old tree, it is no good." The reactionary says "Don't touch it." The prudent
progressive and prudent conservative say, "Well, just a minute, there is
a lot of good in that old tree. Let's get in and prune the dead branches
so some new shoots will come out, and let's spread some fertilizer around
the roots and this old tree will help us for many years to come."
I think this is why when faced with war or depression the working people of America and the solid families of America have chosen Democrats to lead. Our party has made mistakes, but we have made more advances. We have been the party which believes that the job of leaders is to lead. This party of ours has held power for 32 of the last 48 years because we have stood for essentially three things and you can write them on the back of an envelope.
One is that we have been the party of change consistently during war and depression and crises of all kinds. Democrats are optimists and think that problems can be solved, or that at least we ought to try.
Secondly, we have been the party of the disadvantaged in our society. This is the party that cares about the widows in the nursing home with the kids grown up and gone away and cares about sick people and poor people and old people and the teenager on the street corner looking for work trying to find a decent job.
The third thing about this party is that we have been the institution through which the waves of immigration, the blacks, the Hispanics, the Jews, Russians, Germans, Irish and the Poles have all worked their way into full participation in American national lives.
I have got a message for a special group of American people talking about the 51 percent women of this country.
Finally, we had a Republican issue where they had been out in front. Since 1940, equal rights has been in the planks of the Republican Party, and they pulled it out this time around. They are saying to the women of America, we love you and we want to be fair to you, but don't ask us to put it in writing.
We are going to have something to say, the women of America and the people who believe, and you can send them a message on November 4. I want to tell Republicans tonight that ERA doesn't mean Elect Reagan Anyway; it means Equal Rights for Americans. This party is committed to see the ERA through as long as it takes. [Applause]
Somebody once said: if there's a way to lose it, the Democrats will find it. I don't think we are going to do that this year. Someone tells the story of the tourist up in the State of Maine who came to two crossroads. On the one going this way, the sign said "To Augusta." On the one going this way, the sign said "To Augusta."
shouted across the fence to an old farmer out there. He said, "Does it
make any difference which road I take?" The old farmer yelled back, "Not
to me it don't."
Well, our history says that this year we can choose one of two roads in 1980, and the one we choose will make a difference. First we can follow the path of 1968, when that beloved American Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon, when some said that there wasn't any difference between Humphrey and Nixon, and when a lot of us here in this room know that if we had done just a little bit more, we could have made the difference in that election.
And how this beloved Hubert Humphrey, this great man, would have made a difference in people's lives, in war and peace, in jobs and all of the rest. [Applause]
That is one road. And the other road, let me tell you about, was in 1948 when Harry Truman was certain to be defeated. He was a joke. His campaign was a joke. There was no way he could win. There were two independent parties running that year; one to the left of him and one to the right.
Yet we rallied around this good, simple and courageous man who knew where he wanted this country to go and who had the leadership to take us there.
So, as we leave this hall this week, let's remember both stories. I suggest the road to follow is the path of forgiveness and magnanimity and the path of Democrats pulling together, putting our differences behind us for the sake of a better country. If we are going to have some fights this week, so be it; but we should insist that there be no low blows, that we fight fair; and we have made a good start today with the kind of debate we had this afternoon.
You know if you don't feel unified by all that goes on here by Thursday, let me recommend Dr. Udall's patent unity medicine. Just take one tablespoon of it, and any thing will do: it can be water or milk or beer or whatever turns you on. But take one tablespoon and close your eyes and say, I want President Ronald Reagan. If that won't unify us, I don't know what will. [Applause]
And another piece of advice. Fellow Democrats, don't let them divide us. Don't let conservationists and labor split off. We have the same interests. Don't let the consumer interests and the farmers get to fighting each other. Don't divide the blacks and whites or let them divide the Sun Belt people from the Snow Belt.
Let's reach out to sensible Republicans and Independents and share our views. Will Rogers once visited the White House, and Calvin Coolidge said, "Will, tell me the latest jokes." Will Rogers said, "I don't have to, Mr. President. You have appointed them."
Well, the Republican nominees are no joke and their platform is no joke. They are deadly serious, and we are talking about the
this country. We are talking about the kind of country we are going to
have for our children and about where we are going and whether our sons
and daughters will be drafted for another war.
