Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969

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Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: March 29, 1968

164
Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education.
March 29, 1968

Mr. Meany and ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted that you invited me to be present with you at lunch here today. I wanted to come by because I had heard by the grapevine that there were some political educators in town.

That was surprising to me. It was good news to me because I thought they were all out in Indiana and Wisconsin and Nebraska.

But this is, as I understand it, the "Graduate School of Politics." George Meany tells me that most of you have already earned your advanced degrees.

Well, we know one thing: You are led by a great political teacher and philosopher, Dean Meany. He tells me his courses are short and brief, and to the point: the three R’s of politics—Republicans, reaction, and runaways.

I want to talk to you very seriously for a few minutes about the state of your Nation today, about the kind of a country that you live in. This America is the most progressive society that history has ever known. It is the richest; it is the freest; it is the strongest; it is the most productive. We ought to be proud of some of these things instead of crying about most of these things.

I want to say, without any fear of contradiction, that America right now is reaping the harvest of social ideas that have fired the hearts of our people for generations. Our campaigners, our politicians, and our orators have been talking about them fordecades—but we are doing something about them today.

Our people have hungered for this for a long, long time—hungered for when every child could look forward to the promise of all the education he could master, regardless of the economic status of his father or mother, when the aged had the hope of some genuine security in their old age, when workers knew something about the dignity of a decent wage with a minimum floor under it, when health care was available to all the people of this country, and when full legal equality for all citizens is at long last near our grasp.

For 30 years, the great leaders—like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy—stirred the Nation’s deepest hopes by giving eloquent voice to these dreams.

They began the long work of turning hope to reality; you helped them every step of the way.

But now in your day and in our time, America has woven these great visions into the fabric of its national life.

Twelve million Americans today have already been freed from the chains of poverty. Medicare has today—not tomorrow, today-become a reality, after Harry Truman proposed it more than 20 years ago, and we talked about it all that time.

Today—right now—20 million of our mothers and our fathers—20 big million of them—are no longer oppressed by heavy, big medical expenses.

We broke through years of deadlock to get help for our schools. It was not easy getting the Catholics and the Jews and the Baptists—and all the others—together on an elementary education bill.

But today, the deprived youngsters by the millions are being better educated for a brighter future because we have written into the law of the land—the last 4 years—18 broad national education acts for the benefit of these youngsters.

We took the first major civil rights bills in a century—and we quit talking about them. We enacted them into the law of the land.

This year, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who never visited a voting booth, who were never allowed to mark a ballot, will vote for the first time because of these measures.

We achieved a higher minimum wage law for 42,800,000 people who work. At this hour, as I speak, America’s labor force is 75 million strong. They are at work, at better jobs, at better wages than at any time in your entire life.

I came here to tell you we have just begun.

This year—with your help—we are going to bring safety to the worker at his jobsite. This year we are going to protect his hard-earned dollar by putting truth into lending with a special law we have recommended to the Congress that has been .passed through both Houses.

We are going to put through an education bill that will put a college education within reach of every worker’s son and daughter who wants to go to college.

We are going to continue to press all of the unfinished work of this Nation.

We know that great problems still beset us. Other nations have them, too. The restlessness that is abundant in the United States is in every corner of the globe; you just have to look at the television or the front pages of the newspapers to see about it.

We have tough and we have well-entrenched problems in the world.

At home, none of these problems is more urgent than the problem of our cities. It has been forming now for more than 100 years—but America has mobilized its force to meet it. We have a cities message, with our recommendations, pending before the Congress.

People who want to do something about the cities can go up there and vote for that message—or get somebody else to vote for it.

We have put together a program that will rebuild the American city. It is the most ambitious housing program that ever was recommended to any Congress. We have proposed to the Congress that we construct 6 million new homes for the poor people of this country over the next 10 years. That is enough homes to replace every crumbling hovel that is now standing.

We intend to start 300,000 of these units this year. That is more than half as many as were built in the last 10 years. The next 10 years we are going to build 6 million. The last 10 years, we built 500,000. We are going to do 12 times as much the next 10 years as we did the last 10 years. And I say, that is not to be sneered at.

Thousands of our men and women who have never held steady work are trapped inside of the ghettos. They are unskilled; they are unschooled; they have little hope. They are the hard-core unemployed.

Well, we are setting out to restore some hope. You, your leaders, the men sitting at this table, the leaders of business, the leaders of your Government who are speaking to you are united in undertaking a massive campaign—a campaign of understanding, a campaign of compassion, a campaign of selflessness. Love they neighbor as thyself. We are trying to do something to help them.

We are going to find jobs for many of those who have been bypassed. We are going to train them. We are going to awaken their hope—and we hope we can give them a decent chance to know the self-respect that goes with employment and with a good job. We will not let violence and lawlessness take over this country. We will not let it block our efforts.

I believe—and I think you believe—that America believes that the crime that haunts the streets of our cities today is a national disgrace.

Our major governmental programs will strike at the roots of crime. But crime is an immediate problem that demands immediate action. Law enforcement is a local responsibility. It can be no other way in the America that our forefathers founded.

But we are determined to achieve a safer nation. We will cooperate with all the local law enforcement officers to do that.

We have put before the Congress a crime-fighting program that will strengthen the police forces all across this Nation and give them strength that is much needed at this very hour.

We have drawn the line against crime in our streets—and that includes rioting; that includes looting; and that includes arson, motivated for whatever reason.

I want to again assure you that the resources of your Government stand behind local law enforcement agencies to the full extent of our constitutional authority. Mindless violence—destroying what we have all worked so hard to build—will never be tolerated in America.

We are going to finish the work that we have started—the work of building a better, a more prosperous, and a more peaceful country. That will not be two Americas; that will be one America.

I was looking at the history of 1938 yesterday, and some of the speeches that were made then sounded like some of the things we are going through in 1968. But we went through them—and we pulled out of them-and we had a safe and happy and peaceful landing.
We are going to be a united people. Weare going to do what we must do at home-and we will, while we are doing that, fulfill every responsibility that America has in the world in which we live.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening words he referred to George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO.

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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "164 Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the Afl-Cio Committee on Political Education.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1369 454–456. Original Sources, accessed January 26, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DM2H8Q5BNESWK7.

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "164 Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the Afl-Cio Committee on Political Education." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1369, pp. 454–456. Original Sources. 26 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DM2H8Q5BNESWK7.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '164 Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the Afl-Cio Committee on Political Education.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1369, pp.454–456. Original Sources, retrieved 26 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DM2H8Q5BNESWK7.