Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Morgantown at a Dinner Honoring Representative Harley O. Staggers of West Virginia

October 26, 1968

Mr. Chairman, Senator Randolph, Congressman Staggers, our Democratic nominee, Mr. Sprouse, who has just left, ladies and gentlemen:

I am glad that I could come here and see you this evening. That is just what I told my new granddaughter two nights ago.

You know, my two daughters have great political instinct, which they inherited from their mother. Both Luci and Lynda have made me a grandfather with a balanced ticket.

I am telling you this because we Democrats have always called ourselves the party that believes in people. And anyway, I expect the other party to accuse my daughters of indulging in partisan politics.

But when my new granddaughter gets back to her home, we will soon have one thing that a lot of people have been asking for--some changes in the White House.

This is a great Democratic dinner for a great American and a great Democrat. And we have two of the greatest Democrats in this entire Nation at the head table here: Harley Staggers, in whose honor this dinner is being held this evening, and Jennings Randolph, who, along with him, give West Virginia two of the great chairmen in the Congress, something you have never had before.

If you will let me give you a little political advice, you keep them as long as you can, and you give them a Democratic Governor to support them--Jim Sprouse.

Earlier this year the Republicans were rubbing their hands with glee. They had a plan to win this year's election. It was this: They were going to run against the Democratic record of this administration in the last 8 years. Well, this is par for their course. For as long as I can remember Republicans have been always running against something.

Now, I want to call a spade a spade and put it out here where you can see it. And I want to tell it as it is. They have come out for Medicare. They opposed it in 1964. They have come out for higher social security. They opposed it in 1964 and 1966. They have come out for getting people off of welfare rolls and on to payrolls after opposing the greatest job training program in the American history these past 4 years, that Jennings Randolph and Harley Staggers had to help me pass over their opposition.

They have come out for law and order after delaying and then short-changing the Safe Streets and Crime Control Act.

They have come out for consumer measures although, as Harley Staggers can tell you, they opposed the consumer protection bill that he had to pass through the House of Representatives.

They have come out for Federal aid for education, after opposing it in Congress when their present nominee for President, Dick Nixon, cast the deciding vote against it, when I was Majority Leader and he was Vice President.

They have come out for Federal aid to areas like West Virginia after having presided over an unemployment rate of 15 percent here in West Virginia. Then they opposed the funds for Appalachia when that bill came up on my recommendation in 1965.

Well, if you want it as it is--there it is. For jobs, for education, for social security, for Medicare, for health programs, for Appalachia. Well, that is an interesting way to run against a Democratic record.

I want to ask one question tonight: Who are they trying to kid anyway? I think you have the answer. But if you don't, I am going to give it to you. They are trying to kid everyone.

I just want to say this: In all my years in politics--and I went to Washington when Herbert Hoover was President, in 1931--I have never, in all of my days, seen a slicker, more overorganized, trumped-up, misleading, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't political campaign than the one the Republicans are waging this year.

When I think that it was a great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said, "You can't fool all the people all of the time" and when I think of this year's Republican campaign, I just get a very deep feeling that Abraham Lincoln would vote for Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie if he had a chance.

Well, let's just take a brief look and consider the Republican candidates and their strategy this year. Two years ago their vice presidential candidate was a county executive in Baltimore.

Their presidential candidate is Richard Milhous Nixon. For the last 8 years he has been running for office. For the 8 years prior to that he was Vice President under a great American, Dwight Eisenhower.

So it has been 16 years--16 long years-since Mr. Nixon has been on his own in any public office. Not that he hasn't been trying to get there--once in 1960 when Jack Kennedy and West Virginia had something to say about it, and a years later when his own State, California, did have something to say when they defeated him for Governor.

Whether you are talking about what happened in Sacramento or whether you're talking about what happened in Washington, the fact is that the voters turned him down cold both times.

So, one Republican candidate has only been making his own public decisions for 2 years and the other hasn't made any public decisions for 16 years.

Now that is unfortunate. But it is not hopeless. That in itself is not a reason to vote against anyone. After all, the candidates could come out and speak to the issues and put their cards on top of the table. They could, if they wanted to, say exactly what they plan to do about the great problems and the opportunities of America today. They could attempt to reconcile their party's past position with their own current rhetoric. They could, as they said originally, run against the Democratic record. He could come down here and tell you why he voted against Federal aid for education; why he was against Medicare; why he was against all the job training that we have provided; why we was against the Appalachia program.

