Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Toasts of the President and Governor John A. Volpe of Massachusetts at a Dinner Honoring the Governors

February 29, 1968

Distinguished Governors, charming ladies, friends--and favorite sons:

I am delighted to welcome you to the White House--temporarily. Today will certainly have proved one thing to you. Washington is an exciting town. Even a little elevator ride can be a big event.

Let me give you a confidential briefing on what really happened in the Pentagon today.1

--First of all, the elevator was Number 13.

--And there were 13 of us in there.

--And today is Leap Year.

I felt sorry for that poor elevator operator. A voice came over the intercom and asked: "Do you have a full load there?"

I was interested in his reply.

The operator looked at the Secretary of Defense--and swallowed once. He looked at me--and swallowed twice.

Then he snapped: "A load? Affirmative, buddy!"

I turned to Bob McNamara. "What's wrong with this thing?" I said--in my softest voice. "Don't ask me," he replied. "I don't work here any more."

I looked at him sadly, and thought: "That's real efficiency for you--he's not even out of the building and the computers have broken down."

The Secretary must have read my thoughts. He clicked his fingers and exclaimed: "I've got it, Mr. President. This is February 29th and we didn't program the computer for Leap Year!"

As we walked away, I saw Bob McNamara whip out his famous little black book. I peeked over his shoulder and read the notation: "Check elevator budget at the World Bank."

Driving back to the White House, I made a note of my own--for our Republican guests tonight. The other party has been so kind to me lately--approving just about everything that I do--that I just wanted to give their most vocal supporters an inside tip.

Standing stuck inside that elevator today, I thought of my Republican friends. I hoped they would realize that it can take a long time to get to the top in this town.

Years ago our predecessors were pretty independent of one another--the Chief Executive of the Nation and the Chief Executive of the State. But the 20th century has imposed a partnership on the two of us. Like all partnerships, sometimes we grow restless in that arrangement, as partners frequently do.

But there is one thing in the last analysis we all know, whether it is a partnership in our home or in our business or in the Government that runs our country, we have got to make it work.

Now that is what I am trying so hard to do. I am trying to make it work. We now have more than 450 Federal grant-in-aid programs in the United States. They amount to more than $17 billion of the taxpayers' money that is spent every year.

They involve almost every major function of this Government in this society.

They touch the lives, I think, of every single American. We, the leaders, the Chief Executives of America, have a responsibility to all America.

It is just disgraceful for us to spend any of our time and our talent chewing on each other. You have problems that need to be solved that I don't know much about, but if I can help I want to help because if you are a better Chief Executive, your State is a better State.

I have problems and God knows they are legion. I don't know the answers to all of them. And I need help. If we solve them you have a better nation. You have a slice of this Nation and your children have a slice of this Nation.

So we must never lose sight of the fact that some folks would like to take a little temporary advantage with great injury to the longtime national good. But I hope and I believe they are not in this room tonight.

I want to pay public tribute to the tireless efforts of three good men who largely have inaugurated and brought this relationship to what it is today, between the Chief Executive of the Nation and the Chief Executives of the States. First, Governor Buford Ellington of Tennessee who left his home and came here and valiantly served me until I told him that he could probably do me more good as the Governor of Tennessee.

Then, that dynamic and very able leader, Farris Bryant from the State of Florida. Governor Bryant served his term here with great distinction and great appreciation from all of us who worked with him.

Now, Governor Price Daniel. Thanks to your cooperation and your understanding, all of us together have made these programs, I think, somewhat more effective than they would have been otherwise.

Your own distinguished chairman, Governor Volpe, has said that this is the best working relationship that the Federal Government and the States have had together. I know of no one who tries harder to make it so than Governor Volpe, and I want to thank you, Governor.

I have often spoken of Buford Ellington and Farris Bryant--but this is the first opportunity I have had to say anything about Price Daniel.

He has served in practically every important post there is in government: State legislator, speaker, attorney general, Governor, and United States Senator. Now he sits in the Security Council with us. He was your colleague as Governor for many years; he was my colleague as a Senator for many years. He knows government, I think, at both ends--the local, State, and Federal level. I know Price Daniel as the soul of honor.

All of us have to have a little partisanship in us to enjoy life, but these three men who work with you, I think, have a minimum amount of it: Buford Ellington and Price Daniel and Governor Bryant.

I doubt that there is a man in this room from any State in the Union who can do more with the President--and with the Cabinet--than Price Daniel. I tell you that only so you will know that you have a good lawyer retained here in Washington for you. He is your advocate.

I am glad and gratified that Governor Daniel and his lovely wife have come here to try to bring us closer together and to serve our common interests.

Last year, we made a very determined effort to put our partnership on a face-to-face basis. Cabinet officers and other high officials, at my instruction, got away from the smog of Washington and went into 44 State capitals at the request and with the approval of the Chief Executives of these States.

Many other States sent their officials here to meet with us. In all, there have been more than 2,500 State and Federal officials meeting to try to better the ways to serve the people who pay all of us and entrust all of us with the responsibilities.

