Richard Nixon photo

Speech by the Vice President Before the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, Hotel Morrison, Chicago, IL

September 26, 1960

Vice President NIXON. Thank you very much.

President Hutcheson, delegates to this convention, your guests, and my fellow vice presidents on the platform, it is a very great honor to be invited to address this convention and particularly to be here on a day in which we are going to participate in a debate on television.

I would say, Mr. President, that you have a rather unusual distinction in this respect. You get the opportunity to see live the two candidates who tonight millions of Americans are going to be able to see only on their television screens. This indicates the tremendous importance of your organization. It indicates the interest of both political parties and both candidates in your goals and also in your support.

I am here to talk to you about your goals and your support, as will be my opponent, and I deeply appreciate the spirit in which your invitation was extended and the graciousness of your reception today.

I, of course, would like to begin my remarks by finding a point of reference in which I could identify myself with the members of this organization and with the delegates to this convention.

You know, when you're around campaigning you always try to say, "Well , I used to be a member of this organization or that, or I have a cousin or an uncle or an aunt who was," and that immediately gets you on the right plane with them. So, I've been doing a little looking into my family background in the last 2 or 3 days to see what relationship I could have to the Carpenters. I cannot say that I'm a member of a union, although Mr. Khrushchev has done quite well in trying to make me a member of the Grocery Clerks Union. I can only say I would rather be a grocery clerk in the United States than to have his job in the Soviet Union.

I can say, however, something about my father. My father, as you probably are aware, was a Californian, but like almost all Californians he came from the Midwest. He spent his early years in Ohio, and while there his vocation was that of a streetcar

motorman. He used to tell us when we were growing up - there were five boys in our family - that the reason he left Columbus, Ohio, and quit the job with the streetcar company was that he had attempted to Organize with another group of motormen, a group of individuals, who would force the company to close the platforms on which the motormen used to have to stand. As my dad used to explain it, in those days they stood out on the end of the car in order to run the car and there was no protection whatever, and he said for years afterward that the reason he had chilblains - that was the term used - was that his feet used to get cold because of the lack of protection. He said also that a year after he left the streetcar company, after this ill-fated attempt to organize the motormen had not succeeded, they did put protection up so that no other motorman in the Columbus streetcar railway did get chilblains. So at least my dad was in an organizing venture that succeeded, although it did not while he was there.

But I have even a closer identification. You know what candidates usually like to say when they come before any audience is something to the effect that they were born in a log cabin. Now, I cannot say truthfully that I was born in a log cabin, but can say something that I doubt many other candidates can say. That is that my father built the house I was born in, because in addition to being a streetcar motorman, he was somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. He worked in the oilfields in California to supplement the very, very modest income that came off a 6-acre lemon grove, which was not too productive, and he also was a carpenter. In those days, in our tiny town of Yorba Linda, I remember he often supplemented our very meager family budget by odd jobs.

I want to make it very clear though that I am, as my wife will tell you, very poor about the house. I inherited none of my father's ability as a carpenter or to do things with his hands, but at least I am proud of his identification, and I only wish that he could be here to hear me speak to this organization.

So much for the personal identification.

May I now turn to your particular concerns to some of the reasons why I feel this organization very appropriately has both the candidates for the Presidency, one on the Republican ticket and one on the Democratic ticket, before you.

First, speaking of our Republican ticket and the thing that we stand for, I know that you realize how proud I am that the father of your president, Bill Hutcheson, for many years headed the Labor Committee of the Republican Party. I hope that we can be worthy in our party of the leadership that he gave to that labor committee. I also hope that we can be worthy of the goals which he set for the labor movement in that particular position. I hope we can be worthy not only as a party, I hope we can be worthy in our conduct of the business of government in Washington, D.C., in the event we should succeed in this election campaign.

I also wish to pay my respects to what this organization has done m a field in which I have had considerable experience.

