Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Chicago at a Fundraising Dinner of the Democratic Club of Cook County

April 23, 1964

Senator Douglas, Mayor and Mrs. Daley, Governor and Mrs. Kerner, my dear friend Bill Dawson, distinguished guests at the head table, my fellow Americans:

A funny thing happened to me on the way out to Chicago. I passed Dick Nixon coming back from Viet-Nam, and Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller going out. Harold Stassen was trying to hitchhike a ride, and Bill Scranton insisted that he doesn't plan to go, but if he changes his mind, he will just walk!

I see in the papers that Barry and Rocky have decided to cut down on their appearances in California. This reminded me of the fellow down in Texas who said to his friend, "Earl, I am thinking of running for sheriff against Uncle Jim Wilson. What do you think?"

"Well," said his friend, "it depends on which one of you see the most people."

"That is what I figure," said his friend.

"If you see the most, Uncle Jim will win. If he sees the most, you will win."

A lot of Republicans have not decided who they want to be their nominee. One old man was asked how he was going to vote in the California primary. He said, "Well, I haven't decided yet, but I will tell you this: When I do make up my mind, I am going to be awfully bitter." And I think that is the dilemma that the Republicans face.

On the way out here today, I read where I would be coming into Goldwater country tonight. I read that in one of your newspapers. I find that pretty hard to believe. As I look around and see Mayor Daley and Otto Kerner, who drew more votes unopposed in the Democratic primary than two of the most formidable Republicans combined can draw in that primary, and I see out here tonight the Democrats who turn out here in Cook County for the largest Democratic dinner that I have ever attended, I know, I think I know, and I think you know, this is Democratic country. It is Democratic country tonight, and it is going to be Democratic country come November.

Since last November this Nation has watched the Democratic Party at every level face the most exacting tests that any party has ever faced in our times. from city hall to the Halls of Congress, from the State house to the White House, the people have seen Democrats hold this Nation on a sure and steady course. They have seen this party keep faith with the young warrior who led us so valiantly and who was taken from us so prematurely, the beloved late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

I believe that when November comes, the people will express their approval with a decisive victory at all levels for the party of all the people. I believe that Chicago and the great State of Illinois will lead the way for the rest of the Nation.

It makes me feel mighty good to be here with you good people this evening. I want to pause just a moment to express my deepest gratitude and the gratitude of my family for the great sacrifice that each one of you have made, not only to buy a ticket to come here but to come here and endure us all evening.

This is a memory that I shall not forget. This is a loyalty that I shall always treasure, and this is a friendship that I will try to return.

It is good tonight to be here with all of you and particularly with my old and trusted friend Dick Daley. I don't ordinarily like to repeat what my wife has said, but I am going to, by saying that he is one of the great mayors of our land and one of the great Americans of all time.

I am glad to come before this audience to say "Thank you" for your great Democratic Governor, for the great Democratic delegation that you have sent to Congress, led by that fighter for the people at all times, the senior Senator from this State, Paul H. Douglas, my good friend. I want you people of Chicago and Cook County to know that the people in this country have no better friends and my administration has no more loyal supporters than the Illinois delegation in the Congress that represents the Democratic Party.

There is an empty chair in this hall tonight, as Bill Dawson reminded us, and an emptiness in all of our hearts, because our country lost one of its finest public servants and I lost one of my oldest friends when death took from us last week that great American, Tom O'Brien.

I never come to Chicago without thinking how great has been our past and how greater still can be our future. for the story of Chicago cannot be told in statistics alone, in charts which show an incredible growth from 4,470 people in 1840 to 3,550,404 in 1960, an explosion which in the last decade has made Chicago the third fastest growing city in absolute growth in all of America.

Behind those statistics is the story of individual men and women, pioneers and builders, struggling for jobs and decent homes, driven by the dream of education for their children, longing for a chance to live out their days in freedom and peace. Brick by brick, street by street, building by building, neighborhood by neighborhood, these sturdy pioneer people built Chicago, and people like them built all America.

So tonight it is more important to look ahead to where America can go than to spend any time looking back where America has been. We must not abandon our future with a hopeless shrug of the shoulder, saying that everything has been done which can be done, confessing that the new demands of America, the demands of our cities and our suburbs are beyond the pale of our help.

