Speech at the Alabama Young Democrats Convention

"Our constitution lives and our country is stronger for the trial through which we have passed. We, too, will be lighted down to the last generation, not because we did an heroic thing -- though it was hard, but because we did our duty -- even when it was a heavy burden for the congress And the country."
Birmingham, AL • September 06, 1974

We meet in a time of renewed faith in the nation.

No American is happy about the misdeeds of former President Nixon -- for no president should have done them. No American is happy about what happened to Mr. Nixon – for this should never have had to happen to any president of the United States. But as Americans, we can be happy, even joyful, at a single, simple, fundamental fact: our system works. We have proved in our time the validity of the vision our Forefathers set down in a distant time. We have become once again a witness to the world for the principles of free Government:

That people have a right to leaders who correct evils instead of committing them.

That the rule of law can prosecute the guilty in the highest as well as the humblest places.

That men may come and go, but a nation of laws can retain its power and position in the world if it remains firm in its commitment to liberty and justice for all.

Our constitution lives and our country is stronger for the trial through which we have passed. We, too, will be lighted down to the last generation, not because we did an heroic thing -- though it was hard, but because we did our duty -- even when it was a heavy burden for the congress And the country.

Yet for some Democrats, renewed faith now appears to breed new doubts. They seem to count their country’s gain as their party’s loss. They worry about running against an incumbent president or about the size of our majority in the next congress.

Well, they are right about one thing: it would have been easier for us to win with a used Nixon rather than a new Ford In the White House. But they are wrong about the most important thing: what is good for the nation cannot be bad for the Democratic Party. So let us hear no more predictions of defeat. Our success as Democrats did not depend upon our failure as Americans. Now and in the election of 1976, we can campaign -- and we can prevail -- on a proud record in the past and a decent sense of purpose for the American future.

First, we can be proud that during Watergate we put patriotism ahead of party, principle ahead of partisanship. No major Democratic voice was heard to urge that for the sake of our political fortunes we should let Nixon dangle slowly, slowly in the wind for the next two years. No major voice was raised to argue the advantages of a Democratic dominated Congress running the government, while a ruined Republican president hid in the White House hoarding his incriminating tapes. Instead good Democrats did the right thing, not the political thing. In the Congress, Southerners and Northerners alike followed the constitution and conscience to the difficult but inescapable conclusion. And in the end, there were no sectional lines or regional difference. There were no Southerners or Northerners. There were only Americans.

Walter Flowers of Alabama and Peter Rodino of New Jersey voted the same way in the judiciary committee -- not because they are both Democrats, though they are -- not because they always agree on issues, for they do not -- but because this was an issue which transcended smaller, more momentary considerations of party. Perhaps it will be harder to win now that right has been done in the Watergate case, but the Democratic Party will be worthy of winning because we helped to do what was right.

Second, we can be worthy of victory by the purposes we seek for our country.

We must begin with a fair recognition of the facts: We commend President Ford for his honesty. We support his efforts to unite the nation.

But we must add these blunt truths as well: honesty is a minimum requirement to hold the presidency, not a maximum qualification for keeping it. Unity is the obligation of national leadership, for no president should see and treat fellow citizens as mortal enemies.

The real question is what we will do with honest leadership and as a united country. Gerald Ford is a plain-spoken president. So as Democrats, let us speak plainly to him -- and to the people: let us say: Mr. President, we want you to change an anti-inflation policy which favors the few and fails the vast majority of Americans.

Today the only thing increasing as fast as corporate profits is the price of bread. It is time to take the profit out of inflation. It is time to stop telling only workers to ask what they can do for their country and to start telling the privileged to do their fair share, too. And it’s time to paraphrase something George Wallace once said: the briefcases of one set of pointy-headed bureaucrats should be thrown into the Potomac River -- and that’s the set of Nixon economic advisers.

This is a new administration. The president says it’s an open administration. So let’s open the door to economic common sense. Let’s find new economic advisers -- and maybe we should even make a rule that once a week, they have to shop for the family groceries.

The Nixon economic policies under another name will smell just the same. Secretary of agriculture Earl Butz is as bad under Mr. Ford as he was under Mr. Nixon. Just a few days ago, he told us we shouldn’t worry too much. Farm prices are going to rise only 10% next year. Isn’t that wonderful -- there will be a lot of food, but no one will be able to pay for it. That kind of doubletalk is in the best Nixon tradition.

And along with new economic advisers, we need new economic policies. Whatever course we choose, it must be set within the bounds of fairness.

This time, no restraint should be placed on wages unless it is equally placed on prices, profits, and interest rates. The last time, prices continued to climb, while earnings declined -- and all we kept hearing from the white house was that inflation was under control. All along I kept wanting to know the name of Mr. Nixon’s supermarket.

