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John F. Kennedy: Address in Milwaukee at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
John
John F. Kennedy
186 - Address in Milwaukee at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
May 12, 1962
Public Papers of the Presidents
John F. Kennedy<br>1962
John F. Kennedy
1962
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United States
Wisconsin
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My friend Pat Lucey:

They said it couldn't be done--and it was done. And I want to express my compliments to him in fulfilling his responsibility as the leader of a State organization here, a State which has had a great tradition of political leadership.

I am glad to be back in Wisconsin and I want to express my thanks to you for a most generous welcome. It is not always encouraging, the news we read in Washington, so it's nice to be able to drive from the airport here in Milwaukee into town and get waved at. So I'm grateful to you all.

And I am glad to be here with so many people that I know well. Whatever other qualifications I may have had when I became President, one of them at least was that I knew Wisconsin better than any other President of the United States. That is an unchallengeable statement. My foot-tracks are in every house in this State. And what I don't know about the State, the majority whip, our distinguished friend Senator Humphrey, he knows the rest of it.

When they talk about a cold wind, I look north to Superior and the 10th Congressional District, and I know the difference between the kind of farms they have in the 7th District and the 1st District. And I know what a distinguished university can be--in Madison, Wis.--and I knew all about Vince Lombardi and Green Bay long before they won. And I knew all about the Braves before you did--when they were back in Boston.

I suppose that there is no training ground for the Presidency, but I don't think it's a bad idea for a President to have stood outside of Maier's meat factory in Madison, Wis., just because Senator Proxmire always did it, at 5:30 in the morning, with the temperature 10 above. When I read some of those great editorials about labor, I like to think about how it is to go to work at 6 o'clock in the morning at zero degrees. So I think it's a very valuable experience, and I want you to know that I'm glad to be back here. I am glad to be here with your distinguished Governor who occupies a most difficult and exacting post.

Governors have been politically liquidated all over the United States in recent years, because of the problems that a Governor faces in a growing country and a growing State. All the way in from the airport, all I saw was your children who need to be educated, who want some day to go to the university, who want some day to find a job, who want some day to be able to enjoy the countryside--and all these problems come to rest on the Governor, your distinguished Members of Congress, Senator Proxmire who fulfills a noble tradition in this State of progressive independence and who serves this State with distinction--the Members of your congressional delegation, my old campaign manager Clem Zablocki, and your other Congressman, Henry Reuss--Congressman Kastenmeier, who is interested in thought, which is very challenging--Congressman Johnson who represents the 9th District and who helped indicate a Democratic victory in 1960 by his victory several years ago.

I mention all of them because they are vitally important. I know that I sometimes read in the paper that, well the President's all right but I don't know about his program, and why doesn't the Government just leave us all alone. That argument has been made every decade in this country's history. It was made during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, in the days of the New freedom, and it was made during the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal-and it is made today.

What are these programs which are regarded with such concern? A bill which makes it possible to retrain men who are chronically unemployed, who sit in West Virginia coal mines, 17 or 18 percent of the working force at one time, who know only coal mining, who are 50 years of age, and a program to help them be retrained so that they can find constructive work and not depend upon handouts from the federal Government every month.

A program for youth employment, when one out of every four of our citizens under 20 are unemployed. When we are going to have eight million boys and girls drop out of our schools in this decade, uneducated in the sense of completing their education, untrained at a time when skill in employment is most needed--I do not consider that so far advanced.

A program of medical care for the aged tied to social security. I thought the acceptance of the battle over social security-and the thought and the idea of social security originated in this State--I thought that matter was settled in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

Or a program of assistance to higher education. A democracy--a country today is only as strong as its citizens are educated. The people who find work today are those who are educated. Twice as many of the sons and daughters of the people of Wisconsin will want to go to your colleges at the end of this decade as today. We have to build in the next few years as many colleges and dormitories as we have built in 130 years, in a period of 8 or 9 years. And they're all descending upon us--your sons and daughters-and they want to be educated. And I do not regard that as a particularly radical program.

And the farmers of the State of Wisconsin, do they want us to really stop with a program of supports for milk today, which is as you know, far too low? And I remember when Senator Proxmire led the fight to increase it--75 percent of parity, $3.1 a hundredweight, when the average wage of a farmer here in Wisconsin was 65, 70, 75, or 80 cents an hour. A farmer cannot live on that, and if this level is maintained it will cost the dairy farmers of this State and country two or three hundred millions of dollars.

Now these programs either pass or fail by one or two votes. What I have mentioned here are the kinds of things a country must do--which other countries have done in many cases years ago. All of these programs have been written into the statute books of nearly every country in Western Europe. And yet they are regarded with concern because they are new--and because they may be somewhat different.

We have to decide, and this is the issue, not so much parties, but between those who feel we should stand still and those who feel we should move ahead. The countries of Western Europe have grown twice as fast as ours economically, and have had full employment for a decade. We have had a recession in 1958, a recession in 1960. We still have not put all the people back to work who want to go. We have made progress in the last year, but we still have much to do.

And everyone who owns a home who recognizes that that home, and the builder who built that home, and the workman who worked on that home, it is because in most cases of the guarantees which were given by earlier programs in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. So I don't think we should be worried about progress. I think we should make up our minds that this great country of ours, 180 million people, increasing 3 million a year, going to double our population in 40 or 50 years, that we have many tasks still undone, and we can do them. And in my judgment, that is what separates us in the year 1962.

