Keynote Address to the New York Democratic State Convention (1946)
Mr. Fitzpatrick, delegates to the convention, honored guests:
It is a long time since I have taken part in a New York State Convention, or even in a National Convention. I am glad to be with you today because the Empire State has pioneered before and in this year of 1946, when the war has been over a little more than a year, we must face pioneering again. The war is ended, but there is no peace and good will established yet in the world. We are seeing day by day, that the problems of peace are as complex as the problems of war and require from us qualities of heart and mind which we have only evinced in times past during the stress of war.
We meet here as members of one of the two great national political parties. We believe in this State that the Democratic Party is the party which offers the country an opportunity for growth and progress towards the normal aspirations of man-better living and working conditions, good will and better understanding in the family of nations, and a sense of fulfillment in that "pursuit of happiness" which can only come to the party in our country which gives spiritual as well as economic and political leadership.
In the past several years we have had this sense of satisfaction nationally.
You will pardon me if for a few minutes I look back because while I believe strongly that the past must never govern the future, I also believe that we must have the past in mind to help us shape the future.
On the national scene in 1933, we inherited twelve years of Republican government in Washington. The Democrats can be proud of the record of the following years. First we had to pull the country out of a devastating domestic situation. We managed to do this by giving the people back confidence in themselves and in their ability to win through to success. "Nothing to fear but fear itself" was our slogan and we got rid of fear. As we did this, we also prepared ourselves to meet one of the greatest crises in our history which came with the attack on Pearl Harbor. This preparation was done in spite of the constant opposition of Republicans in Congress and of Republican leadership in the Nation. You will remember that the present Governor of New York State at one time stated that it was ludicrous to imagine that we could reach certain stated goals of production. The Democrats trusted our people and our people made good.
In this State in 1942, after Democratic Governors served the people of the State for 22 years without a break, and Governor Smith's record of social and progressive legislation and administration had been followed by Governor Roosevelt and Governor Lehman, we turned over to the present governor not only a government in good running order, but many plans and programs which made possible the best things which have been done under Republican rule in this State. None of the policies which were initiated by the previous Democratic Governors from Governor Smith through to Governor Lehman, have been changed. The pioneering done by the Democrats in the State in social legislation which was later carried through on a broader front in Washington, is wholly responsible for the laws which have given the people of the State a sense of stability and protection.
Now the Republicans claim as their main achievement the accumulation of a cash surplus in the State. They neglect, however, to point out that some of this surplus has been inherited from the Democratic administration and that the hoarding of this surplus worked great hardship on cities, forcing them to impose excise taxes and to neglect many governmental functions of value to the people.
Just let us take one department of the State Government extremely important to the working people of our State. The Labor Department has been reorganized ostensibly to make it less expensive to run and more efficient. In the past the Labor Department's primary interest was to see that labor's interests were safe guarded but subtly that has changed and today the interests of the employer are paramount in the administration of the Department of Labor. This is shown in the fact that they have decided not to police industrial establishments, as they call it. Take for instance, the enforcement of the Minimum Wage Law. In prior years this law was the most effective instrument that our State had devised to improve sub-standards of living in sweated industries and occupations. A Minimum Wage Order, when promulgated, meant something because a thorough enforcement job was done by the Labor Department. The first thing the current administration did in connection with the Minimum Wage Law was to change the method of enforcement. The Labor Department now employs the system of spot checking. The outstanding virtue of this method is that it saves time and money. Its weakness, of course, is that it affords opportunity for many violations to go undetected.
The present Governor proudly asserts that we have the highest minimum wage rates of any State. He refers of course, to the Retail Trades Minimum Wage Order. He conveniently forgets, however, to mention that this rate applies only to that one trade and that waitresses, laundry workers, hotel workers, dyers and cleaners and beauticians still get the pre-war dolefully low minimums.
One amusing thing in connection with the enforcement of this Order is that instead of dealing directly with employers and workers, the Industrial Commissioner had the Retail Trades posters distributed to the local Chambers of Commerce with the pious hope that they would be redistributed by them to employers. The only time a firm received a Retail Trades poster from the Labor Department was when they specifically wrote in and requested it. These posters in work rooms are the only way the workers know what the rules are under which they work.
In the case of veterans' affairs which is of such vital importance, much has been made of the State Division of Veterans Affairs, set up by the Governor. This group could have been of great assistance if it had consisted of really well qualified people, deeply interested in helping the veterans. Cooperating with the federal government it could have prevented, for instance, the buying by veterans of houses at inflated prices which we are now told will not stand up a few years from now. Their position as counsellors and advisers might have been made of vital help in preventing the exploitation of veterans in job training programs. What is happening to veterans, points to one important fact which all of us should recognize, namely, that the best plans in the world have to be carried out by individuals. If the individuals are good, the plans are well carried out. If they are poor, the plans will go awry and the value of state groups cooperating with the national administration is that they can check on the way people are carrying out the sprit of the law and they can make recommendations which will be listened to at headquarters, where an individual G.I. is powerless.
The Governor's Division of Veterans Affairs could have done much in making the education and the whole employment scene for veterans a better picture. Instead of which it has simply not functioned and therefore the maximum good from the national program is not being achieved and the veterans who gave so much for their country are the victims of poor administration in spite of all the promises which were made to them and which most of us want to see carried out.
In the field of housing the present Governor of the State talks of the difficulties he is under in carrying through the housing program because of the priorities demanded by the National Housing program. He did not have foresight enough to appropriate during the last two years, the money which might have started these programs well on their way, nor had he arranged for close cooperation between the National and State programs so that no difficulties could arise between them. He has been silent and failed to support the bi-partisan Wagner-Ellender-Taft Housing Bill.
