Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in New York City at a Luncheon of the All Americans Council of the Democratic National Committee

October 27, 1968

Mr. Chairman, Mayor Alioto, my friends, ladies and gentlemen:

From what I have been able to gather in the brief time I have been in your great city, I learned the pollsters are somewhat divided about the New York City vote. A reporter asked me the other day after looking at both the Gallup and the Harris polls, which was my favorite poll. I didn't hesitate for a second. I told him my favorite "poll" is Muskie.

One of my daughters asked me coming up here today: "Tell me, Daddy, how was it that after losing a national election in 1960 to President Kennedy and then after losing a State election as Governor in California in 1962 to Pat Brown, how does it happen that Richard Nixon has been able to win his party's nomination for the Presidency in 1968?"

I told her if she would give me a week I would try to think of some reasons.

Not long ago, I was talking to a very wise friend about some of the great political campaigns we had had in this country in past years.

We talked about 1948--the campaign that resembles this campaign in so many ways.

There was a Midwestern progressive, you will remember, who had won election after election, and he was running against a Wall Street lawyer, who had tried out for the job once before and had been roundly rejected.

Then there was a far right wing led then by Senator Thurmond of South Carolina. He hasn't changed his opinions since then either. But I think you will all have to admit: He has learned a thing or two about how to win friends and how to influence people-some people, at least--in the past few years.

Back in '48 there was a far left, then, too. It was harassing the Democratic candidate with catcalls and "cloud nine" ideas about a world that never was.

Everybody told the Republican candidate then in '48 that he was a shoo-in. So he sat tight. He avoided taking a position on anything more controversial than Mother's Day. And he was for it.

The polls and the pundits had buried the Democratic candidate by late September. And not many of them looked to see if he stayed buried. As you may remember, that Midwestern progressive just absolutely refused to cooperate at his own funeral.

The final resemblance is yet to come. But I came here to tell you today it is coming, as sure as I stand here.

And the Midwestern progressive of 1968--Hubert Humphrey--is going to wake up on the morning of November 6 as the new President-elect of the United States.

My friend and I talked about another election--this one a defeat for the Democrats, but a defeat that foreshadowed victory 4 years later.

It was 1928, and in a move that was as bold as it was inevitable, the Democrats nominated the "Happy Warrior," Alfred E. Smith: Roman Catholic--progressive-spokesman for the cities, the poor farmer, the laboring man, the Negro, and all the great peoples who had immigrated from Europe to enrich America with their talents and their traditions.

I don't need to remind any of you of the bitter campaign that followed in 1928. Demagogues had a field day playing on the fear of Catholicism, the fear of foreigners, the fear of the cities, and the corruption that the cities were supposed to contain. Al Smith--and Joe Robinson of Arkansas, his running mate--fought back, reminding the people that their interests lay in a better deal for the farmer and the worker, and in building a more united and unified nation--not ever in cultivating hatred and suspicion of their neighbors.

Smith and Robinson lost that election. But the forces they set in motion--the alliance they called into being--gave Franklin Delano Roosevelt and three later Democratic Presidents the basis of smashing victories at the polls that we had never known before.

There was another meaning in Al Smith's candidacy. America was growing more and more urban. The 1920 census had showed that for the first time more people were now living in the cities than were living in rural areas. And with all of their richness and opportunities, cities did mean problems--they meant big problems--of the kind that nearly every mayor has on his hands today: jobs, housing, transportation, law and order, relations between the races and ethnic groups.
When the Democrats nominated Al Smith, they were nominating a man who had grown up in the city, who understood city problems, who had the energy and the will to master these problems.

Maybe--maybe Al Smith was ahead of his time. It would take eight more elections before religious prejudice could be overcome and a Catholic could be elected President in the United States.

But in a deeper sense, Al Smith was right-right for his time. In nominating him the Democrats were facing the problems of the hour, and they were facing those problems when they occurred.

That my friends is the essential difference between the two parties in America.

If you don't remember anything else I say today, remember this: Democrats face problems; Republicans defer problems.

It is a lot easier on the party in power to defer problems for somebody else to handle later on. Your polls remain high. The controversy level stays low.

But it is not easy on your country. The problems deferred mean solutions deferred, and that means trouble.

Take the migration from rural America in the past two decades. It has been called "one of the greatest single migrations in the history of the world"--from the rural areas to the cities of North America--"greater than the emigration from Europe in the peak years at the turn of the century; greater than the Indian and Pakistani migrations in 1947; greater by far than the Israelite exodus from the land of the Pharaohs."

In the 1950's alone--during which Republicans were in office most of the time-nearly 10 million Americans left the farm for the city. That meant not only fewer farms--more than a million and a half fewer farms--but it meant an unbearable strain on the ability of the cities to provide for their new residents.

I want to ask you some questions now:

--Did any of you ever hear the Republicans calling for a model cities program to relieve the blight of the slums?

