Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Atlantic City Before the Democratic National Committee

August 28, 1964

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen:

All of us are planning to go home--but not Senator Humphrey.

All of us are planning to get out and relax a little bit--but not Senator Humphrey!

All of us think Hubert Humphrey is the ideal nominee for Vice President. But--I hate to tell you this, Hubert--so does Senator Goldwater, or at least that is what he told the press before your speech last night.

I am happy to be permitted to come here and visit with you this morning, particularly to thank you for your service to the Democratic Party. Hubert and I are leaving shortly for a session this weekend, and it is not going to be an organizational one. We came to the Senate back in 1949 together, and he and I have had very little difficulty getting organized.

But with your support, and the support of the leading Democrats in every State of the Union, the support of many people who have never before supported the Democratic Party, the American people are going to win one of their finest victories this November.

We have two problems that we will deal with when we get back home, and we will deal with nationally from time to time. One is the so-called backlash. That backlash according to the three national pollsters, plus some 15 or 20 State polls that we have, indicates that there will be somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the Democrats or those who allege to be Democrats or those who have called themselves Democrats at some time or other in their lives who do not plan to vote for the Democratic ticket this year.

A smart publicity man has latched onto a--coined a new explanation of that defection that we have come to experience in Democratic conventions and in Democratic elections from time to time, and he calls it backlash.

But the plain fact is that in some States you have very little, if any, defection. In other States it runs up to 20 or 30 percent. In certain areas of the South it runs 26 percent. But the average of the Democrats that for one reason or another, because they don't like my accent or that I am too tall or I am too short or they don't like the tax bill or they don't like the Viet-Nam policy or they don't like the civil rights bill, for some of those reasons they plan to vote otherwise. They run from 10 to 15 percent. So, we are going to deal with that problem. We are going to try to get that 10 percent back if we can.

[At this point there was a commotion in the room.]

It seems we still have some of these--some of these fellows who were out in San Francisco have evidently come in here!

So much for Democratic defection.

Let's welcome them back. Let's do what we can to persuade them of the errors of their ways without being offensive. Let's try to reason with them. Let's give them a little time and hope that by November we can improve on that situation, and while we may not have 100 percent of the Democrats we can have over 90 percent of the Democrats.

Now, Mr. Nixon, when he started out to run in 1960, I don't want to use him as an example, but he had 92 percent of the Republicans the day he was nominated.

Now, Mr. Roper shows that the present Republican nominee has got 50 percent of the Republicans and Mr. Gallup and Mr. Harris show that ranges from a little above 50 to a little above 60. But the point is he has 2 out of 3, and they have what you would call a frontlash of about 30 percent.

Now, for the life of me I can't understand why a fellow who is interrogating or interviewing someone is not just as concerned with the 30 percent frontlash as he is with the 10 percent backlash, and I hope between now and November to discuss frontlash around the country if I can get the cooperation of some of my commentator friends.

I talked to one of the publishers late yesterday. I believe he is going to be a part of that frontlash this year. He is going to endorse the Democratic ticket and I said, "Why don't you get your people to inquire about the frontlash because it is 30 percent compared to 10 percent, and it is a lot more serious and it should be of a great deal more concern ?"

Now, our problem with the frontlash is to hold that frontlash right where it is. That frontlash is made up of liberal Republicans. Some of them are out organizing independent tickets now, some of them are running on their own. Some of them are divorcing themselves from their candidate, some of them are waiting until he makes some further explanation. Some of them are saying, "Well, what did you mean last Saturday?"

Then we have the so-called moderate Republicans, and there are a good many in that group, and they say for various reasons they are not going to vote Republican this year. We have a good many business people-I understand that Hubert has just had a couple of organizational meetings with them; he has got some others scheduled--but a good many of the business people whose attachment to the Republican Party is well known, are very happy with economic conditions in this country, with the fiscal policy of this Government, with our sound, prudent management of our fiscal affairs, and a goodly number of them have indicated to us and indicated to their associates that they are part of the frontlash.

So, whether you take it nationwide, whether you take it in New York or Indiana or Wisconsin or Hawaii, all of those States we have polled, Pennsylvania, you will find this: that for every backlash that the Democrats lose, we pick up 3 frontlash.

And when you can get 3 to 1 it is always satisfying.

