The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Tampa, FL, Hillsborough County Courthouse
October 18, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Senator Smathers, Mr. Mayor, Senator Dickinson, Congressman Fascell, Red McEwen, who is going to be the next Congressman from this congressional district [applause], ladies and gentlemen, I come here all the way from Massachusetts, 1,500 miles away, and ask your support in this campaign. I come to this State of Florida, where my family have been residents for 30 years, and I can tell you that Massachusetts and Florida and the United States, I believe need a change. They need motion. They need the Democratic Party, and they need new leadership in the United States. [Applause.] Massachusetts and Florida voted Republican in 1952 and 1956, but I cannot believe in the most difficult and dangerous time, that this Republic has ever faced, that we are going to elect a President of the United States who runs on the slogan "We've never had it so good". [Response from the audience.]

In electing a President of the United States, you must make, above all, your judgment of how good his judgment is. Can he predict with any degree of certainty the flow of events through the world? Can he make a judgment which involves the security of the United States, your well-being, your prosperity, your peace, your future? What is his judgment like? Mr. Nixon's judgment, I believe, is indicated by his willingness in this time of hazard to go to the American people with a campaign promise, the campaign statement, that our prestige has never been higher, that of the Communists has never been lower, that everything that must be done is being done, and just leave it to him, and we will be secure.

I don't hold that view at all. I believe that this is a time of danger and of opportunity. I believe the 1960's can be the best of days or the worst of days, and I believe in the final analysis that it will be secure, that it will be peaceful, that it will be strong, that the economy will go ahead only if the American people have leadership prepared to face the facts and do something about it. [Applause.]

This is no old Republican and Democratic fight. It is true that there are issues which separate us, which are traditional. The Democratic Party in my opinion, and I have been there for 14 years and I have served in the Congress with Democrats and I have served with Republicans - my judgment is that on those issues with which we are familiar, issues involving small business, care for the aged, education for our children, economic growth, full employment, development of our resources, in my opinion, time after time after time the majority of the Republicans have voted no, and the majority of the Democrats have voted yes. [Applause.]

But I do not run on that record. I run as a candidate for the Presidency with full knowledge that unless this country is prepared to pick itself up and get itself off dead center and begin to lead, begin to set an example to the world of what a vital society freedom can be, this country is not going to survive as the strongest, freest country in the world. That is the issue - that is the issue, not any old fights which took place in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Those fights may still go on. We might be defeated on that basis and the country survive. Older people might not be as secure, our schools might not be as good, but the real issue is your judgment as citizens, as informed citizens, capable of exercising your franchise, it is your judgment of whether this country can afford to stand still or whether we can be secure, whether living in Florida 90 miles, as Senator Smathers said, off the coast of Cuba, and close to all the world, a few minutes from all the world, whether this country can afford leadership as usual, leadership which is so misinformed about the current of history that it chooses to run on the slogan in 1960 of peace and prosperity, as if nothing was wrong, as if everything was being done; as if our society was on the move, as if we did not live face to face with risk.

I don't run on that basis and it is your judgment what kind of leadership you want. If you want leadership that seeks to please you, if you want leadership that will tell you that everything is all right when it is not, vote for Mr. Nixon. [Response from the audience.] But if you have the courage to face the facts of our time, to recognize that this country deserves the best of all of us, and more than anything it deserves the truth, then I ask your support. [Applause.]

Twenty years ago this month, Franklin Roosevelt talked to the nations of Latin America, and this is what he said about the Nazi menace:

So bound together as we can be, we are able to withstand any attack from the east or from the west. Together we are able to ward off any infiltration of alien political and economic ideas that would destroy our freedom and our democracy.
And as a result of his leadership, as a result of his call to arms, the Nazi effort to destroy freedom in Latin America was defeated.

I contrast that call to the dim, silent trumpet that this administration has given forth in the last few years. In Cuba, the Communists have established a satellite. In Venezuela, angry mobs assault the Vice President of the United States. In Mexico City, rioting mobs have protested American policy and castigated America, itself. In Panama, anti-American demonstrations have imperiled the Canal. In Brazil, the newly elected President of Brazil felt it incumbent upon him to make a journey to Havana to call on Mr. Castro in order to get his benediction in that race for the Presidency of Brazil, not to Washington - not to Washington - to Havana. Every report from Latin America, every new dispatch from the south brings fresh news of unrest and tension, and we have not seen the worst of it. We have not seen the worst of it. This struggle is going to go on through all of Latin America, through all of Africa, and through all of Asia for the next decade.

I am confident that we can be successful. But we cannot be successful if we demonstrate the lamentable lack of concern that we have shown for the last eight years. [Applause.] With the great tide sweeping Latin America that wanted freedom, what did this administration do? In 1953, the dictator of Peru was given a medal by the United States. In 1954, the dictator of Venezuela was awarded the Legion of Merit by the American Ambassador. In 1956, the dictator of Paraguay received his medal from America. In 1955, our Secretary of the Navy compared Peron to Lincoln in Peron's favor. The results of these blunders have been disastrous.