--Did any of you hear the Republicans saying that we must build 26 million new housing units for families of modest means, as we said in the Congress this year?

--Did you hear them say that the schools needed Federal help--that poor kids were entitled to a head start in life?

--Did you hear the Republicans urging the country to find jobs and to provide training for rural people who had no skills when they came to the city and wanted to work?

--Did you find them pressing for help to depressed areas, so that the people might be encouraged to remain in rural America, instead of crowding into the cities?

No. You heard nothing of that. You heard "veto." You heard sermons about "kennel dogs." You heard talk about "rolling readjustments" when the country went through three recessions in 8 years of Republican rule.

Meanwhile, the fuse of trouble burned. When President John F. Kennedy and I came into office in 1961, the choice that we faced was quite clear: We could either continue to close our eyes to the urgent needs of our people or we could get this country moving toward meeting those needs.

I think everyone in this room knows the choice that we made. And for all the Gallup polls and all the pundits in the world, I would not take back that choice that we made.

There have been plenty of problems along the way. You just can't expect peace and quiet when you start to deal with and try to handle trouble--when people who have lived in the hopeless world of poverty, and malnutrition, and disease, when they suddenly find out that there is a better way to live. Some of what you start to do fails to achieve its objective. And then the apostles of inaction-the people who ignored the Nation's problems when they were in office--they began to set up a peevish wail from the sidelines. "Turn back," they said, "it is too expensive to meet these problems. Forget them and somehow they will go away."

Well, they won't go away. But they can be mastered--and if we have the vision and we have the will to master them, we can. And we are on the way to mastering them right this minute. Ninety-two months of unbroken prosperity in America. An unemployment rate that we have cut in half. Real personal income up 32 percent. A sharp decline in infant and maternal deaths, and in deaths from childhood diseases. Seventeen million children getting additional Federal help in school. A million and a half young people going to college with the help of the Federal Government. The high school dropout rate is down 27 percent in the last 5 years.

The number of persons living in poverty is down 38 percent in the last 5 years. The cash benefits under social security are up 60 percent in the same period. And today there are more than 20 million of our parents and our eider people covered by Medicare alone.

The list is long. What it adds up to is meeting America's needs--to facing America's problems and facing them now, not deferring them until they have multiplied beyond the power of the next generation to cope with them at all.

Now, the choice that you are going to have to make just 9 days from now is clear as a crystal.

On the one hand, there is a man from the past--a veteran of the time when America's problems were deferred and her needs were ignored;

--a man who today talks vaguely about ending the "wasteful" programs that we have begun together in our time;

--a man who gives his candid views, not in the glare of public scrutiny, but in private letters to special interest groups;

--a man who harks back to the days of "peace and security" in 1960, though most of you will remember that those were the days when our President had to order our Marines out to rescue our Vice President from an angry mob in Latin America;

--a man who distorts the history of his time in office, and neglects to mention what we all remember: that Cuba in that period had been lost to communism; that in 1960 an ultimatum hung over Berlin; that in Southeast Asia, Laos was disintegrating, and the situation in Vietnam--where he had recommended intervention in 1954--growing steadily worse; that a summit conference had been canceled because of a U-2 flight; that the projected visit of our own American President to Japan had been canceled because of the fear of hostile demonstrators; that the Russian Premier was threatening to "bury us" economically, and many people feared that he might just do that; that the Congo was in flames and mortal danger was faced all through Africa where they were faced with being taken over by the Communists; and that Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in the world, with more than 100 million people, was sliding toward the same fate; that Chinese power threatened to overwhelm India and the rest of Asia.

I could go on and talk about some other problems of that time, too. It is a long list. But I cite it to you today in the light of the ugly and unfair charges that have been made about our security gap and the charges that have been made about our attempts to win peace in the world.

On the night of March 31st, with all the sincerity I could command, I said to the American people what I had concluded sometime before; that I wanted 1968 to be a peace year for me instead of a political year for me.

Well, we are working very hard at that. It is a matter that we cannot settle in the newspapers. I do not believe we can make much progress here at the luncheon club.

But I can tell you that there is not a man in all of this world that wants progress as much as I do. And there is not anybody that is doing any more about it, either.

I wish I could give you some better news and I wish I could tell you more than I have. I know how each of you feels. I am curious myself a great deal of the time. And particularly you women--I live with three or four of them and I know their curiosity always prevails.

Grandmother Johnson has been worried for 3 days about what our new granddaughter is going to be named.

There are a lot of speculations. There are a good many reports. The press sometimes refers to these things as "political observers believe"--that is what the fellow means that is writing it. That is him.

But when we say something, you remember it a long, long time. There is one thing when we are dealing with the lives of human beings we must not do. We must not be careless and we must not be soft and we must not play it loose.