But it is particularly satisfying when you realize that the 1 you are losing, you are losing because they don't want to treat people alike and they don't want to treat all people as Americans. And the ones that we are winning, we are winning because they have confidence in our leadership and confidence in our management and they want peace on earth and good will toward men.

We have got a great system in this country. We can worship God according to the dictates of our conscience. We have free speech. We have free press, and we--it never gets quite as free as it does during convention time.

I almost put off my physical examination the other day because I watched these commentators and I read these various analytical pieces by some of the ablest men in the country that I had known well for many years. I was afraid my blood pressure would be too high to have an examination at that time.

But this has been a happy convention. It has been a historic convention. I heard a few questions asked from time to time that I thought were calculated to provoke a fight, and I saw men almost come to blows a time or two, but thank goodness it really didn't happen.

We have had 164 years of the Democratic Party, and I think that it has really come alive this year. Back in 1800 we founded it and that was a year of bitter and extreme partisanship. Our Nation was torn by division, but when the campaign was over, when the dust had settled, when the victory was won, Thomas Jefferson's instinct was to heal and not to hate. He went before his countrymen in speaking to them all and he said, "We are all Democrats. We are all Republicans ."

Of course, I am taking a little liberty with the names because there really wasn't a Republican Party then. But the equivalent that did exist, the equivalent to the Republican Party, soon faded away because Americans became tired of their extreme partisanship.

Now, comparisons are odious and none is implied although some may be inferred!

I deeply believe this, this year: I believe in the year 1964 we are going before the wisest and before the best informed and the most intelligent and the most independent electorate that any candidates ever faced in the history of America. The American families in their homes across the land want and expect and deserve something better of politics and politicians than they have ever been offered before. This convention has affirmed what this Congress and this administration have already made clear, and that is that the Democrats of this day and age are providing this Nation with the kind of leadership that the world requires.

Ours is a party that is responsible and is responsive, that is progressive and is prudent. It is a party of vision, and a party of commonsense.

It is a party where all expect full hearing, and all receive fair play. We let people talk and we don't boo them when they speak. We do not fear to expose ourselves to their words and we don't contribute to smearing their character.

Ours is a party that respects and trusts our electorate, and I think it can be trusted by all Americans of all sections and of all segments. The Nation sees this clearly and the opportunity is yours to build upon the broadest base of our history, to fashion a true national party for national leadership.

This fall and in the seasons to come, let us go forth to build a stronger party, to carry on with the work of building a stronger society so that we can have a stronger civilization.

The doors of the Democratic Party are and must always be open to all people--to the humble and to the proud, to the weak and to the strong, to those who need help and to those who are willing to give it, and we invite them to enter in and to work with us.

We mean to do the work that America needs to have done. We mean to work for unity and we mean to obtain it, but we mean to do much more than that. We mean to work for peace in the world, and peace in the lives of the average American family. We mean to keep our Nation strong and we mean to help each American to rise to his full strength.

We are determined that compassion shall not pass from the character of this Nation's soul; that America shall never cease to care, care for the needy and the sick, and care for the young and the old, and to care for the family farmer, and care for the family of the workingman. We aim to conserve the values of America, and to perpetuate the vitality of the American system, and we welcome all who believe in that system.

We welcome all from both sides. We welcome the backlash to come back, and the frontlash to come forward.

We do not want big government or small government. What we want is good government.

We do not want spendthrift government or stingy government. We do want sensible government--saving every place it can but serving every place that it's needed.

We who have assembled in this room this morning and those of us who wear the proud honor that you have given us, are inheritors of a very long and very proud trust, from Jefferson to Jackson, from Grover Cleveland to Woodrow Wilson, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman to John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

And I always want to conduct myself, and I hope that you will do likewise, just as though they were sitting there on the pedestal watching our every act. And when I walked out of the hall last night I looked up to three great men who had played a great part in some of the years that I had lived and somehow or other I felt good because I felt that they would approve what you had done at this convention.

We are not going to be remembered for what we stopped. We are going to be remembered for what we started and what we executed.

We are not going to be remembered for where we have been. We are going to be remembered for where we are going.

We are not going to turn the clock back and roll the carpet back to the 18th century. We are going forward 'to build a new life.

We are going to finish the work that Jack Kennedy left us, but we have a mandate to begin a new program of our own. And it is going to be a program that is prudent but progressive. It is going to be a program that is fashioned for all the people of all parties, but it is not going to be one that is built on the past.