There are those in this country who say "there is nothing we can do!" or, worse still, "there is nothing we should do!" So resigned and so committed, they lay the axe of indifference to the strong oaks of hope, to urban renewal, to low-rent public housing, to aid for public schools, to relief for our hospitals, to medical care for our aging, to air pollution control, to mass transportation assistance, and to a decent poverty program for all of our poor people.

Every blow of their axe strikes not at the political agenda of a political party, but it strikes at the agenda of all of America's future.

So I say to you, this is not the attitude that built the America we love. This is not the way to the America that we want to build, and it is not the philosophy of the Democratic Party that I have the honor to speak for.

Woodrow Wilson, a great Democrat, once said, "The success of a party means little unless it is being used by the Nation for a great purpose." And that purpose tonight is clear: we have been called upon to build a great society of the highest order. We have been called upon--are you listening?--to build a great society of the highest order, a society not just for today or tomorrow, but for three or four generations to come. And if the Democratic Party serves that purpose, we do not have to worry about success at the polls come November.

If we do not serve that purpose, all our worrying will not help us to win the people's allegiance, for we will not be worthy of their trust, or worthy of their votes.

So let us, as party and people, think not only of the next election, but let us think tonight and plan for the next generation.

Much depends on what we do to solve the problems of our great cities. for it was Aristotle that said "Men come together in cities in order to live, but they remain together in order to live the good life." Today, more than two-thirds of the American people live in metropolitan areas, but all of us know that too few of those people really live the good life.

And all of us know, too, that as long as any Americans live in inadequate homes, and go to inadequate schools, and enjoy second-class citizenship for any reason, eat too little food, get too little work, breathe polluted air, play in cramped and crowded parks--as long as these conditions exist, the vindication of democracy is beyond us and the good life is just a mockery.

To some, the vindication of democracy in an urban nation is an unreal and impossible goal, for they have been numbed by the magnitude of the task.

Only last week a man came to see me in the White House and said to me, "Nothing we do will help. The population explosion is submerging our cities in a sea of futility. The harder we work, the more there is to do."

Well, I feel sorry for that man. I treat him with compassion. I feel as sorry for any American who has lost faith in the capacity of the American people. I feel sorry for the country, too, when even one citizen loses hope. for while we stand tonight on the very edge of a great society, timid dreams and faint resolve will never help us to achieve it.

Almost 4 years ago a brilliant young Senator named John Kennedy came to Chicago and he talked about moving this country toward new goals, and he said, "There are 5 million homes in the United States, in the cities of this country, that lack plumbing of any kind. fifteen million American families live in inadequate housing. The average social security benefit is less than $78 a month for someone who is retired and out of work, and he has to pay food, housing, and medical care out of that pittance. Anyone who says there is nothing left to do, that all the things that had to be done were done by Truman or Roosevelt, then I think he was wrong. We in our time still have responsibilities left if we are going to build a stronger society."

What John f. Kennedy said in Chicago on the night of October 1, 1960, I repeat in the same city tonight--April 23, 1964--as the continuing pledge of the Democratic Party and this administration. We are going to build a great society, and we have just begun to fight.

Last night we demonstrated the strength and the substance of our democratic system. The railroad conflict was settled. The world saw and will long remember how reasonable and responsible men respond to challenge and to need, and to leadership. After almost 5 long and dreary years, the railroadmen, the company management, the union leadership, with full freedom of spirit, last night won a great victory for free collective bargaining in the American way. And I was never prouder of America than I was last night.

Last night proved the lively spirit of the democratic process. But it does not lessen our concern for other problems that confront us today. for the business of building the great society is undone until we have attacked and demolished the inequalities that infect us, and the inadequacies that afflict us.

We have attacked and we will continue to attack, the prejudice and the discrimination that give a Negro child only one-half as much chance of finishing high school; that give a Negro child only one-third as much chance of getting to college as other children born in this country; that give him on the average 7 years less to live.

Yes, we are attacking and we will continue to attack not only discrimination, but we will attack the causes of unemployment which now send 4 million Americans to look for relief instead of work. Last month, I am proud to tell you, employment in this Nation rose by 172,000 jobs, and unemployment dropped from 5.7 percent a year ago to 5.4 percent. And if the Democrats will stay behind me and the Republicans will help us just a teeny bit, our war on poverty will make another big dent in those unemployment figures.