Americans are not ready to wreck this economy with crazy schemes like I talked about earlier. Americans are not ready to give up on a healthy environment. Americans want firm policies against the Soviet Union but no wreckless arms race. The Americans are willing to accept discipline and change. They know we have to change, but they want a fair and compassionate government. They would like to see a balanced budget and waste eliminated.
Alvin Barkley, you remember; the great senator from Kentucky who was Harry Truman's running mate, used to tell the story of the young man who was hitchhiking up in the mountains in moonshine country one night. An old moonshiner came along in a pickup and gave him a ride, and they bounced a ways down the road. The old man said, "Son, there's a jug under the seat; take it out."
The boy took out the bottle and he said, "Have a drink." The boy said, "I really wouldn't care for one; thank you very much." The old man pulled a gun and held it on him and said, "Have a drink." The boy said, "Well, under those circumstances, I don't mind if I do."
He took a big drink out of the bottle, and it felt like his teeth were coming loose and his stomach was unhinged and he gasped a while. The old man handed him the gun and said, "Now you hold the gun on me and will take a drink."
My point is let's point the finger this week at he in our midst who strikes the low blow. Let's learn to be gentle with each other as Democrats, for this November; that could make the difference. Back during the celebration of the Bicentennial, as thousands of people poured into Washington to see the fireworks on the night of our 200th birthday, I drove past one of the family places where they were parked along the river; and an old man had placed on a window a sign, and that sign said "America ain't perfect, but we're not done yet." I think that old man kind of said it all. [Applause]
America is never done, like a painting or a poem. This nation we love will only survive if each generation of loving caring Americans will care enough to change things to suit the times, and whether each generation has the good sense to carry forward the old values of thrift and hard work and compassion and freedom and family, these values which are just as good now as they were 200 years ago.
a great convention. Let's win one this year. Thank you very much. [Applause]
* * * *
Speech Given on October 23, 1967, in Tucson, AZ, to Second District Constituents
Reproduced in the Published Edition of Congressional Newsletters, "Education of a Congressman"
Tonight I come to talk about war and peace, about presidents, dominoes, commitments, and mistakes. I want to start with some of my own commitments and at least one of my own mistakes.
When I went to Congress 6 years ago I made some commitments to myself. to make the tough and unpleasant decisions as they came; to speak out at times then remaining silent might be easier; to admit my own mistakes; and to advocate new policies when old ones, no matter how dearly held, had failed.
Two years ago, when this country had fewer than 50,000 men in Vietnam, I wrote a newsletter defending the President's Vietnam policy and pleading patience and understanding for what he was trying to do. I have thought about that newsletter many times with increasing dismay and doubt as the limited involvement I supported has grown into a very large Asian land war with a half-million American troops scattered in jungles and hamlets, fighting an enemy who is everywhere and nowhere, seeking to save a country which apparently doesn't want to be saved, with casualties mounting and no end in sight, with more and more troops being asked for and sent, and with the dangers of World War III looming ever larger.
To be fair about it, I presume some progress has resulted from our enormous expenditures in lives and resources. I would hate to think otherwise. But each American escalation has been matched by escalation on the other side. And the grim probability as I speak tonight is that new and bigger escalations lie ahead. Unless we change our policy predict we will have 750,000 troops committed to Vietnam within the next 18 months. There will be more bombing, more civilian deaths in South and North Vietnam, more American casualties, and great new demands of the American taxpayers to pay for all this.
I have listened to all the arguments of the administration, read all the reports available to me, attended all the briefings, heard all the predictions of an eventual end to hostilities, and I still conclude that we're on a mistaken and dangerous road. In my judgment con-
present policy will require that we send several hundred thousand more
American troops to thresh around almost aimlessly in the jungles of Vietnam,
thousands more of them dying and many more losing arms and legs and eyes
without ever achieving what we know as "victory," all the while the material
cost of this war is climbing from the present $30 billion a year to $40
or $50 billion or more.
What's even worse, I increasingly fear that the inevitable result of this policy will be a wider war. Already the major battles along the demilitarized zone are bringing talk of an invasion of the North, and as our bombers get even closer to the Chinese border and Russian ships in Haiphong, one can see the stakes in this contest rising. I know there are those who say Russia and China would be foolish to come in with all the advantages they are enjoying from the present stalemate. But these people and this line of thinking were wrong in Korea, and they may well be wrong again.