In the field of education we, the richest State in the Union, have no state university and rank 23rd in giving educational opportunities to all our children. We are behind every state west of the Mississippi in percentage of youth going to college. New York State stands forty-eighth among the states in money spent for education above the high school level and this is probably a greater hardship to the youth in rural areas than in the cities since some cities provide universities with free tuition for their citizens.
In the field of health, we have made no real progress in plans which would make medical care available to all the people. No plan has been forthcoming under the Republican Administration, even though we have had the results of the draft to remind us of our obligation to the health of our young people. It is true that the Governor set up a commission to study the need for a health program for the State and in this case "special interests" prevented the recommendations which logically should have been made because of the findings of the commission. The result was that after 15 months of deliberation and an expenditure of $100,000 of state funds, the committee majority failed to present any plan at all. Cities again get on better than rural areas when there is no state program, but a coordinated program using all of our facilities would benefit us all.
In the field of agriculture in which I have a special interest because it was one of my husband's greatest interests from his early days in the New York State Legislature, I feel that while the farmers are undoubtedly at present very much better off, it is due to conditions in the world and not to the administration of matters of interest to the farmer in the State of New York. For instance, it would benefit the small farmer in the State if a real investigation could be made in the spread in the price of milk between what farmers receive and what the consumer pays. Certain "interests" have again prevented this investigation and the same old fight which I have watched for years was waged in the Legislature and the "interests" won both in the Legislature and with the Governor.
Much praise has been meted out to the Governor because this State passed a Fair Employment Practices Bill, but passing a Bill, which is good in itself, is not of much use unless something happens under that Bill. I do not think we can boast in this State that discrimination in employment is over. We do not have to pass, thank Heaven, an anti-lynching bill, or an anti-poll-tax bill in our State. It is significant to note that in the Legislature the Rep. Gov. had solid Dem. backing. The only opposition votes were cast by Rep[ublicans]. Naturally I do not think there has ever been any question of where the representatives in Congress from the State of New York stand on these questions, but we are far from able to sit back and think that because we have a Fair Employment Practices Law we have no discrimination either in opportunities for education or opportunities for employment. I hope that this convention will pledge itself to use this Law to better advantage in the future.
In Washington today the Administration which has adhered to the progressive ideals of the Democratic Party, has been defeated in putting through many of the measures which represent the real spirit of the Democratic Party by a coalition of so-called conservative Democrats and reactionary Republicans. That is why it seems to me extremely important that we have in the Senate of the United States men whom we have known in this State and can count on to stand on domestic and foreign questions for the progressive Democratic point of view. You are here to consider the nominations for the State ticket, and also the nomination of a candidate for the United States Senate and in all of your nominations I hope you will bear this thought in mind. The primaries all over the country have shown that where the victories go to Republicans they always go to conservatives. Never forget that the Republican Party is the party that looks backward. When the Democrats have taken progressive steps, the Republicans as a rule, in time accept what has been done and simply state that they are not going to make changes, but that they will administer better the laws which have been passed under the Democrats.
Administration is a question of choosing good administrators, but it is far more important in times such as these to put in office men who have the creative spirit and can accept unknown conditions and find solutions without always harking back to the security of something they knew in the past which perhaps is entirely inadequate to meet the present. Whomever you choose for United States Senator this year will have great opportunities for service to the State and to the Nation and you must trust him and back him with your interest and your constant support.
Both major parties in this country know quite well that they do not win in elections through the votes cast either by regular Republicans or by regular Democrats. They win because the growing independent vote of the country is with them. This vote is the deciding factor. Victory comes when the candidates and the policies of a party convince these independent voters of their wisdom and sincerity.
The men whom you nominate will, I am sure, have a keen sense of responsibility to you and I hope that every person here will have an equally keen sense of responsibility toward their nominees. I hope that a real fight will be waged in every district not only for the State ticket, but for the local candidates and candidates for the Legislature of the State and the Congress. Unless a Governor has a Legislature with him, he can hardly be blamed if he is not able to put his program into effect and unless a President has a Congress with a clear mandate to put through progressive legislation, the Executive in Washington is powerless.
Democratic government depends for its success on the strength of its smallest unit. If Democratic government is weak in its smallest unit, if the members of the local and country committees are not truly interested in good government, there is failure at the top because there is failure at the bottom. Every individual who believes in democracy must do his job as a citizen to the limit of his ability. Otherwise our form of government is a failure.
Similarly every individual candidate is a link in the line which makes the success of the State and National government possible. You must win because you know and can persuade the voters in your district of what we must do today to meet our great opportunity as leaders in the world. Reconversion must be hurried here to help reconstruction the world over. We are no longer able to think of ourselves only as a small group of people struggling for our own success. We are citizens belonging to a great political party, planning here for the future of the greatest state in the Union, whose influence is powerful today in one of the strongest nations of the world. With strength and power goes responsibility and none of us can shirk it.
The misery of the world cries out to us for leadership. The hunger of the world demands our sympathy and our production. The lack of opportunity staring so many people in the face today in other nations shames us unless we grasp our great opportunities and use them to the best advantage. That means assuring everyone of our citizens, through their government, of the help and hope which makes individual and group achievement a certainty. We believe in free enterprise and individual initiative but we want it to benefit all and not just a favored few.
To you, the delegates to this State Convention, I give a challenge-make the people of our State conscious of their greatness, make this, your Party, an instrument which will appeal to people who want greater achievements. In that spirit, may we march to victory in November and justify our victory by our performance thereafter.