Address at the Young Democrats National Convention
"But it is not enough to articulate our grievances. We must also formulate our solutions in the coming campaign. The Democratic Party must specify sounder priorities and more humane objectives. This cannot be done by an invocation of labels without content."
Any society that loses the support of its youth must fail -- and any political party that fails to speak to the problems and aspirations of young people will also fail -- that’s why I am here -- to speak to those problems and aspirations and to enunciate a philosophy -- a frame of mind if you will for all of us Democrats young and old.
We Democrats in general, young Democrats especially, and certainly I, myself, feel a deep obligation to address the youth of our nation. Why?
Because for eight long years -- almost -- the Nixon-Ford Administration has been stonewalling the youth of America.
Not once did Richard Milhouse Nixon bother to speak seriously to the young men and women of America nor did he propose anything to inspire or to challenge them unless you want to count his nocturnal attempt to discuss football scores with students protesting the Vietnam War at the Lincoln Memorial.
Gerald Ford has spent 30 years in the national government in Washington voting against youth -- against the Peace Corps, Headstart, the Job Corps. Against minimum wages; against the Neighborhood Youth Corps, against work-study programs.
Just as I believe deeply in the energy, competence, and willingness to work of young Americans, I disbelieve the fashionable notion is experiencing “a rising of lowered expectations.”
During the Nixon-Ford years, unemployment among young Americans has skyrocketed. Not for forty years have so many healthy, able-bodied young men and women stood idle on the street corners of America. Never have we ever squandered so much of the human energy and creativity of our youth -- with no concern, apparently, with not a second thought, nor even one word of sorrow, or regret, or remorse.
Unlike the Republicans, our Party made, and continues to make, a conscious public effort to reach young Americans, to include them in policy making. Sergio Bendixen, the new National Committeeman from Florida exemplifies what we stand for -- a naturalized citizen, born in Peru, yet at 28 years of age, the newly elected National Committeeman from the ninth most populous State in the nation.
Members of our Party in Congress -- and I myself -- have proposed -- and I repeat the proposal tonight -- a National Service program whereby all citizens from 16 to 22 years of age could serve in private as well as public enterprises, locally as well as nationally, aimed at helping the elderly, the sick, the mentally retarded -- working with the poor, working on the public lands, helping the police. If the Attorney General can be forced by law to identify and publicize a list of harmful organizations proscribed for loyal Americans, surely the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare can list the good agencies and organizations wherein service would be deemed to be in the national interest. It’s time we thought of national service as something more than military service alone. It’s time our unemployed youth are put to work helping to solve our problems rather than contributing to them.
This single suggestion is not meant to exhaust the possibilities but only to indicate the opportunities. But such opportunities, and others, will never appear reasonable to an Administration lost “in the ice of its own indifference.”
With our youth, as with other areas of our life as a national community, we must resist the temptation to torpor and defeatism. Our Bicentennial is no time to write an epitaph. It is time instead to tap our vast reservoir of energies; to draw on a philosophic vision as vital as it was at our birth two centuries ago; to define, and to build, a future worth working toward.
The Democratic Party must articulate a genuine alternative to Republican stagnation. Our Party will deserve victory and serve the nation only if we stand for things worth doing and voting for. In 1976 there will be neither safety nor success in calculated non-commitment. For America there will be neither hope nor help from candidates who oppose the incumbent President, but subscribe to incumbent policies.
For those policies are wrong. They are misguided – ill conceived and poorly executed. They are a throwback to Warren Harding’s clarion call for a return to normalcy -- a call that produced Coolidge, Hoover, and disaster. The telltale signs are’ already beginning to appear again.
Double-Digit inflation is back.
The wage price index has just reached an annual rate of 15.3%.
General Motors raises prices 4.6% on the same day that car sales plummet 28%! Alcoa does the same with aluminum; U.S. Steel with steel. The fewer the airline passengers, the higher the price per ticket. Adam Smith must be tossing in his tomb as his laws of supply and demand are violated by those verbally committed to free private enterprise.
An unelected President has made his predecessor’s disastrous socio-economic policies his own. We have Nixonism without Nixon.
The Administration proposes tax relief for big business- men -- elimination of taxation on dividends, reduction of taxes on capital gains, accelerated investment credits. At the same time, the unemployed are told to wait and stay on welfare. In Washington, that package is known as “Simple Simon’s Syrup Cure”.
The Nixon-Ford Administration which clothed itself in the “work-ethic” and excoriated the welfare chiselers has thrown more men out of work and put more people on welfare.
Mr. Ford says he is a “centrist” -- but he meets no conceivable definition of the term. His policies do not represent the preferences of a majority. Nor do they reflect the compromise of competing interests. Each time he has had a chance to decide, Mr. Ford has taken the side of special privilege.
It is not centrist to veto housing, health care and jobs.
It is not centrist to prevent the restoration of land devastated by strip mining.
It is not centrist to attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Act to establish a voice for the consumer in Washington.
It is not centrist to reduce corporate taxes and oppose tax reform.
It is not centrist to de-regulate the price of natural gas, or to drive oil prices and profits higher than the fondest dreams of OPEC.
It is not centrist to do any of those things -- all of them are regressive. Under the Nixon-Ford Administration, our nation is being driven back to the days of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
Under the Nixon-Ford Administration, nine million Americans are unemployed, millions more are underemployed or out of the workforce. This is no accident, but a deliberate and failed measure to control inflation. Today an average income buys less than it did a decade ago.
But there is no rigorous action to break up monopolies and hold down costs. Instead the White House aggravates inflation by selling our wheat to Russia before it knows the size of the crop.
