The Most Famous Line Ever Delivered by An American President Came From A Farmer

By Bill Clutter

An excerpt from Coal Tar: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America's Children

With Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson to his left, John F. Kennedy's words united the nation.

“This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right.

A wonderful read” --Scott Turow.

After collecting their fee and paying expenses from the verdict of the CIPS case, Tom Londrigan and his partner Bud Potter called me into Tom’s office and handed me a check for $3,000. It was my bonus for investigating how Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS), a coal utility company, exposed the community of Taylorville, Illinois to coal tar through a business-friendly cleanup program that caused an epidemic of a rare childhood cancer. I used the money to take my four boys on a road trip to Dallas, Texas to spend New Year’s Eve 2002. We stopped in Oklahoma City to visit the memorial for the victims of Timothy McVeigh, the white supremacist who drove a Ryder truck loaded with ammonium nitrate in front of the Murrah Federal Building and walked away. In the empty field where the FBI regional headquarters once stood, there are 168 empty chairs made of bronze to symbolize the lives lost. The children from the daycare who were killed by the blast were not victims of greed or political corruption, but a different type of evil that still infects the culture of American society, neo-Nazi, White Christian Identity Nationalism. In Dallas, we visited the School Book Depository, now a museum, where Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of setting up a sniper’s nest on the 6th floor from a window overlooking Dealey Plaza, the last place on earth John F. Kennedy visited as his motorcade traveled. I wanted my children to learn from this raw brutal history, lest we forget. Carol Londrigan died on March 29, 2016, at age 77. For ten years, her husband Tom watched over her as her memory faded away from Alzheimer’s. Carol’s good friend, Margaret Casey, who lost her husband, John Casey, a few years back, checks in on Tom each day. As couples, John Casey, who also worked as an attorney, and his wife, Margaret, spent many years together socializing with Tom and Carol Londrigan. Margaret brings Tom home cooked meals and is helping him edit Tales of Tomas, a novel Tom wrote about an Irish sailor who voyages the seas of Nova Scotia well before Christopher Columbus discovered America. Tom’s short-term memory is not as clear as it once was at 81 years-old, but his memory of the CIPS case was vivid when I visited him more than two decades after the CIPS trial ended. It felt like old times being back by his side. Tom had become a father figure in my life during the many hours, days, months, and years we spent together working on the CIPS case. On a recent trip back to Springfield, Illinois to visit Tom, Margaret shared with me memories of her own father Ralph Bradley. Raised on a small family farm in Anna, Illinois in Union County at the far southern tip of Illinois, Margaret’s father was the founder and first president of the Illinois Farm Union. He became a critic of farm policies beginning with the Eisenhower administration that benefited large corporate farm operations through a corporate welfare system that threatened to drive small family farms into bankruptcy. She said her father would often deliver speeches telling his members, “Ask not what your country will do for farmers—ask what you can do for your country.”

Margaret’s father was lobbying in Washington, D.C. when U.S. Senator Paul Douglas from Illinois introduced him to Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. “He doesn’t know a thing about agriculture,” said Douglas. Margaret granted permission to print excerpts of the oral history that was recorded by Sangamon State University Professor Cullom Davis before Ralph Bradley died. It was previously protected by copyright from publication, until now. Bradley met Senator John F. Kennedy in his Capitol Hill office just before he announced his run for president. Bradley recalls telling Kennedy, “There’s a bill before the House that’s quite important to us.” “Well, you know Ralph, Massachusetts is not a farm producing state, as such. It’s not a big part of our economy. Most of our constituents buy grain instead of sell grain,” said Kennedy. Bradley shot back, “Yes, that’s true. But you’ll never be president of Massachusetts.” At about that time, Jacqueline Kennedy arrived. Jackie announced, “Jack, come on. Get in the car. I’ve got the car right outside. Dinner’s on the table and you’re going to go home and eat.” Jack replied, “Jacqueline, come here, I want you to meet somebody.” She said, “That’s fine but we better go home and eat.” Bradley recalled, “She was an impetuous little thing, cute as she could be.” Jack introduced him, “This is Ralph Bradley.” “Hi, Ralph. How are you?” she said. “Jack are you ready now?