As eager as I am--and I work on it every day and every night, and I have for many, many months--I just cannot make news until there is news.

As soon as there is news, you will be the first to know it--you, the American people and the people of the world.

Until there is, try to satisfy your curiosity with a cup of Sanka or a Coca-Cola or something. I am thinking now of the words that I uttered when I got off the plane the day President Kennedy was taken from us when I began to try to assume the terrifying responsibilities of the Presidency--I said, "Give me your prayers."

What I need now is not your curiosity, I need your prayers.

I have told you about some of the conditions in 1960. I tried to help solve those problems and not add to them. But I haven't forgotten them. I cite them--lest we forget the shape of the world the last time Richard Nixon held public office. He can make whatever promises he wants to for the future. But I am not going to let him rewrite the history that he made in the past.

Now, there is a second choice this year--a fellow whose fame until now rested on his ability to stand in college doorways, defying the law, and on encouraging people in his State to feel that they were a part of a separate nation. This candidate's solutions to the country's problems appear to be pretty simple:

You line up a few thousand troops on the sidewalks of the city to preserve order.

You throw those bureaucrats' briefcases into the Potomac--not including the ones, I suppose, that contain the help for the people of Alabama.

You turn the most difficult diplomatic and military problems of the country over to General Curtis LeMay. And then you use the Presidential limousine to take care of the protest movement.

Well, there it is--that is a program to establish justice, to insure domestic tranquillity, to provide for the common defense, and to promote the general welfare. It's amazing that somebody didn't think of that before. Well, maybe somebody did--and is now consigned to the forgotten footnotes of history.

Now, there is a third choice this year.

He is a man who began fighting for human rights before others began to pay even rhetorical tributes to freedom.

He is a man who saw the needs of our schoolchildren, and he introduced one of the earliest and more far-reaching aid-to-education bills.

He is a man who introduced Medicare legislation in the United States Senate, and who endured the violent abuses of its opponents.

Johnnie Rooney, your great Congressman, who sits at this dais with me today, knows that Hubert Humphrey has been a general in every effort to improve living conditions in the cities of America and to lift the workingman, and the farmers' income, and to open American doors to new immigrants.

Hubert Humphrey has faced America's problems all of his livelong life. He has not deferred any of them--not even a single day. He has not ignored any of them. He has not offered simplistic solutions that appeal to the voters' fears. He has offered practical solutions that appeal to the best instincts of our people.

Without Hubert Humphrey, there would be no Peace Corps. And when John Kennedy turned to him at the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, he said, "Hubert,"--handing him this pen--"this is your treaty." And it was--the culmination of years of working and planning for a world without nuclear fallout.

Hubert Humphrey, wherever he is now, is fighting for a new treaty--to halt the spread of nuclear weapons--that we have negotiated but it is held up in the Senate because Richard Nixon said, "Let's slow down and not take it up now until we can have a political election."

I asked Hubert Humphrey to be my running mate in 1964 for one reason: because I believed that he was the best qualified man in America to be President, in the event I could not finish out my term. The 4 years since then have convinced me that my judgment was right; that today, in 1968, Hubert Humphrey is beyond question the American public servant who is best prepared by intelligence, by experience, by compassion, and by character to succeed to the highest office in this land.

So I came here to New York today to appear on this platform with this great mayor, who has come across the Nation from the West, to visit with this great chairman of the committee, Congressman Rooney from the East, to ask all of you to do everything you can in the next 9 days to help win this election--not just for Hubert Humphrey, but for yourselves, and for all America.

I guess we had better conclude. It looks like Lyn is ready to go.

But I do want to say this: Please carry this message to your people; that the hope for a better America lies in facing our problems-facing up to them now--with a man who knows how to face up to them--Hubert Humphrey. You, and your children in the next generation, and my grandson and Mrs. Johnson's new granddaughter will be very thankful to all of you that you did face up to these problems and that you did something about them.

Tonight, I will speak to you on nationwide radio. Next Sunday night, I will speak to you by nationwide television.

I hope between tonight and next Sunday night that all of you will do what I am going to do, everything that I can, to see that Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie are elected on November 5.

Note: The President spoke at 1:26 p.m. at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. In his opening words he referred to Mario Procaccino, chairman of the New York State All Americans Council, and Joseph Alioto, Mayor of San Francisco. During his remarks the President referred to, among others, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who led a third party movement in 1948, Joseph T. Robinson, former Representative and Senator from Arkansas and Democratic candidate for Vice President in 1928, former Governor of Alabama George C. Wallace, third party candidate for President, and his running mate Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Representative John J. Rooney of New York, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, the President's grandson, Lucinda Desha Robb, the President's granddaughter, born on October 25, 1968, and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, Democratic vice presidential candidate.

For the President's address of March 31, 1968, see Item 170.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in New York City at a Luncheon of the All Americans Council of the Democratic National Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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