This time, no special favors should be handed out to Republican campaign contributors . The last time, the only possible explanation for some hardship exemptions from price controls was that corporations had looted their income to give more money to creep.

This time, no press releases and public relations claims can substitute for effective policy. The last time, the administration waited until the economy was suffering inflation and recession together -- and the only man who was still making money was Bebe Rebozo.

And this time, we want action which not only promises but actually works to stop inflation. The white house budget director says it will take at least two years. But the families of America can’t wait two years. They can’t afford another 20% loss of income. And just by coincidence, two years will take us past the 1976 election. I don’t want that campaign to see just another promise to control prices. For as we’ve just learned again, a re-elected president can give us some real surprises after his re-election.

There’s another thing we have to say to the new president now. We have to tell him: Mr. President, we agree with your pledge to cut the budget -- but we want you to slash waste and giveaways, not programs for average citizens who pay the bill for the federal budget.

Let’s cut out the loans to Lockheed and keep the loans to homebuyers.

Let’s repeal the investment tax credit for big business so we can pass a tax cut for working men and women.

Let’s lower the level of interest rates instead of the quality of health care.

And if in the end we need more cutbacks, I’d rather reduce lavish pension benefits for ex-presidents who resign than the already minimal benefits for ex-G.I.’s who fought in Vietnam.

Maybe President Ford won’t see it this way. In fact, his record in the congress was almost completely reactionary. He voted against the Peace Corps. He voted against Medicare. He voted against Social Security increases. He voted against the dollar and twenty-five cent minimum wage. He voted against the war on poverty and he always voted for the war In Vietnam -- which cost the taxpayers of this country over one hundred billion dollars. And if that is the kind of course he pursues in the presidency, the people are going to vote against Gerald Ford in 1976.

But maybe he will be different in the White House than he was in the House of Representatives. Just as the individuals who hold the office can change the presidency, so the presidency may change them.

We can hope it will change Mr. Ford -- so he will stand for a fair break for the average citizen.

And we can make this a great issue, now and in the elections to come. We can take it to the people. We can tell the country the truth -- that government for the powerful and the privileged is not right no matter who rides on Air Force One -- Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford.

There is a final truth about economics which we must tell both the people and the president. It is that the value of our dollar is being destroyed by unfair taxes as well as unchecked Inflation.

In the last five years, there has been an $80 billion federal tax cut for big business. But there has been no tax cut for workers and small business.

Today there are millionaires who pay no taxes at all. Today there are corporations who pay dividends to stockholders but no taxes to government. Now, as democrats and as Americans, we must say that this is wrong.

If an executive can deduct his forty dollar business lunch, why can’t a machinist deduct his McDonald’s hamburger?

If an oil company can deduct the costs of drilling, why can’t a worker deduct the cost of his children’s education?

The tax system is an insult to every honest, hard-working citizen. If the eye of the needle had been as large as the loopholes in our tax code, the proverbial camel could have sauntered through with room to spare.

Tax reform is a critical item on the national agenda. That agenda was postponed by Watergate. Now it must be restated, debated, and fulfilled. We must fight inflation -- fairly. We must reform taxes -- promptly. And we must address the great questions of war and peace, defense and priorities -- openly, honestly, and with imagination.

This is the task of the democratic party in 1974. On the one hand, we must respond to President Ford by supporting him when we believe he is right. On the other hand, we must work to set things right when we believe the President is wrong.

We must work in a spirit of cooperation, and with a commitment to our own principles. We will be rewarded, by history and at the polls, if we play the proper role of the loyal opposition -- loyal to our conscience and our country, opposed to the easy expediency of trying to please everyone by standing for nothing unless it is already popular.

So I have come here today to say that the Democratic Party can be strong if it is outspoken. We need not be defensive or dismayed. And we must not be afraid to oppose an honest president when he is mistaken just as we opposed a president who was both mistaken and dishonest.

For we have a noble and historic tradition. Fundamentally -- and from the beginning -- the democratic party has been the party of the people. We have cared about them, worked for Them, and enhanced their lives and their livelihood. The Republicans are the party of special privilege, corporate giveaways, and tax favoritism. They have changed leadership, but I see no signs that they have joined the Democrats.

Until they do, we will continue to occupy the true majority ground of American politics. And if we remain true to our traditions, we will win in 1974; we will build a record of achievement in 1975; and we will defeat Gerald Ford in 1976.

Now let us move forward to finish that work. Let us labor on in the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt’s words to the Nation in 1936. Sometimes democratic victory is easy, for to some generations much is given. But at other times, victory is hard, for of other generations much is expected. This time, we will win, whether it is hard or easy, for this generation of Democrats has a rendezvous with destiny.

Thank you.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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