Let’s go.” “No. Ralph and I are going back in my office and have about an hour’s visit,” said Jack. “No. You’re not! Jackie protested. “And she beat us through the door and got in Jack’s chair and dared him to sit down. So, Jack just turned to another office, which he had a suite there of three or four offices, and he said, ‘Ralph, we’ll go in there. We’ll let Jackie sit in my chair for a while.’ So, she did. She waited very graciously and came in, as a matter of fact, and visited a little,” Bradley recalled. Bradley spent the next two hours in Senator Kennedy’s office educating him on farm policy. After the meeting, Kennedy introduced Bradley to two of his key aides, Mike Feldman and Ted Sorenson.

Kennedy turned to Feldman and Sorenson and announced, “Now Ralph tells me that we probably have been voting a little wrong on some of these farm bills, that he feels is wrong. I’m not sure what position we’ve been taking because I’ve been taking the advice from both of you. I do know on the price support bill when we voted last year on it I was severely criticized by the Democratic Party for voting with the Republicans on that bill.” Kennedy admonished his aides, “I don’t want your recommendations on how I should vote on agricultural bills as it comes before the Senate until you have first checked with Ralph Bradley. I want him to be my unofficial consultant on agriculture,” said Kennedy. Ralph Bradley became a key advisor to Kennedy, heading his national campaign Farmers for Kennedy. When Kennedy campaigned in the Illinois Democratic Primary, it was Ralph Bradley who introduced Jack Kennedy to Illinois farmers in 1959 and persuaded them to support his candidacy over presidential contenders Hubert Humphrey and Adlai E. Stevenson, II. Kennedy walloped them and Lyndon Johnson and Missouri’s Stuart Symington in the primary, taking 64.6 percent of the vote in the April 12, 1960 primary election. After defeating Vice-president Richard Nixon, Kennedy borrowed that line of Bradley’s speech to farmers, and substituted the word “you” in place of “farmers” when he delivered the most famous line ever spoken during an Inaugural Address to the nation: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” on January 20, 1961, with his hand on his family Bible as Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the presidential oath of office. Those were the days when America truly was a great nation. It was a Golden Age when our leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy were regarded as world statesmen. America climbed out of a debilitating economic Depression to become an Arsenal of Democracy in defeating fascism. Black and white, North and South, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Native Americans and immigrants and their descendants, all united as Americans. The words of those great American Presidents never divided Americans but gave hope to other people in the world who yearned for freedom against tyranny and religious persecution. They believed, as did Lincoln, in one nation, united, not divided by race, creed or color. It was a time when our political leaders in Congress enacted legislation like Social Security, Medicare and other programs that benefited the interests of “The People” over the conservative wing of the Republican Party, who opposed those programs. Even Richard Nixon, who fell from grace for expanding the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, was viewed by the world as a statesman for opening relations with China, as well as Russia that paved the way for joint space missions with Soviet cosmonauts. Looking back, Nixon’s domestic policies left a lasting legacy when he created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order. The children from Taylorville, Illinois who survived the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma are young adults now. Erika May and Zachary Donaldson lead normal lives, but beneath their clothing are the scars that they bear from having survived cancer. Disabled, Chad Hryhorsak spends much of his day flat on his back paralyzed from the waist down, a result of the surgery that removed the tumor that wrapped around his spine when he was an infant.

But Chad has strength of mind. When President Trump attacked former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, and the other players who kneeled in solidarity during the National Anthem to protest police shootings of African-Americans, Chad reacted with anger when the media reported as news players who stood for the national anthem. Chad posted on Facebook, “Congratulations, Society, you have officially done it. You have finally done something to just make me . . . utterly exasperated at just how stupidly arrogant we have all become. There is a news article out there that says ‘Packer, Bears stand during anthem before NFL game’ . . . This is news? Standing? Yeah, it’s news when Christopher Reeves or if I one day stand . . . discuss important issues, like health care,” he said. After Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and Puerto Rico Chad wrote, “Due to excessive lobbying by Florida Power & Light (FPL), those without power due to Hurricane Irma are not permitted to use their own solar panels.”

He is rightfully angered by a political system that allows utility companies like FLP and CIPS to control the decisions of government.

Bill Clutter is a private investigator from Springfield, Illinois who recently released his first book called Coal Tar: How Political Corruption and Corporate Greed are Killing America’s Children. This excerpt appears in the chapter called The Aftermath of the CIPS case. This story is about his investigation of a childhood cancer epidemic. The lawsuit filed by attorney Thomas F. Londrigan Sr. led to a landmark Illinois Supreme Court decision in Donaldson et al v. Central Illinois Public Service Company.