Many of the wise old heads in Congress say privately that the best politics in this situation is to remain silent, to fuzz your views on this great issue, and to await developments. I hear few dovish noises in Arizona, and I suspect that silence would be the best personal politics for me. This would be especially true if it should turn out that we are at last starting to "win" this war.
THE OVERRIDING ISSUE
Then why am I here tonight? Vietnam is the overriding issue of this troubled year, and the people of my State are as entitled to my honest views as I am to theirs. I have come here tonight to say as plainly and simply as I can that I was wrong 2 years ago, and I firmly believe President Johnson's advisers are wrong today. Victory may indeed lie ahead; nothing is certain in this life. But life goes on, and men must make decisions based on the best information available to them at the time. Waiting for things to happen is not leadership, and steering a safe political course is not the highest order of public service.
This speech is not an easy or pleasant task for me. I am of the President's party; I admire him and the great things he has done for America. I have defended him on a great many occasions, including a visit I made to Cambridge University in England last February when my questioners were highly critical of our role in Vietnam. I know from history and from observing two Presidents firsthand what a man-killing job the presidency is. So I take no satisfaction in disagreeing with a policy he feels he must pursue. I respect President Johnson for doing what he firmly believes is right, and it grieves me to add to his burdens. But I would be serving nei-
|ther the President
nor the country to pretend to agree when I feel we must modify our national
course . . . .
The great rationalization for our involvement in Vietnam is that we are there to stop the march of communism, to demonstrate that the United States honors its commitments, to strengthen the free world. We are failing, and I believe we will continue to fail as long as we maintain our present policy of military escalation. Indeed, I believe this policy is strengthening the communist cause, weakening the free world, and raising grave doubts about the capacity of the United States to back up its commitments elsewhere.
I am advocating a change, not out of any fear or love for communism or admiration of Ho Chi Minh, but out of love for America and for its national aspirations. I am convinced our present policy in Vietnam does not serve our interests and in a way it is as though we had designed it to serve our enemies. This may seem too utterly ironic, but let's think about it for a minute.
Let's suppose there had been a world communist meeting in, say July 1964. Everything was in disarray. The once-monolithic Communist movement was in a shambles. The two major Red powers, the Soviet Union and China, were at each others' throats. The Russians had suffered humiliating reverses in Berlin, Cuba, Africa, and elsewhere. I recall U.S. News and World Report the previous fall had published an article entitled "Is Russia Losing the Cold War?" that concluded that it was.
Suppose that at this imaginary meeting a brilliant young theorist had come forward with a dramatic plan to reverse the unhappy trend. Let me recite what he might have said.
Comrades, I have a plan. By means of it we can enmesh the United States in the Asian land war its leaders have always warned against. Within 3 years I promise you 500,000 American soldiers will be hopelessly bogged down in jungle fighting, consuming huge amounts of supplies and vast quantities of ammunition while gaining essentially nothing. They will he seen as white men fighting Asiatics, as colonialists burning villages. destroying rice crops, killing and maiming women and children. Their casualties will be heavy--perhaps 100,000 by late 1967. They will have to boost their draft quotas and raise taxes. The war will cast them $30 billion or more a year. And this will upset their economy, cause inflation, threaten their balance of payments, and play hob with all their domestic programs. There will be great internal dissension and even riots in their cities. And, comrades, in spite of our differences, this is one cause that will bring us together, fighting on the same side. Furthermore, we can achieve all these wonderful results without committing a single Russian or Chinese soldier, sailor or airman, and at a total cost of perhaps $1 or $2 billion a year.
This is sheer invention, of course. There was no such meeting and no such plan. But the fact is that a dedicated President, surrounded by advisers with the highest patriotism and aided by a well-meaning but pliant Congress--all with the best of intentions--has achieved essentially these results. We have handed our en-
of this on a platter, and today many sincere Americans are ready to hand
them a lot more of the same.