But they have not done that. Instead what have they done? They have fed the American people a steady diet of colored balloons and bass drums and cheerleaders, and television commercials that don't even show the face of their candidate most of the time. They have run this campaign on a single principle: Don't make any waves.

I am not even sure they have done their homework, either. Why the other day Mr. Nixon, their presidential nominee, said that the idea of raising social security benefits by 50 percent, as advocated by the next President, Mr. Humphrey, was "deceptive and reckless." Now those are his words, "deceptive and reckless." They are not mine.

Where has Mr. Nixon been all these years? From 1965 to today the benefits paid to elderly recipients of social security have already increased in my administration 58 percent, counting the dollar value of Medicare--58 percent increase in 3 years.

I believe and I hope that in the next 4 years it can be increased another 50 percent so that the elderly Americans in our land can live in dignity and decency.

If Harley Staggers and Jennings Randolph and Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie do increase it 50 percent in the next 4 years they will still be 8 percent behind us.

Now, I believe elderly Americans want to know more about what the Republicans plan to do about social security--don't you? I believe the American people want to know more and have a right to know more about the Republican candidates--don't you? Are they the products of Madison Avenue or a Miami Beach compromise or a speechwriter's platitudes, or are they real men with ideas of their own?

They are Republicans--we all know that. But are they Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, or are they Republicans like Strom Thurmond? We don't know. At least, I don't know.

I think that even if I were a Republican, I would want to know. But I understand--I hope I am reliably informed--that tomorrow, after 2 years of silence, Mr. Nixon will appear before reporters on a national television show. Well, isn't that fine? Now maybe he will answer some questions that all of us have been wondering about-especially me.

First I would like to know whether he understands that by stalling the Nonproliferation Treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons he can kill it and that generations of little children will pay the consequences.

I would like to know why he said back in 1962 that Medicare "will do more harm than good." That is the man some of you are thinking about voting for. Ninety-three percent of his fellow Republicans voted to kill Medicare in Congress when I got it passed in 1965. Is that the kind of people you want to put in that Congress? Did he agree with them? Does he still oppose Medicare or has he flip-flopped?

Then I would like to know why Mr. Nixon expresses his really candid views not to the American people at large, but he writes these private letters to these security dealers and the various interest groups.

And finally, I want to know something that may be of particular interest here in West Virginia. I want to know what Mr. Nixon really thinks about unemployment. I want to know whether he thinks everybody in this country ought to have a job and every child ought to have an education and every family ought to have a decent roof over their heads and all of our elderly people ought to have Medicare and all of our little children ought to have "kiddie-care" and Head Start.

I want to know how he feels about those things. A man that is running for President ought to come out and tell you how he feels about them.

We know how his party feels---93 percent of them voted against it. So that is something that I would like to know and I think you ought to know.

In 1963, 10.3 percent of all the people in West Virginia were unemployed when I became President--one out of every 10 was looking for a job he couldn't find. In Wheeling, not very far from here, the unemployment rate was above 15 percent in 1961. It is 5½ percent now. It is still too high, but it is just one-third as much as it was.

Now the other day in New York, one of Mr. Nixon's economic advisers said he thought what America needed was a little more unemployment so that we could halt the rise in prices. Well, that is the traditional Republican way of dealing with rising prices and inflationary pressures. They all think that a little unemployment is good for you. It is not good for the fellow who is unemployed. It is not good for you, either, and you know it. I know it and the Democratic Party knows it. These Democratic chairmen know it. You had better hang on to them. You had better get out and do something about it between now and next November 5.

You can't find these advisers around when you want a modest increase and the taxes to fight inflation, but when it comes to laying off people, that is when they really come into their own and really shine.

Now I would like to know--and I think you ought to want to know--just how much more unemployment do the Republicans want for the people, and particularly how much unemployment they want for West Virginia, because a burnt child dreads a fire. You have already been burnt. You are moving but you have a long way to go yet. You don't have any time to sit down and squat and just say "We are going to have a little more unemployment."

I have, finally, one additional question I would like to ask. And, this one is addressed to all the people of West Virginia. It is this: Think for a moment, ask yourselves, what has Richard Nixon or the Republican party ever done for the people of West Virginia? Was it Richard Nixon who was responsible for the Federal college funds here in Barbour County?