You know, in my early days in the Congress, from 1947 until I went to the Senate in 1950, I had the responsibility for investigating the attempts of the Communists to infiltrate various American organizations. Those attempts went on then. They are continuing today. One area where the Communists had a failure of massive proportions was in their attempt to infiltrate the labor movement. They particularly failed in those particular union organizations which are represented by this group today, in the building trades, and I think it is only accurate to point out that one of the first unions to adopt a rule making it absolutely illegal and impossible for Communists either to belong to the union or to hold office in it were the Carpenters who, long before other institutions in this country and other leaders saw the insidious danger of communism and saw that their goals were not the goals of free trade unions, that the Carpenter's Union in 1928 took this stand. For that you are to be commended, for the leadership that you gave not only to the union movement but to America as well.

May I say also that you deserve a tribute which I, in my capacity as Vice President of the United States, and as a candidate for the Presidency wish to pay, for maintaining the high standards for skills and for crafts in the United States.

You know, we often hear the things that are wrong about this country, and we must never forget that in pointing up those things that are wrong, which we should do in order to correct them, that America has an awful lot of things that are right about it. In that connection I remember my meeting with Mr. Khrushchev in Moscow when we were standing in that model kitchen. Some way or another the conversation got around to construction, housing and apartments and the like, and I pointed out to Mr. Khrushchev the difference in construction in our country and in his, as I saw it, the advantages that we had. He was proceeding to point out what he considered his advantages. He made a very interesting statement at that point. He said, "But, Mr. Nixon, your construction in the United States is of very poor quality." He said, "Why, you build your houses with sawdust."

I couldn't understand what he meant, and then I learned later that he had seen some motion picture in which there had been a demonstration of how building went on in the United States, and what he referred to, of course, as sawdust, was insulation.

Now, insulation, of course, is something that was unheard of in the Soviet Union, and here it showed, one, his ignorance of the tremendous development in the United States in the field of building and in other fields; and, also, it indicates how far we are ahead in the area of construction and housing.

So when we think of the things we are behind in, let us remember that here is a place, due in great part to the skills of this organization and organizations like it, due in great part to the skills that you have contributed to, a place where the United States is first in the world. We're first in the world in construction, in quality of housing, and Americans and all free peoples can be proud of that today.

In determining what subjects you would be primarily interested in, I, of course, as will my opponent, Mr. Kennedy, have a wide variety to choose from. First, I could talk about those technical aspects of the various laws which affect the building trades. I could, for example, refer to the fact that, as far as common situs picketing is concerned, I happen not to be a Johnny-come-lately. If you will check the records, you will find in 1949, when I was a Member of the House, that I joined with Senator Taft and others - he was then a Member of the Senate - in introducing legislation which would have corrected the inequities which arose out of the Denver Building Trades case. It is unfortunate that we have been unable to get such legislation passed in the intervening years.

I could point out other areas where I think my views have been similar to and have represented the views of this organization in the technical aspects of labor legislation.

On the other hand, it is only accurate to say that in some aspects my views have not coincided with the views of this Organization or others, for that matter, in the labor union field, as far as technical labor legislation is concerned.

I point this out because I think it is only fair that when a candidate for the Presidency comes before any group that he lay it on the line as to what he believes, that he make clear those areas where he agrees and he make clear also those areas where he does not agree.

What I do want to say is this: As far as the goals which Mr. Hutcheson described in his speech this morning - I had a report of it - are concerned, certainly I believe in those goals: better housing, better health, better jobs. These are goals that all of us seek as Americans.

And if I could talk to that point for just a moment, let me make one particular issue absolutely clear. I think sometimes when we talk about how we are going to achieve a better life for Americans, we tend to confuse these goals which we seek with the means that we should use to seek them.

As far as the goals are concerned, all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents, want a better life for the people of this country. All Americans certainly want progress for the people of this country. This is true of my opponent. He wants it. I know he is sincere in believing that the means he would use to reach those goals are the best means.

I think you have to realize, and I think you do realize, as Mr. Hutcheson pointed out, that I too believe that the means that I would use to achieve these goals that all Americans seek are the best ways to get to these goals. The question, in other words and I think we should have this clear throughout the campaign, is not whether the two candidates for the Presidency disagree on their desire to have a better life, more progress for the American people. The question is: Which is the kind of a program, which of the candidates can furnish the leadership, which will produce that progress?