This is important, these Congressmen and Senators, because as I've said these issues are decided by 1 or 2 votes. This week in the House, on the Agricultural Committee, an agricultural bill was reported out by 17 to 16. Medical care for the aged sits in the House committee and will be reported out or defeated by 1 or 2 votes. And the bill on youth employment is in the House Rules Committee, and it will come out or be defeated by 1 or 2 votes. So that these Congressmen and Senators, working with us, I believe have a most important function to fulfill.

Khrushchev talks of burying us economically, and what he means is that he believes within the next 20 or 25 years the Soviet Union will become the most productive power on earth, and when that day comes all the people of the world will believe that his system represents the wave of the future.

We cannot permit this country to stand still, and I believe it is incumbent upon all of us who participate in political activity, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, I believe that we should associate ourselves with the great traditions of our party.

All those who see thousands of people, hundreds of thousands, who are unable to vote, or can't find a home, or can't find equality of education--I see this country as the most powerful, vital, vigorous country in the history of the world, carrying responsibilities all around the world, and I see it today as a choice between being willing to accept these responsibilities, provide a better life for our people, because from this comes a better life. Or I see it standing still.

And we went all through these same arguments and same struggle in the thirties, and now what all of us in the entire country take for granted, with the object of the most far-reaching struggles as we struggle today.

So I come here to Wisconsin to fulfill one of my responsibilities. As President Truman has said, a President wears four or five hats as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive Officer, but one of them is the head of his party, and a party is important only if it serves a great national function. And I believe that our party can serve a great national function, this year and in the years to come, by committing ourselves to action on all these areas which so vitally affect us.

This is a difficult time in the life of the United States, because the United States bears such heavy burdens. I know that many of us, in fact on occasions all of us, wish for those days when the United States lived an isolated existence. But today the United States carries the major burden in so many areas--and the people of Wisconsin know this better than most.

The National Guard Division of this State was taken from its homes, on my order--on the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--and have been sitting in a camp for many months. And I am sure they wonder why. But that Division, and the other of the 160,000 men who were called up last summer, after the meeting in Vienna with Chairman Khrushchev, in my opinion have made it, by their efforts, directly possible for us, to this day, to maintain our commitments to Berlin, and to ourselves--and also to maintain the peace.

The United States has done this. And the people of Wisconsin have more than borne their share of the responsibility. I would not enjoy sitting in a camp myself. I do not blame anyone who wonders why suddenly his life was taken and put out in the State of Washington. But I hope they realize, as I hope the people of this State realize, that these men are doing what free men must on occasions do. And I think this country owes them a debt of gratitude, which I hope they recognize.

In other areas also we have tried to act. In the Alliance for Progress, in an attempt to bind together the countries of Latin America. In the Disarmament Agency, the fight for which was led by Congressman Kastenmeier in the House. For the first time the United States submitted a proposal, with Great Britain, which has not yet been accepted, for a cessation of nuclear tests, a treaty. And for the first time we submitted the most comprehensive and broadest disarmament plan which unfortunately still today remains un-accepted, but which with good fortune and continued efforts may some day win the attention of those who must realize the dangers to all by our present course of action. Our effort in space, and in the support of the United Nations, all these matters finally come to rest upon you and upon us.

And I come to the State of Wisconsin, not merely to congratulate you for what you've done, but to ask your support in these challenges which this country faces. That I believe is the effort which we must be willing to make. And I think that it is worthy of the best of all of us.

I don't think our party in this century has ever been led by men who have promised a soft and easy existence. What they have promised, and their names and their slogans distinguish them--Wilson and Roosevelt and T r u m a n--that the word "American," the title "citizen of the United States," will be an honorable one, and one marked by respect and dignity. And it is to that end that the New frontier is committed.

When I was a candidate for the Presidency, I was given this and signed it, advising us that in order to attend a steel workers meeting in Pittsburgh, "that you hereby promise to come to our town after you are President"; signed William Herrling, president of the village of Mukwonago. Well, I can't go there, but if there's anybody there from Mukwonago--I hate to think how many of these are distributed all over Wisconsin-and I'm going to have to go. You may have to give me several years, but I will go.

But I did want to say that I'm glad to come back to Wisconsin. This is a great State. Out of it has come a great many influential and powerful forces. And in the final analysis, there is nothing that we can do in Washington that can be done without your support. Whether it involves the price of steel, or the defense of the United States, or whatever it may be, in the final analysis you must decide which direction we are going to go, which burdens we accept, which road we choose. The Government is not a distant force. It depends directly upon what you decide yourself, and I hope that you make the commitment which I believe we must all make.

I don't know with certainty what the future will bring, but I am certain that if we are willing to continue to play our proper part, that it can be happy for all of us.

In the 1920's, Marshal Lyautey, the distinguished French Marshal, told his gardener to plant a tree, and the gardener said, "Well, you don't want to plant that, it's going to take a hundred years to flower." And he said, "In that case, plant it this afternoon."

Well, we don't know whether it will take a hundred years to flower, and it may never flower--but I think we ought to plant it tonight.
Thank you.


Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. at the Milwaukee Arena. In his opening words he referred to Patrick J. Lucey, Wisconsin Democratic State Chairman. Later he referred to Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. Senator from Minnesota; William Proxmire, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin; Gaylord A. Nelson, Governor of Wisconsin; Clement J. Zablocki, Henry S. Reuss, Robert W. Kastenmeier, and Lester R. Johnson, U.S. Representatives from Wisconsin; and William Herrling, president of the village of Mukwonago, Wis.
Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Address in Milwaukee at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.," May 12, 1962. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8650.
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