We have attacked with three major education bills, and we will continue to attack, the demands of education. Every single year college youngsters in America increase at the rate of 300,000 a year, a rate equal to the entire enrollment of 60 new State colleges every year, Governor Kerner. I do not have to remind you that children whose education suffers from overcrowded classrooms, or suffers from inadequate teachers, can never gain back what they have once lost.

We cannot, in a good society in America, tolerate a second-class system of education anywhere. And I say to you, my fellow Democrats, that this administration does not intend to so tolerate it!

We have attacked, and we will continue to attack, the need to preserve our natural resources. One of the great preservers of resources of this Nation of all time is that grey-haired man of wisdom who sits at this table tonight, but who constantly leads the fight to preserve our natural resources in the Senate of the United States, your own beloved Paul Douglas. He knows, and I know, and you know, that we need more parks and more beaches, and more playgrounds for our little children, and more recreational facilities for all American families.

Last year, 94 million people used our public parks. This year the number will be 99 million people who will visit our public parks. More people have more time, thank God, to enjoy more of America's beauty than they have ever had before, and if we, God willing, have another Democratic administration, we are going to give them still more time to enjoy that beauty.

But I would remind you tonight that beauty is not inexhaustible and it does not automatically replenish itself. Every inch of our natural heritage is a resource which once lost cannot be recovered. My administration is determined that unborn generations will not be denied the privilege of enjoying their Nation's natural beauty.

We have attacked and we will continue to attack the needs of our aging citizens. Ten percent of our population tonight is over the age of 65. Every year that percentage is increasing. What is going to happen to these people, your mothers and fathers, your uncles and your cousins, and your aunts? Who is going to help them live out their days in the dignity that they deserve, in the twilight of their career? Do we want to deny their hopes? Do we want to degrade their lives?

This administration's plan for medical care for the aging asks the average worker $1 a month from the worker's paycheck, and $1 a month from his employer, and nothing from the Government. Surely our people ought to have this chance to contribute $24 a year for a period of 4° years that will be multiplied by the interest earnings by 3.75, that will ultimately provide each person with almost $4,000 to take care of his medical care after 65. It seems to me that in our way of life we ought to have a chance to provide for people a decent life in their old age.

We have the manpower, we have the means, we have the money to do all that must be done to realize our greatest dreams. All we need now is the will.

Let it never be said of the Democratic Party or of America that while the men of the past had convictions, the men of today have only opinions.

We have our convictions, we know what we want for America. We want an America committed not only to the defense of freedom for our own people but to the extension of freedom to all people. We want an America that is willing to live in harmony with every other nation that respects human dignity and human liberty. We want an America that always keeps its guard up, but always has its hand out. We want an America that is seeking diligently the day "when nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more."

This week we took a specific step in that direction when we decided to reduce the production of fissionable material for atomic bombs. With that decision, we and the Soviet Union took one step back from the precipice.

We will continue to search for new ways to build the common interest while, you may be sure, always preserving the national interest. We are going to go as far as is prudent and as fast as is possible to bring peace to this troubled world.

The America we want is an America where every citizen, whatever his race or religion, is treated with equal respect and enjoys equal opportunities to develop his capacity and to provide for the well-being of his family.

The America we want is an America where no home is unsafe or unsanitary, where children can play in parks and playgrounds, where every family can live in a decent home, in a decent neighborhood, where the water is clean and the air is pure, and the streets are safe at night, and where every man can worship God freely according to the dictates of his own conscience.

This is the kind of America that we believe in, and this is the kind of America to which we are dedicated.

I have come here to Chicago tonight under the auspices and the invitation of your great mayor to ask your help, to ask the help of each of you to building that kind of an America, not only for our children but for generations yet unborn.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at McCormick Place in Chicago, following brief remarks by Mrs. Johnson. In his opening words he referred to Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois, Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and Mrs. Daley, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois and Mrs. Kerner, and Representative William L. Dawson of Illinois. Later in his remarks he referred to the late Representative Thomas J. O'Brien of Illinois.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Chicago at a Fundraising Dinner of the Democratic Club of Cook County Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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