Speech to the Democratic Party of Oklahoma

Tulsa, OK | February 15, 1973

This will require first of all a commitment to use the power of government to serve the purposes of the people. Now government is not a popular institution in 1973. But the problem is not with what government can do, but with some of the things it has done. It has fought a war we could not win and failed its promises with programs that did not work. It has taxed and spent and left us asking: But where has all the money gone?

As I flew into Tulsa today I thought about Bob Kerr and the vision he had for this state. I remember well his commitment to the development of Oklahoma's natural resources - her "Land, Wood and Water. " And I remember that upon his death, he had not seen the completion of his dream. But with the help of Governor Hall, these great servants - Ed and Jed, and Jimmy, your great native son Carl Albert and the rest of the Oklahoma delegation, Bob Kerr's dream is fast becoming a reality. The Arkansas River project is navigable all the way right here to Tulsa. And from the tonnage figures I've been shown, in one year and a half, this navigation project has far surpassed the cost-benefit projections the Corps of Engineers estimated for its pay-out. The Corps tells us that the Oklahoma traffic in 1971 was 246,000 tons, and that in 1972, this traffic jumped 453% -- to 1,115,871 tons.

But it's not only the Arkansas navigation. Your Democratic delegation has fought successfully to bring Oklahoma its share of Federal projects to help Oklahoma gain equal advantage with her sister states. Although this is not Thanksgiving, I suppose you can always count your blessings, numbering among them the payrolls and facilities of -- Altus, Vance and Tinker Air Force Bases; Ft. Sill; the McAlester Naval Depot; the R.S. Kerr Water Pollution Laboratory at Ada; the FAA facilities in Oklahoma City; the many flood control projects throughout the state; the great multi-purpose dams like Eufala, Canton and Tenkiller. The list doesn't end there. But we can see that the people of this State and folks like Speaker Albert and Ed Edmondson and Jed Johnson have built the platform for a tremendous economic boom in Oklahoma. But it's just not federal projects or making a living by which we'll be judged as citizens of Oklahoma or as fellow Americans.

These magnificent federal projects have enriched your state, your community, and your lives and are a tribute to the people of your state and our Nation who recognized a problem and an opportunity - and who acted collectively through out federal government in a spirit of community - a spirit of cooperation.

Because in truth these [?] great projects were built through the efforts and energies of the machinist in Cleveland, the truckdriver in Denver, and the teacher in New Haven. They were built by Americans for other Americans - Oklahomans.

And these projects have served their purpose - they have made life better for the people who live here.

But it is not only dams and airports or bases and highways or post offices and payrolls which enrich our lives. You, as Oklahomans and all of us as Americans, know that what really counts in our lives is something you cannot count. It is a feeling, a spirit, a meaning. It is not something which can be described or detailed in any annual report or defined by the Gross National Product.

Because the Gross National Product includes ABM's and Lockheed Loans and wheat deals and "tranquilizers" to give some chemical meaning to empty lives.

The Gross National Product swells with the destruction of the Redwoods and includes security locks for our homes and jails for the people who break them. It includes napalm and nuclear warheads and cigarette advertising.

The Gross National Product counts Arthur Hunt's phone calls.

But the Gross National Product does not reveal the joy of our children at play nor the happiness' of our marriages. It cannot measure the wisdom of our public debate nor the integrity of our public officials.

It does not measure our concern for each other nor our commitment to justice. In short, the Gross National Product tells us everything about ourselves - except who we really are and everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans.

You know this as well as I do and I am grateful as an American and you must be proud, as Oklahomans, to have a man who knows this as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Carl Albert knows that all our riches, all our dividends, and all our stock averages mean nothing - absolutely nothing - while men and women who want to work - do not have a job to go to today and will not have a job to go to tomorrow.

Carl Albert has fought long and hard and effectively for a decent, just life for all Americans - and for putting our Nation's resources where our peoples' problems are.

Our job will never be finished. It will not be easy. But just as men dreamed of building a canal - or a road - or a hospital - we must dare to dream and we must be ready to work - for an America where justice is not a stranger and where compassion is our constant companion.

