Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at the Annual Convention of the Associated Milk Producers, Inc., Chicago, Illinois.

September 03, 1971

Mr. Nelson, Governor Ogilvie, Mayor Daley, Reverend Clergy, Members of the Senate, Members of the House, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, and all of those attending this great convention:

In that period over the past 25 years that Mr. Nelson referred to, when I first entered public life, I have probably addressed more conventions than any American political figure. I have probably addressed more audiences in America and in the world than any American political figure. I think I have seen some pretty big crowds. I can say to you here tonight, however, that by all odds, this is the biggest convention and the biggest indoor crowd I have ever seen in my life, and I am proud to be here.

With 40,000 in this hall, I just wonder who is home milking the cows.

It is significant, too, that this convention is taking place in the city of Chicago. In doing some of my homework before coming to Chicago, I found that this is the 100th anniversary of the great Chicago fire, and as most of you will recall, the fire was started by a milk producer. But whatever Mrs. O'Leary's cow did 100 years ago did not stop the spirit of Chicago. The city was built back stronger and more vigorous than ever before.

Then it is interesting to note that before this great hall was constructed 3 years ago, another fine hall was destroyed by fire. And rather than be stopped by that, here we have this splendid facility in which we meet tonight.

As we consider those things, I think it is well to put this great convention in the context of the broader problems that the United States faces in the world today. You are, of course, milk producers, dairy farmers; you are justly proud of your professions. But you are also American citizens deeply interested in this country, interested as all Americans are, in what the future holds for our children.

Are we to have a world in which we have a better chance for peace than we have had previously, a better chance for a prosperity without war, a better chance for prosperity without inflation?

These are questions that all Americans are interested in, and you, as Americans, are also vitally interested in.

What we must recognize at this time is that we meet at a period of enormous opportunity and great challenge for America. On the one side, we find the most difficult and the longest war in America's history being brought to an end, and we find, too, that we are beginning to build the structure for a new era of peace in the world. It is not easy; it is not sure. But the journey that I will take to the People's Republic of China, the negotiations that we are undertaking in various areas with the Soviet Union, and the other initiatives that we have undertaken in the field of foreign policy, in my opinion, give us this opportunity: I believe tonight that we have the best chance since the end of World War II for our children to have what we have not had in this century in America--a full generation of peace.

But the irony of that situation is that as the danger of war recedes, the challenges of peace increase. Not that we do not want those challenges and would not much prefer them to war; not, for example, that Americans, as we consider the fact that 2 million men have been let out of the Armed Forces since the year 1969 as a result of the winding down of the Vietnam war, out of the Armed Forces and defense plants, that they now are in our job market, that this, therefore, makes it necessary to develop new jobs, peacetime jobs for those individuals. This is a challenge we accept.

But on the other hand, we must recognize that as we look to the period ahead, a period when we are going to use our leadership as well as we possibly can to create peace for America and peace for the world, it will mean a new world of much greater competition for America.

Let's look back just 25 years at the end of World War II. You will recall then that America, with 7 percent of the world's people, produced 50 percent of the world's goods. Not any nation in the world even approached us in the major areas of competition economically.

And in that period, the United States of America was a generous nation, generous to its allies who had fought beside us and generous to its enemies whom we had defeated.

One hundred and fifty billion dollars in foreign aid, military and economic, was given by the United States to other nations. And now, 25 years later this is what we find: We find that the United States is still number one in the world economically, but we find that we have competition such as we did not have 25 years ago---competition from Japan, for example, and Asia, competition from the nations of Europe which we helped to rebuild after World War II, competition from the Soviet Union, and in the future the potential competition of the most populous and one of the most creative peoples on the earth, 800 million Chinese.

That is the picture we have in front of us. So the question that we confront in America is: What do we, 200 million Americans, do about this? How do we meet the challenge of peaceful competition?

There are two ways that it could be met. One is to build a wall around ourselves, a permanent wall, and to live within ourselves and to let the rest of the world pass us by. That is the philosophy which some have. Some suggest that it really doesn't make any difference whether the United States continues to maintain its position of world leadership economically, a position which is essential if we are to be the world's leader--free world's leader in the field of foreign policy.

But on the other hand, there is another point of view, a point of view that I strongly recommend to this great audience of Americans from over 25 States all over this Nation tonight, and it is this: At the end of World War II the United States was in the position where it was our duty to help other nations get on their feet. It was also in our interest. We have no regrets about having succeeded and succeeding very well in that great gesture-humanitarian, and also in our economic self-interest as it turned out to be.

At that time one world statesman described the situation like a poker game. He said what happened was that at the end of World War II the United States had all the chips and no one else could play, and so we had to pass out some of the chips to the other nations so that they could get into the game--and we did that.

Now they are in the game. They are strong, vigorous competitors. We should not resent that. As a matter of fact, we should welcome it because the stronger the competition, the better we do. That is the American spirit.

But on the other hand, as I pointed out in my speech to the Nation on August 15, let the competition be fair. Let us see to it that as far as the international monetary situation is concerned that unfair advantages of other nations be removed. Let us see to it that as far as trade barriers are concerned that it is a two-way street, that markets abroad are open to the United States as we open markets in the United States to nations abroad.