You have a Cabinet officer here tonight who came down here to see the good people of this great city, to pay tribute to the great chairman, a national chairman, not just a West Virginia chairman, but a national chairman--Harley Staggers. I am going to introduce him now. He is the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare whom I appointed--Mr. Wilbur Cohen.

Now in the last 5 years we have passed 500 substantial public bills in the Congress. Of those 500, the 100 most important public bills came through Jennings Randolph's committee and most of them were handled in the House by men like Harley Staggers. Sixty of those 100 were education bills to try to give your kids a better education and try to give them a better chance in life. Today we are doing four times as much in education as we were 5 years ago. That may mean that your kids are going to be four times better off. I hope it is. I hope they have enough education to face the challenges of the 20th century.

In the last 5 years we have done three times as much for health as we were doing 3 years ago. Twenty million people now have Medicare to pay their doctor bills and to pay their hospital bills. They don't have to go ask their son-in-law or their oldest daughter anymore whether they can go to the hospital when they are cramping and aching with a broken hip. They can just pull out their own card and keep their head up and their chest out and be proud that they are Americans.

How many Republicans did you ever hear in West Virginia or anywhere else speaking for Medicare? All they did was try to kill it and veto it and stomp it. But this man over here worked from the days Franklin Roosevelt wrote the first Social Security Act, until we have written 100 education and health bills--60 education bills and 40 health bills in the last 4 years. That is a record that we will be proud of as long as there is an America.

Seventeen million kids in school, like this one, are benefiting from our educational program. One million five hundred thousand boys and girls are in college-some of them are carrying signs--because of the legislation we have passed in the last 5 years. Every college in this Nation has grown and expanded and developed under this Democratic program.

It was not Republicans who were responsible for the Federal funds for the library in Berkeley County, or the nursing home in Greenbrier County, or the vocational educational center in Mineral County.

It was not the Republicans who were responsible for the Federal funds for educational television here in Morgantown, at West Virginia University where you are leading the Nation.

It was not Richard Nixon or the Republicans who brought airports like the one we dedicated today, or the lob Corps or the Head Start or the water and sewer projects. It was not any Republican who sent billions of dollars into Appalachia since the Democrats came into office in 1961 that helped make West Virginia come back and lead the Nation again.

Earlier I mentioned that Republicans are going to run against a Democratic record. Well, if they tried, they would have a hard time succeeding, in my judgment, in West Virginia, because two Democrats whom you know have been caring about West Virginia and working to lift the burden of poverty and joblessness from the back of this State.

Two of them are sitting here at this table tonight. They are the two great Chairmen from this State. There are 15 Chairmen in the House and Senate. And there are 50 States. You ought to feel a little ashamed of yourself for being so selfish to get off with two of the chairmen. Out of the 50 States, West Virginia is one, so you are entitled to one-fiftieth of the chairmen. But you got two out of 15.

Now, I am not asking you to give it back. I am saying to you, you had doggone sure better hold on to them.

I want to talk a little bit about another fellow here for a moment. His name is Hubert Humphrey. He is the next President of the United States. I am going to say some more about him tomorrow night. I wish you would tune in your radio. If you haven't got enough money to buy a television, you can get one of these little portable radios.

Hubert Humphrey has cared deeply all of his life for people. And all of his life he has had the courage to fight to get what is right for people. He has cared a lot less about manufacturing a slick image than he has about building a nation.

When I mark my ballot on November 5, as I am going to do at Johnson City, Texas, it is going to be for Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie, and the straight Democratic ticket.

I hope that you will do the same, and if you will, let's all stand up and stretch and feel good about it.

In conclusion, I have a few words I want to say about you good people who invited me to come down here on Harley Staggers Day. I understand that this is officially "Harley Staggers Day." That may be an occasion here in West Virginia. It may be something unusual here in West Virginia, but up on Capitol Hill in Washington every day is Harley Staggers Day because he has guided through that House of Representatives, under that great Speaker, John McCormack, the landmark victories in all the consumer legislation, in most of the health bills, in the education bills, in the Appalachia bill, in the poverty bill, that have made this a better and a richer nation for all the people, the little people, p-e-o-p-l-e.

These measures that he has helped pass benefit all America, not just a few Americans. Yes, like Hubert Humphrey, Harley Staggers cares.

