It's very nice to have such a warm welcome and I appreciate it from all of you. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
As we approach the quadrennial moment of national decision in American politics, it is appropriate to commemorate Governor Landon of Kansas, a truly American figure drawn from the heartland of the country here in the Mississippi Valley, a man of common sense, competence, and decency, as well as the character that all of us in both parties might count ourselves fortunate to have in national office today. His birthday near this particular time may put your speaker on something of a spot, depending on that person's political identity, because it is impossible in the midst of a presidential campaign to make a non-political, non-partisan speech. I have to confess that I am neither philosophically nor politically a Republican, as I thought it was only fair to tell your president when he invited me to speak at this event in case he should have second thoughts and wish to withdraw the invitation which would have been perfectly legitimate. But he bravely let it stand. So if I say anything you dislike or disapprove, let me assure you it is from no desire to offend but rather from a not always tactful habit of saying what is on my mind.
The first thing on my mind is a question: Where have all the Republican progressives gone, as you once were, and an associated question: Why has "liberal," which has much the same meaning as "progressive" and suggests the same point of view, become a dirty word in America? Why does Mr. Reagan find it necessary to say to the Republican Convention at New Orleans that the party's opponents are liberal, liberal, liberal, in a tone of voice as if he was saying criminal, criminal, criminal? I found that absurd and offensive and rather hard to understand. In any event, I shall come back to this problem. But first, I want to recall for you your past.
Once in a wild eager agitated time in the opening decade of the new century, when popular protest swelled against the national government being managed in the interests of the privileged class, the progressives emerged as a movement. They were not a fringe group but important, determined men at the heart of the party with "Fighting Bob" Lafollette, governor and later senator of Wisconsin, at their head, joined by Senator Hiram Johnson of California, Senators Borah of Idaho, Norris of Nebraska, and Beveridge of Indiana. They were followed by teachers, city counselors, legislators, governors, publishers, editors, writers, and most articulate of all, by the journalist William Allan White of Kansas, editor of the Emporia Gazette which he had made famous by his editorial of 1896, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Actually that was not a progressive statement at all but it was an attack on the so called "Populists" and I really don't know what was the matter with Kansas but in any event it became a document of great effect. "A yearning for justice was moving in the hearts of the American people of that decade," White believed. "We were conscious," he wrote, "of the vast injustice that had come with the settlement of the continent. ... we all made that part of our creed as representatives of the progressive movement in that glamorous vigorous decade when America turned the corner from Conservatism and had come to a sense that their civilization needed recasting and that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers . . . and that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots to release the burden of injustice on our own conscience."
The progressive idea was borne out of a recognized need for legislative restraint on unbridled plunder by the plutocrats. Essentially the new idea was a call for a redirection of the Hamiltonian belief in a strong central government, not to serve the interests of privilege and property as in recent decades, but instead to serve the interests of the underprivileged and working people who were weak in influence and needed the protection by government for economic justice and equal rights. If in earliest times government had been instituted to secure the position of monarchs and nobles, now it must be used to curtail economic tyranny to protect the weak of the working class, the "little people" as they were called in the Middle Ages. Basically this was what the progressives were talking about the ancient struggle in the social order between property and human rights, between the right wing and the left. Unending and never to be settled, it recurs in every age in one form or another of revolution versus counter revolution.
The Republican National Committee man for Kansas, William Allan White, drafted the Republican party platform in the off year congressional elections of 1910. His platform anticipated the New Deal by 20 years, as he writes with some satisfaction in his autobiography, which suggests an unexpected link with the New Deal in your ancestry.
Enthusiastic electioneering in the spring primaries of 1910 by White and a group of like-minded associates brought in a band of progressive nominees for Congressional and gubernatorial office and as delegates to the convention of 1910. In that year the Progressive Party was organized.
