Your Excellency Archbishop Cooke, Vice President Humphrey, Vice President and Mrs. Nixon, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller, Mayor and Mrs. Lindsay, Governor Hughes, Governor Dewey, Senator Javits, Senator Goodell, distinguished Members of Congress, Mr. Silver, Mrs. Warner, Mrs. Morrison, ladies and gentlemen:
I was sitting here this afternoon thinking that whoever put this head table together should really be our President.
Because I can tell you that we could use a good consensus politician in the White House.
This is the first time that I have heard of Armistice Day being celebrated in October. Of course, you all remember, we call it Veterans Day now but you could still fool me with some of the old campaigners who are here tonight.
Even so, I don't think any veteran could appreciate my feelings on this night---except maybe General Custer. And I don't know of any chief--Executive or otherwise--who has ever been surrounded by so many Indians.
It kept me awake all last night. Finally, around 4 a.m. this morning, the ghost of Al Smith appeared at my bedside. He said, "Mr. President, I have seen the guest list for that dinner, too, and I can't sleep either."
Then Al Smith gave me a tip. He told me to handle you like he had once handled another audience. Soon after his first election as Governor of New York, Al Smith went to visit the State prison at Sing Sing. He was asked to speak to the inmates, but he did not know quite how to start or what to say.
Finally, he began, "My fellow citizens." Then he was reminded that to be a guest of the State's prison meant that you were no longer a citizen. So AL Smith was even more embarrassed. Then he said, "My fellow convicts." That did not sound quite right either, so Governor Smith then waved his arms in a grand gesture and said, "Well, anyhow, I am glad to see so many of you here."
That is my salutation to all of you--for now. But as the resident prisoner of the "big white jailhouse," I do anticipate the very great pleasure of saluting one of you soon with the greeting, "Fellow convict."
I am so honored to have the pleasure of being here with my good friend, His Excellency, Archbishop Cooke, tonight. Although-looking at the company he is keeping--I was tempted to lean over and ask him, Aren't you really in the wrong pew?
I resisted the temptation because of the ecumenical nature of this gathering. To be completely fair, I would have then had to put the same question to Governor Rockefeller--or Mayor Lindsay.
I can just see Al Smith sitting up there tonight with St. Peter--maybe even with Herbert Hoover--chuckling at all the secret thoughts of this head table when they look over at Archbishop Cooke:
--Mr. Nixon, of course, is hoping that the Archbishop has come here to witness a resurrection. He appears to be so confident these days that he is already planning to change the name of Washington, D.C., to Resurrection City.
--Vice President Humphrey is moving a little closer all the time. He is sitting here hoping that the Archbishop perhaps will pass the collection plate a second time. He even suggested to me as I came in that I use my good offices to ask another little favor of the Archbishop--just a small miracle of loaves and fishes.
--Governor Rockefeller is sitting over there smiling and thinking, "Well, they almost got me to the church on time."
--Mayor Lindsay, to his left and our left, always looking far ahead, is offering up a slightly different prayer, "Get me to the church. Get me to the church next time."
There is only one man missing tonight from this very happy scene. I think it is a shame, Your Excellency, that Gene McCarthy has refused to come to church. He has chosen to go off and fast in the desert instead.
I am happy to say, however, that we have another famous American here to console us. He is an immigrant son who has made good--so good that tonight his name is almost a household word. We are all proud of "Spiro"--Skouras.1
1Spyros P. Skouras, Chairman of the Board, Prudential Lines.
These days, my friends, I also find myself saying on occasions a nonpartisan prayer. Watching the race from the sidelines, I remember a story that Lincoln once told after he became President. It concerned the man who had once stood right up on the gallows before he got a last-minute reprieve. A year later he was on the way to the gallows again for another crime, and he rode in a slow-moving wagon while hundreds of townspeople rushed to get a front seat at the ceremony. The prisoner stuck his head out of the wagon and shouted, "You needn't be in such a hurry, boys. I have been there-and there won't be any fun until I get there."
Well, I have been there. I won't say that I will be sorry to leave there--to leave it to one of you candidates, but I will say this: This could be my last press conference. Pretty soon you won't have Lyndon Johnson to kick around any more.
But I am very grateful that I could be here in this company tonight. I do appreciate more than I can say the statements of warmth and welcome by Mayor Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller, the very generous references by Vice President Nixon, and the constancy and devotion of Vice President Humphrey.
I want to keep my comments as nonpartisan as possible, so I will include you, Mr. Archbishop, in that final benediction. Just the other day one of our foremost newspapers quoted some of those famous "inside sources" to charge that a certain important archdiocese suffered from "government by crony." Well, as I have said before, "These are the New York Times that try men's
In all seriousness, my friends, it is a great honor to appear at this traditional charitable dinner in honor of that great American, Al Smith, a dinner that was sponsored so long and so faithfully and so well by that great American, Francis Cardinal Spellman.
The men and women who are here tonight to support the philanthropic efforts of the Archdiocese of New York know the voice of suffering--they know that good men must work and good men must care if we are to have a just society.
So, tonight we can look back 8 years, when Vice President Nixon and John F. Kennedy appeared at this dinner. We can all recall how Americans who cared about the poor and the black and the culturally deprived were very much out of the mainstream.
We know how dramatically and, I think, how profoundly times have changed. Our country has changed and the world is changing.
Tonight, tens of millions of Americans are deeply concerned about the welfare of the less fortunate fellow citizens. Tonight, most all Americans care. That itself, I think, is a great accomplishment.
I would only leave you--both the candidates and the citizens--with one thought. The cause of those deprived and discriminated against is not a cause that can be abandoned or exploited or maligned by any man or party. Their cause and their problems cannot be kicked under a rug or run over by a car. Not if you want America to survive. Not if you want American democracy to remain alive and to remain meaningful.
Yes, there can be and there is legitimate difference about the tactics used to help the poor among us. But one tactic can never be acceptable: that the problem be pasted over by those in either public or private positions of great influence and responsibility; that resources and answers be left only to a few dedicated Americans, to charity, to the kind of people who are gathered here tonight because, I am proud to say, you care about America, and you demonstrate it by your presence.
The goals of private philanthropy can only be reached by broad-based public concern all across America.
I am glad to believe that Americans care tonight. And all of us must continue to care. And whichever of you gentlemen is elected, I know and I believe and I hope and I pray that you will see to that commitment.
Thank you and God bless you all.