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, Al Smith Memorial Dinner, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY
October 19, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Your Eminence Cardinal Spellman, Mr. Silver, Mr. Vice President, Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Wagner, Mrs. Warner, Members of the Senate, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, fellow voters [laughter], I am glad to be here at this notable dinner once again, and I am glad that Mr. Nixon is here, also. [Applause]. Now that Cardinal Spellman has demonstrated the proper spirit, I assume that shortly I will be invited to a Quaker dinner honoring Herbert Hoover. [Laughter.]

Cardinal Spellman is the only man so widely respected in American politics that he could bring together amicably, at the same banquet table, for the first time in this campaign, two political leaders who are increasingly apprehensive about the November election [laughter] who have long eyed each other suspiciously, and who have disagreed so strongly, both publicly and privately, Vice President Nixon and Governor Rockefeller [laughter].

Mr. Nixon, like the rest of us, has had his troubles in this campaign. At one point even the Wall Street Journal was criticizing his tactics. That is like the Observatore Romano criticizing the Pope. [Laughter.]

But I think the worst news for the Republicans this week was that Casey Stengel has been fired. [Laughter.] It must show that perhaps experience does not count. [Laughter and applause.]

On this matter of experience, I had announced earlier this year that if successful I would not consider campaign contributions as a substitute for experience in appointing ambassadors. Ever since I made that statement I have not received one single cent from my father. [Laughter and applause.]

One of the inspiring notes that was struck in the last debate was struck by the Vice President in his very moving warning to the children of the Nation and the candidates against the use of profanity by Presidents and ex-Presidents when they are on the stump. And I know after 14 years in the Congress with the Vice President that he was very sincere in his views about the use of profanity. But I am told that a prominent Republican said to him yesterday in Jacksonville, Fla., "Mr. President, that was a damn fine speech." [Laughter.] And the Vice President said, "I appreciate the compliment but not the language." And the Republican went on, "Yes, sir, I liked it so much that I contributed a thousand dollars to your campaign." And Mr. Nixon replied, "The hell you say." [Laughter and applause.]

However, I would not want to give the impression that I am taking former President Truman's use of language lightly. I have sent him the following wire:

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have noted with interest your suggestion as to where those who vote for my opponent should go. While I understand and sympathize with your deep motivation, I. think it is important that our side try to refrain from raising the religious issue.
[Laughter and applause.]

One of the subjects that interests candidates and those who write about candidates is whether 1960 will be another 1928. I have had some interest in that question myself, and looking at the speeches of Governor Smith in the 1928 campaign, I am struck by the continuity of the themes. The 1928 and 1960 campaign, with all of the obvious differences, have much in common. In 1928, as in 1960, the Yankees won the penant, the Postmaster General was promising efficient mail delivery at last, farm purchasing power was down some 20 percent in 1928 compared to 8 years earlier, just as it is today. Three million people had left the farms in that period, just as they have in the last 8 years. The stock market was unstable and two-thirds of all corporate profits went to one-fourth of 1 percent of the corporations.

In September 1928, the Republican candidate for the Presidency declared:

Real wages have improved more during the past 7 1/2 years than in any similar period in the history of our country.
He spoke of the country's unparalleled progress. He stressed American comfort, hope, and confidence for the future are immeasurably higher than they were 7 1/2 years ago.

The Democratic candidate in 1928 questioned how stable our prosperity was. He pointed to the pockets of industries. We warned of a farm depression. He criticized administration farm vetoes. He stressed, and I quote him, "The necessity for the restoration of cordial relations with Latin America" and he called for more effective action against disarmament.

The Democratic nominee in 1928 spoke 30 years ago tonight about building a stronger America, strengthening not only our economy but our sense of moral purpose and our public duty. In all of these and other ways, 1960 and 1928 may be sisters under the skin.

Some say that this will also be true when the ballots are counted, that the religious convictions of the candidates will influence the outcome more than their convictions on the issues. But this is where I believe that 1928 and 1960 are very different. Regardless of the outcome, and regardless of these similarities, I do not believe the American voter in 1960 is the same as the American voter of 1928, for we live in a different world.

There are a billion more people crowding our globe, and every American can hear the rumbling of a distant drum. The next President will have a budget 25 times as large as that of the candidates in Al Smith's time, and he will face problems unprecedented in that time or in any time in our long history, automation and unemployment, farm surpluses and food shortages, a high cost of living in the midst of an economic slump, new nations, new leaders, the world is different across the street and on the other side of the moon. The white race is in the minority, the free-enterprise system is in the minority, and the majority are looking at us harder and longer than they ever looked before.

The people who live in the tenements of Africa and Asia and Latin America want to fight their way out of the slums. The lower east side of the world is looking for help, and unlike 1928 the lower east side of the world has a voice and a vote.

"The world is large," John Boyle O'Reilly wrote, "The world is large when its weary league two loving hearts divide, but the world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side."

In 1960, as never before, our enemy is loose on the other side. In 1928 the voters perhaps could be excused for not seeing the storm coming, the depression, the Japanese conquest of Manchuria, Hitler's rise, and all the rest. But in 1960, the citizens of this country face the great question of whether freedom will not only endure, but whether it will also prevail. Thus, 1960 and 1928 are very different. It will be with this view of America that we shall accept the fortunes of November 8, 1960, be they favorable or unfavorable, good or bad. The American people in 1960 see the storm coming. They see the perils ahead. 1960 is not 1928. I am confident that whatever their verdict, Republican or Democratic, myself or Mr. Nixon, that their judgment will be based not on any extraneous issue, but on the real issues of our time, on what is best for our country, on the hard facts that face us, on the convictions of the candidates and their parties, and on their ability to interpret them.

When this happens then the bitter memory of 1928 will begin to fade, and all that will remain will be the figure of Al Smith, large against the horizon, true, courageous, and honest, who in the words of the cardinal, served his country well, and having served his country well, nobly served his God. [Applause.]

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Al Smith Memorial Dinner, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY", October 19, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=74114.
 
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