It was they, the liberals of that day, who gave the country in Theodore Roosevelt the foremost Republican president we have had since Lincoln. I do not say that Theodore Roosevelt necessarily qualifies as a great man. He was a practical politician who sometimes adjusted principles to his personal ambitions as when he pushed aside Lafollette from the presidential nomination in 1912 and allowed his own name to be put forward in spite of a previous denial of that intention, and he could be as devious as his cousin Franklin. He was nevertheless a statesman true to the progressive thrust who filled the need of the time, and voiced and spoke for and dramatized the growing demand for reform that by now pervaded American minds and was finding expression in newspapers, magazines, and books, the media of that time, which filled their pages with disclosures by the muckrakers about the scandals and spoils system of the big corporations and the price fixing by the railroad magnates and the trusts. Lodged in Rockefeller's Standard Oil and Morgan's combine, U.S. Steel, the first billion dollar corporation in America, these were the new rulers of America. Called the robber barons, they were the predators of the age with the same fierce assertion of their right when America turned the corner from Conservatism and had come to a sense that their civilization needed recasting and that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers . . . and that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have nots to release the burden of injustice on our own conscience."
The progressive idea was borne out of a recognized need for legislative restraint on unbridled plunder by the plutocrats. Essentially the new idea was a call for a redirection of the Hamiltonian belief in a strong central government, not to serve the interests of privilege and property as in recent decades, but instead to serve the interests of the underprivileged and working people who were weak in influence and needed the protection by government for economic justice and equal rights. If in earliest times government had been instituted to secure the position of monarchs and nobles, now it must be used to curtail economic tyranny to protect the weak of the working class, the "little people" as they were called in the Middle Ages. Basically this was what the progressives were talking about the ancient struggle in the social order between property and human rights, between the right wing and the left. Unending and never to be settled, it recurs in every age in one form or another of revolution versus counter-revolution.
The Republican National Committee-man for Kansas, William Allan White, drafted the Republican party platform in the off-year congressional elections of 1910. His platform anticipated the New Deal by 20 years, as he writes with some satisfaction in his autobiography, which suggests an unexpected link with the New Deal in your ancestry. Enthusiastic electioneering in the spring primaries of 1910 by White and a group of like-minded associates brought in a band of progressive nominees for Congressional and gubernatorial office and as delegates to the convention of 1910. In that year the Progressive Party was organized. It was they, the liberals of that day, who gave the country in Theodore Roosevelt the foremost Republican president we have had since Lincoln. I do not say that Theodore Roosevelt necessarily qualifies as a great man. He was a practical politician who sometimes adjusted principles to his personal ambitions as when he pushed aside Lafollette from the presidential nomination in 1912 and allowed his own name to be put forward in spite of a previous denial of that intention, and he could be as devious as his cousin Franklin. He was nevertheless a statesman true to the progressive thrust who filled the need of the time, and voiced and spoke for and dramatized the growing demand for reform that by now pervaded American minds and was finding expression in newspapers, magazines, and books, the media of that time, which filled their pages with disclosures by the muckrakers about the scandals and spoils system of the big corporations and the price fixing by the railroad magnates and the trusts. Lodged in Rockefeller's Standard Oil and Morgan's combine, U.S. Steel, the first billion dollar corporation in America, these were the new rulers of America. Called the robber barons, they were the predators of the age with the same fierce assertion of their rightto domineer as the barons of the 14th century. They had no concept of an ordered state, they wanted only to be let alone to make a great deal of money. They had no interest in politics except insofar as they could corrupt government through Congress to leave them in freedom to pursue power and riches. In six years between 1866 and 1872 Union Pacific spent $400,000 in bribes; in ten years between 1875 and '85 graft cost the Central Pacific as much as $500,000 annually. All this is recorded by the respected historian, Richard Hofstadter, in his book The American Historical Tradition, page 170 in case anyone wants to check. These practices and the sums involved were made public by the investigation that broke in the campaign year of 1872 over the ultimate scandal of Credit Mobilier, a construction company working for the Union Pacific which was discovered to have been distributing shares in the company as bribes among influential congressmen.
