John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts from Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Chicago Auditorium, Chicago, IL - (Advance Release Text)

November 04, 1960

* * * There are some who say that presidential campaigns are an outmoded, unnecessary institution in American political life. They are too long, too expensive, too arduous, it is said. They test popularity, not principle. They require endurance, not insight. How much better it would be, they say, for the candidates to stay home, keep quiet, and depend as in the old days on party managers to circulate the platform and turn out the voters.

But I disagree. I believe the nature of the campaign tells you something about the nature of the candidate. I believe the level of daily campaign speeches tells you something about the level of future White House operations. If a man cannot withstand the pressure of a presidential campaign, he cannot withstand the pressures of the Presidency. If he cannot inspire confidence among the people in the 4 months preceding election, he cannot inspire their confidence in the 4 years that follow.

I believe in campaigns as a great education - for the voters - and for the candidates. I like to campaign, and I think all Democrats like to campaign, because we like hard work and we like people.

Tonight I want to talk with you about the campaign now coming to a close, about what I have tried to do, what I have tried to say. I am not referring to any grand strategy or master plan, I simply mean my efforts for 3 months to take my case to the American people in a manner worthy of your confidence and worthy of the high office I seek. I hope I have fulfilled that obligation.

First I have tried in this campaign to tell the truth to the American people, whether the truth was pleasant or not. I did not reassure the voters that our prestige was at an alltime high, because that would not have been true. And anti-American riots in Tokyo and Caracas, American defeats in the U.N. and OAS, and anti-American speeches in Panama and Havana should have made this clear long before the secret USIA surveys leaked out and confirmed it.

I did not reassure the voters that we were sure to remain first in the world militarily, because that would not have been true. We are now entering the age of the missile gap when Russian nuclear striking power, backing up a larger, more modern, and more mobile conventional force, may no longer be convinced of our capacity to survive a surprise attack and still destroy their willingness to fight. Nor did I reassure the voters that we were enjoying "unprecedented prosperity," because that would not have been true.

There is no point in telling the rising number of unemployed, the rising number of short workweeks, the farmer with declining income or the coal miner unemployed for a year that "you never had it so good." We have to face the facts about where we stand - and then do something about it.

Secondly, I have tried in this campaign to set before the American people their unfinished agenda - the tasks which Franklin Roosevelt did not foresee in 1933 - the tasks which Harry Truman could not complete by 1953 - and the tasks on which in 8 Republican years we never even started. We have a minimum wage, but to be of any help at today's prices it must be raised to $1.25 an hour.

We have social security, but to meet the most basic need of older people today, it must be amended to include medical care.

We have urban renewal and housing measures, but to replace slums faster than they are spreading, those measures must be expanded.

We have unemployment insurance benefits that need higher nationwide standards, a water pollution control program that needs stepping up, dams that are planned but unbuilt. We have legislation to help our depressed areas of long-term unemployment that needs to be passed again - so it can be signed instead of vetoed. And we have millions of citizens whose full and equal rights under the Constitution regardless of race, have been recognized in law but unfulfilled in fact. These are some of the items left over for our agenda of the sixties and it is high time we get on with the job.

Third, I have tried in this campaign to meet the challenge of the future and not merely prolong the past. New problems require new effort. If we are to educate all our children in the coming 10 years, we will need salaries, sufficient to attract as many new teachers as all those presently in service, as well as massive school construction. If we are to send to college all who want and deserve to go, we will need far more scholarships, far more loans and the construction of more dormitories and classrooms than have been built in the last 200 years - for even today, some 35 percent of our brightest high school graduates are unable to afford the high cost of a college education.

There are other new areas of concern which require our attention - the spread of atomic weapons - the adverse effects of automation - the conversion of salt water to fresh - the harnessing of atomic energy - and the conquest of outer space, not for our military advantage, but for the benefit of all mankind.

Fourth, I have tried in this campaign to get the American people to face up to their problems realistically, without the luxury of wishful thinking. The unprecedented $9 billion of stored farm surpluses, that depress farm prices, burden Federal taxes, and antagonize a hungry world, cannot be eliminated by merely wishing. We have to improve our distribution, and then, through local farmer action, adjust supply to demand so that those laws, the laws of supply and demand, serve the farmer instead of always hurting him. I talked to a South Carolina small cotton farmer who had worked the land for 41 years but could not make it pay at today's prices while his own costs went up and up.

