an article that Gould Lincoln wrote in the Washington Star, on April 28, 1933. It is headed "Progressives Put Over New Slate in Election Drive, 'Little Congress' Upset." I guess they have been upset ever since.
But it was a combination of Democrats and farm labor members. We have had some combinations like that since.
We pledged ourselves to be always mindful of the forgotten man. We said, "The election will mark a New Deal for all 'Little Congresses' that everyone--regardless of party affiliation--will receive fair, equal treatment from the Chair; committees will be named on an equitable basis of membership and seniority."
So even then, we were not deep partisans, although we were rather visionary progressives--I must admit.
The Chicago Tribune did not claim that my opponents had won before the votes were counted. But it was--I must admit--a surprise to most members of the club, including myself, when we came out on top.
We have a far more crucial election coming up this November. As you know, I have announced that I will not seek or accept our Party's nomination, but that does not mean that I am just going to be an uninterested or passive bystander.
I have a philosophy which I want to discuss with you very briefly. I picked from some of the citations--the honorary degrees that have come to men in public life--a citation from a New England university, a great university--Brown University in Rhode Island.
When they awarded me a doctor's degree back some 10 years ago in 1959--when I was connected with the legislative branch of the Government and we had a Republican President-the president of that New England university and that faculty prepared this citation. I have always prized it very highly, coming from where it did, the section it did, the people it did, and the quality of the school.
It said: "When the Executive and the Legislature are divided, anything or nothing can happen. As Majority Leader of the Senate, you have used your political strength in the national interest to make it possible for the moderates of both Parties to join with you to do the possible and to seek the best. Your skill as a politician has been notable, but you have subordinated politics to national interest, the service for which you will best be remembered."
I would hope certainly that that is true. But this year I think that I could not be uninterested--not when the record that you and I have helped to make is going to be put before the country.
I believe that you know, and that our children will know, and all history will know, that that is an unparalleled record. I can't go over the hundreds of measures that we have been talking about for generations that we have been doing something about the last 4 years, but I do want to hit some of the highlights.
In 1964, I had reviewed the campaign speeches of all of our Presidents and the documents in our offices of the President's messages. All of our Presidents had been concerned with the poor--but it was your Congress that did something about it and passed the War on Poverty Act, the first time that poverty had been recognized as a legislative enactment by itself.
The broadest civil rights laws of the century were passed. Abraham Lincoln, 100 years ago, issued the Emancipation Proclamation --but it was a proclamation, not a fact. And we have made them facts--in voting; there are a million more people voting who never voted before because of our Voting Rights Act. Because of our Accommodations Act, all people can sit at tables in public dining rooms and can have rooms and public accommodations in hotels.
And now the most difficult of them all-the equal housing--which we have just signed.
President Truman pledged to the people of this country that he would recognize "Honor thy father and thy mother and their days would be long on the earth" by passing Medicare.
We talked about it in campaign speeches for more than 20 long years--but you voted it.
And you members of the Burro Club had to stand up and persuade some of your own members to quit shimmying.
I remember one of the most difficult jobs I ever did when I was a secretary was to get a certain Congressman to vote for the Social Security Act. He really thought that it was socialism. And so many people thought that way--as they did about Medicare.
I remember walking down the streets of my town as a Member of Congress after President Truman had made the suggestion. There wasn't a doctor in the whole area who would hardly speak to me; we were socially ostracized. But anyone who is against Medicare today would be ostracized. I can't find anyone who doesn't approve of Medicare.
We had a pioneer program of Federal aid to education. Federal aid and Federal control were very ugly words for years. They were ugly when I came in to be President.
The B'nai B'rith invited me to be their principal speaker. They gave me a big award; it glorified my achievements. I was proud and I came home and talked to Lady Bird and my daughters about what a generous thing it was to do.
But I picked up the paper the next afternoon and they had passed a resolution on my Federal aid to education bill.
