Address to Stanford University

Palo Alto, CA | October 28, 1974

To find within ourselves the necessary willpower, will require, also, some profound and definitive thinking about the purpose for which America exists...We cannot be a nation dependent for its ultimate values on cost-benefit analyses...We must reintroduce into the national decision-making process the ethical concerns and attitudes which typified the founders of this nation.

Speaking to this distinguished audience on the campus of one of America's greatest intellectual institutions, I am tempted to follow the customary practice of public figures who try to speak, sound, and even look like an intellectual when they appear at Harvard or Yale, Chicago or Michigan, Stanford or Berkeley. In that tradition, I could have chosen to speak tonight on the likelihood of widespread starvation, the seemingly unresistable spread of nuclear technology and the constant threat of nuclear blackmail. I could have dwelled on the intensification of nationalism particularly in response to economic stresses, or the danger that modern communications, notably television have increased the danger of demagoguery. Hitler derived his powers, it is said, from the effective use of radio. Stalin controlled his despotism through control of the press and of communication.

I could have talked about foreign aid, population growth, pollution or detente with the Soviet Union. And the truth is I have given speeches on all those subjects at other places at other times.

But wouldn't that be copping out and avoiding the most immediate personal and main issue? The fact is we meet tonight just a week before nationwide, political elections. Your future, and the fate of America, possibly for generations, will be determined by the winners in these mid-term elections and by the occupant of the White House beginning in January 1977. So, I decided to take the low road tonight, and speak to you as honestly as I can about politics in 1974 in the USA.

Most advance signs indicate a Democratic sweep in the elections next Tuesday. In New York State a Democratic Governor, Hugh Carey, will take office for the first Democratic administration there in almost a generation; in Michigan and Massachusetts incumbent Republican Governors will most likely lose; in California, I am told, a young Democrat, very much of the present, but also destined for the future, will take over Sacramento as a new Governor Brown. Republican experts are conceding the loss of 20-30 seats in the House and three or four in the Senate. Peter Dominick of Colorado will no longer be voting the Nixon line in the U.S. Senate; a Democrat will replace that Nixon stalwart, Senator Gurney of Florida, now under indictment; Senator Jack Javits, who carried New York by a million votes in his last race, may succumb to Ramsey Clark, who could not get his own Party's nomination three months ago. Even Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, who isn't even running, has announced he may leave the Republican Party to run as an Independent in 1976.

Everyone knows, or thinks he knows, why 1974 seems destined to repudiate 1972; but whatever the reasons, Richard Nixon's famous, fig-leaf mandate, appears headed for a well-deserved oblivion.

Assuming the likelihood of a Democratic sweep -- one Republican said his Party was facing the problems of Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover simultaneously -- what should Democrats do the morning after victory? Or even better what should we be doing now?

Much is clear, much is complicated. But here are a few facts I think we should acknowledge.

First -- If Democratic candidates win decisively, the victory will not be a Democratic Party victory. Gerry Brown and Hugh Carey were not handpicked by Democratic Party politicians. Neither were Ella Grasso, Mary Ann Krupsak or Barbara Mikulski, or Governor Guy in North Dakota, George McGovern in South Dakota, or John Culver in Iowa, or the nominees in Florida, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and elsewhere. The Democratic Party leadership will have to run hard to catch up with the successful candidates.

Secondly, the victory will only be a single victory in the long struggle to set our country right. Let's face it: -- we turned too slowly from a false foreign policy in Asia. It took far long years and 45,000 dead Americans for Nixon and Kissinger to discover the elementary facts detailed in Frances Fitzgerald's marvelous book, -- "Fire In The Lake". Four long years after the Gallup Polls were announcing that more than 60% of all Americans wanted out of Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger, under pressure of an election, finally arranged the end of American participation in that monstrous misadventure. But, still it seems our foreign policy leaders may not have learned the lesson that America cannot shape another nation's future by our own firepower, -- that we cannot be moral men in an immoral war -- that we must stand against the secret subversion of democracy in Chile as we shall finally have to stand against the dictatorship in Viet Nam. Have we learned not "to tilt" toward the military government of Pakistan against the Democracy of India; not to tilt toward the military aggression of Turkey against the newly-recovered democracy of Greece; not to tilt toward the military dictatorships of Spain, or Portugal, or Brazil.

I'm not sure we've learned to side with the people against the oligarchs and autocrats. Victory in this election should not seduce us into thinking we have won the struggle to set America right. We are taking only one more step along the way.

Here, closer to home, thanks to Chairman Peter Rodino, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, James Mann of South Carolina, Barbara Jordan, Elizabeth Holtzman, Bob Kastenmeir and some astute Republicans, we have reasserted the principle that the rule of law must reach the highest places as well as the lowest stations of life. We have driven the first ranks of the wire-tappers and the repressors from power. And within the last few weeks Americans have reacted with dismay to a President who should be fighting crime instead of pardoning it.

