Hubert H. Humphrey, Former U.S. Vice President
January 9, 1970
How we can make our government work
I want to talk today about our social order, our government, this country, its role in the world. I've said that the topic would be "How We Can Make Our Government Work"—or perhaps I should say work better. I want to talk to you about the federal structure of our government. I realize this isn't the most soul-gripping topic. It isn't politically sexy, but it is terribly important.
Decade of Discovery
Let us take a look at the 60's. I don't want to spend too much time on them—but let's take a quick look and then we will look ahead to the 1970's. The 1960's could well be described as the decade of dissent and discovery . . . the decade of war and worry. It was a period in which we—in a sense—discovered ourselves.
Everybody is trying to do that these days. And when you try to discover yourself—your individual identity or your national identity—you have to be prepared to discover some things you may not like.
The 1960's saw us, 15 years after World War II, with vast changes that had taken place worldwide—and yet with many habits in the American political and social structure that had not changed.
The 1960's found us with unprecedented economic prosperity— and yet with a poverty of spiritual resources—with no real satisfaction out of our affluence, even though that's what most of the people of my generation thought was most important.
We were the sons and daughters of the depression, and to us economic security was vital. We learned the hard way. There were no jobs; the nation was prostrate. The leaders that were in power —in business, in government, in labor, in every institution in our country at the beginning of the 1960's with few exceptions—were men and women who had suffered the anguish and the pain and the disaster of war—world war—, of depression—worldwide depression.
Our Major Objectives
Therefore our major objectives were to see, number one, that never again would a depression level this nation and this world. And we spent our time trying to create the economic mechanism that would assure the production of goods and services to guarantee economic health for the nation.
Perhaps we forgot that man does not live by bread alone.
But we did learn—also learned the hard way—that isolated as a nation, there was no security. We learned it from Hitler and Tojo; we learned it from the tragedy of World War II. We learned that isolation was dangerous and that aggression likewise was dangerous, and therefore we bound together in many pacts and alliances called collective security.
I think maybe we failed to recognize that you can overdo that as well.
Too Much Confidence; Too Little Understanding
So the 1960's could be described as a time when we had too much confidence in our wealth, too much confidence in our power —thinking that wealth was goods and services and that power was military might and alliances. There was far too little emphasis, I suppose on real power, namely, reason arid understanding, knowledge directed to action, a knowledge with commitment.
Let me say as I speak to you that knowledge without commitment may be wasteful, but commitment without knowledge is dangerous. So we were treading on wasteful and dangerous ground.
We had a little too much confidence in our science and technology. We were overwhelmed—awed—by computers, by electronics, by the Space Age—thinking that these things would somehow or other bring us the millennium. We failed to recognize that science must be a tool for man; that it must be his servant, not his master.
The 1960's taught us that we should make science and technology our servants and this requires that we have political conviction, political decision, and social decision.
To Achieve Our Goals
What I am saying is that we have created the material means to do the great things that need to be done. The question is whether we, as individuals, have the willingness to do what the founders of this republic said we would have to do if we wanted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: namely, to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the achievement of these goals.
In the 1960's, a great deal of self-analysis took place. For the first time, we began to appreciate the ugliness, the sin, the immorality, and the indecency of racism—and may I say to this campus that this is still a central problem in our society. But at least we have come to grips with it, at least we have faced it.
The first sign of health is recognizing your sickness. A strong nation and a great people do not run away from their problems, they confront them head on—and recognize that they can be solved.
We came face to face with the fact of hunger in our midst at a time of unbelievable production of foodstuffs. We came face to face with the fact of poverty in the richest nation on the face of the earth. I am not talking about people just being poor. To be poor is one thing; to be the victim of poverty is an entirely different thing.
Victims of Poverty
People who are poor can have their troubles remedied by money; but the victims of poverty have suffered defeat and failure. They are hopeless and helpless. They have lost motivation and self-respect, and they are sick in a very serious and fundamental way—and it takes more than just income or income maintenance to bring them out of that sickness.
