The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Capitol Steps, Columbus, Ohio
October 17, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Governor Di Salle, candidates for Congress, Mr. State Chairman, State senator, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, during the contest between Lincoln and General McClellan in 1864, and when the issue was still in doubt as to who would be President in January 1865, he received word that Ohio had voted for him, and he sent word that night, "Thank God, Ohio has saved the Union." Well, on the night of November 8, I would like to send a similar wire, if that is all right with you. I would like to see Ohio go Democratic. [Applause.] I would like to send a wire to your distinguished Governor saying, "Thank God, Ohio has gone Democratic again." [Applause.]

When I was on "Meet the Press" last night, I was reminded that I had come to Ohio seven times in the last 3 months. That is a lot of times. But I come to Ohio because in my judgment this State may be decisive in the election of the next President of the United States, and on your judgment, on your sense of the future of this country, on your estimate of our present position and the needs of our country, may well hang the determination as to which party, which candidate, which political philosophy, will lead the United States in the dangerous years of the 1960's. [Applause.]

Mr. Nixon has stated - Mr. Nixon has said the goals of our two parties are the same. Where we differ are the means. I don't accept that view at all. We have disagreed. [Applause.] Mr. Nixon considers a minimum wage of $1.25 to be extreme. Mr. Nixon considers Federal aid to make sure that teachers are paid a decent salary to be extreme. Mr. Nixon believes a housing bill which will build homes for our people is extreme. Mr. Nixon believes that medical care for our older citizens tied to social security is extreme.

We disagree on the goals of our country and we disagree on the means of attaining these goals. And it is a source of interest to me that I feel that it would be in the interest of this country for Mr. Nixon and I to continue these discussions on TV, to have a fifth debate. [Applause.]

I received word today that Mr. Nixon would not agree to a fifth debate. I don't understand anyone who can stand up to Mr. Khrushchev, can argue with Mr. Khrushchev, can put his finger in Mr. Khrushchev's face, who isn't willing to meet his Democratic competitor here in the United States. [Applause.]


Senator KENNEDY. Maybe it is easier to do it over there, but I think it would be advantageous for the people of this country to hear us on television to discuss how we shall win the peace and maintain our freedom, how we shall build the economy of this country, how we shall provide full employment for our people, how we shall carry on and turn the balance of power in our direction.

That certainly is worth an hour of Mr. Nixon's time in the last 18 days of the campaign. [Applause.]

I stand tonight where Franklin Roosevelt began his campaign in 1932 for the Presidency of the United States, here in this State, in this very city. He came here and began the New Deal. He began the march forward that resulted in the progress of the thirties and the forties. He laid the groundwork on which we run now in 1960. During Franklin Roosevelt's second speech when he accepted the nomination for the second time, before 100,000 people in Franklin Field, in that speech he said:

Governments can err Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
And that is the choice the people of this country have. Do you want a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference? Do you want a government that moves this country forward? That sets before the American people the unfinished agenda, the things we must do if we are going to maintain our freedom and the freedom of those who look to us for help? That is the issue and in my judgment it is as important an issue as this country ever faced. It is my judgment a question as to whether the United States is meeting its responsibilities here at home and abroad, whether the tide of history is moving in our favor or that of the Communists, whether our prestige has been at a record high, as Mr. Nixon says it is, and that of the Communists at a new low, or whether historians will say in 1970 that in these years the United States stood still, in these years the Communist advance increased, in these years in Latin America and Africa and Asia the image of the United States as a vital power began to fade.

That is the question that you must decide as voters. No one else will make that decision. You must determine whether in your judgment this country must do more in order to move ahead, whether what we are doing now is enough or whether we must do better. That is the basic question. It is on that question that we differ. It is on that question that our two parties divide, and it is a question that only you can answer on November 8.

I want to make it perfectly clear where I stand. I believe that this is a great country, but it must be greater. I believe this is a powerful country but it must be more powerful. I do not believe the tide of history is moving in our favor. I do not believe that we are doing enough. I do not believe that we occupy a position in Latin America and Africa and Asia as strong as we did a decade ago. I do not believe that our relative position in the world, militarily, vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, is as strong as it was a decade ago.

I am not satisfied as an American, where 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls who graduate from high school never get to college. I am not satisfied as an American to have the Soviet Union producing twice as many scientists and engineers as we are. I am not satisfied as an American to have them first on the moon, nor am I satisfied as an American to know that in the United States today we use only 50 percent of our steel capacity, and there are 100,000 steelworkers out of work. I am not satisfied with those things and you have to determine whether you are. [Applause.]

And the fortunate thing is that when you read about Cuba, when you read about Khrushchev in the United Nations, when you read about the problems that disturb us, you can do something about it. You can make a judgment that this country must go ahead. You can make a judgment to place responsibility on those who believe it must move. You can make a judgment to sustain us in this election, and on that basis I come here tonight and ask your help. [Applause.]

As long as there are 15 million Americans who live in substandard homes, as long as the average wage for laundry women in five large cities of the United States, and most of them are Negroes, is 65 cents for a 48-hour week, as long as the average unemployment compensation check in this rich country is less than $31 a week for a man out of work to support his family, as long as nearly 5 million Americans live on a surplus food package from the Government that amounts to 5 cents a day per person, as long as in Cuba and in other places in Latin America, as long as Africa, begins to turn against us, as long as we no longer possess an image in the world of a society on the move, so long is there need for our party on this occasion, and I come and ask your support. [Applause.]

I do not want it said in our generation, I do not want it said of Americans, what T. S. Eliot wrote in his poem "The Rock": "And the wind shall say: 'These were decent people, their only monument the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls.' We can do better than that. [Laughter and applause.]

"We do not want to take the cash and let the credit go, nor heed the rumble of a distant drum." I can predict to you that if this country does not make a decision for progress on November 8, if we continue in our present sense of urgency, which is a lack of it if we select leadership which believes that everything is right in its time, then I believe that we will judge 4 years from now that we have made a serious error.

We have a chance to correct the future. We have a chance to participate in it. We have a chance to rejoin the world as a leader of the free world. We have a chance to build in this country the kind of society which people all over the world who want to be free say, "This is the direction I want to go." And it is on that basis, not saying that life is easy, not saying that if I am elected the problems will easily be solved, but promising that if I am elected this country will start to move again, this country will start to meet its responsibilities. [Applause.]

I leave Ohio tonight and I go to Miami, Fla., and we come back again on November 4. In the meanwhile, the campaign has 3 weeks to go, and I hope in those 3 weeks it will be possible for those of us who are devoted to our country, those of us who wish to serve it, it will be possible for us to communicate to the American people the serious prospects which lie in store for us, the bright future which can be ours, the necessity for us to move as we moved before in other great times.

Woodrow Wilson once said, "The success of a party means little unless it is being used by the Nation for a great purpose." The great purpose which I would like to see the Nation use the Democratic Party for is to provide leadership to set before the American people the unfinished business of our generation. Our generation of Americans also has a rendezvous with destiny, and I believe they can meet it on November 8. [Applause.]

During the Constitutional Convention there was behind the desk of General Washington a painting of a sun low on the horizon, and many of the delegates wondered whether it was a rising sun or a setting sun, and after the Constitution had been agreed to, Benjamin Franklin stood up. He said:

We now know, because of our decision this day, that it is a rising sun and the beginning of a great new day.
Now, in our days, if we make a choice, yes, if we make a choice for forward motion, if we make the choice for progress, if we say we are going to move in the sixties, I believe it can be a rising sun and the beginning of a great new day. Thank you. [Applause.]
Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Capitol Steps, Columbus, Ohio", October 17, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project