America, the America of Jefferson's ideal of the self-sufficient farmer cultivating his own land and marketing his own produce, America of the miners and store-keepers and craftsmen and small businessmen and of the pioneer immigrants who had left the poverty and oppression of their own lands to seek a better life in the great fresh land of freedom across the Atlantic Basque shepherds, Jewish intellectuals, Irish peasants, Italian stonemasons these new Americans were not prepared to live under old oppressions they knew too well and in conditions no better than those they had escaped.
Their impoverishment of farmers gouged by railroad freight rates, of miners squeezed by company stores, or urban workers crowded in the airless dirt of city slums and sweatshops was not silent. Round about 1890, in the last decade of the old century, it grew loud and importunate in demands for reform, first of all for revision of the protective tariff named for Senator Aldrich, the most hated measure of all, which allowed the industrialists to keep prices up to the detriment of the poor; next for regulation of the railroad rates; politically for establishment of electoral primaries and the secret ballot to open up the smoke-filled rooms and bring about direct election of senators; for civil service reform to make merit, determined by competitive examination, rather than patronage the basis for appointment to office; and in the economic field, for a federal income tax, for prosecution of the trusts with jail terms mandated for violators, for a pure food and drug law aimed at the meat packers; in the labor field, for shorter working hours up to a ten-hour day, for workmen's compensation and a federal child labor law, for collective bargaining with workers entitled to choose their own representatives. Finally, for laws empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission to govern in these matters. Out of the discontents underlying these demands of the working and middle class emerged the progressive movement in the Midwest and Far West whose voice originally was yours and whose leaders were Republican.
In the opening decade of the new century the conscience of the world was moving, White believed. Economic adversity and labor troubles of the '80s and '90s had brought recognition that to keep the country prosperous, society must be organized for collective action in the public interest, not left to the savage laissez-faire of private greed. The turning of the century was a time of tremendous change in the nation. The frontier had closed; free land was no longer available. Greater literacy and wider schooling at the level of the common man fostered greater under-standing of the liaison of government and big business as the source of the working man's grievances and taught him what were the reforms needed to right his wrongs. Progressives listened, and took heed, shaping their program accordingly, as the demands infiltrated Republican minds, especially of the Midwest.
The most significant expression of progressive thinking was Theodore Roosevelt's major speech of August 1910 at Osawatomie, the hometown of John Brown. In a forthright statement of the fundamental issue, the ex-president declared that "we are face-to-face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare" and he announced boldly "that property is subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require." That was a direct challenge to rule by the plutocrats, indeed to the very nature of government as it was understood by the Old Guard who saw it as their instrument, deriving from the right of property, to be used in their own interest.
A single speech does not make a summer. Roosevelt's challenge altered no attitudes. Both sides, conservatives and reformers, were too deeply entrenched in their positions to change. Yet protest was growing louder, and in the congressional elections of 1910 produced a landslide for the Democrats who had already embraced and were calling for the same reform measures sought by the progressives.
At this time it was becoming unmistakable that President Taft, who had been Roosevelt's friend and chosen successor in the White House, was deserting his sponsor's program and moving back to his natural comrades in the conservative camp. Taft was an intelligent, honest conservative who believed in the existing order and deeply resented intruders who would lay hands on it. His amiable manner and friendship had deceived Roosevelt into believing Taft would carry out his policies. He did, as an observer remarked, on a shutter. In the bitter fight over conservation of the national parks and wilderness areas he took sides against Gifford Pinchot of Pennsylvania, Roosevelt's champion in the battle for conservation, and against a die hard Secretary of the Interior. He supported the Old Guard Speaker of the House Joe Cannon, when the insurgent members gathered to oust him. He even expressed support of the Aldrich Tariff, a last indignity that tore apart the Republican Party and brought a battle for control between the Taft forces and an outraged body of progressives calling themselves the Insurgents. The battle was fought out over the renomination of Taft for president as against that of Roosevelt or possibly Lafollette at the convention in 1912.
Control of the party was at stake. The convention was not an artificial affair of balloons and paid demonstrators and speeches smoothly read off the teleprompter. It was a contest of genuine men in a fight that would decide the fate of Republicanism in the Mississippi Valley and in the nation.