We are coming to grips for the first time with the hidden poor and with the victims of poverty.
An Urban Population
And we found in the 1960's that we were a nation of cities. Demographers tell us that by the year 2,000, ninety percent of our people will live in cities of over 200,000 people each. As a matter of fact, seventy-five percent of our people already live in such cities. And all at once, the problems of noise, of congestion, of slums, of overlapping governmental jurisdiction, of the inadequacy of social services and resources was right on our doorstep.
Polluters and Pollution
And we began also to realize that our environment, our physical environment, was being destroyed. In fact, that environment was becoming more dangerous to our well-being than the weapons of our military arsenals. The young men and women of today understand that—at least they are beginning to understand it. Pollution —the polluters and pollution—came into focus.
And I believe, too, that out of the agony of a tragic and costly, painful, festering war we have begun to understand our role in the world—that we cannot be the world's policeman. We must act as a partner and as a scholar, as a doctor and a healer and a technician. The role I hope we will play is that of a good neighbor. We cannot decree that America must have its way and that other people must do our bidding.
The Right to be Different
I think one of the greatest statements made in the sixties was made by the late President Kennedy when he said that our purpose is to help make the world safe for diversity—for the right to be different—and he coupled that with the right to be different in peace, without violence.
There is no guarantee, you know, that democracy, this fragile strategy of human relations, can endure. Many democratic systems are short-lived because we believe that all we need to do is to legislate, write, ordain, and it happens.
We're privileged as a people to have grown in the traditions of Anglo-Saxon law. We are privileged as a people to have had forebears who were unique and scholarly students of social structure. They were the scholars of Locke, and they were the scholars of Rousseau. They were the scholars of the Greeks and the Romans and the great philosophers of the Middle Ages.
And at the time that our Constitution was written, it was written for all generations yet to come — and the key to the federal system in this country is that our Constitution is written in the present tense.
The preamble of the Constitution of the United States says "we the people of these United States do ordain and establish"—at this hour, today, here in Manhattan, Kansas—it did not say "did ordain and establish" in Philadelphia.
It is in the present tense. It is a contemporary document. It is a living instrument; and because it is that, it changes just like the human body and the human mind and the emotions of human beings, and all living organisms.
How Government Changes
The government of the United States draws its powers from that Constitution and the Constitution draws its powers from the people —so that government must change and the social structure must also change.
And what we seek is change with order and order with change. It's a tremendous assignment. And it requires that we understand the difference between dissent on the one hand and violence on the other; the difference between liberty and license; the difference between rights and privileges.
Now, we all know that in the early days of our country, communication didn't amount to much. And the government most responsive and responsible to the people was local government.
If I asked a student of mine at the University of Minnesota or Macalester College to write a paper on the government of the United States in the year 1825 and he spent over one paragraph on the government in Washington, I would flunk him—because the government of the United States in 1825 was in the townships and in the villages and in the cities (and small cities they were), in courthouses and possibly in the statehouses.
And when I hear people today talking about governments in other lands—whether it be a government in New Delhi or whether it be a government in Peking, or whether it be a government in Saigon or wherever else it may be—I think it is important that we remember that in developing countries or in agricultural countries, government that really affects people's lives is close, local.
A Multi-racial Society
But communication changed that in our country. And communication has brought us together as one people from many, a pluralistic society, a multi-racial society, seeking common purposes. It is not too difficult to govern a homogeneous people, but remember that this is one of the few free countries in the world—one of the few countries with representative government—with free elections. This is one of the few countries—and the only major one— that has a multi-racial base.
