Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Accepting Honorary Membership in the National forensic League.

May 12, 1964

Senator Mundt, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very honored to accept this honorary membership in the National forensic League. Only two people could be more surprised than I was to hear about this, and that was Lady Bird and my old debating coach.

I notice the resolution which elected me as honorary member says that this selection is not motivated by the exalted office he now holds as President of the United States. I didn't know my speeches were really that bad.

I was invited to speak to your National Tournament and Student Congress in Akron this year, and I had a good reason for turning that invitation down. I felt that if you heard me speak out there, you never would want to make me an honorary member.

I am proud of the high school where I used to coach debate.

Senator Mundt is now a member of the National forensic League. I do not attribute anything to the fact that he was invited to join after I left the coaching job there.

I am especially happy that my old friend, Karl Mundt, had a hand in this event. Karl can win more debates than almost any Republican that I know. I hope he doesn't win one against me this year.

You know, there is the story of a college debater who told his teammate that an upcoming debate would be a real battle of wits. "How courageous of you," his friend said, "to go unarmed." Now I know that members of the National forensic League go into every debate armed not only with the facts but with wits, too.

Democracy is a constant tension between truth and half-truth and, in the arsenal of truth, there is no greater weapon than fact. "Truth or fact," as Carlyle said, "is the life of all things; falsity, or 'fiction,' or whatever it may call itself, is certain to be the death." fiction about what is good and right for America is certain to be the death of our society, for the truth about what America is and can be, the truth of ideals and principles for which men have labored and died, this truth alone heals the deepest wounds of hatred and division.

I know of no experience that I have ever had that gave me more satisfaction nor do I know of any occupation that gave me better preparation and finer training than my work in the forensic field as coach of high school and college debaters.

As debaters, you must search for the truth and you must speak the truth; and you must surrender yourself to the truth, for the genius of our democracy is that it admits variety and it permits criticism, knowing always that in the long run truth will prevail.

I think the greatest disappointment that I ever experienced was not being defeated in a political campaign but in losing a State championship of Texas the first year that I coached debate. I always attributed the loss to the fact that I drew the wrong side of the subject instead of the right side.

We had a subject, to resolve that the jury system should be abolished. My team drew the affirmative but the people weren't ready to abolish the jury system, although it was wavering for awhile when my speakers were attacking it. When they brought in the votes, the first vote was affirmative and that pleased me. The next one was negative, the next vote was affirmative, the next one was negative, and there was a great deal of suspense there for a moment. The next vote was negative and I got sick at my stomach.

But this is wonderful training. The National forensic League is doing a great work. I am very proud that you should think of me in connection with the contribution you are making in searching for the truth, speaking the truth, surrendering yourself to the truth and leading young America to a better day and toward the fulfillment of a greater dream in what we all know is going to be the Great Society.

Thank you very much, Senator Mundt.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. His opening words referred to Senator Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota, President of the National Forensic League, founded in 1925 to promote higher standards in high school debating.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Accepting Honorary Membership in the National forensic League. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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