"In the Wake of Watergate: A Return to Justice"

Montgomery, AL | April 28, 1973

We do not need a Southern strategy in this nation, or a Northern strategy, or a Western or an Eastern strategy. We need to recover the American strategy expressed in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and have equal rights -- before the law and in the courts, but also in the schools, on the streets and farms, and in the neighborhoods of this nation.

We meet tonight to renew the dreams of the past and to reach anew for a vision of the future.

And we remember the work and the words that stirred us in other times.

We remember that August day of freedom when Martin Luther King told thousands who marched on Washington and millions more who marched with him in spirit:"I have a dream.”

We remember another day in the same year when John Kennedy said to a country caught between ancient prejudice and moral principle: "Race has no place in American life or law.”

And we remember a moment of terrible agony when Dr. King was killed and Robert Kennedy comforted us with a plea to "tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”

And we remember a night when Lyndon Johnson committed the prestige and power of his office to the struggle for equal justice under law, and proclaimed to all the land: “We shall overcome.”

But these voices are no longer heard in the land. And what has been lost is not just the men but the moral leadership. They did so much that was right and changed so much that was wrong in America! Now their legacy has been betrayed at the highest levels of Government.

It has been betrayed by a cynical and false Southern strategy that insults the South. We do not need a Southern strategy in this nation, or a Northern strategy, or a Western or an Eastern strategy. We need to recover the American strategy expressed in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and have equal rights -- before the law and in the courts, but also in the schools, on the streets and farms, and in the neighborhoods of this nation.

But our best and most traditional and most American hopes and ideals have been betrayed, not just in civil rights but in every area of our national life.

Our leaders have told us that we have peace with honor in Southeast Asia. But we have just had sixty consecutive days of American bombing over there. Is that peace? Do we want an endless illegal war? Our officials may say peace, peace, but even Henry Kissinger now admits there is no peace.

And this Administration has accepted defeat with dishonor in the War on Poverty -- which   is the real war America must wage and win.

They sent an insensitive and inexperienced young man to dismantle OEO. He is an expert wrecker. He is destroying our national commitment to help deprived people help themselves. Instead, Mr. Nixon should have sent him to dismantle the White House high command.

The President has said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for yourself." And that is good advice for the wealthy. They can do for themselves -- and do very well. But a hungry child cannot eat the New Federalism. The Puritan work ethic cannot create new jobs.  Special revenue sharing cannot secure a fair share of our country’s wealth to every citizen. Our officials may preach individual initiative, but they practice and permit individual suffering -- for the other guy, never for themselves.

What they have really lost in Washington and in the White House is that passion for Justice which has been at the heart of the proud moments in our history. In our own era, it was a passion for justice that led Martin Luther King to walk the streets of Selma and Chicago, and John Kennedy to oppose Bull Connor, and Robert Kennedy to seek a newer world, and Lyndon Johnson to sound again the cry for equality only weeks before he died and despite the pain that almost prevented him from speaking.

But today justice is denied. It is denied by official attempts to destroy the Voting Rights Act. It is denied by official plots to subvert legal services for the poor. Justice is denied -- and even mocked -- by the nomination to the Supreme Court of a man whose most famous public remark was a racial slur.

And today justice is bartered away. It is bartered away when ITT offers a lavish subsidy to the Republican Convention, and the government then offers ITT a favorable anti-trust settlement. It is bartered away when the Assistant Attorney General of the United States in charge of the Criminal Division is forced to resign because he is heavily in debt to the central figure in a banking scandal. And justice is bartered away when the Attorney General phones across the ocean to intervene with Swiss authorities for an   international financier under criminal investigation -- and the financier immediately repays the favor by giving thousands of dollars in cash to the Republican Party. By the way, how often did John Mitchell ever pick up the phone to help a Black man who was in trouble?

Worst of all, today injustice is done in the name of justice. Men who are sworn to control crime are charged with committing it instead.

What are we to say when, in the span of a single week, the former Attorney General is called before a Grand Jury in Washington, another Grand Jury in New York, and a court in Florida? We expect the Attorney General to appear in legal proceedings -- but not as a potential defendant.

What are we to say when the Acting Director of the FBI is revealed to be, not an enforcer of law, but a pawn of politics -- a man who has allowed a criminal investigation to be controlled by those who are under investigation?