The voters on November 5th will reject the initial thrusts of Gerald Ford's Presidency. They will not accept his betrayal of his word to let the process of justice run its course; they will not accept this weakness on the economic issue; nor his choice, so sadly familiar, to feed an insatiable Pentagon while starving essential programs for people. We hoped for a different kind of Presidency, but we have gotten the same polities from the same men. Only now they are glossed over with a square- shouldered, square-jawed simplicity and candor. Guilelessness, however, is no substitute for guile.

It is not enough to replace the trickiest, hidden-ball quarterback in Presidential history with a cheerleader who "hands off” to someone else on every play, while passing out "WIN buttons" to the spectators. It is not enough to say that the Fords and the Nixons; the Agnews and the Rockefellers; the big Johns, Mitchell and Connolly; the little Johns & Rons, Dean and Ziegler, are bad! The Democrats must be better and we must prove we are better by what we do. For if we fail, too, where will America turn? To Angela Davis and Patricia Hearst? To Max Rafferty and Ronald Regan? To the Alexander Haigs of the Pentagon and the Harold Geneens of industry?

Will Democrats be content to change the nameplates on the doors and desks -- or will we insist on changing the way policy is made behind those doors and desks?

Will Democrats be content to elect our candidates -- or will we commit ourselves to fight for a fair society?

Will Democrats be content to count the votes of the people -- or will we listen to their views as well?

The people in this election are telling us how to make policy: -- not cautiously, not by the partisan calculation, not by a devious weighing of political advantage -- but openly and honestly. The people are saying that the truth should be the least we accept from all our leaders; for too long, it has been more than we could expect from most of them.

So the Democrats must begin by telling the truth, even when it is hard to say or hear.

Let's forget and forego phrases, game plans, slogans and gimmicks like "WIN buttons". They will not steady our economy: they do not lower prices; they only devalue further the capacity and credibility of government. Let's take the simple, unusual step of stating the facts. For example, about this inflation! It is different from the inflations of the past. Its roots are international as well as domestic. It will not give way to a single, simple solution drawn from Adam Smith or Frederick von Hayeck, from Milton Friedman or Paul Samuelson. Not even John Kenneth Galbraith can solve this inflation by himself.

But we can seek solutions instead of issuing press releases. Officially inspired headlines may hail the discovery of oil off the West Coast of Mexico -- but the fine print reports that the wells will not produce at capacity until 1980. A possible supply of oil five years in the future will not decrease energy prices now -- or increase energy availability -- or free us from the grip of an Arab monopoly and the international cartels. This country cannot wait five years to protect its people and its Middle Eastern policy; we must never see the day when gasoline costs two dollars a gallon -- or some Secretary of State barters Israel for a tankful of fuel.

There are alternatives. They have hardly even been explored because officeholders have been afraid even to express them. But here are some inescapable truths:

  • In the near future, we will probably have to ration gasoline -- we cannot afford price increases which have totaled $16 billion the last year alone.
  • We will have to drive smaller cars -- even if that means smaller profits for General Motors. But the auto industry isn't going to switch merely because the public interest requires it. We need public action, such as a horsepower tax, to discourage continued production of gas-guzzlers.
  • We should study seriously, now, the immediate use of the Navy's vast oil reserves, for if this is to be a genuine "war against inflation", the Defense Department can participate along with the rest of us.
  • We will have to use less air conditioning, take fewer airline flights, buy fewer appliances, consume less and conserve more.
  • And wherever voluntary efforts fall short, we will have to adopt mandatory controls! Los Angeles may even have to start a public transportation system!

Such harsh measures could not resolve our energy problems overnight, but they would relieve them over time. They would advertise to the world, moreover, that the American people have not grown flatulent with affluence - that we are ready and able to adapt to a planet short of resources and politically resistant to sharing them. They would reveal our awareness that only by sharing what we have, will we be able to share in what others have; only by limiting what we use, can we liberate our economy from foreign abuse.

We should admit that whatever course we choose will prove only a partial response to inflation. Whatever weapons we wield, the battle will probably be long and hard-fought. Like Franklin Roosevelt, we must be ready to admit that we do not have final answers, that we are willing to try many measures to find the ones that work. And like Franklin Roosevelt, we must recognize that the search will require sacrifice from each of us.