How do we get the insight, the awareness to make America great not just in competition with other nations but as a community with community spirit right here within the U.S.? How do we bring into the mainstream of American life those who today are left out?

Let's look at America -- at our country -- through many different eyes -- not just our own -- to see what they see. Maybe we can learn, for example, from a factory worker.

For him, this year's higher wages buy even less than last year's lower wages; inflation is deducted from his pay check as regularly as withholding or health insurance. The home he worked and saved to buy is being taxed out from under him. The streets he used to walk without a second thought are in a state of siege, unsafe for himself, let alone for his wife or children; unsafe not only at night, but sometimes at high noon. He sees an America where he is taxed to the full extent of the law, but some millionaires pay no taxes at all; where high interest rates drain his bank account as well as his hopes, while they swell the profits of those who lend the money. He has already done all that he can for himself, and as much as he can for his country.

He takes pride in his labor; he gives thanks for the blessings he has; but somehow he has been shortchanged. He is angry -- and he has a right to be.

Look at America through the eyes of a farmer or rancher.

With the sweat of his brow and the strength of his back, he literally feeds and clothes the nation. But he still does not receive a fair return for his skill and effort. The abundance he produces at low cost moves through middlemen to the marketplace, where it is sold at high prices -- but he never sees most of the profits. Instead, he sees an America where giant agri-business corporations, run by executives who would not know a barn from a silo, are driving him off the land his family has farmed for generations. He sees government as their ally and his enemy. And now he sees government economizing -- not by cutting tax giveaways to the wealthy -- but by slashing the programs that help him to survive. He is angry -- and he has a right to be.

Look at America through the eyes of the poor.

They heard a declaration of war against poverty -- and what they have seen looks more like a war on them. They heard national leadership promise to move them off of welfare rolls and onto payrolls -- and what they have seen is an increase of six million in the welfare rolls in just four years. It is not popular these days to speak for the poor; but I spent years of my public service with them, and I know them. They are not lazy and they want to work. But they see an America where jobs are scarce for them and yet they are blamed for not working. They see an America of Indian Reservations and slums and the shanties of rural poverty. They see society that waged the wrong war in Asia instead of winning the right war in America. They are angry -- and they have a right to be.

And look at America through the eyes of other men and women in other nations.

For almost two centuries, from the moment our forebearers declared the inalienable rights of man, our country had a deep emotional appeal to millions of people around the globe. They saw us as a good and special place -- and they looked to us as a witness for what is best in human affairs. I will never forget one day in the Andes mountains in the early 1960's; there, in a remote village on the otherwise bare wall of a mud hut, I saw a picture of John Kennedy cut out of Life Magazine. That family had never seen a film of President Kennedy or heard his voice. His picture was there because, to them, he stood for America, a name they barely knew but a land they loved. In the eyes of the world, America in those days was the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps – which was not a junket, but a tool of social justice, and a call to a hard but happy service.

How different things are today. In trying to win by force the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, we have lost the hearts and minds of millions in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is easy to say that we do not care -- or to threaten a cutoff of foreign aid -- or to refuse to receive the Ambassador of a country that has been our friend from the beginning. It is easy -- and it is wrong. For no nation is an island, entire of itself. And surely this nation does not want to sacrifice the security of respect and affection from others for the insecurity of their anger and apprehension. This Great Republic was not raised up to be an object of fear, but a vessel of hope.

Now look at America through the eyes of the founding fathers, the immigrants, and the Sooners of 1890.

They believed in Jefferson's dream of an American Revolution for everybody. They began as a little band of settlers on the edge of a vast continent. They explored the mountains and the plains, and made homes there. They crossed deserts to reach the other shining sea, and set sail on that sea to open trade with countries most of them had not even heard of. They planted crops where nothing had grown before, and planned cities where no one had lived before. They sacrificed, and sometimes they died, at home and abroad, for the liberty of this land.