I do know that centuries from now, people will point to what this Congress did when it passed 18 major educational measures in the past 4 years--and 26 major health measures that are enduring; more than have been passed in all the Congresses combined.
I know you are proud of that record-model cities, auto safety. The first minimum wage I voted on was 25 cents an hour; we passed one for $1.60--some little difference.
We have new protection for consumers. We have meat inspection and product safety and flammable fabrics.
And over the years, we have the greatest achievements in conservation-even since the Teddy Roosevelt-Gifford Pinchot days-with more parks and more seashores open to more people than ever before in our history.
During this period, we have actually put more land back in the public domain than we have taken out, and including the inter: state highway system and the freeways, that is saying something.
You members of the Burro Club helped write that record. You did it just as surely as you cast the votes that passed the bills or if you had signed the law as the President did.
Anyone who has spent any time on Capitol Hill knows the vital role that an assistant plays in the legislative process. When I came here they told me no Congressman was any better than his secretary. That was before we called them administrative assistants and special assistants.
This record I just talked to you about is a Democratic record. But it was not achieved at all by bitter partisanship. It wasn't written by men who cared more for party label that they did for public interest. The secret of our success, I think, as a party, lies in our belief that serving the people and meeting their needs without concern for any narrow ideology or any special interest is really the only criteria and the only standard of good government.
Now, that has been my personal philosophy. Many years ago, when I served as Majority Leader, I remember saying that our political philosophies are the sum of our life experiences. They cannot be squeezed into any one- or two-word label that you hang around your neck. They should not sacrifice the life and blood of individuality by any sterile dogma or any canned definition.
Ten years ago I was writing an article on my philosophy when I was a Member of the Senate. That article was published in the Texas Quarterly, a magazine of the University of Texas, where I hope to teach and lecture some before long. Some of you here in this room may remember that article. The rest of you may find something of value in it for your own public lives.
I want to repeat part of it today because it has been my basic faith throughout the years. I said in that article what I said the other night in my March 31st speech. "I am a free man first; an American second; a United States Senator third; and a Democrat fourth--in that order."
I described the roots of my personal faith, the first principles of my public philosophy. Here is the way I described them: "First, every American has something to say and under our system he has a right to an audience." And plenty of them had it under my administration--I can assure you.
"Second, there is always a national answer to each national problem.
"Third, achievement of the full potential of our resources, physical, human and otherwise, is the highest purpose of government Policies--next to the protection of those rights that we regard as inalienable.
"Fourth, that waste is the continuing enemy of our society and the prevention of waste--waste of resources, waste of lives, waste of opportunity--is the most dynamic of the responsibilities of our government."
Now, these were very simple personal beliefs. They were expressed 10 years ago. But they are my beliefs and they were not adopted from some textbook and they were not adopted from some other man. They have grown with me and they have stayed with me during the years I was a member of the "Little Congress" and its Speaker. They have been with me for almost 60 years now. I can tell you that these beliefs have strengthened me and they have sustained me. And they have led me to one fundamental conviction and I put that down in that article. This is what it said:
"The Congress reaches a very dubious decision when its choices are made solely by head counts of a partisan division. I do not believe that we have arrived at any answer until we have truly found the national answer-the answer that all reasonable men can agree upon.
"Our work is not done until that answer is found, even if the process requires years of our lives."
I remember a great Speaker of that body whom Speaker McCormack and I worked closely with for years. He said to me one time that the thing he was so proud of our Party for was that we do not hate their Presidents. Just because they are not members of our Party, we don't go around hating their Presidents.
Last night I spoke to a gathering in Chicago. I took along with me an excerpt from a statement that I made back in 1953 when our Party was rather disorganized and we had just had a great war hero elected to office and we had been turned out of power. As a very young man I had become a leader of the Senate Democrats because I think no one else over there who had been around long enough would want the job.
It was the afternoon of January 2, given to the Democratic Conference of the Senate. I said: "My colleagues, we are now in the minority. I have never agreed with the statement that it is the business of the opposition to oppose." That was a very famous statement attributed to a very famous American who was then the Majority Leader whose name was Robert Taft. He said: "It is the business of the opposition to oppose."
