Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-1969

Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: May 20, 1968

Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Floyd B. Odlum, Founder and Chairman of the Arthritis Foundation.
May 20, 1968

Mr. Odlum, Miss Cochran, Dr. Clark, my dear friend, Ed Weisl, ladies and gentlemen:

Nothing could give me greater pleasure than to come here with Mrs. Johnson tonight to join you in paying honor to Floyd Odlum.

We are glad to be here. I say that for some very personal reasons. This dinner is a wonderful opportunity for a man in my position today. I like to spend a night out once in a while. I think most of you would be surprised how hard it is this time of the year to find a simple old-fashioned, nonpolitical dinner. Finding one in New York is almost like finding a parking place in New York. I hope they don’t tow us away before we are through tonight.

Ever since March 31, that Sunday night when I said that I did not want to spend a single hour of a single day on politics, I have had to screen the Presidential invitations most carefully. The dinner tonight was no exception. One of my assistants brought me your invitation and he said, "Mr. President, I think you would want to join in honoring your dear old friend of many years, Floyd Odlum."

"Absolutely," I said. "But is Floyd running for anything?"
The answer was "No."

"Well," I said, "will there be any candidates there?"
The reply was, "No"—eight times.

"You are sure it is nonpolitical," I said, "no partisan speeches, no fundraising?"
All the answers were "No."
So, here I am.

Personally, as you may observe, I feel very relaxed tonight. It is a wonderful feeling being able to count the days instead of the votes.

Floyd Odlum’s life, his career, and his civic concerns reflect not only a great deal about the man, but a great deal about his country.

He has built a legendary record of personal and financial successes.

But we who know Floyd are much more impressed by the riches that he has given than by the riches that he has received.

His unselfish spirit tells us something about the America that we love. It reflects the truth, I believe, about a land and about a people who, for all of our faults—of which we are constantly reminded—remain, after all, the most compassionate people on the entire earth.

Tonight we honor Floyd Odlum’s contributions to a noble and vital cause: arthritis and the Arthritis Foundation.

For a long time—and especially in the past 4 1/2 years—I have made health and education a very special interest of mine, for at least two reasons:

First of all, it puzzled and it troubled me that these two vital fields were so often, and for so many years, the stepchildren of our public policy.

Second, everything in all my background and my career has led me to the earnest conviction that we can find no solutions for our problems unless we can overcome physical incapacity and ignorance—wherever they exist.

During my administration I have tried to show just how much government can do in these fields.

But I have known all along how little government can really do—without the active and the vocal support of private citizens and private organizations. You are such citizens—and the Arthritis Foundation is such an organization.

Surely no more vexing health problem can be named than the one that you battle: arthritis.
It is the Nation’s number one crippler.
It robs the Nation’s economy of nearly $4 billion a year in lost time, in medical expenses, in diminished strength and productivity, to say nothing of the pain and anguish that flows from it. Worst of all, it ruins lives.

Like so many problems that we face in this Nation of ours, this one is deep-seated and pervasive and mysterious, and still, as yet, unyielding. Like many other problems, it is buried beneath the layers of ignorance and the years of indifference. Like many other problems, this one is a long, long way from final solution. But like most of our problems, it is within our power to solve it. If we have the will, we will find the way.

A very famous commentator on the social scene once said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way .... "

That was Charles Dickens, one of the earlier warriors against poverty and ignorance and illness and injustice. He was describing a period nearly 200 years ago. And he saw many similarities in his own period a little over a century ago.

I think most of you, if you review that language, would find many similarities tonight.

As a people, we Americans have never been as prosperous. Our gross national product has risen to over $830 billion—and the median family income in our America is over $8,000 per year.

In the past 7 years the growth alone of our Nation’s wealth—the growth alone-has been greater than our entire gross national product was just 30 years ago, when I came to Washington.

Yet, we have never been more conscious of—or more troubled about—the poverty in our midst.

More Americans than ever before are in school today. One-third of all the Nation’s population is in school. More people are going to college. More people are going to adult education classes. We start them in Head Start at 4 years old and a good many in adult education at 74 years old. We have more people in job training and all the other forms of education, from the postcradle to the postgraduate.

Yet never have we been more restless about the shortcomings of public education; never have we been more eager to extend the opportunity for learning to those whom we have neglected so long.

Our Nation’s health standards tonight are at an all-time high, measured by any index that you can devise: life expectancy way up, infant mortality, incidence of disease, delivery of health services.

Yet never have we as a people been more anxious and more eager to extend the quality and the reach of our health care.

There are some despairing critics who look at this gap between achievement and expectation and claim there is a sickness in our society.

To me, the fact that we recognize a gap-a gap between achievement and expectation-represents a symptom of health, a sign of renewal, a sign that this great, prosperous, thriving, growing Nation has not yet succumbed to complacency or to self-indulgence.

I suppose there will be many who call me a Pollyanna for saying that, and, as I recall, I have been called worse. But I am no Pollyanna.

I simply refuse to accept the diagnosis of fatal sickness in our society.

I refuse to follow those who say that. I refuse to accept the diagnosis of indifference in our society—and I say "Shame on you who point that out"—because I see and I am thankful that I see millions of Americans and billions of dollars working tonight to conquer poverty and disease and ignorance.