Now on that score, you have to look at our records first, and in looking at the records I should point out, and I think it is only fair to point out that - while the charge has been made that under our administration, of which I am proud to be a part, America has been standing still, that we have not been moving forward, that our administration has worked in the interests of the rich and not in the interests of the poor, that we've been for the employers and against the employees, that we're for management and against the wage earner - that, in view of these charges, some of which I realize were made in the heat of a political campaign, when you look at the record, the record knocks down every one of them, and I want to talk about that record for just a moment.

Let's put it in terms of your members. Let's put it in terms of the carpenters, 900,000 strong, around America. What do they want, and how has this administration been effective in meeting those wants?

Well, first of all, they want jobs with good wages. What do we find as far as the record is concerned? As far as the whole economy is involved, when we cheek the progress in this administration, we find that real wages - I'm speaking of wages after you take inflation out - went up only 2 percent in the 7½ years of the administration that preceded this one. Real wages, on the other hand, went up 15 percent during the Eisenhower administration's 7½ years.

So, you see, you have here a comparison which I think certainly is very fair. You have 15 years to divide. Half the time we had one administration and one party in power; the other half we had another administration, the Republican Party in power, and when we look at the record, not at what people say they are going to do, but what they do do, I say that this administration has been good for the wage earners and good for the carpenters of America, individually, and better for them than was the previous administration.

Let me put it in terms of the carpenters themselves, and you can go back and check these figures, because they come right from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We find that as far as the increase in your real wages is concerned, hourly wages, after you take inflation out, that they increased 70 percent more in the 7 years of the Eisenhower administration than they did in the 7 years of the Truman administration.

And so I say to all the carpenters of America, I say to the 67 million jobholders of America when you test the two administrations in terms of performance, we've done a better job. Wages have gone up and we have held the line on prices so that those wages have meant a real increase in take-home pay, a real increase in the ability of the average family to meet the family budget. This is the first point that I would make.

Now, another point that I think should be made is this; we find that our wage earners in this country - and certainly all of the members of your organization would say this - they not only want high wages and good jobs, but they also want other things which mean a good life for their children and for their families. You want better schools. You want better schools. You want better housing, and you, of course, make a tremendous contribution in producing them. You want better highways. You want better health, better security in your old age.

Let's check the two administrations on this particular point, and what do you find? In the case of schools, not only were more schools built in the Eisenhower 7 years than in the Truman 7 years, more were built in the Eisenhower 7 years than in the 20 years preceding it. So, on that score I say we have a good record to present. Hospitals? We have built more hospitals in this 7 years than in the preceding 7 years. Health? We find generally the standards of health care have been improved more in this 7 years than in the preceding 7 years. Highways? You know the record there.

I say that in any index that you take in these areas that I have mentioned, that when you look at the record that this administration has produced, we have produced on the promises that we have made. Our record has been better than theirs. Now that, of course, is a view of one who is prejudiced. I'm part of this administration and I want you to know that. I want you to listen to my opponent and consider what he says, but after you've heard our promises, after you've heard what we both say, that we are for the great goals that you want for your families and for your members, you do not have to rely on what we say. Look at what we've done. When you look at what we have done, I say we have a good record. It is one that has meant not only good times for the people of this country generally; it has meant good times, good wages, good jobs for the members of this great organization.

And that's what you pay off on. You pay off on the performance, not simply on the promises. But this is the past. And so everybody here certainly raises a question, "What about the future?" Are we going to stand still? And my answer is twofold.

First, America has not stood still in these last 7½ years. We have seen the greatest progress in those 7½ years that we have ever had in the history of this country.

But, secondly, we cannot stop here. We must continue to expand our growth, to deal with our problems and we must move into those areas in which there are weaknesses in the economy and move in effectively.

Now the question is, Who can do the better job? Can our opponents or can we?

Again I say I believe that the programs that we offer for housing, the programs that we offer for schools, for hospitals, for jobs, for real income for Americans will produce more effectively than will theirs.

I am saying, in effect, that if you want progress for America, if you want America to move forward, we believe we know the way. We believe that the way they would have America go would not produce progress; it would in the end take us back to the time when we had very little progress, and I'm speaking of the administration which preceded this one.