The catastrophic arms race, more costly and less constructive than the rest of the budget put together, cannot be eliminated by merely wishing. We have to research and prepare effective arms control plans under a single agency, and not leave this terribly complex matter to less than 100 people scattered throughout Washington - one-fifth as many people as work on cemeteries and memorials for the U.S. Battle Monuments Commission.

We cannot avoid the menace of a Communist base in Cuba, only 90 miles away from our shores merely by wishing it hadn't happened. For Castro is not the only problem, and if we are not careful, he may not be the only "Castro" in power. For poverty and despair are equal evils in Latin America - in northeast Brazil, for example, where living standards are so miserable that in two villages no babies have survived the age of 1 year. We need a program of concerted effort with other Latin American States to build freedom and isolate dictators throughout our hemisphere.

And we cannot avoid continued budget deficits and continued rises in the cost of living, merely by wishing - or merely by raising interest rates so high that every small businessman and home buyer in America is squeezed. We need an America that is growing - not less than the Soviet Union, as it is today - not less than other industrialized economies, as it has for 8 years - but more than any other nation on earth. For in economic strength, as in every other kind, I believe in an America that is not first sometimes, or first when, or first if - I want an America that is first, period.

Fifth, I have tried in this campaign to address myself to the real issues confronting America - the real issue is world freedom or world slavery. World peace or world war, stopping the Communist advance which in 8 years has penetrated deep into Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America - taking over Cuba itself - without firing a single shot or losing a single soldier.

That is the real issue - peace - and my greatest objective is peace because I know something of war. And that issue will not be met by more words, more committees, more good will tours, or more debates with Khrushchev or any other Soviet leader in a Moscow kitchen. For we have erred in regarding Mr. Khrushchev as the enemy. He only personifies the enemy and that enemy is the relentless, tireless Communist system now infiltrating the world's less prosperous areas.

For much of the bottom half of our globe is not only but uncommitted and undecided, and we need to identify ourselves with their struggle against poverty and hunger and disease.

To this end I have proposed a new policy for Latin America - Alianza Para Progreso - a new educational and development program for Africa - and a new joint effort by all the wealthier nations to establish funds of long-term credit for India and each of the underdeveloped regions.

Finally, and most recently, I have proposed, as a counter to the flood of well-trained and dedicated Communist technicians now helping these nations with their problems, an American "peace corps," a supplement to our selective service that now draws only a fraction of our young men and, as General Gavin and others point out, wastes the talents of many who are taken. A peace corps of Americans trained to help these nations help themselves, to show them modern agriculture, public health, roadbuilding, government and other skills - trained in the languages and customs of these nations (which so few of our ambassadors and foreign service are today) - would be composed not only of young men who qualify to elect this alternative to the draft, but also men and women of every age - teachers and engineers forced to retire at 65, for example - who desire to devote a part of their lives not as soldiers of war but as ambassadors of peace.

Sixth I have tried in this campaign to demonstrate my confidence in the American people, in their ability to listen to facts, not name calling, to judge the candidates on their own views, not someone else's coat tails, to remember the records of the two parties, and not ignore party labels, to hear what is said in one section alone. It is because I have this confidence in you that I do not share my opponent's fear of the future, his fears of every new program his fears that inflation and deficits and unemployment are unavoidable, his fear that we cannot afford what we must afford, or even his fear of a fifth debate.

In short, I have tried in this campaign to set forth my responsibilities - and yours as well. I have tried to meet my obligations to the future - and indicate yours. For I like campaigning. But we are not engaged in a one-man campaign. I hope to be successful, but we do not live under a one-man form of government. So I ask your help. In these last remaining days, I ask your help. In the day and years ahead I shall ask your help And I shall ask God's help, in reminding us all, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, to "never forget that we created this Nation, not to serve ourselves, but to serve mankind."

APP NOTE:  The Official compilation of Kennedy Campaign Speeches identifes the venue as the "Chicago Auditorium."  In fact, the speech was at the Chicago Stadium and nationally televised.  We acknowledge the assistance from Ron Schick in pointing out this error.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts from Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Chicago Auditorium, Chicago, IL - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives