John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts from the Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Fair Grounds, Louisville, KY

October 05, 1960

* * * Henry Clay has been gone now for more than a century. But that principle of national unity is now a central fact in our economic life. When homebuilding slackens in Boston, then dishwashers and refrigerators pile up at the plants in Louisville, and workers go on part time. When workers in Louisville are on part time, then the market sags for the farmer who produces oranges in Florida and hogs in Iowa. When the farmers in Iowa are in trouble, then the manufacturers in Detroit cannot sell cars and tractors. When the manufacturer in Detroit cuts back, then steel production drops-as it has now, to 50 percent of capacity. For better or worse, in other words, Kentucky and Massachusetts, East and West, North and South, are bound together.

To advance his American program - to extend the old frontier - Henry Clay called for help from Massachusetts - in the person of Daniel Webster. Today, as a son of Massachusetts, I ask Kentucky's help in advancing a new American program - in extending our new frontiers. For once again it is time that America was on the move. Once again it is time that we firmed up the soft spots in our economy before their blight spreads throughout the Nation.

For all is not well economically. There are depressed areas not only in eastern Kentucky, but all over the country. There are too many small business failures, and too much big business unemployment, not only here in Louisville, but all over the country. Steel production is too low, not only in Newport, but all over the country. Farmers can't meet their bills, not only in Paducah and Bowling Green, but all over the country.

This Nation cannot afford to stand still today any more than it could in the days of Henry Clay. We must make a clear decision this November - to move ahead with the programs and policies of the Democratic Party or to drift along with the same do - nothing policies of the Republicans.

My opponent, of course, is reluctant to admit around election time that he is a Republican. He says he is against too much emphasis on party labels. He says he is against the Republican Secretary of Agriculture. He says he is against the Republican Secretary of Treasury's tight-money policy. He says he is against the Republican Secretary of Interior's principle of "no new starts."

On the other hand, he says he is for higher teachers' salaries - forgetting that it was his vote that killed an amendment offering funds to the States to raise such salaries. He says he is for Federal aid to colleges - forgetting that he called it "undesirable" in the days when the Democratic Congress passed it twice and the Republican administration vetoed it twice, calling it "extravagant, inflationary, unnecessary, and highly objectionable." It is a little late for Mr. Nixon to be putting out a "position paper" on education - because it cannot paper over his record or the record of the Republican Party.

Now he has a paper on housing. It is based upon the premise - and I quote - that "the Housing Act of 1949 has worked well." This is an interesting admission - because, as Wilson Wyatt and others can tell you, Mr. Nixon voted against the Housing Act of 1949 and has consistently opposed every basic feature in it. His new "position paper" may express concern for those who live in slums. But his principal concrete suggestion is to raise the interest rates on FHA and VA mortgages. And the last 8 Republican years have demonstrated that higher interest rates have never yet built one new house or cleaned up a single slum.

Mr. Nixon has also unveiled his farm program. And it turns out to be nothing but the old Benson fables under the new Nixon labels - basing the support price on the previous market price to drive it down, down, down and expanding the discredited soil bank in a futile attempt to reduce surpluses at a fantastic cost to the taxpayers.

In short, the Republicans continue to say "no" to the 1960's - no new starts, no new schools, no new housing programs, no new help for the farmer. I believe it is time we said "yes" to the 1960's. I believe it is time that Massachusetts and Kentucky joined together once again to meet the challenge of new frontiers - to recognize that progress in one State helps progress in all, and that a slowdown in one State means a slowdown for all. Let us initiate a program based on the principle that Clay and Webster lived by - the rising tide lifts all the boats.

First, we must get going on the maximum development of our rivers and natural resources in every State. George Norris did not pioneer the TVA because it would help Nebraska. He recognized that the development of the Tennessee Valley would be a great national asset.

Henry Clay realized that the national road would help all States, adjacent or not. And today we should realize that the development of our river valleys has equally widespread benefits. The TVA and the work of the Army engineers on the Ohio River demonstrate what development means - more heavy industry, more light industry, more construction, and many more jobs. It means better recreational facilities - better protection from floods. It means more revenues for local government to meet the urban problems of too little housing and too few schools and not enough parking space downtown.

Secondly, we must get moving on the problem of depressed areas, whether they are in eastern Massachusetts or eastern Kentucky. I have visited with the unemployed coal miners of West Virginia - living off surplus foods, worrying about where the rent will come from. I have seen the unemployed carpet workers in the Mohawk Valley of New York - trying desperately to learn a new trade and attract new industry. I have seen the farm-equipment plants shut down in southern Illinois, the lead and zinc mines closed in Idaho, and the deserted textile towns of Massachusetts. And I know, as the Bible tells us Job knew, that these troubles do not spring from the ground. Something caused them - and something can be done about them.

This Government is spending billions of dollars a year - in defense contracts, in housing, on highways, in education and other programs. And consideration must be given in the administration of those funds to help, not hurt, our most needy communities. Twice the Congress has passed a bill to help our distressed areas - twice that bill has been vetoed - but next year I promise you it will be signed.

Third, we must get moving on a constructive new program to strengthen the national economy by strengthening our farm economy. The one bright spot in the whole farm picture is tobacco - because the Democratic Congress put through a really worthwhile tobacco program, and protected it against Republican vetoes and Benson sabotage. That program has two essential features - full parity of income for the producers, and effective controls to bring supply into balance with demand. And I believe it is high time we made those two features the basis of our farm program for all commodities.

For that kind of program is in the best interests of the producers, the consumers, and the taxpayers. By helping the farmers, it helps the workers. By helping your State, it helps mine. Depression on the farm means depression in the small town and then depression in the city. It is time we replaced this downward spiral heading for a farm depression with an upward spiral of farm prosperity.

Finally, we must get moving on policies designed to strengthen our economy and society in every segment - helping the young in need of education, the aged in need of medical care, the small businessman in need of credit. Children whose education suffers from overcrowded classrooms or underpaid teachers can never gain back what they have lost - and it is the Nation's loss as well as theirs. Wage earners who must help their aged parents bear the high cost of drugs and medical bills - because they would never require their parents to take a Republican pauper's oath - have less money to build a future for themselves and their families. And the same high rates of interest that tie up the small businessman - or force him into bankruptcy - also slow down the farmer and discourage the homebuilder.

In short, the restrictive, negative policies of the Republican Party put a drag on our whole economy. By hurting one party they hurt us all. By holding back one area they hold back all. And this is no time for holding back the energies and efforts of the American people.

For these are not only domestic problems. These are problems of national strength. And only a strong America can stand up to Mr. Khrushchev, no matter how many debates we have in the kitchen. Only a strong America can attract the new nations of the world, no matter how many good will tours we take.

Why is it that so many of these countries turn their backs on us, and open their arms to Russia? It is not because they are Communists. Nkrumah of Ghana is no Communist. Sukarno of Indonesia is no Communist. But they are men on the move. They want the full fruits of independence. They want better homes for their people, and more jobs, and paved roads, and schools, and doctors, and cities, and food. They have turned to Washington, and found no response, because for 8 years Washington has not been on the move; and so they turn to Moscow, for the Russians have been moving.

These countries and these leaders speak a variety of languages. But once this country begins to move again, we will be speaking the language they understand; and they will turn their backs on those who would make a mockery of their new freedom, and rally to those who started the fight for independence.

None of this will be easy. The frontiers which Henry Clay conquered were not easy. But history was on his side - and I believe that history is on our side - on the side of free men. And I believe that once we are on the move, the sun will shine bright, not only on old Kentucky homes, but on new homes, across Kentucky, across America, and across the world.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts from the Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Fair Grounds, Louisville, KY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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