Radio Address: “The Birthright of an American Child”
Next Tuesday, for the 47th time in our Nation’s history, Americans will cast their ballots to choose a President for the next 4 years.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former member of my Cabinet and a gifted observer of the American scene, has made the comment that “Elections are rarely our finest hours. This,” he said, “is when we tend to be most hysterical, most abusive, least thoughtful about problems, and least respectful of complexity.”
I think Americans want our democracy to meet a higher standard than that. We all want to make the election of 1972 one of our finest hours, and we have the opportunity to do so.
We need to recognize, first, that politics is not merely some kind of game to be played hard and played for keeps, with everyone defending his own interests as best he can. It is not just a competition in which one man or one party seeks to defeat another. It is not an auction in which the prize of office is awarded to the highest bidder for the favor of the voters.
Instead, in the highest sense, our democracy is a sacred trust which all of us who participate exercise together on behalf of those who cannot yet participate. One American in three–over 69 million boys and girls, young men and women–will not be old enough to vote on Tuesday, but they will live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of the decision we, the voters, make. Additionally, during the 4 years of the next presidential term, nearly 15 million newborn children will begin their lives in America–in a nation and in a world not of their making, but of our making.
I would like to spend a few minutes thinking with you this afternoon about the birthright we ought to guarantee for them. I would like to look beyond the election and focus on the things which I believe all Americans, no matter how they vote on Tuesday, will want their Nation to achieve in the 4 years between now and 1976.
The 10 goals in this birthright are not intended to be my campaign promises to you, for they are not something which any one man, by himself, could hope to deliver. To achieve them, all Americans must join hands and work together.
So we might think of these goals as campaign promises which America should make to itself, promises to be honored in the next 4 years, no matter who wins in the next 2 days.
First, let us give tomorrow’s children the birthright of an America at peace in a world at peace–not peace with surrender, but peace with honor–not just an interlude between wars, but a time of lasting friendship and cooperation among all peoples, a time when mankind can unite in a new alliance against our common enemies–poverty, misery, and disease.
The recent breakthrough toward a negotiated settlement in Vietnam points to that kind of peace. So does the new relationship which the United States has begun to develop with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. But there is much more to do-the further limitation of nuclear arms, the easing of tensions in Europe, the healing of tragic divisions in the Middle East, the continued strengthening of our alliances, the forging of new trade patterns and the continued development of our volunteer armed forces, which will be the indispensable linchpin of America’s peace forces in the years ahead.
Peace, more than anything else, can enrich the lives of the children of the seventies. It is for their sake that we have worked so hard to give peace a chance and for their sake we must continue to do so.
Some of these new children will be girls, some will be boys. Some will be white, some black, some brown. Will discrimination and quotas limit their horizons? Let us resolve that they will not. As our second goal for the next 4 years, let us seek a more just America–an America in which every human being, regardless of race or religion, age or sex, wealth or national origin, enjoys equal rights before the law and unlimited opportunities for realizing his or her fullest potential.
Will the new children enjoy sound health, adequate nourishment, good medical care? Or will they have to contend with the hazards of a society where infant mortality is still higher than in numerous other countries of the world, and where cancer still strikes one American in four sometime during his lifetime?
Let us make our third goal a healthy America, where all our people enjoy steadily better health and increasing longevity, where hunger is unknown, and where deadly diseases and drug abuse are rapidly diminishing.
Through our plan for a comprehensive health program, our accelerated food assistance programs, our conquest-of-cancer efforts, and our total war against dangerous drugs, your Government today is committed to that kind of America for 1976.
Soon tomorrow’s children will be ready to start school. Will their parents select the schools they attend? Will tax pressures force them, all of them, into public classrooms regardless of their preferences?
Let us assure each child, as the fourth part of his birthright, the chance to go to school in a well-educated America-in an educational system that calls each of us to excellence in all that we do, that brings the light of learning and the pride of useful skills to all who desire them, that preserves neighborhood schools and educational diversity, and that nurtures a new world renaissance in science, the arts, the humanities.
What about the homes in which these children grow up? Will their living standard be high? What about the careers which await them? What about the retirement years at the end of those careers?