Let me give you an example of this. Am I suggesting here that I am coming before this group and saying that this progress is going to be created by what the Federal Government does? Am I telling you that we are going to produce more progress for America in all these areas because the Federal Government Is going to spend more than our opponents would have it spend? My answer is "No." So I'm sure many people would say, "Well, now, just a minute, Mr. Nixon. Don't you have a weak case here? Your opponent can come in here and he is going to advocate more spending by the Federal Government for schools, for housing, for medical care, for progress generally than you will. How then can you stand before any American audience and say that your way is going to produce more progress than his when the Federal Government is going to spend more under his program?"

Now put yourself in my position for a moment. Obviously I want to be elected, my opponent wants to be elected. If that were all I am interested in I could just come in here and say, "I'll raise him. If he's going to spend $2 billion on schools, I'll spend 4. If he's going to spend a billion dollars on health, I'll spend 3."

That would be very simple to do. I'll tell you why I don't do that. I don't do that, one, because if I made such a promise I couldn't keep it; and two, I don't do it because if I made such a promise I shouldn't keep it, because progress, my friends, is not measured solely in terms of how much the Federal Government spends.

Let me put it another way. It isn't a question of how much the Federal Government spends. It's a question of whether it spends its money for the right things.

In that respect, may I just suggest this, if you carry the argument to its logical extreme and you were to say, "Well, the more the Federal Government spends the better," we might as well go whole hog and have the Federal Government do everything - and that's the worst kind of government that we could have. So we must take each one of these fields, whether it's education or housing or health, or any of the others that I have mentioned, and we must have the Federal Government do the right things, not simply judge our programs in terms of who is spending the most money.

Let me put it still another way. In speaking of the right things, I am simply trying to say that the great source of progress, the motive for progress, in this country is not what government does - Federal, State and local - but what private enterprise, individual enterprise, as represented by this organization, does.

Our gross national product is approximately $500 billion today. Of that amount approximately $100 billion is spent by government. The other $400 billion - where does that come from? It comes from what individual enterprise, nongovernment enterprise does.

Now, if we want progress - more jobs for carpenters, for example, at higher wages, more building, more construction - where are you going to get it?

Yes, we can expand this hundred billion dollars that government, Federal, local, and State, does spend. We can expand that, but the way to get most progress is to stimulate and inspire the expansion of the $400 billion sector because there's where the jobs are. There's where the most progress is.

So today I do not tell you that the Federal Government is the answer to all of our problems. I do not tell you that I will raise my opponent's offers in these fields, but I do tell you this. The programs that we adopt, programs for progress in health, in education, in welfare, in housing, in all of these areas, are programs that are right. They are programs that have the Federal Government do those things that it ought to do, but they are programs that would have the Federal Government primarily recognize that the way to great progress in this country is not through expanding the functions and size of the Federal Government but through expanding the creative opportunities for 180 million free Americans.

And now if I could touch on one other point. The question may well be raised, "But, Mr. Nixon, when you talk about this business of what the Federal Government does, aren't you putting a dollar sign on dealing with the problems of human misery? Aren't you putting a dollar sign on, for example, what we are going to do in the field of depressed areas, or in the field of housing or the others that you have mentioned?"

My answer is we can never put a dollar sign on what Americans will do for other Americans, but my answer also is this: When you have a President who adopts policies that have the Government spend more than it needs to or that have the Government spend more than it takes in, he, when he does that, is creating human misery by that very action.

What do we find? When the Government spends more than it needs to, the people have to pay the bill.

These promises that candidates make - they're not paying them with their own money. They are going to make these promises with your money, and I say that it's the responsibility of the President of the United States to see that every dollar of the people's money is spent that needs to be spent, for defense or any other area, but that not $1 is spent that doesn't need to be spent.

Why? Because when we spend less in Washington it means that people have more to spend for themselves.

Why do I say that I cannot go along with the program that would inflate our currency? Not because I'm concerned about bankers and their interest rates and the like. From a political standpoint, there are very few bankers and there are an awful lot of wage earners. The reason I say that is that the people who are hurt the worst by policies such as were adopted in the Truman administration, when we found the value of the dollar going down 36 percent are not the bankers. They are smart enough and they have enough money to hedge against it. People who are not bankers may be smart enough to hedge against it, but they don't have the money to do it.

So what do we find? We find the retired workers, we find the wage earners trying to make their wages, as high as they may be, meet the family budget at the end of the month. We find that all these people are the ones who are affected. They're the ones on which inflation takes its cruelest toll.

What I am really trying to say to this group is this. Don't judge a presidential candidate on the basis of what he promises. Remember the promises he makes you pay for. Don't judge a presidential candidate on the basis of what he says the Federal Government is going to do. Remember the question is not whether the Federal Government does the most things for people. The question is whether it does the right things.

When you hear a presidential candidate, remember that the strength of America is not inputting all of our problems over to Washington. The strength of America is in increasing the responsibilities and encouraging the creative activities of free American citizens.

These things I believe, and I can only say in that connection, adding one other point, we need all these things - jobs, good housing, better school - but above all we need to be around to enjoy them, and the great issue, the great test you must put both of us to is: Which of the candidates can provide the leadership that will keep peace for America without surrender and that will extend freedom throughout the world?

I do not need, before this group, to indicate my views in detail on this issue. They will be discussed many times in the course of this campaign. I will only give you my credentials.

I know the Communists. I think I know Mr. Khrushchev. I know how tough they are. I know how determined they are, how fanatical they are to rule the world. I know that if America is to lead the free world, as she must, to peace and to freedom we must always be stronger than they are militarily, and I will insist that whatever funds are necessary to maintain an absolute superiority in military strength must be expended.

I know, too, that we're in an economic race with Mr. Khrushchev. I remember when I was in Moscow he said, "Mr. Nixon, we're behind you now, but we're moving faster than you are. We're going to catch up with you, and when we go by you we're going to wave and say, 'Come on, follow us, do as we do; you're going to fall far behind.'

He said he was going to catch us in 7 years. He isn't going to catch us in 7 years. He isn't going to catch us in 70 years because his system is wrong. It has fatal flaws in it that will show up.

But, my friends, it isn't enough for me simply to say that. America must produce to the full, and we must adopt programs that will get the most out of this great economy of ours, so that we can stay ahead in this race in which we are already well ahead, producing almost twice as much as does the Soviet Union.

I know, too, as far as this world struggle is concerned, that we must recognize that in dealing with Mr. Khrushchev and his colleagues they do not react like the leaders of the free world, like Mr. Macmillan, Mr. De Gaulle, Mr. Adenauer. These men respect power. They respect firmness. They despise weakness, whether it is military or economic or diplomatic. I believe that it is essential that we be firm in dealing with them, that we never make a concession without getting a concession in return, that we never reduce our armaments without getting absolute assurance that they are doing likewise, and that we do all these things without at the same time being belligerent, keeping cool, keeping dignified, as President Eisenhower did in Paris and as he did again in his magnificent speech to the United Nations when he spoke for the whole free world so eloquently 2 days ago.

I have told you today that I am for the things that I believe you believe in and that all Americans believe in. We're for peace without surrender, we are for a better life for our citizens. We're for progress into the future. You have to judge as to whether our programs are best for you, best for America.

My last plea is simply this: In making that judgment, make it on the basis of the programs. Make it on the basis of our records. Make it on the basis of what you know about the men.

In that connection, I can only repeat, as I have before, I know what the problems of our people are. I believe that as far as this country is concerned, we today are the most fortunate people in the world to live in it. I believe, with all the weaknesses that have been pointed out, and there are some that America's strengths are the wonder of the world, and we can continue to make her stronger.

But as far as the decision is corrected, I ask you to make it in this light, not in terms of simply voting the party label, but in terms of what we stand for and what our backgrounds are, because remember, when we elect a President, we don't think in terms of party alone. We think in terms of America.

I say to this great convention here today, only if you believe that what I stand for, what I believe in, will be best for America, best for your children, as well as for yourselves, do I ask for your support. If you believe that, I do ask for your support. If you do not believe it, I respect you for your opposition.

Thank you very much.

Richard Nixon, Speech by the Vice President Before the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, Hotel Morrison, Chicago, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project