Our people are drawn from every area of the world. And the task of bringing about responsible, responsive, representative, broadly participating government in such a society is no small task —and there are no instant ways to achieve it. But we've had presidents who have been talking to us about these things. President Kennedy and President Johnson talked about what they called Creative Federalism. One of them talked about a new frontier, one of them about a great society. President Nixon has talked about the new federalism. What they are all saying is that things have changed, and that federalism today is no longer a limitation on the powers of the federal government, but a positive assertion of the cooperative relationships between federal government, state governments, city, county, and other local government units; between universities and governments; universities and hospitals, and voluntary agencies, professional and trade associations, labor associations, and the whole spectrum of the private sector.
Now why do I give you that broad description? Because today there isn't a single problem that confronts this country that can be handled successfully by any one of these governmental structures or any one of these groups. No problem. Racism cannot be handled by the trade unions or business or the churches or the universities. It requires both legal sanctions and a change of heart and attitude and prospective.
The congestion of our cities, of our highways, of our traffic lanes, cannot be handled by any one level of government.
So what we are talking about is a great new partnership. Possibly the greatest contribution of the space program, into which we poured great resources, is not that man set his foot on the moon and took that great stride for mankind, but that the space program demonstrated that modern society requires a partnership of private and public sectors, a partnership of the university with the private economic community and the government and all other segments of society.
And it requires new management methods. The space program was more than science and technology. It was a demonstration of the mobilization of resources and of commitment to a goal—with the willingness to pursue it relentlessly.
Ladies and gentlemen, while I know you cannot always translate the facts of science and technology into the social sciences, you can concentrate the commitment, the national decision, the mobilization of resources, the national goal, and in these ways, the space program told us what we can do.
Any nation that can do what we did in less than a decade of space science and technology can surely, help put a man on his feet right here on earth.
And that's exactly where the action needs to take place. We can't escape this planet—this is our space—this is our space satellite. We're on it together, and we are either going to keep it together and preserve it together, or we will destroy it together.
A Time of Decision and Dissent
The 1960's have shown us these possibilities. That's why I call it a time of decision and dissent—there was dissent against the inadequacies of the moment, dissent against old practices which no longer work; but there was also great discovery, discovery of what we could do, the possibilities that are ours.
This new federalism, therefore, wasn't so much a delineation of power between national and state government as it was a pattern or description or formula of cooperative partnership of all levels of government in concert with private resources, the partnership of creative federalism.
Your government—and that's what we're talking about—was designed to maximize and mobilize the nation's resources for the achievement of national goals and the solution of increasingly complex problems. This is the only modern industrial nation in the world that lacks a system to establish our priorities.
Goals are Needed
We do not have unlimited resources. We need to have goals, we need to set priorities. If I were to go through this audience and ask you to list our priorities according to what you believe their significance should be, there would be as many ideas about priorities and goals as there are people
This is not the way you direct the energies of a nation. I had some awareness of and some participation in the new legislation of the fifties and sixties, legislation that for the first time carried broad statements of national purpose.
In a whole basketful of categories, the federal government made clear its determination to improve the conditions and opportunities of life for all the citizens in our society. This new federalism emphasizes one vital point: the citizen is not only a citizen of the state or locality, he is above all a citizen of the United States of America, and therefore is entitled to every protection and every guarantee of the Constitution.
The emphasis of the sixties—which will carry forward for the rest of this century—is upon that citizenship, that national citizenship, and the federal policy is to emphasize that United States Citizenship.
Congress once and for all has asserted the primacy of the national interest in a broad range of activities. There are obvious reasons for this dramatic change. We've become a mobile nation, we are on the move. State loyalties have diminished. Our ties are to country, to family, and often, to a corporation. Provincial local loyalties are vanishing. No longer do families remain in the towns of their forebears. No longer do children live in the cities where they were born or raised.
A Mobile America
Migration to our cities—and particularly to the sea coasts and to the sunny states of Florida and California—are in large part the result of improved communication.