There was a time when the United States, 25 years ago, could afford to be generous, not only in our aid but in our trade policies. We still want to be generous where the situation requires it from a humanitarian standpoint. But at this time, when other nations in Europe and in Asia are on their feet, where they are our competitors, the time has come for the United States to quit trying to compete with one hand tied behind our back.

So the world that I see for America is not one in which we build a wall around ourselves, not one in which the United States fails to meet the challenge of competition, but one in which we set up fair rules of competition and then proceed to do everything that we can to do our best.

Now, let me relate all that to this great audience here in the heartland of America, an audience from American agriculture. A few months ago, the Census Bureau announced that it had plotted the new population center of the United States. And that point where half of the population lives to the north and half to the south and half to the east and half to the west, they found right here in the State of Illinois. They put a marker at the spot. It is about 5 miles outside of the town of Mascoutah.

I remember thinking how symbolic it was in this age of urbanization, great cities like Chicago, that the spot which had marked the exact center of population in America was right in the middle of a farmer's field.

But if we really consider the basic resources of this country--our natural abundance, our economic power, our physical and spiritual health--then we must still conclude in 1970, as in 1790, that the heart of our Nation's strength still lies in .our Nation's farms.

Look back just 75 years: Again, here in Illinois, in the great city of Chicago, a Democratic National Convention, William Jennings Bryan taking that convention by storm and winning the Democratic nomination--his speech is remembered by every student of American history and of political science as one of the great speeches of all time. And this was something he said: "... the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies." He said, "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

Now there are many more cities and many fewer farmers today in America than there were in 1896, but now as well as then American agriculture contributes enormously to America's strength. There is one achievement of our Nation's farmers that is particularly pertinent to the remarks I have made with regard to the competitive position we have in the world today. It is the success of American agriculture in raising the level of productivity on our farms.

Productivity holds the key to America's ability to compete in the world. Only by increasing productivity can we achieve a higher standard of living without rampant inflation at home and only by increasing productivity can we win a stronger position over the long run in the marketplaces and the trading lanes of the world.

Now, let's look at productivity in America over the past 20 years. It has not moved up fast enough in some areas, but American agriculture is an exciting exception. In the nonfarm sector of our economy, productivity has gone up over 150 percent in the last 20 years. In the field of agriculture, however, productivity in the last 20 years has gone up 300 percent-nearly twice as much.

Now, what is the result of this? Well, first, the American people are getting a great deal more value for their food and clothing dollar. Secretary Hardin, at our Cabinet table, often eloquently makes this point: We are the best fed people in the world--except for the 3,500 that were not able to get served tonight, I understand, at this convention.

But despite all the talk about high farm prices and support prices and the rest, when you add it all up, the American housewife puts a smaller percent of her budget into food than any housewife in the world today. That is to the great credit of American agriculture.

Now, many of you have been reading about the crisis we have in our international balance of payments. But let's look at what agriculture does for us in this field. We find that our agriculture exports have reached a record high. Without our agriculture exports, which we trust will continue to grow as we open up the markets abroad, without those exports we would be in a crucial position in this field of balance of payments.

America today is number one in the world in productivity in agriculture, and I say, let us stay number one by seeing that our farmers get their fair share of America's increasing prosperity.

Now, I will be preaching somewhat to the choir as I talk about the dairy industry. The dairy industry has helped to lead the way in achieving this remarkable rate of progress. The amount of milk produced per man year has increased fourfold in the last 20 years, even better than the average for agriculture generally. No industry in America, no major industry, can match this increase in productivity of the dairy industry.

Within the industry this organization has been one of the strongest forces in blazing new economic trails. This is America's largest dairy cooperative. You have moved effectively to help improve the quality, expand the variety, increase the volume of American dairy products.

Let me share with you a personal recollection when I speak of the quality of American dairy products. I mentioned the end of World War II. I recall as I returned after spending 14 months in the Pacific what I really wanted most in terms of the food on the table. Out there it wasn't bad but, of course, everybody gripes about the food when he is in the service. You know what it was? Not a steak or none of the other things that you usually think of--just a glass of good, fresh milk, something we never had abroad. You don't have to go back that far. I remember a trip of 70 days I took as Vice President in the year 1953 to Asian nations, and in country after country abroad, just getting a glass of good, fresh milk was almost impossible. It is improving around the world, but let me tell you, we in America should be thankful that we can get good, fresh, healthy milk any time we want it on our tables in the United States.

You have pioneered in developing a "total marketing concept," a concept which many other producers, I think, would do well to consider. All of this you have done on your own. You haven't whimpered helplessly about uncontrollable economic forces nor waited passively for Government to bail you out.

For its part, the Government has been working to create a climate in which such initiatives will receive their just reward. We are encouraged to see that cash receipts for dairy farmers have risen some 5 percent this year. That is not as much as we would like; it is, however, a significant gain. We look for even greater progress in the future.

