The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Remarks in Response to New York's Birthday Salute to the President
May 19, 1962
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Rosenberg, Arthur Krim--to whom we are so indebted:

I just want to say, first, that when my father, in my formative years, was describing to me his clearly held views on business, he always exempted show business. And I must say I am proud to be in a political party which can produce this extraordinary talent, but it is, I think, rather interesting that we come by this quality, this attraction that the Democratic Party has had, by a very good and sound precedent.

Someone sent me a letter last week, which was a copy of a letter which Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in Rome. He asked him to see if he could get three Italians to come over to help on his garden, and at the end of his letter he said, "Make sure that they all can play the violin and sing for my orchestra here at Monticello." So I must say that, descended as we are from most distinguished leadership of intellectual vitality, we are very indebted to all these men and women who came from so far. I don't know why it is we never ask a businessman to come and just do it, his work, or an engineer to build a bridge, but we ask people of extraordinary talent to come and do it all for nothing. I just want you to know that we are very grateful to them. To Jack Benny, who came to help an older man--to Danny Kaye whom I talked to today in a hospital-to Harry Belafonte, I don't feel so sorry about him, though, because he interrupted his tour in Columbus, Ohio, and I can tell you that there is no city in the United States where a Democrat gets a warmer welcome and less votes than in Columbus, Ohio!

We are grateful to Ella Fitzgerald. I don't know whether you realize that this is an historic occasion. We have paid off the nearly four billion dollars that the Kennedy-Johnson ticket ran up in November of 1960. It has now gone forever, which is sad, and all we have left is the federal deficit, but we want you to know Miss Fitzgerald, who came to our gala before the Inaugural and helped us on that occasion--Henry Fonda who has helped us before and after the election--Maria Callas who came all the way from Europe. She said to Mrs. Rosenberg that she came from Brooklyn, her father works for the Mayor in the City of New York's service, and we are very complimented by your coming so far to help us out. To Elliott Reid--since he imitated me, and I have comparatively little talent, I would like to recall a speech which Franklin Roosevelt made in 1944 in regard to his dog. He said, "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, on my wife, or my brothers. No, not content with that, they now include my little girl's pony Macaroni." Well, I don't resent such attacks, but Macaroni does.

Actually, there's another speech, given by a former Vice President of the United States, in 1952, which is even more pertinent. It was just a little pony, and you know the kids--like all kids, loved it. And I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it. And I feel about Macaroni like the Vice President did about Checkers--and we're just going to go ahead.

I want to also express my thanks to Peggy Lee, who got out of a sick bed to come tonight. And to Jimmie Durante. He is the godfather of one of my sister's children, and I'm the other. His godchild is a good deal more spiritual than mine is, but he is a warmhearted and generous friend. And he and Mr. Jackson--and Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

I got a telegram tonight which said, "In honor of your birthday, I believe that you should get a rise in pay." Signed Roger. And then it said, "P.S.: My birthday's next month." But we are grateful to them, to Bobby Darin, and to Miss Carroll who was going to come, and to Miss Monroe who left a picture to come all the way East, and I can now retire from politics after having had "Happy Birthday" sung to me in such a sweet--[laughter].

I want you to know we are grateful to all of you. I want you to see the Vice President, who came up from Washington today-perhaps we could put a light over there. I once said that he has been part of every decision of this administration except Cuba, and I have claimed that. But we are glad to have him come up here, and he is sitting with Governor Stevenson--the Governor kept his deficit longer than we did, but we are very proud to have him there. The Attorney General, who is related to me. And there's three or four other members of the family. One of the things which--and Peter.

I want to just say a final word. Somebody said this is an off-year, and therefore you must wonder why you have been so abused and the money taken in such large quantities. Let me say it very briefly, and that is that there is no such thing as an off-year. This country depends upon the easy and close coordination between the Congress and the President. Our powers are separate. The branches are equal. It is a difficult system to operate. Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other systems that have been tried." Ours is the most difficult in many ways to operate, and yet time after time, on issues of the most vital importance to our country, we win or lose by one or two votes. Last January a year ago, when Sam Rayburn was at the height of his power on the most basic issue, of whether our legislation would go to the floor of the House, we won by six votes. We passed an agricultural bill to the floor of the House the other day by one vote in the House, lost it by one vote in the Senate.

The fact of the matter is, since the loss in 1938, Franklin Roosevelt's second term, when the Democrats lost so many seats, there has been a balance of power in the House and Senate which has made it very difficult to pass any new legislation which involves important interests. Now I don't believe that the people of this country participate in political activity because they think we should stand still. I know it is said that some of our programs, that we wish to acquire more power. That is the oldest political argument. They should know and realize that the power given to the President of the United States, under the Constitution, particularly that of war and peace, is as great a power and in many senses more than man could possibly desire.

What we are now talking about is whether the United States, now and after the 1962 election, shall have such a balance of power in the Congress and in the Executive that nothing will be done. That's the simple and clear issue. And those who think that nothing should be done, should regard this as an unimportant election. But as long as we have so many issues facing us in so many parts of the world, and our own country, so much unfinished business involving all kinds of issues which go to the well-being of our people, as long as we have a necessity for action as the leader of the free world, I believe we should have the opportunity and not have the kind of balance in the Congress which will mean two--many more years of inertia and inaction. That's why this is an important election. Five, ten seats one way or another can vitally affect the balance of power in the Congress and vitally affect our future.

And when we have millions of our people out of work, and eight million boys and girls, for example, in the next 6 years who will drop out of school before finishing, one out of four of our boys and girls under 20 unemployed--others unemployed for month after month--every day that goes by thousands of Americans exhaust their unemployment compensation and go on relief. We want to train them, we want to train these young people. We want to provide protection and security for our older people, and a good education for our young children-- all these things must be done. And while I recognize that you may occasionally get tired, our adversaries are not tired, nor should we be. So this is not an off-year, it is an important year. And I hope that those of you who have contributed so generously on this occasion, as on so many others, will recognize that the issue is quite clear. Mr. Jerome Robbins' dance is not as well organized as a minuet, but it does have more vitality and life. And I think that's going to be a very basic question this year.

So ladies and gentlemen, we are in your debt. And I think the way we can pay it is to do the best we can for our country and our people, and to commit ourselves to the great causes which lie before us.

At four o'clock tomorrow we are going to have a rally here on medical care for the aged. Those who would prefer to stay and wait will find us all back here on the same stand. And in the meanwhile, let me tell you what a pleasure it is to once in a while get out of Washington and not read the papers but come and see the voters.

Thank you.

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Remarks in Response to New York's Birthday Salute to the President", May 19, 1962. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8668.
 
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