Rural families, once isolated from the general culture, were able to see New York and Chicago and New Orleans and Los Angeles close up on their television screen. These places looked good to many Americans, and many migrated before there were services to meet their needs. The poorly schooled boy from South Carolina began showing up as a welfare statistic in New York City. The malnourished child from Appalachia showed up in a hospital in Detroit.
This mobility among our people made health and welfare, the physical environment, education and economic development matters of national, rather than just local, concern. There was recognition that no city can protect itself from pollution by itself.
There was recognition of the inability of minority groups to achieve first-class citizenship after a century of struggle. There was clear need for a legal statement of national conscience, and federal enforcement of national standards.
Major Legislation of the 60's
Four major pieces of legislation in the 1960's revolutionized American politics and the social order, and we are yet to really sense their impact.
The first is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which for the first time put the power of the Federal government on the side of the citizen. This did not eliminate prejudice, but it made acts which flow from prejudice illegal. Our job for the future is to eliminate the residual prejudice that results from two centuries of depredation and segregation.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965-which uses the power of the federal government to protect the right to vote—these will change the American political structure far beyond what we sense today.
The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 said that the government of the United States is going to wage war on man's most ancient enemy—poverty. And with the Economic Opportunity Act came the often criticized Community Action Program.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Community Action Program, the community council concept, is built around the premise that those who are to be affected by programs should have something to say about them. Maximum feasible participation by the poor—we haven't done it yet—there is always a gap between man's pronouncements and his performance. But I can tell you that it has set a pattern, and the avenues of participation have been opened.
The last Act I want to mention is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which, for the first time, permitted the federal government to pump billions of dollars into the educational system of this country—not nearly as much as we need, but a beginning.
Now we are looking not only at the need for financial resources for education, but at the need for change in the methods and the technology of education.
These four legislative enactments represent a whole new dimension in the revolution of American democracy—a peaceful revolution, and a continuing revolution. And in this series of acts the federal government identified national goals and committed federal funds to achieve them.
New "People Programs"
Now the central premise of all these new "people programs" is that they are designed to meet local needs, but local needs that are in the national interest.
No longer does the government just pump in money. It also establishes programs and standards to achieve what is established by statute as a national policy.
But it is in the county courthouse, the city hall, the state capitol, the thousands of town meetings across the country, that the success or failure of these programs will be determined.
You can't legislate good administration; and you can't legislate creative government. But you can provide the resources and the direction that make it possible. This is a complex subject, and our time is limited today.
I can only tell you that we must find ways to coordinate and to eliminate duplication in this huge and complicated government structure, so that we maximize the purpose of government as never before. With thousands of governmental units, with hundreds of federal grant programs, coordination is essential.
Coordination is Necessary
This is why in 1968 when I sought the highest office in this land I recommended that the next President of the United States have a Domestic Policy Council to coordinate every domestic program just as the President has a National Security Council to coordinate issues of national security.
I also suggested that there be at a regional level a presidential ambassador who would be the President's personal representative to the multitude of federal agencies within that region—just exactly as an ambassador to a foreign country represents your nation in all of its aspects abroad. This kind of coordination in policy structure could help us to achieve some of our goals, for government is a tool to be used, not an enemy to be abused.
We can't afford to isolate any level of government if we are to succeed in our great national undertakings. In our growing and demanding United States, we need the wisdom to create, to control, and to support a government that is sufficiently strong to achieve its objectives and to protect our liberties, and a government that is sufficiently sensitive and concerned to meet the needs of all our citizens.
A Look Toward the 70's
I look to the decade of the seventies with optimism. For, just as war has its own built-in escalation, so does the process of peace have its built-in escalation, and the first priority of this nation must be the search, and not only the search, but the attainment, of peace.
It is my view and my conviction that until we are able to obtain peace and disengagement—obtain it not in a sporadic outburst of emotion, but with full consideration of our responsibilities —until then, many of our domestic priorities will be set aside.
Our First Priority Is Peace
Therefore, peace must be the first priority; and there is good reason to hope that this will be achieved in the early days of the seventies. But America must have a broader vision than that. If we were out of Viet Nam this afternoon, we would still face great problems.
