Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Water and Sanitation Systems in Rural Areas Bill

October 07, 1965

Senator Aiken, Congressman Poage, Mr. Chairman Cooley, Secretary Freeman, Governor Hoff, Members of Congress, Senator Etlender, Senator Mansfield, ladies and gentlemen:

Mark Twain once described a place as, "This poor little one-horse town." But that was 90 years ago, and things haven't gotten any better since. Our cities have been growing and prospering, while our little dusty rural communities have just stood still.

At the turn of the century, more than half of our population still lived out in the country--or at least in the country towns. Today, as we meet here in the East Room of the White House, nearly three-quarters of our population has become urban.

The rural life doesn't have anything to offer our young people any more--or at least they think it doesn't--and so our young people have been drifting away, moving into the big cities.

I don't think this is a very desirable situation. Every year hundreds of thousands of unskilled and undereducated people pour into our cities searching for opportunities that are just not there. And in a very short time, they find themselves much worse off than they ever were before: unemployed and trapped in a web of utter despair.

I also think that if we allow our small towns and our villages to die on the vine, something good and something essential to the America that we know and that we love is going to die along with them. Much of our national character and our national philosophy was molded in the small town life, and I am one that thinks we ought to preserve that.

But we can't preserve it and we can't encourage it among our young people, we can't get them to remain there unless we do something to improve the quality of rural life.

One of the pressing needs for rural America is the establishment of adequate water systems. This is vital for food processing; it is vital for preparing vegetables for the market; it is necessary for adequate fire protection; it is very desirable for almost every household use. And it is also a very powerful force for economic development. Land values go up. Homes are remodeled. New industries spring up. Existing industries expand.

So the bill that we are signing into law today is, we think, going to help bring these new water systems into being.

Another pressing need for rural America is for the construction of modern sewage treatment systems. Too many of these communities are pouring untreated wastes into their rivers and their streams--and the result is not only a pollution problem but a very serious health hazard as well. This bill will provide us with a major tool to correct that situation.

What the bill promises, then, is clear water, constant water for all of our rural America. It is long overdue, but it is never too late. And I believe that we just must give a spur and an incentive and a desire for people to embrace rural life in America. We are indebted to Senator George Aiken of the State of Vermont, Congressman Bob Poage, the chairmen of both the Senate and House Agricultural Committees, and the leadership in the House and Senate for helping us take this very important step, this first step.

Some people have implied on occasions-that it varies, depending on which election you refer to--in the election of 1952 the people were worried about the two-party system, and in the election of 1962 or 1964 they were worried about it going the other way. We are a nation of worriers sometimes. But I am concerned with the two-party system. I do want it preserved. I do want both parties to be strong, virile, healthy, imaginative, positive, and affirmative. And I hope that they will be.

This is an example of what I think the leadership of both parties can embrace. This, I think--what Senator Aiken has done with his bill--might be an example for Democrats if we ever get in a minority, or might be an example for Republicans, if they would just quit trying to recommit everything and really stand for something positive instead of just being against and critical, and finding wrongs and mistakes that we make. If they would just say, "Now this is what needs to be done and this is how we are going to do it."

A President belongs to a party and the party has to help him get elected. But once he is elected, my conception of the institution is that--he is President of all the people and he ought to try to be the servant of all the people. And I am just looking for good Republican ideas, and if they will present alternatives, if they will present affirmative programs, if they will present positive programs for the good of all the people, this Democratic President will be the first to embrace them and sign them. And this is a classical example of what a member of a minority party can do, and how quickly a Texan will join him and bring the bill down here to the White House.

And so I hope that between now and the time we gather here in January, if we want to preserve the two-party system, the members of both parties can make a survey of what we are going to need for the next few years and then try to evolve the best solutions, the best program to meet those needs, and then try to approach it in a bipartisan spirit as you have done with this legislation.

I want to commend each of you that have had a part in formulating it, and I want to thank you for your understanding and your consideration of the executive department in working with us and bringing it to where it is today.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:05 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Senator George D. Aiken of Vermont, Representative W. R. Poage of Texas, Representative Harold D. Cooley of North Carolina, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman, Governor Philip H. Hoff of Vermont, Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, majority leader of the Senate.

As enacted, the bill (S. 1766) is Public Law 89-240 (79 Stat. 931).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Water and Sanitation Systems in Rural Areas Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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