Their agenda was 20th century America. In these meetings we explored the challenges of housing, pollution, transportation, law enforcement, New Haven railroads, education, health, job opportunities.

These challenges, we know, leapfrog State boundaries. They confront us all as Americans. Because there is one thing we should never lose sight of:

--when a child in one area gets a better education than a child in another;

--when a baby in one neighborhood has a higher chance of survival than a baby in another neighborhood;

--when the smoke of one city poisons the air of another city;

--when the crowded highways in one State slow the commerce in another State.

All of these start as local issues but in a very short time they stretch into national problems.

The Federal Government must face up to national problems and we try to. We think we are doing better every day. But there are no final answers here along the Potomac. The answers really are out there where you are, in the hinterland and hometowns of America.

So, America's problems must be met first and discovered and understood and evaluated. Then they must be mastered. Where? In the final analysis out there where Mr. and Mrs. America live, in your hometowns and in your home State.

We must never assume that States and cities are barren of ideas. Many of today's greatest social innovations have their roots in local government.

There is no substitute that we can find for that. Local government is the living heart of the greatest idea--the American idea. It is up to us to keep it vibrant, to give it new vigor and new strength each day, to give our people new confidence. It is up to us to nourish and reawaken the pride in communities and the pride in country that made this Nation great.

This can be the richest dividend of our partnership.

I want to tell this story and then I will not ask your indulgence further. Sunday a week ago I spent the most delightful day, I think, that I have had since I became President. I got up at 7 o'clock in the morning and had breakfast with 26 enlisted men of the Constellation aircraft carrier that just came back from Vietnam. Then I visited with some officers and they reviewed their targets--the powerplants and the bridges and the supply routes.

Then I went to church services with them. I stood on top of that carrier under a beautiful sunny sky off the coast of California.

Then I called President Eisenhower and asked him if I could go by and talk with him because I needed his counsel and I needed the strength that comes from it. I went by and I spent the entire day with him. I enjoyed it because I was learning and listening and profiting from this wise man who had the unparalleled experience in guiding the affairs of men, of soldiers, and government servants.

He enjoyed it, I think, because he was beating me every hole.

[The President spoke off the record for a period of time.]

I came away from that meeting hoping that by precept and example we could extend that attitude and that love of country and that element of putting national interest first, not only to this house, but to every statehouse in this land.

So, to you Governors and your charming ladies, we have tried our best today to understand your problems--and to work with you on them. We are glad you came and hope you will be back next year. If I am here to entertain you, we will make it an even better year.

If you would join me now in a toast to the Union, to the States, and to the people.

1 See note to Item 101.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. During his remarks he referred to former Governors Buford Ellington of Tennessee, Farris Bryant of Florida, and Price Daniel of Texas, who served successively as Directors of the Office of Emergency Planning and Presidential liaison officers to the Governors. As printed, this item follows the text released by the White House Press Office.
Governor Volpe responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Vice President, members of the Cabinet, my colleagues, the first ladies of the States, and friends:

Mr. President, I feel something peculiar around here. Could it be a draft?

I am sure you all enjoyed those violins this evening. Mr. President, we had the Boston Symphony Orchestra give a concert in Boston a couple of weeks ago at which Jack Benny--I was going to say the principal performer--was the principal, but he wasn't the principal performer. But we had a wonderful occasion that evening.

After the concert, we all went over to the Somerset Hotel for a buffet and reception to Jack Benny. At that party, the orchestra wasn't there, but Jack Benny was there with his violin. He was joined by an accompanist that had not played the guitar for a long time.

It happened to be the Governor of Massachusetts. I would have loved to have had my guitar here to accompany the violins.

On behalf of my colleagues--and as Chairman of the National Governors' Conference--we certainly want to say how much we have enjoyed your friendship, your hospitality, which you have always shown to us--and particularly do we thank you for the wonderful briefings that we had today and this very enjoyable evening here at the White House tonight.

I have worked with three Presidents. I am pleased to say that I know of no President who has worked any harder to develop and promote better Federal-State relations than you have, Mr. President.

I am sure that we can all say today that the communication between the Federal establishment and our respective States is certainly fine and we have a chance--as we did today--to get in on the takeoffs on much of the legislation being proposed instead of waiting until we have landed. For your great cooperation, we are very happy.

I have also had the privilege of working with-both as colleagues and in their present positions-Governor Ellington, Governor Bryant, and my good friend, Governor Daniel.

I want to say that every one of them has done you a great service--and their country a great service--and has been cooperative and helpful. I didn't notice too much partisanship at all, Mr. President.

Mr. President, we know the great tribulations that you face. In these days, I personally want to say that I offer up a prayer for you every day that the dear Lord will help you and guide you in the difficult decisions in the difficult days that lie ahead.

So ladies and gentlemen, will you toast with me as I am privileged to offer a toast to the President of the United States.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and Governor John A. Volpe of Massachusetts at a Dinner Honoring the Governors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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