Now sacrifice is a favorite political word -- it evokes the best moments of our history from Valley Forge to Pork Chop Hill to the Freedom Riders of Alabama. Yet these days, we hear the words of sacrifice, but we do not have the substance. Sacrifice should mean that when unions and workers are forced to restrain wages, business and banks must be forced to restrain profits, and interest rates as well. The blunt truth is that wage and price controls did not fail. They were not fully tried. There were exemptions for W. Clement Stone's insurance company -- after Stone gave nearly a million dollars to Richard Nixon's political campaigns...There were billions of dollars worth of exemptions for utilities. But there was no exemption for the families of Los Angeles, of San Jose -- San Clemente maybe but not San Jose. Who would trust this Administration to be fair now? Who would trust a White House where the senior Economic policymaker says that those now suffering most are stockbrokers!

Sacrifice to achieve a fair society means the opposite of the new Ford tax program, which is a direct descendant of the Nixon economic policies. Here is what the President wants to do: Raise taxes on the middle class and lower taxes on corporate investment. Here is what the new Democratic Congress ought to do: lower property taxes on homeowners, and raise taxes on excess profits.

Most fundamentally, a fair society means a fair distribution of America's resources and power. The largest corporations and the wealthiest individuals today control more of the economy than they did a generation ago. They sell pajamas for our children which catch fire. They corrupt the political process with secret contributions. They lobby for higher prices and a lower minimum wage, against National Health Insurance and worker safety. Government giveaway programs are not the answer -- for people are not asking to be given something they do not deserve. Rather they want control over their government, their economy and their lives.

This will require actions which politicians have hardly dared to speak, let alone mean. It will mean

  1. Strict enforcement of the anti-trust laws -- and if current laws are too weak, or the current enforcers too soft, then let us have new laws and a new enforcement system.
  2. Strict controls on lobbying and campaign contributions, strictly enforced -- so the laws of this land will be written in the halls of Congress and not in lobbyist's offices.
  3. Strict prohibitions against conflicts of interest -- so that generals do not retire from the Pentagon one day and return the next day in a business suit to sell their friends another wasteful weapons system;
  4. It will mean a new and strict accounting of our entire economic system -- to eliminate welfare for the rich in the form of tax subsidies, to secure a fair break for the rest of us, so that every citizen will have the chance to earn enough and to keep a fair share of the income he earns.

We face difficult days ahead, months -- perhaps years -- of inflation and recession at the same time, years -- perhaps an era -- of international resource shortage. Yet like other Americans before us, we can overcome our difficulties if we have a sure sense of confidence in our leadership. This confidence must be earned, not claimed. Now it is the Democratic opportunity -- and the Democratic obligation -- to earn it by the simple act of telling the truth -- and acting in accordance with that truth.

For my part I suggest we focus our attention and truth telling on six subjects of top importance: jobs, food, health, justice, energy, and money.

In the most simplistic terms -- because time is short and this speech already long -- I suggest: --

First, a national mobilization to provide jobs for all Americans physically capable of work. We need a Republican Governor, like Tom McCall -- or a labor leader like Leonard Woodcock, not a labor sell-out like Peter Brennan -- to energize a national program for both public and private employment of all able-bodied Americans.

Second, on the subject of food I suggest we call for the ouster of Earl Butz -- who has managed the greatest inflation in food prices of any bureaucrat in American political history. He should be replaced by someone like Lester Brown, Jean Mayer- or Norman Borlag. And we need more than a change of personnel in the Department of Agriculture. We need a total change in our policies on food -- its production and distribution, in this country and throughout the world. We cannot long survive in a world in which we Americans choke our bodies with a cholesterol-enriched diet of grain-fed beef, while millions endure hunger and die for want of grain and cereals.

Our grain should not be given away. We want to discourage dependency -- whether of our farmers or other countries. Rather, let us work out a humane program to use those famous petro-dollars now over- whelming our international money markets to serve human needs. For example, the oil rich moguls of the Middle East could purchase American wheat for distribution to impoverished Moslem countries which have no oil, but millions of hungry people. The Moslems of Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Iran, and the Persian Gulf are much richer than the Longshoremen of San Francisco, the autoworkers of Detroit, the farm workers of Delano, or the students in Palo Alto.

Third, I suggest we call for the end of Casper Weinberger's regime at H.E.W., where welfare costs have skyrocketed, where education leaders have been disillusioned or fired, one after the other; where health has been handed over to the insurance companies. Instead of Weinberger, we need medical experts like Dr. John Knowles, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and Dr. Philip Lee of University of California; educators like Kingman Brewster of Yale; Edward Levi of Chicago, Derek Bok of Harvard, and Franklin Murphy of Los Angeles. We need welfare revisionists like John Veneman, who was driven out of the Nixon Administration.