Let us not use Viet Nam to escape from the realities of our time. We need to build in America an open society in which people of every race, creed, and color can move freely without prejudice and without discrimination. We need to cleanse ourselves of every vestige of racism. That's our number one problem in this country, ladies and gentlemen.
We can't have two Americas. We need a positive program to set priorities for the development of human resources.
Strength in Our People
The strength of this nation is not in its arms or in its industry, it is in its people. And the wealth of this nation is not in its banks or its insurance companies, it is in its people. We must develop these human resources.
And we must conserve the physical resources we are abusing and ruining at an unprecedented rate, not only in our nation, but throughout the world. When six percent of the people of the world, which we represent, consume forty percent of the produce of the world, which we do—six percent of the people consume forty percent of all that the world produces—then I think the rest of the world might consider us overindulgent.
Protection of Our Environment
And surely if there is one focus for the seventies, it must be survival and the protection of our physical environment.
I'm not here to talk on ecological matters, per se, but, ladies and gentlemen, don't underestimate the danger that is before us. Our danger is not merely nuclear weapons and it's not merely the poor man's atom bomb—the bacteriological, biological, and chemical weapons—all of which should be abolished. The danger that faces us today comes right out of the exhaust pipe of our automobiles and our busses, and out of the water that flows from an industrial plant into the river, and out of the smoke stacks that spew their poisonous gases into the air and out of a jet engine.
And if young America will become as excited about this kind of contamination as it has been excited about violence abroad and about nuclear proliferation, maybe we can save ourselves.
These are the central problems. We must promote the conditions that are conducive to peace—and that includes curbing the arms race. We must halt the arms race before it halts the human race—and we can.
Confidence and Understanding; in Proper Measure
It isn't a matter of whether we can trust the Russians, because we have developed alternatives for trust—sophisticated detection systems. So it is a question of whether we have the confidence and the will to understand that we are all together on this planet—and we're going to live or die here.
I recall Adlai Stevenson's words as I leave you today. Adlai Stevenson was defeated for the presidency twice. But he was, in a greater sense, a winner. There's a lot of difference between failure and defeat, you know.
Failure is when you are defeated and neither learn anything nor contribute anything.
"Democracy is not Self-Executing"
Alfred Landon was defeated for the presidency, but he was not a failure. He has given a great deal to this country, even out of office. Adlai Stevenson was one of the noble men of our times, and, like this good former governor of yours, Adlai Stevenson gave much to his nation without ever having the trappings of office. This noble man of the fifties—that great spirit—reminded us again and again that "Democracy is not self-executing. We have to make it work. We have to understand it. Not only external vigilance but unending self-examination must be the perennial price of liberty because the work of self-government never ceases." Adlai Stevenson didn't want to destroy the system, he didn't want to tear it down.
He said "unending self-examination is the perennial price of liberty." He said "the work of self-government never ceases."
And he said we have to make this democracy of ours work— and that's where you come in. In order to make it work, we have to understand it. That's what I've been trying to say today—that we must understand our government, and we must not lose faith in it.
The Challenge of Change
So, therefore, with a sense of urgency, I suggest that we ventilate the clogged channels of political participation and of social opportunity. These refreshing winds of change, which are everywhere about us, must be directed to constructive purposes — but not through violence, not through hate, not through bitterness, not through ugly passion, but through responsible debate and dissent, through reason and discussion, until decision and direction are clear.
This, my friends, is the meaning of government by the consent of the governed. This is what we mean when we say a wholesome and decent respect for the opinions of others. This is what we mean by a social contract among equals.
And this is what creative federalism means—a government that never stands still, a society that sees change as a challenge not as an enemy, a social structure that constantly expands and opens its doors because we, the people, know that there are new people to be heard from, new ideas 'to be discovered, and new ways of life to be found.