That is a very choice word with me. I like the word "noble" and I like the word "care." I guess I fell in love with that word when I heard my sweet wife try to give our girls some guidance and some leadership. The finest things we have are our girls.

I asked one old lady one time--and I might say, we waited 10 years before we had children; we wanted them every day, but it took 10 years--and I said, "Does every father think that his first-born is the greatest, most beautiful child in the world?" And the old lady looked up and said, "Yes, sir, I guess he does until he gets a grandchild."

I am not going to let even a grandchild replace my daughters yet, even though they do have--I can see in the first 2 days--some of the same vocal qualities.

But my wife used to say to my daughters, when they went out, "Honey, remember we care about you, we care, we care, we care." That is what I want to say about the people of West Virginia whom you send to Congress.

They know something about people, I said p-e-e-p-l-e a while ago. I meant to say p-e-e-p-u-1. But you know what I'm talking about don't you; just folks, people who need somebody to care for them, people who need somebody to vote for them, people who need somebody to speak for them and work for them and to go and help their Government find good programs so they can share in them.

We like this democracy so much, this freedom so much, this liberty so much, we want everybody to have a little taste of it. It is like the fellow who had a few too many drinks. He came home, and he got to sleep and woke up in the middle of the night. His mouth was burning and he said to his wife, "Get me some ice water." And she got the pitcher of ice water and brought it to him and he took a drink. Then he said, "Honey, this is so good, go wake up the kids and give them some of it."

I know most of you Prohibitionists won't understand what I am talking about, but old veterans like Secretary Cohen here will understand. He laughed when he heard me tell that story.

So, I think you know what I am talking about when I say people care. That is what I think marks the people of West Virginia, particularly Harley Staggers of West Virginia. But for all the honor and high position that Chairman Staggers holds, he is still a warm man, and he's still a modest man. Nearly every time I need him on a weekend and call for him to come and help me he is back home in West Virginia talking to his folks. I think he has served them magnificently for many years.

I am not going to be in Washington, but I hope he is, because if he is, I think he will serve not only West Virginia, but all the Nation, and do what is best--the greatest good for the greatest number.

That is why I came down here and put in my nickel's worth tonight. I believe it is very much in the interest of the voters of the Second District of West Virginia to reelect Harley Staggers and reelect him by such a margin and such a landslide that every other chairman in that House will look up to him.

I believe it is in the interest of the people of West Virginia to elect Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie.

Now, we have passed 300 conservation bills. We have built highways and we have built public works under this great chairman. Bob Byrd is an assistant leader in the Senate and he has helped on these things.

I just came from Ken Hechler's district. He has helped on these things. We have passed 300 conservation bills in 5 years, conserving the resources of this Nation. In 188 years we have had 176 parks for our kids to play in--not even one a year. But, in the last 4 years, we have added 46 more parks.

Four years ago when we passed the first poverty bill there were 33 million human beings below the poverty level. We have taken 7 million up above it and there are 26 million left to do something for.

We have made some progress, but not enough. So I am going to conclude now because I would rather quit when you want to hear me than have to quit when you don't want to.

But I want to tell a little story, my favorite story. It is about that great public leader, Winston Churchill at the end of World War II, after the Battle of Britain, and after he had led us to victory along with Franklin Roosevelt. A little lady who represented the Temperance Union got her group, carried signs, and went in to protest and to picket Mr. Churchill and quarrel with him about his drinking habits.

She said, "Mr. Prime Minister, do you know, I am reliably informed that if all the alcohol and brandy that you have drunk during World War II could be poured in this room it would come up to about here and more than half fill the whole room."

Churchill looked very serious and glum. He looked down at the floor and then he looked where she pointed and then he looked up at the ceiling and said, "My dear little lady, so little have I done, so much I have yet to do."

So, that is my story. I just want to say, I will be leaving you very shortly. I have done so many things I wanted to do--60 education bills, more than all the other 36 administrations put together; 40 health bills, more than all of them put together in 180 years; 300 conservation bills; 7 million taken above the poverty line; 1 1/2 million sent to college; 17 million benefited by Head Start and elementary education; 20 million helped by Medicare; unemployment reduced in half--all of those things we are proud of, but we have so much yet to do. We have moved, but not nearly far enough. What we have everybody in this country ought to have.