I see an unprecedented outpouring of imagination and concern and money to cure the handicap of poverty.

I refuse to accept a diagnosis of deep racism in our society—because I see a people who are struggling as they have never struggled before to overcome injustice; and I cannot and I will not ignore the progress that we have made in this decade to write equality in our books of law.

I was reading an introduction to a book by MacGregor Burns the other night. We were talking about the progress that we had made in extending equality to our fellow citizens and the progress that I had made.

This distinguished Negro author said, "Mr. President, you are going to have to recognize that you must resign yourself to the fact that we have passed five national laws in recent years to insure equality among men. You are going to have to be satisfied in history with the knowledge that you were instrumental in passing all five of them."

That is one way of saying that in the last few years, the last decade, since the first one was passed in 1957—the one before that was 85 years ago—we cannot correct the neglect and the injustices of a century in a year or even in 4 years—but we are working at it.

Now let’s look at these simple facts. In 30 years of struggle—from 1935 to 1964—we increased the Federal share of our gross national product that went into health andmedical care from .2 percent to .7 percent-in 30 years from .2 percent to .7 percent. Then, in the last 4 years we more than doubled it from .7 percent to 1.7 percent.

The same thing is true in the field of education. From 1935 to 1964, the Federal share of our gross national product for education moved from .1 percent to .7 percent. But in the last 4 years we doubled that, too-in 4 years from .7 percent to 1.4 percent.

Now, these, I think, are some true measures of the progress that you and we, as a people, are making, of how much of our Nation’s wealth that we allocate to these two areas of great public concern—the education of our mind and the health of our bodies.

In the past 5 years, the Federal Government has enacted over 30 major health measures—more than were enacted all put together in the preceding 35 Presidential administrations.

Don’t tell me that we are not conscious of progress in this country. It has more than doubled, in the last 4 years, annual spending on health, from $6 billion to almost $14 billion per year.

We are beginning to see the results. The death rate in the United States is now as low as it has ever been in all this Nation’s history, notwithstanding all of our 20th century adventures and our gadgets. It is 3 percent lower today, our death rate, than it was in 1963 when I came into office, at an annual saving of 54,000 American lives.

We saved 54,000 American lives here. Although we have lost 7,000 in Vietnam, we have saved 54,000 here.

Infant deaths have declined 13 percent since 1963. That is what you have done. That is what your dollars have done. That is what men like Floyd Odlum and the Arthritis Foundation have done.

The infant deaths today are the lowest rate in our Nation’s history, although we are still 15th among the nations of the world in infant mortality. I can’t be proud of that and I am doing something about that, too. We are going to have "Kiddie Care" some of these days just like we have Medicare.

Medicare today brings the guarantee of adequate health services to almost 20 million senior citizens in this country.

No, now is no time to retreat from this progress.

This Nation has not yet solved its problems. We must frankly face it. Poverty, racism, ignorance, and illiteracy still plague us from coast to coast. No section has a complete mortgage on it.

But we are on the move and we are making progress. We ought to acknowledge it. The age-old ills which agitate our communities can be solved.

They will not be solved if we give way to hysteria or to crippling despair or to badmouthing our country all day long, all week long.

They will not be solved if we delude ourselves with labels and slogans which are substitutes for ideas.

They will be solved by realism, by determination, by nonpartisanship, by commitment, and by hope and vision and self-discipline and the generosity—in the heart of all of us—that exists in the heart of Floyd Odlum.

They will be solved by the impatience of the American people—but not by the pessimism and the bad-mouthing of the American people.

They will be solved by the concern of individuals-like the man we honor tonight, and those of his friends who show by their presence where their heart is and where their interest is and where their pocketbook is-organizations like the Arthritis Foundation.

That is why I came here, because I wantto thank all of you on behalf of all Americans.

Who among us knows whether tomorrow we might be one of these unfortunate victims of this crippler?

Yes, we must face the future with the spirit that was attributed to Winston Churchill in a story which may or may not be true. There have been credibility gaps in other periods in our history. I am told that the Prime Minister was visited by a delegation of temperance ladies who came to complain about Mr. Churchill’s consumption of brandy.

One little old lady addressed Mr. Churchill and declared, "Why, Mr. Prime Minister, if all the brandy that you drank in a year was poured into this room, it would come up to here."

Mr. Churchill, the Prime Minister, looked solemnly at the floor, and then at the ceiling, and then at the little lady’s hand somewhere near the midway mark. Then he muttered, "So little done; so much yet to do!"

So I want to leave with that thought-so little that we have done, so much that we have yet to do.
Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:15 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. In his opening words he also referred to Jacqueline Cochran, the aviatrix, who is Mrs. Odlum in private life, Dr. William S. Clark, president of the Arthritis Foundation, and Edwin L. Weisl, Sr., Democratic National Committeeman from New York.


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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "262 Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Floyd B. Odlum, Founder and Chairman of the Arthritis Foundation.," 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 627–628. Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2023,

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "262 Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Floyd B. Odlum, Founder and Chairman of the Arthritis Foundation." 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. 627–628. Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '262 Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Floyd B. Odlum, Founder and Chairman of the Arthritis Foundation.' 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.627–628. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2023, from