The hungry cannot eat the centrism of cutting food stamps; the sick will not be healed by the centrism of postponing national health insurance; children will not be taught by the centrism of vetoing aid to education; the ill-housed will not be sheltered by the centrism of higher interest rates.
Plainly, the Ford Administration is insensitive to those who should hold the first claim on Presidential and governmental interest -- the minorities who are discriminated against, the workers without work, the families who pay inflated prices, the taxpayers who make up for the tax evaders, the young who are rightly disillusioned, the old who are wrongly neglected.
But it is not enough to articulate our grievances. We must also formulate our solutions in the coming campaign. The Democratic Party must specify sounder priorities and more humane objectives. This cannot be done by an invocation of labels without content. We will be the Party of working people only if we propose the means to put people back to work. Nor can we offer a mere negation of the present system. Though it may be a great asset today, it is not sufficient to say that we are not Republicans. We must announce commitments as well as candidacies. We must develop programs and philosophies as well as political organizations.
First, let us commit ourselves to hard and honest language. It is no longer possible, if it ever was, to provide everything, to everybody. The tide of the economy after seven years of Nixonism will not rise high enough fast enough to lift all the boats quickly at the same time to a secure harbor. Our natural and material resources are limited. Someone must be responsible for planning. And someone has to pay the bills. Those bills, in large part, can and should be paid by establishing an equitable tax system and by savings in military expenditures. But if we want National Health Insurance, most citizens will have to pay more. It is a lie to say otherwise. I believe that the people will pay for medical and other needs if the burdens are fair, if services are effective and the money spent for the right purposes. And the people will support conservation of energy and preservation of the environment, even at some personal cost, so long as it is for the public interest, not private profit.
Second, let us commit ourselves to a vigorous and stable economic expansion. Instead of subsidizing greed, inefficiency, and monopoly, we should be pursuing a steady expansion of the money supply, lower interest rates, petroleum stockpiles, food reserves, rollbacks of unjustified price increases and a new international economic order.
We must regulate export sales to foreign customers, when necessary to prevent inflation at home. And if labor unions hold down their wage demands, then management must limit its price increases.
We must also un-ravel the corporate labyrinths which have led to an unfree enterprise system. If competition cannot be sustained, or if prices and profits are not restrained, then we should not shrink from aggressive public action to break up concentrated economic power, especially in the energy sector.
Third, let us commit ourselves to a foreign policy of mutual tolerance and economic cooperation. There is no monolithic world conspiracy; there is no reason for American military globalism or giantism. It is wrong and it will not work, as we painfully saw in Vietnam. The age of Bismarkian sabre rattling is gone. The era of a necessary common existence has arrived. We must review our commitments from that new perspective and realization. In some places, a vital interest is at stake and we can keep our commitment -- for example, in Europe and in the Middle East, where we have a fundamental obligation to Israel’s survival and security. Other commitments should be eliminated or limited.
We must accept the interdependence of a world we cannot dominate or escape. Economic isolationism is impossible; the rhetoric of energy independence is cheap, but the reality could cost a trillion dollars. World wide economic involvement is a necessity -- and it is also a moral imperative. Without our food aid, one quarter of the world’s people could perish in famine. We must plan our exports to protect our economy. But also to encourage the economic development of other nations. They, too, have a right to prosper; they have resources to share with us for a fair return
Fourth, let us commit ourselves to the flourishing of our most basic and life-supporting institution: the family. Federal policies, whether in such areas as tax and welfare or in housing and transportation, must be assessed with a view to their impact on American families and their wellbeing. Family impact statements should become as routine as those on environmental impact. Life support centers for the pregnant teenager, parent-child centers for families in crisis, programs to fill the lives of the aged and lonely with the needs of the young and neglected—all of these initiatives demand national leadership with the vision to propose priorities and the humility to recognize the impossibility of attaining them without local creativity and involvement.
Such commitments must be detailed during the course of the campaign. A candidate must offer proposals which are not only principled, but practical. And there is a commitment to be made even beyond conscience, a quality to be demonstrated even more vital than competence. For most of all we need courage, and we need faith.
That was an easier characteristic a generation ago, but it was less essential then. Now for the first time we have lost a war. We have seen a President forced from office for his crimes. We have witnessed over 80% of our people so alienated by government that they express no belief in its basic efficacy or value. In the face of these events, it may seem naive -- even sophomoric to talk of restoring hope and honor in our land. But, despite the enormity of our problems and the depth of disillusionment among some of our people, I am still convinced that America remains today, in the words of Jefferson, the best hope for free men.
Each time I return from a trip abroad, I can’t help being moved once again by the tremendous blessings bestowed upon this wonderful land.
I can’t help having renewed faith in our people.
Show me a people anywhere else in this world who are, by and large, harder working, more generous, more concerned, creative and competent?
Our land -- what country has a better climate for the production of food, a better water supply, better soil, fresh water, timber, minerals and the security of two oceans?
Our political system -- what system has survived longer, over- come larger obstacles, involved more people and afforded greater opportunity than the Democratic processes of the United States of America?
So, I’m convinced that realism and pragmatism can lead us once again to hope. With courage and leadership we can demonstrate that the failures of our recent past have not been failures of the structures of our government or the ideals of our society. The failures have been visited upon us by our mistakes in adopting:
Goldwaterism in Vietnam
Watergatism under Nixon
Recessionism under Ford
I’m against Goldwaterism, Watergatism and Fordism.
So are you. Together we can unite our Party and unite the Nation around a different vision of our future. And since we are right, we will succeed.