Even as we have been working to increase farm income, we have also been working to reduce farm costs. A moment ago I pointed out the challenges that we face as we move from war to peace. One of those challenges is that war always leaves a legacy of inflation.

On August 15, I decided that a time had come for us to crack down on inflation because when we consider it, inflation is the cruel economic culprit that relentlessly whipsaws every family in America and every farm family in particular. You know the truth of this statement that I will now make. Inflation hits the farmer coming and going--it raises both the cost of living and the cost of farming. The result is a brutal cost-price squeeze.

The figures are striking. The prices farmers pay for all items have gone up 52 percent in the last 20 years while the prices they receive have gone up only 8 percent in the same time. Like a great invisible vise, inflation has been crushing our farm families and farm communities for many years now and this can be said about family after family in other walks of life as well. It is time that they got some relief.

Our new policies offer that relief. More than that, these policies promise, for the first time in many years, to achieve a new prosperity for farmers, for all Americans-prosperity without inflation and without war. This is a goal to which all Americans, I am sure, will subscribe.

I have spoken to this convention tonight about the contribution you have made, you in agriculture generally, to America's competitive position. I have spoken about the enormous contribution that your productivity makes to America in this critical time.

Let me now refer to another area in which this great audience, coming from the heartland of America--and the heartland of America is all over America--particularly centered in this area, of course. Let me indicate another area where your contribution has been and can continue to be decisive. That is in developing the spirit that America needs if we are going to maintain our competitive position in the world.

As we speak of that spirit, let me say that as I have traveled over the country I am convinced that it is strong. I am convinced that the people of this country are ready to respond to a challenge to compete. But I think it is important for us to remind ourselves at this time that if America is not to fall behind in this period of greater competition with our friends abroad, that it is going to be necessary for us to strengthen our spirit in several areas.

First, with Labor Day approaching, let us recognize in this country the dignity of work. By "the dignity of work" I should like to point out what was to me a rather disturbing report I read a few weeks ago with regard to some individuals on welfare in one of our cities who refused to take jobs because they considered those jobs to be menial.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I was growing up, my father at various times was a carpenter, he was a streetcar motorman, he was a farmer, he worked in a filling station, and he worked in the oil fields. I suppose you could call that menial, but I say that any job which provides self-support, self-reliance, self-respect, and human dignity is not menial in America.

So on this Labor Day let us recognize the dignity of men and women who work, whatever that field may be--the farmer, the worker, the laborer, 80 million of them. That is what made America what it is, and by recognizing that dignity, we can continue to be productive.

Then, second, it is necessary for us to recognize that in this Nation there are times when it is necessary for us to make some sacrifices. I do not speak of the sacrifice of life; I speak of sacrifices that do not even approach that ultimate sacrifice.

I again refer to the wage-price freeze. Certainly there is not any question but that some people who had their wage increases deferred, and others who were unable to raise their prices suffered a hardship. But where, by some individuals giving up a wage increase and others giving up a price increase, we can stop the cost of living for all Americans--that is worth sacrificing for.

I am confident that with 70 percent of the American people, as indicated by various polls, supporting that proposition, that the spirit of sacrifice for the good of this whole country is still alive and strong in this country.

Then finally, there is one other element of the American spirit to which I have already alluded. It very simply is this: It is essential in this period that the United States of America as a nation, and the American people as a people, never resign themselves in any area to be second best. [ do not suggest that America has to be first in everything. I do not suggest that we will be first in everything. But I do know this: Once a nation ceases trying to be number one, that nation will not be a great nation. Let it not happen to America.

One hundred and ninety-five years ago America was almost a totally agricultural country--3 million people, weak militarily, poor economically--and yet that small country on the Atlantic seaboard caught the imagination of the world. It was the hope of the world, not because of its wealth or its strength, but because the spirit of America was strong.

Americans then were proud of their country. They had a sense of destiny. They had a drive and a desire to do better, to have greater freedom, greater opportunity, greater progress than any nation in the world. It is that spirit that brought America where it is today. It is that spirit that America needs in this period when we are the richest nation and the strongest nation.

Without that spirit, all the wealth and all the strength in the world will be nothing. With that spirit, America can provide the leadership which will mean peace for a generation, we trust, and longer, for our children in the years ahead, and prosperity without war.

As I speak to this great audience coming from all over America, I feel that the spirit of competition, the spirit of hard work, the spirit of putting America first when it requires sacrifice, that it is strong in this organization. I think the future of America is in good hands, and I wish you well in everything that you do.

Ladies and gentlemen, since this is a bipartisan audience, and since we have Members of the House and the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans here, wouldn't you like to have them all up here on the platform with me for a moment?

All the Members of the House and Senate. There they are. Give them a hand.

Now, if any of you happen to go to Washington and visit the House or the Senate, right now you probably see more than on an ordinary day you will see on the floor of the House or the Senate.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:47 p.m. in McCormick Place.

Harold S. Nelson was general manager of the Associated Milk Producers, Inc.

An advance text of the President's remarks was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Annual Convention of the Associated Milk Producers, Inc., Chicago, Illinois. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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