Leaders of this caliber already know what needs to be done. They could rescue America from its unenviable position as the only industrial nation in the world with no national health security program; the most wasteful welfare program; and with its education out of the reach of Viet-Nam veterans, the poor and Spanish-speaking. Even for Stanford graduates medical school or law school education is becoming exceedingly difficult to obtain.

Fourth, we need a revolution in the Justice Department. We need a serious, learned, imaginative, open-minded Attorney General like Richardson or Ruckleshaus -- not an open-mouthed lightweight like the present incumbent. Former Presidents of the American Bar Association -- Republicans like Bernard Siegel of Philadelphia, Bill Gossett of Detroit, or Orison Marden of New York are available. Why are they never asked?

A Department of Justice under such leadership could replace frustration with hope for the reform of our criminal justice system -- a system archaic by comparison to great Britain's justice for the poor and the middle class who are gouged by today's high prices for lawyers and the unbelievable delays in civil as well as criminal matters would be top priority items for such an Administration of justice.

Fifth, we need an over-all plan for our economy as well as a comprehensive foreign economic policy. Why doesn't the Administration seek men of the caliber of Del Clawson of the Bank of America or Felix Rohayton of Lazard Freres New York, and put them to work to protect and enhance the purchasing power of the dollar. President Ford declares "war against inflation", but the same tired soldiers who have lost all the battles remain in charge of the campaign.

I hope you notice that I have mentioned primarily Republicans of stature, intelligence, and experience for these Herculean jobs. Their existence and availability only illustrate the wealth of talent across the nation. In addition to them, America has dozens more men and women who are Independents or Democrats. But they are never asked to help.

Why? Because our leaders with the single exception of Henry Kissinger, have small horizons, little national, and no international experience. They are timid, and apparently without internal resources or convictions. How can the American people put their confidence in faceless Cabinet officers who palled along with Nixon to the end, never expressing a doubt or dismay or disgust with his leadership. Even to this day, they are silent and subdued. No wonder we have no international monetary or economic policy, no international food policy, no national health or justice policy, no program to insure jobs.

Instead, we have a President campaigning a la Agnew for partisan political advantage to protect himself, we are told, from Congressional “vetoes”. “‘Vetoes’ of what?” asked the Wall Street Journal last week. He hasn't proposed or opposed anything worthy of a veto except his ill-starred anti-inflation package, or his pardon of Richard Nixon. Or is it to protect the Republic from budgetary extravagance by Congress?, asked the same Wall Street Journal. The newspaper answered that question by recalling that the Nixon Administration had amassed the largest peacetime deficits in American history -- while Congress has cut more than $30 billion from Nixon's own requests.

My friends, we in America face an accumulation of problems neglected by our leaders -- first because of the Vietnam War and Watergate morass, and now because of incompetence. Our national security cannot be safeguarded by military power alone or by undercover agents so out of touch with reality that they think Larry O'Brien's desk drawers contain proof of Communist subversion. We must get new leaders at least aware of what the problems are: -- jobs, food, health, justice, stability for our money and respect for our capacity to take the hard steps for national survival.

To take such hard steps, to find within ourselves the necessary willpower, will require, also, some profound and definitive thinking about the purpose for which America exists. Ours cannot be a purely pragmatic purpose: We cannot be a nation dependent for its ultimate values on cost-benefit analyses. Alternative courses of action must be evaluated not only in economic terms or military terms or geopolitical terms or in accordance with mere utilitarianism. We must reintroduce into the national decision-making process the ethical concerns and attitudes which typified the founders of this nation -- Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin. I do not mean that we should rely solely on their 18th century philosophy, or their ethics of the Enlightenment Period. But I do say that we should consciously and publicly state why we choose one course of action over another. This may well be the most difficult challenge of all. We Americans for the most part are not given to philosophical or moral speculation, but such thinking is essential if we are to rationalize our policies on anything but the most superficial grounds of national expediency.

To this, anyone could easily respond by saying, “What is the purpose of America?” Which reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's book "Breakfast of Champions". Perhaps you will remember that the hero in that book on one occasion visited a men's room. Scrawled on the wall was the question, "What is the purpose of life?" to which Kurt Vonnegut's hero scrawled his response: "The purpose of life is to be the eyes and ears and conscience of the creator of the universe."

Your Stanford education will have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of your professors if each of you would follow that admonition from "Breakfast of Champions". I am sure, too, that Kurt Vonnegut would join with me in expressing the hope that each of you will be the eyes of God, not just to see, but having seen, to shape human life in his likeness, that you will be the ears of God, not just to hear, but having heard, to speak by your words and strive by your work for what is right, that you will be the conscience of God, not just to know the truth, but to heed it in whatever you do with the talents and time you have been given.

That is the way, not only to a life beyond this one, but to a more truly human life here.

It may even be the way to success in politics.