Yes, the torch is passed to us, and the responsibility is ours. The burdens of preserving peace and defending freedom are challenges to us and let our glory shine in the hope and health and happiness of every American home because I predict that when the record shall have been written and you return to the next Democratic Convention you can look back upon your work and your endeavors of the last 4 years and point with pride instead of view with alarm.

Now, I don't want to be suggestive or arbitrary but I have found that the officers of your committee and those that they have employed and surrounded themselves with have been very cooperative, have been very dedicated to the interests of our party, have brought us to the position this morning of being in the best shape that I have ever known the Democratic Party to be in, in the 30 years that I have been an active participant in the Democratic Party.

The first time that I remembered that we ever launched a campaign and nominated two candidates without a single no.

The first time that I know that we ever met and started a campaign with a surplus instead of a debt.

The first time that I ever have known that you can have a real rumpus in the Credentials Committee and say all the ugly things that were said there for 3 or 4 days and then Dave Lawrence comes out and makes such a persuasive report they don't even have a roll call.

One of: my youthful idealistic naive friends raised a question in one of his columns the other day about some of the folks that were running this convention, and they pointed out about the professional experience of the distinguished Speaker, and the fact that the majority leader of the House had been in Congress several years, and the parliamentarian was not a schoolboy. He had been around a few places, and the distinguished chairman of the credentials committee was not without experience.

Well, I never wanted or never needed or never was happier to have around me professionals more than I was this week.

So, if you will not consider it presumptuous, I see no reason for a change. And I can think of--nothing would do them greater honor or would please me more than to have you elect every officer the same way you nominated your President and your Vice President.

[After certain intervening proceedings of the Democratic National Committee, the President resumed speaking.]

Could I have your attention for just a moment?

I was just handed the official backlash-frontlash figures, if any of you are interested in them, from Mr. Roper, Mr. Gallup, and Mr. Harris, the three national pollsters.

Mr. Roper shows that 78 percent of the Democrats are still Democrats and 13 percent plan to vote for another candidate, and Mr. Gallup shows that 85 percent to 11, as compared to 78 to 13, and Mr. Harris shows 78 to 22. He gives the undecided to the other side. That is an average of about 15 percent.

The Republicans, Mr. Roper shows that 50 percent will vote for their own candidate and 27 percent will vote for the Democratic candidate.

So just so you can remember that in case some of these folks inquire about the backlash, the same man says it is 27 percent Republican frontlash to 13 percent Democratic backlash.

Come on, get your picture and let me go ahead.

The next one is Dr. Gallup. He shows it is 65 to 26, so he shows this 26 percent frontlash to 11 percent backlash. I wonder why that is not as attractive to them as the backlash, the frontlash.

Then Mr. Harris shows 33 percent backlash, 67 to 33. So, whatever poll you take, one of them has 27, one has 26, and one has 33 backlash.

Voices: Frontlash.

THE PRESIDENT. Frontlash, yes. Minnesota, 22 percent Republicans will vote Democratic, California poll, 25 percent of the Republicans vote Democratic, Iowa, 31 percent of the Republicans vote Democratic, New Jersey, 35 percent of the Republicans, and in New York, 37 percent of those who voted for Richard Nixon in 1960 in the poll completed by Oliver Quayle this week say 37 percent of those who voted for Nixon say they will vote for the Democratic ticket this year.

Thank you very much.

Goodby, and when you go back to your homes I hope you will give our very deep thanks and sincere, genuine appreciation to all the good Democrats that have worked so hard to make possible what happened this week. And I want you to know that if the good Lord will give us strength, that Hubert and I will be as many places as we can between now and next November, and we will give you a margin of victory that will make even the most downcast of you feel real proud.

Note: The President spoke to the members of the Democratic National Committee in Room 20 at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. In his opening words he referred to John M. Bailey, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, Democratic nominee for the Vice Presidency. Later in his remarks he referred to Richard M. Nixon, Republican candidate for the Presidency in 1960, national pollsters Elmo Roper, George Gallup, Louis Harris, and Oliver Quayle, David L. Lawrence, chairman of the credentials committee at the Democratic National Convention and former Governor of Pennsylvania, Speaker of the House John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, permanent chairman of the Convention, Majority Leader of the House Carl Albert of Oklahoma, platform chairman, and Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana, parliamentarian of the Convention.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Atlantic City Before the Democratic National Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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