On the convention floor of the Coliseum in Chicago in 1912 the split was made visible and dramatic when Elihu Root, chief of the Taft forces, took the chair in his gray striped trousers and morning coat. Former Secretary of State and Secretary of War, the outstanding corporation lawyer in the United States, erudite and polished, he represented, as William Allan White describes the scene, "the impeccable respectability of invested capital. . . . He was from every angle the perfect symbol of a propertied class struggling for its privileges which it honestly deems to be its rights." The Insurgent leader was Herbert Hadley, who as governor of Missouri and a prosecuting attorney in Kansas City had been fighting for ten years all that Root had been defending for 40 years. "There they stood in that vast charade that pictured the ancient conflict between, on the one hand, aggrandized enterprise" and what White rather wistfully calls "man's sensitivity for the exploited, his uneasy sense of wrong that was disturbing the middle-class and the inner urge for justice which has been the motor of human progress as man has struggled for the thing called liberty through the ages." In his words there were "old, old forces in an ancient miracle play of human history that were clashing there that sultry June day in the Chicago Coliseum."
The Taft forces controlled the delegates. Root exercised unchallenged authority: "When he clicked the gavel on the marble-topped speakers table order ensued almost hypnotically. While the convention had been melted by rage into a rabble, he stood there, calm and serene looking down at the sea of wrathful faces in the pit." He was not unaware that the rostrum was surrounded with barbed wire and that he was commander of the police and could have checked a riot by raising his hand. He knew also that "hundreds of his outraged fellow Republicans, men who had once been his friends were glaring at him with eyes distraught with hate. . . . Fights broke out like bubbles on the boiling caldron all over the pit where delegates were so full of grudge and resentment that they could give utterance to their fury only in their fists. The police promptly stopped the fights. . . . Root seemed to us like a diabolical sphinx as he pushed the program of the convention through steadily and as swiftly as possible . . . motion by motion, phase by phase, the steamroller crushed its way toward the nomination of Taft."
In the end, Roosevelt, embittered by his rejection, gathered the Insurgents for a third, the Bull Moose party, ultimately, by dividing the Republican vote, throwing the election to Woodrow Wilson who had been nominated by the Democrats. This did not end the history of the progressives for the new president was as deeply committed to social and political reform as the Republicans.
So strong was their legacy that Alfred Landon as governor called himself a progressive, what he called a "practical progressive." The instinct showed in his proposal of the Farm Mortgage Moratorium Act, which Republicans might well espouse today, if they shared Landon's feeling for his fellow citizens of the Midwest which they have hardly shown. Curiously enough, it was in international relations that Landon was most open minded, speaking out in favor of reopening relations with Red China from which we were absurdly separated in a policy of non-intercourse, leading, he believed, to disaster, as he said from this platform in 1966. He told the audience he had been urging a change "to break the present dead lock" with China for a long time. In Theodore Roosevelt's spirit he was ready to face "new realities," as he called them, with new attitudes. He proposed an overture to Russia to use their good offices to bring about an end to the war in Vietnam; he favored extension of the Common Market in Europe because lowering trade barriers and high tariffs would be "the most realistic step toward economic and political stability and hence world peace."
In proposing a reopening to China, Landon showed vision and what's more, as Speaker Jim Wright said from this platform, he was "before his time for other politicians didn't dare say that for fear of being charged with being soft on Communism but Alf Landon had the ability and courage to say what he thought." In that quality he was a genuine progressive even if he did not share their view of domestic issues.
White's romantic notion of the progressive idea having its source in "the natural aspiration for justice in the human heart" will cause cynics to smile, but it contains a certain truth for we know that mankind from time to time does feel the urge for justice and that it sometimes prevails. In other less worthy times another aspiration greed, greed for money or power, prevails over it. I think today in the late 20th century we are caught in the cycle of greed which breeds folly, as seen in a government that spends billions on space flight when people on earth have no homes, and more billions vanish in wasteful procurement at the Pentagon while the education of Americans is let to lag behind other nations, leaving too many lives spent in apathy and ignorance and putting us at a permanent disadvantage. No amount of tanks and SDI can provide a strong national defense when minds are mediocre and will is feeble.