What we are doing today, as I see it, is essentially engaging in an act of national rationalization. We talk about having no alternatives, but if you boil that dawn to its essence, what it means is that we're too big and powerful to admit we made a mistake. I refuse any longer to accept a tortured logic which allows little mistakes to be admitted, but requires big ones to be pursued to the bitter end, regardless of their cost in lives and money. As a Nation, let's not adopt the senseless psychology of the compulsive gambler at the race track. If he's lost a whole weeks wages on some unfortunate nag, he ought to quit and go home, sadder but wiser. But no, he'll go to the bank, draw out his savings, mortgage his house, and wipe out his children's chances for a college education, all in the vain hope that he can recoup his losses. I think this is the direction we're headed in Vietnam.
WHY PEOPLE ARE TROUBLED
When I talk to people about this war, I find them most troubled by this fundamental question: why is it that the United States, the most powerful, efficient and successful Nation on earth, can't defeat a little, miserable, backward country like North Vietnam and do it overnight -- or at least in 6 days like the Israelis?
On the face of it, it is ridiculous. But there is logic and reason behind every event if we will only search for it. There are answers to this tough question--and they make sense--if we'll only look the truth in the face. Those answers as I see them come down to four fundamental propositions:
You cannot win a political and guerrilla war in South Vietnam by any amount of bombing in North Vietnam. President Johnson knows this, but I don't think the people do. Too many, I suspect, think that more bombs can win the war.
You cannot win this kind of war when the government you are backing is largely run by wealthy landowners and a military elite who have no real interest in the poor, illiterate peasants over whom the war is being fought. Unless the latter will give their support to that government, any military victory will be short-lived, if it can be achieved at all.
You cannot save a people who do not want to be saved and will not fight for the government which runs their lives.
You cannot win in this deadly poker game when any escalation "bet" on your part can be matched by a much smaller escalation on the part of the enemy. We cannot continue to assume that when we increase our forces the other side will stand still, giving us a clear margin of superiority. Every time the result has been the
at an even higher and more dangerous and costly level ....
THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
The fundamental question is: how important is Vietnam in the scheme of things? Is this Armageddon? Is this the ultimate test of strength between government by consent and government by coercion, between capitalism and communism? Is the government of South Vietnam the one whose existence will determine the future course of civilization? Is this the showdown for the concept of "wars of national liberation"? Will this really determine whether our grandchildren live under communism? Does it really mean that we'll only have to fight later in Hawaii, Oregon, or Arizona? If the answers to these questions are yes then we must proceed at all cost to win this war and insulate the government of South Vietnam from all future attack, subversion, or rebellion.
But suppose, as I believe, that this is not Armageddon. Suppose this is just one of many episodes of revolution and turmoil occurring, and about to occur, in a world that is seething with the forces of change. Suppose that our extremely costly and exhausting response to this episode reveals to our enemies that we obviously can't afford to go through this process again soon. Suppose that a very possible result of this fantastically expensive enterprise will be a delay of just a few years in the ultimate success of the National Liberation Front. If this is the case, then I believe we must put greater emphasis upon our goals as a nation and less on the immediate military goals proposed for the conduct of this war.
I have reflected long and hard on what this war is, what significance it holds, and what effects various courses of action would have on our future role in world affairs. And I will tell you frankly I no longer see the war in Vietnam as Munich or Valley Forge. And I'm no longer very interested in hearing how we can capture one more hamlet or rocky hill. I'm interested in hearing how we can cut our losses, reduce our future expenditures in lives and resources, and bring this venture down to scale. I'm convinced our national interest--not Russia's, not China's, not North Vietnam's -- demands that we sharply modify our present policy and that we start doing so now.
A great fallacy of our present policy, as I see it, lies in the assumption that stopping this "war of national liberation" will prevent any and all future wars of this type. Such wars were beaten back in Malaysia and Korea, yet this did not stop Vietnam or Cuba or the Congo. We are only due on, for more frustration and anger in the years ahead if we spend more blood and treasure to get some kind of significant "victory" in Vietnam.
me to the hard question the President's advisers always put to their critics:
"All right, you don't like what we're doing. Precisely what would you do,
and what are the likely results of your policy?"
This is a fair question that demands an answer. I'll tell you what I propose, but first let me make clear what I do not propose.