What are we to say when many of the highest officials of the Executive Branch-- including the President's top staff -- are implicated in burglary, bugging, and obstruction of justice -- and their only apparent defense is that they were all duped  by each other?

What are we to say when they have made the White House -- the home of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt -- into a Tammany Hall clubhouse fit for a modern day Boss Tweed?

George McGovern said during the campaign that "This is the most corrupt administration in American history." For that, he was attacked, ridiculed, and rejected. But he spoke the truth -- and everyone knows it now.

In Europe, officials and newspaper editors who have been our friends for a generation are today characterizing American political life as "a cesspool" – as "shameful" and "shameless,” corrupt and dirty and untrustworthy. Pity the poor Peace Corps volunteer trying to represent American idealism to the people of foreign lands. Pity the VISTA volunteer; pity the loyal soldier, the West Pointer with his code of military conduct and honor; pity our children, who are taught to believe In America, as they observe the spectacle of White House staff  leaders hastening to employ lawyers to defend themselves from criminal prosecution.

Truly these are days of dishonor for America, and each day brings new and even more incredible revelations. Just twenty-four hours ago, we learned that public funds -- our taxes -- were used to pay a White House official to invent documents to defame President Kennedy. And we also learned that the Acting FBI Director has destroyed evidence at the direction of the White House staff.

What kind of moral beliefs do these people have?

What do they think this country is all about?

This is not the Soviet Union, where the truth is what the government says it is.

This is the United States of America I and it is time for the President of the United States to heed the advice Dwight Eisenhower gave him twenty-one years ago during the Nixon fund scandal and “come clean as a hound's tooth." It is time for our national leadership to recognize that official injustice is the greatest of all violence.

And it is time for Americans to be able to say again: "We have a dream.”  All we can say today amidst the spreading scandal is: "We have a nightmare.”

There have been months of cover-up. There have been attempts to make the press shut up. Now it is time for this Administration to open up.

It is not enough to entrust the investigation to an Assistant Attorney General who is subject to the President, who got his job from John Mitchell and who plays golf with Mr. Mitchell’s lawyer. The Watergate investigation must no longer be a family affair. No matter how fair and scrupulous the Administration now tries to be, in this case they can never be above suspicion.  And in this case, the appearance of justice is as important as the substance of justice.

Therefore, I believe the President should ask five retired Justices of the Supreme Court   -- Chief Justice Warren, and Justices Reed Clark, Whittaker and Goldberg -- to serve on a panel responsible for selecting a Special Prosecutor with jurisdiction over every aspect of every case arising out of the Watergate Scandal. This Special Prosecutor should be someone independent of the Nixon Administration and free from partisan influence.

That person is easy to describe, but hard to find. But I do not understand how anyone who genuinely wants an honest, open investigation could object to a Special Prosecutor chosen -- not by the interested parties or their political foes -- but by the men of the greatest integrity and competence, who were themselves appointed to the highest court in the land by four different Presidents, Republican as well as Democratic. Mr. Nixon should move without delay to adopt this or a similar course of action. That is the only way to dispel the gathering clouds of suspicion and even conviction that the worst is true. We must prove that even in politics, there are some things that are not done.

Yet our challenge is not only to leave Watergate to an impartial justice, but to learn from Watergate how to perfect justice in America.

We must begin with a commitment to restore honesty to political affairs. I do not mean honesty merely with respect to public money- though that is important. But what has been stolen in recent years is more important than money; it is nothing less than our tradition of talking straight and dealing straight with each other. As we have worried more about truth in advertising, we have seen more deception in government. Instead of trying to persuade people, government and politicians now try to propagandize them. The central aim seems to be to tell it like it isn't.

Past White House statements that were false were not called false, but “inoperative” -- which somehow sounds a lot better. Just as "protective reaction” sounds better than what it means-- blowing up villages in Vietnam. Just as "pacification" sounds better than what It did-- executing thousands of South Vietnamese civilians on mere suspicion and without trial as part of the Phoenix Program.  Indeed, if the present trend continues, the Defense Department -- which started out as the War Department-- will end up as the Peace Department.

