Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a White House Reception for the Members of the National Council on the Arts.

November 21, 1968

Members of the Arts Council, ladies and gentlemen:

Mrs. Johnson and I have very much wanted to meet with the National Council on the Arts at least one last time to thank each of you from the bottom of our hearts for all that you have done to help your country.

As you all, I am sure, realize and as Mr. Stevens implied, artists and politicians have not always been too comfortable together.

One American President once looked at a painting and handed down this judgment: "If that's art," he said, "I'm a Hottentot."

But the American people--thank Heaven---do not ask their Presidents to be art critics. They have many assignments, but that is not one.

But the American people do, I think, have a right to expect of their President that he will encourage the arts; that he will foster, in every way he can, the inventive spirit of his people. And that we have tried to do in our small way.

These years have been years of excitement and controversy and, I think, a great deal of constructive activity in our country. Some of the liveliest activity, of course, has been in the arts--in the communities across the land, in the theaters and the galleries, the concert halls, and in our schools.

Part of that activity may be traced directly to the new commitment of government to the arts. Much of it, I am sure, can be traced to leadership such as Mr. Stevens', and to your dedication and to your enthusiasm.

I think that I know few men in public life that are deserving of more credit for service above and beyond the call of duty than Roger Stevens. I never thought that I would have the deep affection for him that I have after his wife harassed me with several thousand letters at one time about animals.

But I think now that Roger Stevens may be just the perfect public servant. Somehow or other he loves to do the impossible, and most of us think he does it very well.

I like the record of achievement that he has written. In the twilight of our career here in Washington, the end of some 37 years, we have reviewed in retrospect--looked back at what has taken place and summarized some of the record and some of the things that we have gloried in, the achievements, and some of the disappointments. They have been legion.

But Sunday I went out and spent some time with a very great lady who was the father and the mother of Federal education, Mrs. Eugene Meyer. And when she first started harassing me about Federal aid to education--I use that word tenderly and affectionately, "harassing"--we had about six education bills on the statutes of our land.

I presented her a little "thought" Sunday-that I am going to give her 60 pens that represent the pens with which I have signed 60 pieces of legislation on education.

In the health field, we had a Surgeon General, and that was about all we had done for health. The Pure Food and Drug Act; that wasn't enforced.

But today, more than 20 million people are getting Medicare. And we have more than four dozen health acts that represent a quadrupling of activity and expenditure in the field of health that we are very, very proud of.

In conservation, we had 188 years of Government and we have 176 national parks. For the first time, we are putting more back into the public domain than we are taking out.

Theodore Roosevelt was a great conservation President. He had 19 parks brought in in the early part of this century. Up until that time, we only had four for the whole Federal Government.

But now, we have 176. Franklin Roosevelt added 36 in his 12 years. But our people have been so conscious for the last 5 years of how much we need recreational activity and the playgrounds for our children, that of the 176, we have added 46. During that 5 years, almost 700 million people have visited those areas because we have added them not out in Wyoming and Colorado and Arizona-lovely as those places are, and much as we want to go there, and we can go there if we have got a vacation of 3 or 4 weeks, long enough to go out there and take mother and the children with us in the car--but we are putting them now at Fire Island and Assateague, close to the population centers.

All of those things I am proud of. But I don't want to take much time.

I want to just conclude by saying that we have had meetings on education, on health, on conservation and on 20 consumer measures that we have passed. And, yesterday, we had a meeting in here on the 22 measures that we have passed for our veterans--such as the GI education bill where hundreds of thousands are going through college when they return and take off their uniforms--22 veterans bills.

But I am not sure that the thing that I don't appreciate most and doesn't mean the most to me is a letter I got from Roger Stevens that I almost had to read coming down the dark passageway over here this evening that summarized really what he had done and what you have done in the last 5 years.

I haven't had a chance to get a copy of it mimeographed or even photostated. I just saw it because I have been an hour late and several dollars short for some time around here. And the Budget Bureau has been meeting on next year's budget all afternoon.

I just couldn't keep my time within the limits I had set. But I do want to get a copy of that. And if there is any way of getting it reprinted, I want each of you to have it because I think the American people and all of the people who love and appreciate beauty owe a debt to Roger Stevens--and those of you that make up this Council, associated with him, who have undertaken this ado venture, who have pioneered this course, and who have done a job above and beyond the call of duty.

Thank you, Mr. Stevens.

Note: The President spoke at 6:36 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. During his remarks he referred to Roger L. Stevens, Chairman of the National Council on the Arts and Mrs. Eugene (Agnes E.) Meyer, widow of the former publisher of the Washington Post.

The text of Mr. Stevens' letter to the president is printed in the Weekly Compilation of presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 1626).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a White House Reception for the Members of the National Council on the Arts. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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