We are in South Vietnam. It was a mistake to get there, but we're there. I am not suggesting any "cut and run" policy or proposing that the United States now withdraw from this war at once. I am not suggesting that we surrender to Ho Chi Minh. I am not suggesting that we turn our backs on those in South Vietnam who have come to rely on our commitments--people who, if we departed, might be victims in a blood bath of the kind we saw in Indonesia. I am not suggesting that this country violate the limited commitments we originally made. I do not propose that our investment in American blood and money be abandoned without giving the South Vietnamese every reasonable chance to save themselves.
And let me make clear there is another thing I am not doing. I am not breaking with President Johnson, either as Chief Executive or as leader of my party. Nor am I joining that group of anarchists who are marching on Washington, attempting to block the entrances of the Pentagon, counseling defiance of Selective Service, or sending money to the Vietcong.
Furthermore, I am not proposing anything particularly new. I don't pretend to have all the classified information necessary to formulate detailed alternatives. Rather, like Senators Mansfield, Church, Cooper, Morton, Percy, and others who appreciate the President's sincerity and his anguish over the progress of this war, I feel I must try to convince him that our present policy is wrong and should be changed or modified.
Now, what do I propose? I propose that the United States halt all further escalation and Americanization of this war and that it discontinue sending any more Americans to do a job that ought to be done and can only be done by Vietnamese. I am suggesting that we deescalate and de-Americanize this war and that we begin the slow, deliberate, and painful job of extricating ourselves from a hopeless, open-ended commitment we never made. I am suggesting that we start bringing American boys home and start turning this war back to the Vietnamese. I am suggesting that we offer the people of Southeast Asia something better than the prospect of Vietnam-type wars as an answer to threats of subversion or aggression.
I would say to President Johnson: Facing this decision will take the courage and greatness of which you are capable. People will villify you, or accuse you of appeasement. Countless armchair gen-
tell you victory was just around the corner. But in the end I believe the
American people will rally behind you when they realize that this decision
will strengthen our country and advance its interests.
* * * *
--John F. Kennedy
Like Atlee, I've much to be modest about. During my early years in the House of Representatives, I tilted at the seniority system--and got my comeuppance in contests to become Speaker and Majority Leader. During my 1976 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I drew more laughter than votes and placed second in seven consecutive primaries. This prompted James J. Kilpatrick to conclude his political obituary of me with the epitaph "Mo's too funny to be President."
After due deliberation and two stiff drinks, I decided to go ahead and write this book because I'm convinced that humor is as necessary to the health of our political discourse as it is in our private lives. Political humor leavens the public dialogue; it invigorates the body politic; it uplifts the national spirit. In a sprawling society where politicians often seem distant from those they represent, political humor is a bridge between the citizens and their government. In times of national strife, humor can bring a diverse society closer together. Once, while struggling to fashion a historic compromise, an exasperated Charles de Gaulle threw up his hands and said, "How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?"
In times of national tragedy, disappointment, or defeat, political humor can assuage the Nation's grief, sadness, or anger, and thus
that which must be borne. At such times a joke reminds us, "And this too
But humor is not only a tonic for the body politic, it is an elixir for the politician as well. For one thing, it helps you roll with the punches--and there are a lot of punches in politics. It was his robust sense of humor that kept Abraham Lincoln sane in the face of personal tragedy and a raging Civil War. Asked how he could tell jokes at a time when the Nation was bleeding, Abe replied, "I laugh because I must not cry."
Humor is also the best antidote for the politician's occupational disease: an inflated, overweening, suffocating sense of self-importance. "A man sufficiently gifted with humor is in small danger of succumbing to flattering delusions about himself," Konrad Lorenz once observed, "because he cannot help perceiving what a pompous ass he would become if he did." Nothing deflates a pompous ass quicker than a well-placed barb; Atlee must have imploded when lampooned by Churchill.