When I came to Washington 38 years ago I had a few very deep convictions. I came from a poor family, from poor country, the poorest part of my State. You had to claw out there to eke out an existence in that adobe soil in that caliche country. It was not very fertile soil. But I came here believing that every boy and girl ought to have a right--just as you have the right of free speech and the right to worship God as you want to, the right of free press--I thought that every boy and girl ought to have the right to have all the education he or she could take, and it didn't make any difference how poor their parents were.

I thought every child born in this world, from the time he was conceived until the time he died as an old man, ought to have the right to health care. His mother ought to have prenatal care before he was born and at least through the first year after he was born so we can get these defects in the eyes and ears and the mentally retarded, and correct them while we can so they won't have to have nurses with them all their lives. And we have a program already in existence, from "kiddie-care" to Medicare. We just have to strengthen it some.

I thought that every boy and girl and every man and woman who didn't have a job had a right to a job, and if private enterprise could furnish them that job, well and good, but if private enterprise couldn't, the Government ought to because no government can long endure which permits its people to go idle and remain unproductive.

I thought that every family in this country had a right--r-i-g-h-t, capitalized, emphasized-repeat, a right to a decent roof over their head. That is why we passed a bill this year that will ultimately involve $850 billion, nearly a trillion dollars, to build 26 million new homes in America for poor people.

I thought our people in the twilight of their careers, after they had lived long, useful, productive, Christian lives, had a right to be adequately taken care of in their old age. That is why we raised social security 58 percent. I am leaving before Harley and Jennings and Hubert have to raise it another 50 percent.

Now, those are just some of the basics: education, health, jobs, and houses. We haven't got all the things in all the fields that we need. We have to leave something to give these folks a platform to run on. I have told you what my platform was: jobs for the people who needed work, education for every child, health for every person, housing for all of our families, and finally, the reason we passed 300 conservation bills and added 46 national parks was so that that little boy wouldn't go off and smoke pot or become a juvenile delinquent or a murderer at 12 or 14; he will have some place to go and play and enjoy the beauty of nature.

They make a lot of jokes about beautification, but this is a more beautiful country than it was 4 years ago. This is one of the men who is responsible for it, building the great highways, improving communications, and trying to make them attractive highways. We have added 46 parks.

One day while Jennings was up there trying to save a few million that the Republicans were cutting out of Lady Bird's beautification program we passed through the other side of the Capitol $1 billion from the Continental Oil Shelf. Half of it comes out of the Continental Oil Shelf--$100 million a year for 5 years, to be matched by another $500 million--$200 million a year--a total of $1 billion to go out and take that oil money and acquire areas where that little boy can play.

If we had better supervised play and better teachers and better leaders and we took the oil money and put it into investments like that, we would not have to have all this racketeering and crime control and all the murders you read about every day. A stitch in time saves nine. That is what we have been trying to do.

Now, I have talked too long. I just want to thank you for your attention. I want to thank you for caring. I want to thank you good people for the heart that you have and the fact that you appreciate what you have and you want to do your part to help other people move up the economic ladder a little bit.

I want to say thank you on behalf of all of my womenfolk, Lady Bird and Lynda and Luci. We're going back to the Pedernales. I told Lady Bird last night, I said, "You know we're going back there and I'm going to start sleeping every night instead of keeping you awake every morning until 2 with my night reading." At about 1 :30 she starts quarreling a little bit--"turn out the lights"--she wants to go to sleep. And I cannot go to sleep that early and still do my job.

So, I am going on back there and get to work. I send you love from all of our folks, including my granddaughter.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:21 p.m. at the Hotel Morgan in Morgantown, W. Va. In his opening words he referred to Samuel J. Angotti, Chairman of the Monongalia County Democratic Executive Committee, Senator Jennings Randolph, Chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee, Representative Harley O. Staggers, Chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, and James M. Sprouse, Democratic candidate for Governor, all of West Virginia.

During his remarks the President referred to, among others, Lucinda Desha Robb, his new granddaughter who was born on October 25, 1968, his daughters Luci Gaines (Mrs. Patrick J. Nugent) and Lynda Bird (Mrs. Charles S. Robb), Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, Democratic vice presidential candidate, Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, Republican vice presidential candidate, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, and Representative Ken Hechler of West Virginia.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Morgantown at a Dinner Honoring Representative Harley O. Staggers of West Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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