Point five of the American birthright must be a secure and a prosperous America, where there are jobs for all who can work, a decent income with dignity for those who cannot work; where every dollar earned will buy a dollar’s worth; where prudent government spending works for the people, with a fair tax system which does not force the people to work more for the government than they work for themselves.
We owe our children something better than steadily rising prices and ever-higher taxes to support welfare handouts. We owe them the kind of solid prosperity America has not had since the Eisenhower years of 1955 and 1956–when we had full employment without inflation and without war. We owe them a reform of the welfare system so that it will not be more profitable to go on welfare than to go to work. We must continue the progress of the last several years and reach those goals.
What about the quality of life in the cities and towns where tomorrow’s children will live? What about the green earth around them?
Let us make the sixth article of their birthright a livable America–a nation whose urban and rural communities are growing in quality, order, and grace, a nation whose natural environment is restored and protected, with cleaner air and water, more parks and open spaces, wiser use of limited natural resources.
The 1970’s have been called America’s environmental decade. Through the mobilization of citizen concern and the massive support of government at every level, we are meeting that challenge. We are fighting the degradation of man’s surroundings everywhere, from the inner city slum to the mountain wilderness, and we are in this fight to win.
Our seventh goal for the birthright of tomorrow’s children must be an America free from fear, a country where the rule of law is supreme and the rate of crime is declining, where violence is replaced by peaceful change, where civility quiets the angry voices and where decency drives out moral decay. Here, too, we are making good progress, but we must do even better.
The last three articles of this birthright as we enter America’s third century must deal with the conditions necessary for achieving all the other goals.
Our eighth goal must be a free and self-governed America, an America whose unique system of representative government-Federal, State, and local–is a better instrument of the people’s will, a better servant of the people’s needs, a better protector of the people’s liberties in 1976 than at any time since the birth of our country in 1776.
To reach this high standard, sweeping reform will be needed, on the scale of a new peaceful American revolution. The sharing of the Federal revenue with our cities and States, which will begin less than 4 weeks from today, marks the first great step in starting the flow of power from Washington back to the people, where it belongs. We must keep the power flowing that way during the years ahead.
It was the genius of the people, not the mechanisms of government, that built America. That is why our ninth goal for 1976 must be a pluralist, open America, where government does not dominate, but liberates the individual, opening the way for a new surge of vitality, creative service, and civic responsibility on the part of private enterprise, voluntary institutions, and individual people across this land.
The tenth and last part of this American birthright, the most important aspect of all, is our children’s right to be born into a great and a good America–a land where people’s daily lives are guided by deep moral and spiritual principles, where families are close and strong, where patriotism flourishes without apology, where shared ideals forge unity out of diversity, and where the character of each individual and of the Nation as a whole measures up to the high hopes and the dreams which all mankind invests in America.
As your President during these past 4 years, I have visited every one of the 50 States, every region of the country, hundreds of American cities and towns, large and small. I know firsthand that the character of the American people measures up to the hopes of the world.
We can be proud that this land of ours is a great and a good country.
We can be proud of a democratic system in which the motive is not to grab for the spoils of victory, but to pass along a precious birthright to the generations who will come after us.
The choice of policies, of principles, and of candidates in this election is clear-cut and momentous. I think the people understand what is at stake. I have confidence in their ability to make a wise decision. And whatever that decision is on Tuesday, I intend to support our elected leaders as I always have done, I intend to stand up for national unity as I have always done, because America is bigger than any one man or any one party.
In the midst of all the commotion of the final weekend before an election, I think it is vitally important to remind ourselves of the great American consensus which will continue to unite us next Wednesday morning, far more powerfully than any vote tallies might seem to divide us.
Carl Schurz, a German immigrant, who became a great American statesman, said 100 years ago: “Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.”
The 10 birthright goals which I have outlined today embrace our Nation’s timeless ideals. Let all Americans, of every party and political persuasion, take them as our guides on election day and every day throughout the next 4 years.
If we do this, then I believe that this election of 1972 will be remembered as one of America’s finest hours, and that the next 4 years will be the 4 best years in America’s first two centuries.
Thank you and good afternoon.