Politics is a people business--and people crave laughter. Other things being equal, a droll politician will have an easier time than a dour one getting elected. Wit is an essential element of charisma, of leadership. "I don't care how great your ideas are or how well you can articulate them, people must like you before they will vote for you," says Senator William Cohen. The fact is, people are drawn to, and reassured by, a politician who can poke fun at others and himself. It is no accident that of our last six Presidents, the two most popular--John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan--have been the two most jocose. Certainly, much of the warmth people still feel for Kennedy is a result of having been charmed by his wit--more than his policies--nearly three decades ago. And much of President Reagan's popularity doubtless rests on his lively sense of humor, best demonstrated when he asked the surgeon who was preparing to remove a bullet from his chest whether he was a Republican. You can even argue that wit won Reagan the presidency: his timely rejoinder -- "There you go again" -- to a criticism leveled by Jimmy Carter in a 1980 debate might have been the margin of victory. In 1984, after stumbling in his first debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan deep-sixed the creeping-senility issue with another anger--'' I will not exploit, for political purposes, the youth and inexperience of my opponent."
Once a politician has been elected, humor becomes one of the most formidable tools he or she can wield in pursuit of legislative goals. A savvy pol can use humor to disarm his enemies, to rally his allies, to inform, rebut, educate, console, and convince. Some observers feel Senator Alan Simpson's recent success in shepherding a controversial immigration bill through Congress was a tribute as
|much to his
wit as to his intellect. In my own career, I have used humor to help me
get reelected fourteen times, and to attain passage of the 1977 strip-mining
bill and the 1980 Alaska Lands bill.
Of course, there are those Scrooges who think that humor and the serious business of politics should never be mixed. One adviser of President James Garfield warned him, "Never make the people laugh. If you would succeed in life you must be solemn, solemn as an ass." Solemn as an ass he was--and somebody shot him 3 months into his term. It is true, however, that the business of Government is serious business, and in politics, as in any other endeavor, wisecracks are no substitute for substance. But, used adroitly, wit is something more than oratorical ornament; rather, it is a gentle pry bar with which to open the minds of your constituents and colleagues. If your speeches have a humorous slant it is less likely that their substance will be rejected out of hand.
In the same way that wit strengthens politicians, a total absence of it can wound. If President Nixon had had a sense of humor, would he have countenanced the Watergate burglary at a time when his reelection seemed assured? I doubt it. One of the reasons Jimmy Carter wore out his welcome with some Americans was that, for all his intelligence, he came to be viewed as humorless. If Gary Hart had been able to parry Mondale's "Where's the beef?" jab with a witty rejoinder he might have won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
I first learned that humor pays nearly 40 years ago, when I began practicing law. Ever since, I've been collecting legal and political jokes, yarns, and saws. I've got jokes my granddad used in frontier Arizona in the late 1800s. I've a got jokes that Ben Franklin used in the late 1700s. I've got jokes about bureaucrats, voters, Yasir Arafat, Jesus Christ, Calvin Coolidge, Republicans, Democrats, Indians, animals, Mormons, Jews, blacks, whites, politicians, polygamists, and polygamist politicians ... thousands of them.
Some jokes I've heard in the courtroom or on the floor of the House. Others I've found in old speeches and newspaper articles. Still others I've kidnapped on the rubber-chicken circuit. Many of my best quips have come from constituents, supporters, fan mail, even questionnaires: Question: "Do you support spending $20 billion to put a man on the moon?" Answer: "Yes--if you go." In the last chapter you'll find my favorites. If you like them, feel free to use them. After all, I stole them "fair and square," just as that great semanticist and inveterate napper, Senator S.I. Hayakawa, said we did the Panama Canal.
This book is dedicated to the proposition that humor is the saving grace--in our own lives, and in our political life as a great country. It is one politician's view of the human condition and the
has played in his career. Join me as we stroll the halls of Congress and
trek the campaign trail. We'll meet and swap yarns with all kinds of people.
Having read the book, I hope you will feel you've gotten your money's worth. Which reminds me of something Adlai Stevenson once said to an audience of lobbyists: "Now, as I understand our respective roles, I am to contribute a speech--and you are to contribute something more tangible. This is a nice division of labor, much like the relationship of Big Ben to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That is to say, I've got the time, if you've got the inclination."
MORRIS K. UDALL
Main | Contents | Illustrations | Book Cover | Title Page
Addresses and Special Orders Held in the U.S. House of Representatives
and the Senate, Presented in Honor of The Honorable Morris K. "Mo" Udall,
A Representative from Arizona, One Hundred Second Congress, First Session
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993