When Medicare remains on the chopping block, offered up by a Democratic president in hopes of gaining some small concession from Republicans on taxes, a reminder from President Johnson about just how Medicare came to be seems in order. From his speech that day:
In 1935 when the man that both of us loved so much, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, signed the Social Security Act, he said it was, and I quote him, "a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but it is by no means complete."Over nearly 40 years, four Democratic presidents and countless members of Congress worked ceaselessly for the goal expressed by LBJ the day he signed Medicare into law, and presented President Truman with the first Medicare card issued, that "men and women in pain who will now find ease," that "those, alone in suffering who will now hear the sound of some approaching footsteps coming to help," that "those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty—despite their long years of labor and expectation—who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization."
Well, perhaps no single act in the entire administration of the beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt really did more to win him the illustrious place in history that he has as did the laying of that cornerstone. And I am so happy that his oldest son Jimmy could be here to share with us the joy that is ours today. And those who share this day will also be remembered for making the most important addition to that structure, and you are making it in this bill, the most important addition that has been made in three decades.
History shapes men, but it is a necessary faith of leadership that men can help shape history. There are many who led us to this historic day. [...]
[T]here is also John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who fought in the Senate and took his case to the people, and never yielded in pursuit, but was not spared to see the final concourse of the forces that he had helped to loose.
But it all started really with the man from Independence. And so, as it is fitting that we should, we have come back here to his home to complete what he began.
President Harry Truman, as any President must, made many decisions of great moment; although he always made them frankly and with a courage and a clarity that few men have ever shared. The immense and the intricate questions of freedom and survival were caught up many times in the web of Harry Truman's judgment. And this is in the tradition of leadership.
But there is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.
That's a legacy that cannot be squandered. It's a legacy that shouldn't be minimized by turning it into nothing more than a bargaining chip tossed out in the hopes of reaching a mean agreement with a bunch of hostage-takers for nothing more than some tax code adjustments. There are few things that should be sacrosanct in American politics. For the Democratic party, the achievements of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—measures that have saved generations of Americans from lives of pain and poverty—must be.