Theodore Roosevelt's statement at Osawatomie was a simple acknowledgement of the obvious: that changing times bring changing needs. When he said that "we are face to face with new conceptions of the relation of property to human welfare" and that "property is subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare requires it," he made a radical assertion of government's role which those in power can only ignore at their cost. What is the use, for example, of an agency, specifically the EPA, supposed to protect the environment, which protects only the freedom of the industrialist to do whatever he wants, to spew from his smokestacks as much toxic fuel as he can burn, while the EPA penalizes no violation of its rules, does not require installation of scrubbers to prevent emissions causing acid rain, but merely watches placidly while lakes and forests, the supposed object of its protection, die, and the air fills with chemical fumes? Does not the plant owner breathe too? Or, for the sake of a few dollars today, is he willing that his children and grandchildren should gasp in emphysema tomorrow?
Now, 80 years after Theodore Roosevelt saw the inevitability of controls, government intervention remains a Republican anathema. The simple Malthusian fact of overpopulation producing too much sewage and garbage and too much packaging and too much pollution and around us too many lives lived in poverty and squalor should suggest that Republican devotion to free enterprise cannot stand pat. However much one may personally sympathize, as I do, with President Reagan's dislike of too much government and however reluctant one may be to permit its further penetration into our lives, we of whatever party must realize that we cannot stand pat unless prepared for the tide of garbage to creep over our door sills and to spend all our future summers in heat waves of 90 degrees while our rampant technology is left unchecked to dissipate the ozone layer. Over-population with its ultimate implications is now the darkest cloud on the horizon today, not so much in our country as in the third world where millions reproducing must soon overflow their borders, yet the only contribution of the present administration to this problem is to withdraw financial support for programs of birth control in Asia, in a policy that seems to me just plain dumb. In the 80 years since Republican progressives understood the need for restraint of private greed the GOP still shies away from federal intervention as a horse might shy from a wild turkey crossing its path. To the businessman and capitalist it means interference with free enterprise which was the reason for the virulent hatred of FDR and the New Deal. By setting wages and prices and hours of labor it told the businessman how to manage his business, the unforgivable intrusion. The recent plant closing bill did the same thing, creating the same kind of wrath and for the same reason. Whenever a movement arises for legislative or judicial action to improve the lot of the working class, it means to the propertied class that what is given to the poor is something to be taken from the rich. In short it implies a redistribution of wealth. Liberals are seen as the advocates of this process, which I suppose is one reason why they are regarded as monsters. It is interesting that the same antagonism operated in the period of the American Revolution against the revolutionists and their sympathizers in Britain who were called Levelers because they were seen as threatening to overturn society and dispossess the ruling class. Liberals today, I suspect, carry the same connotation as agents of class war. In addition, of course, they are associated with the whole '60s culture, with long hair and Woodstock and all that. In the same way I could associate the conservative right with opponents of gun control and censors of books in school libraries.
We must go back I think to Theodore Roosevelt's realistic acknowledgment that changing conditions require changed attitudes. If Republicans are to retain the presidency they must come out of the petrified forest of negatives and find a pathway beyond their fear of reform and a desperate affection for home as they once knew it; and they must somehow present a convincing image of concern for the public welfare in terms of people as distinct from larger matters such as national defense or the balance of trade.
As an outsider I should not be telling you what you should do; what I have said is simply a practical thought which if I were called a "consultant" would cost you thousands, but I am happy to offer free of charge.
In closing I understand we are to have a question and answer period. I would like to reverse the usual format, if I may, and let me ask you a question, to find out from the people who feel it their reason for their abhorrence of the liberal. Is there anyone here who wants to explain for me, if my own theories are not adequate, his or her reasons for the antagonism? I fear that after that it will be your turn to ask the questions.