I said I did not agree with that statement. "I do not believe the American people have sent us here merely to obstruct. I believe we are here to fight for a positive program, a program geared not to opposing the majority, but to serving America. I think that is the real desire of every good Democrat, even though he may disagree as to methods.
"So, working together, I think we can do more than preserve the gains of the past 20 years that we have legislated. I think we can go forward today, even though we are in the minority, with a positive program--a program that is pro-American and not anti-Republican. If we go forward as positive Americans and not negative oppositionists I am convinced that the time is not too far distant when the Democratic Party will again be in the majority."
Two years later, we were in the majority in the Congress. And we kept that majority for 6 years of that 8-year Republican administration because of that philosophy. We have elected two Democratic Presidents since that philosophy was expressed.
If we continue to act on those beliefs--if we will continue to act in that atmosphere-elections will take care of themselves, the Democratic Party will remain in the majority, our national challenges will be faced, our national answers will be found, and the American people will prosper and the world will share in the new blessings that we could achieve by unity.
You and I and the Democratic candidate will be taking that faith to the country again this year. I made my announcement and one of the most motivating reasons for that announcement was that no one in the world-no one who sought our treasure or tried to stall freedom-could have any doubt that any person in this country--candidate or noncandidate--could effectively pressure this President and his actions for at least the next 9 months; that we were going to be above and beyond any petty, mean, personal, selfish, partisan action or any cowardly action, because I honestly believe that there are those in the world who would not hesitate to take advantage of any weakness in our system that they could detect or any differences that they could exploit.
So, I would hope that I could remove myself from the nose cone of a volcano, where I could act independently and with complete liberty, with only one criteria--the greatest good for the greatest number and providing a national answer to a national problem and an international answer to an international condition. And that is what we propose to do.
I would hope that you would not be personally critical or that you would not be vituperative or you would not hate or you would not descend to the level of narrowness or selfishness or trying to carry out a burning personal ambition for ambition's sake only.
I hope that we can unite around the standards that I have expressed today and I would hope that we can hold them high, because I genuinely believe that if we do, the voters will respond to them as they have in seven out of the last nine Presidential elections since 1932 and in 16 out of the 18 congressional elections in the same period.
With that record, and with that faith, I have not the slightest doubt--not the slightest doubt--that any would be divisive force will ever make any serious inroads in this country.
I would conclude only by saying this: That the longer you live, the more you learn. But what I am saying now, I knew when I came here--that there are no more dedicated people in the rice paddies of Vietnam or patrolling the DMZ in Korea, or protecting freedom in Germany at this hour than the men and women who serve this Government, particularly those who serve this Congress. Your Speaker and your Majority Leader are examples of highest patriotism, greatest intellect, absolute complete integrity and confidence.
But most of all, their every act--their every test--has been the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
That is why we are all here, actually. The Good Lord put us here to better humanity. Otherwise there is no excuse for us. I hope that the Democratic Party--not as Democrats, not as sectionalists, not as regionalists, not as members of any church or any race-but as human beings, will never forget that they are free men first; that they are Americans second; that they are agents of the public-public servants third; and Democrats fourth--but always in that order.
If we do what is best for America, don't you ever have the slightest doubt that America will do what is best for you. Thank you.
THE CHAIRMAN. Mr. President, we have those clippings you mentioned in your speech that were made 35 years ago when you were elected Speaker of the "Little Congress" in a frame.
We deeply appreciate your coming to visit with us. We think you are a great American. We are proud of you--and most of us wish you were running.
THE PRESIDENT. Apropos to what the chairman has just said, I want to repeat what I said in Chicago last night. I said one of the men in the White House Press Corps said, "Mr. President, why are you going to a Party dinner in Chicago?"
I said, "Because I like to go to Party dinners, and I used to be in politics myself."