Tricky language is bad enough. But more than the manipulation of words is at stake here. Far worse is the calculated, continual evasion of moral questions in decision-making. Just as it is easier to kill with a bomb from 30,000 feet than with a bullet from thirty feet, so also it is easier to approve a policy that is wrong or painful if it can be masked in terms that make it sound right or technical

The corruption of the language leads to the corruption of liberty. What we need in America, not just in this Administration, but in politics everywhere, are fewer hired hucksters and more honest men. We need politicians who use words to communicate meaning instead of abusing words to confuse meaning.

Eight years ago, Martin Luther King was told to be silent about the Vietnam War because his opposition might offend the President and set back the cause of civil rights. It is to Lyndon Johnson’s credit that he pushed on toward equality even as Dr. King spoke out. And it is to Martin Luther King's credit that he did speak out-- that he told it as he saw it-- and that he rejected the central tenet of the age of advertising: Never tell a man something that is hard for him to hear.

Now we must hear and face the hard things -- whether they are about Watergate, or discrimination, or the injustice which still blights our own and and which we still inflict on other lands. So let us hear no more the easy phrase “benign neglect"-- for the neglect of minority rights is a malignancy in a free society. Let us hear no more the technical term "protective reaction" -- for bombing by any other name still kills the same people. And let us hear no more about law and order from lawless men who prosecute the press and persecute priests, even while they themselves are plotting crimes and protecting criminals, according to the Director of the FBI.

And we must seek to change not only the character of our political debate but the shape of our public institutions.

This is another important lesson of Watergate and it applies with special force to the Department of Justice.

In my view, the appropriate committees of the House and the Senate must investigate the Justice Department with the purpose of restructuring it from top to bottom.

The first step is to take politics out of law enforcement. We should restrict the power   of the Attorney General to criminal investigation and prosecution, and require that the Attorney General be a career public official who serves for a fixed term of years, rather than a partisan appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President.

At the same time, we should create an expanded Department of Justice, headed by a Secretary of Justice, and committed to a positive concept of justice, not just the negative task of catching criminals. As I have said many times in recent years, justice is a more fundamental, all embracing concept than the criminal law. An expanded Department of Justice should take up the questions that finally determine whether people are treated as they should be -- questions ranging from safe food and drugs and working conditions, to consumer rights, to a new assault on the slumlords who victimize the poor. The Department of Justice should be loved by the many, not just feared by the few. Its role in our society must be affirmative. It must be a source of change and reform. And it must be respected for the rights it guarantees and protects, rather than for the rights it invades.

An activist, open Department of Justice could make a difference in the way we live-- as the Department of Justice once made a difference to those of you who lived in the South in the 1960s. That is also what the Poverty Program did at its best, when it sought innovative methods to protect the legal rights of the poor. I will never forget the tears in the eyes of  an old man in  Detroit  who  told  me  that the Neighborhood Legal Services attorney had helped  him get  a few precious dollars owed to him by a local  merchant. He said to me: “Mr.  Shriver, this is the   first time I ever won anything, the first time anyone was on my side... "

Now we must put government back on the side of the people. We must seek justice for the people, instead of injustice for them and permissiveness for powerful politicians in the White House. We have a Secretary of Defense and the Treasury and Commerce. Now let us insist on a Secretary of Justice as well.

But ultimately the fight for justice must be won by the people themselves. Only the stubborn, intense efforts of citizens in places like this can move the system in the right direction. It was not an agency of government that struck the most important blow for justice in the 1950s. It was a lady named Rosa Parks, here in Montgomery, who decided that she would not go to the back of a bus because she was Black.

Now, when we are told that politics must be corrupt, or that nothing much can be done about poverty and discrimination, or that there is not enough money for quality education, we must reply: We will not go to the back of the bus. And if we bring the same determination and conviction to that effort that Rosa Parks brought with her when she boarded a bus in Montgomery sixteen years ago, then -- like her-- ultimately we will prevail.

Not long after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg received a letter from someone who wrote: Are you the same Dan Ellsberg I used to know in college?" He replied, "I was not for a long time, but now I am again."

So let us look beyond the shame of Watergate, beyond a senseless war abroad and official injustice home, to a future moment when we will ask: "Is this the America we believe in?” And let us so conduct ourselves in these days of dishonor that we will be able to say on a later, better day: "America was not truly America for a long time, but now it is again."