Their America was never a perfect place, but they were always striving to perfect it. There was slavery, but they fought to end it. There was injustice, but they sought to correct it. There was division, but they sought to heal it. They did not always understand what was wrong, they did not always know the right answers. But they moved on -- not just to fill up the open spaces of this continent -- but to fulfill the ideals of this country. They put their faith, not in fate or fortune, but in the work of their own hands. They were brought up on the idea of America -- or they came here to find it -- and they kept it bright even in the darkness of civil war and world war.

So there really are two Americas -- the America of disappointment that too many people see today -- and the America of fulfillment that our fore-bearers saw in the best of their dreams, and we could see only a few years ago. It is this second America which the Democratic Party has always stood for. And it is this America which we must work to restore.

What, then, has happened to the idea of America? It is there ready to be lived again, if we have the will to grasp it, and the wisdom to adapt it to the 1970's. And the people will support us if we can show them that this is the direction of the Democratic Party and that we can find the way.

This will require first of all a commitment to use the power of government to serve the purposes of the people. Now government is not a popular institution in 1973. But the problem is not with what government can do, but with some of the things it has done. It has fought a war we could not win and failed its promises with programs that did not work. It has taxed and spent and left us asking: But where has all the money gone?

Some among us -- those who are for the most part comfortable and content with the America they see today -- say that the answer is to abandon the struggle. They summon us, not to service, but to selfishness. And under a government of selfishness, those who would benefit the most would be the privileged minority who have the most to be selfish about. They can defend their own interests; they can pay their own medical bills; they do not have to worry about unemployment or the cost of their children's education. If we ever decide in this country that that government is best which does least, then the few will end up with too much, and the many will be left to get by on far less than they deserve or earn.

I believe we must offer a different vision. We must look through the eyes of others and see America as it is and America as it can be. And we must continue to reach for a government of justice.

A government of justice does not mean endless giveaways -- but it does mean giving all of us the right to earn and keep a fair share, and none of us the chance to avoid a fair share of the costs of our society.

A government of justice does not mean that welfare will be a way of life -- but it does mean jobs for those who can work, and decency and generosity towards those who cannot.

A government of justice does not mean fiscal irresponsibility and unlimited federal budgets -- but it does mean priority for the problems of people rather than the privileges of the powerful.

And a government of justice does not mean more money for old programs that are ineffective -- but it does mean a new commitment to find effective answers, instead of leaving those who are in trouble to ask questions of a leadership that does not hear.

Of course, we do not know all the solutions. No one ever has, or ever will. We have made mistakes, and a government of justice always will. But that is no excuse to retreat from our difficulties, or to reverse the progress we have already made. And we do know much of what we must do -- from National Health Insurance to full funding of last year's water pollution bill.

It has been written recently that all the Democratic Party has left is the decency vote. I take that as a compliment -- but it is also only a half truth. For there is not a worker or a farmer or a housewife or a poor person in America whose real interests 'do not lie with a government of justice. A government of selfishness cannot reduce property taxes because it will not raise corporate taxes -- but a government of justice can do both.

A government of selfishness cannot serve the majority because it will not restrain the special interests -- but a government of justice can do both.

And unless these things are done -- unless we begin again to keep the promise of America, and to serve the idea of America -- I think we may repeat the experience of 1929 sometime around 1979. Only this time, it will be a depression of values and spirit as well as order and economy. A society cannot simply sit back and let the chips fall where they may; they are likely to hit and hurt too many people on the way down.

I believe we are entering a new period in our history. The age of American globalism has gone. We have learned at frightful cost that we cannot ordain our way of life for the rest of the world; at most, we can offer to help them find their own way.

But we can perfect our way of life at home -- and that is perhaps the surest way to protect our place as a moral leader abroad, so that once again we may be known not for our power to drop bombs, but for our determination to pursue justice. Then, too, we will be able to ask: What has happened to the idea of America, and answer: It is coming true in our own lives.

The Greek poet Sophocles once wrote: "We must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been". America's day has been splendid and it is the faith of the Democratic Party that the evening has not come. So let us now serve that faith, and bring a new day to America and a new light to the world.