The people of Latin America have not felt we are concerned about freedom. They fear we are really concerned about them only as pawns in the cold war. We are more interested, they think, in our investments in those countries than in the people. And thus when the dictatorships fell, and they are falling every day, our actions and our identification was remembered.

Secondly, our major failure in that area has been to assist these people in achieving any kind of economic existence. Do you know that with these people who need a better life, who need land reform, who need a new deal, that there is in every square of every city in Latin America a Franklin D. Roosevelt Park? There is no park named after Harding or Coolidge or the President or the Vice President. There is Franklin D. Roosevelt Park. [Applause.]

This has been the basic area of our national security since Monroe. In the last 8 years we gave 5 percent of all of our economic aid to Latin America, 95 percent to the rest of the world, and we wonder why Castro spreads the doctrine of communism and revolt throughout all of Latin America.

Mr. Nixon himself was in Latin America 5 years ago and here is what he said: "If we had produced economic progress in Cuba we might have averted the Cuban takeover." Why didn't we? That is what he said a month ago; why didn't we in 1955 come forward with a program that would have prevented Castro from taking power?

When he was there in 1955, he said, and you can judge his experience, "I am convinced that communism has passed its highwater mark in Latin America," at a time when the Communists were about to communize Cuba.

Our third failure has been our inability to establish contact with the young people of that area that will run the country. We have brought in the last 8 years less than 400 young men and women from all the countries of Latin America each year to study in our great country, to learn about freedom, to identify themselves with us. And we have suspended in the last 8 years the "Voice of America" program in Spanish to Latin America; the only time we ran a regular "Voice of America" program to Latin America was 3 months during the Hungarian crisis.

Can you tell me what they have been doing for the last 8 years, when in Africa and Latin America and Asia the United States has been on the decline as a powerful country? At the very time when these people stand as they now do on the edge of decision, we have been indifferent, we have been indifferent.

These are the problems that the United States is going to have to begin to face. We are going to have to begin to build a strong society here in the United States. Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor in Latin America because he was a good neighbor in the United States, and because he ran an administration which was progressive, which was compassionate, which identified itself with the people of this country. If we are building a strong society here, if our economy is on the move here in the United States, if we identify ourselves with the people, if we provide a better life for all Americans, regardless of their race, regardless of their religion, the full use of their constitutional rights, if we hold out the hand of friendship to all those around the world, then once more the United States can serve as the symbol of freedom; then once more people will begin to feel that we are on the rise, that we are on the move. And I cannot believe that given a choice between two societies, a dictatorship and a vital society identified with freedom - I believe they will choose us. I believe they will say freedom, yes. [Applause.]

Franklin Roosevelt said 20 years ago, "I well recall during my recent visit to the three great capitals in South America I heard one constant cry, 'Viva la Democracia'." Now, 20 years later, do our Presidents and Vice Presidents hear that call? Do we hear that call through Latin America and around the world? I believe that it is incumbent on the next President of the United States to, at the beginning of his term of office, indicate by action and word his belief in the solidarity of the Western hemisphere, his belief in a Western Hemisphere which is common to democracy from top to bottom, his belief that the people of this hemisphere can provide through freedom a better life, his undying hostility to the Communist system, his undying hostility to all dictatorships, his belief that the cause of freedom and the cause of people identifying themselves and developing their own resources is the great cause of the 1960's.

That is what we fight for, the most revolutionary of all doctrines, the right of people to be free. Mr. Castro is identified with a tired and aging system that ultimately will collapse. But we have to demonstrate to them that we are not a finished country, that we are not an old country, that we are not an old people, but, instead, we are a young people on the move, the youngest republic in the world in many ways.

Therefore, I come to Florida tonight and I come as the leader of the oldest political party in the world, the Democratic Party [applause] but I want Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Castro to know that after this election a new generation of Americans has assumed responsibility of leadership, men who fought in Europe and in the Pacific in order to maintain this country's freedom, and they are not going to preside over its liquidation, here, in Latin America, in Africa, Asia, or any place in the world. [Applause.]

I want the people of Latin America and Africa and Asia to wake up in the morning and wonder what this country is doing, and wonder what the President of the United States is doing and saying, and not what Castro or Khrushchev is saying. [Applause.]

So we come here and ask your help. This decision is yours. It is not ours. All we can do is present a sober analysis of our problems and opportunities, and in this great country of ours you must make the final judgment. And I believe that in your judgment you will come to the conclusion really of what kind of a society you want, what kind of a country you want, what kind of a world you want, what kind of a system you want to prevail throughout the world. I believe that we are going to choose in the 1960's progress; that we are going to make the same decision in 1960 that we made in 1932. We are going to say "Yes" to progress. We are going to say it is time for a change. It is time to turn those out of office who look at the world around us and our own problems with a pallid, pale view of life and its possibilities. I believe the revitalization of the American system is our challenge and the great issue of the 1960 campaign, and on that basis I ask your help. Thank you. [Applause.]

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Tampa, FL, Hillsborough County Courthouse", October 18, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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