John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy at Rock Island, IL

October 24, 1960

* * * I want to talk with you this evening not about the missile gap, which represents the difference between Russian striking power and our own in the years to come - not about the economic gap, which represents the difference between our standard of living and that in the underdeveloped countries - but the "Nixon gap," the difference between Mr. Nixon's campaign promises and his actual record.

The Republicans are fond of saying: "Experience counts." I agree with that - and I think the American people are entitled to know exactly what Mr. Nixon's experience is in all the areas which affect us so vitally. At a later date, I shall discuss Mr. Nixon's experience in foreign affairs. Today I want to discuss his experience and record on domestic issues.

For here the gap is especially large. Any resemblance between Mr. Nixon's promises for the future and his performance in the past is purely coincidental.

When Mr. Nixon talks about his experience, he mentions his trips abroad, his positions in the executive branch, and the ideas he contributed to this administration - although President Eisenhower could not think of a single one, even when given a week to do so.

But Mr. Nixon never mentions his votes in the House, his votes in the Senate, or his votes as vice president. He did not have many votes these last 8 years.

But his voting record is there, whether he mentions it or not. Perhaps he is counting on what he once cited in advising Maine Republicans - his belief that "the public memory is short.' Perhaps he is counting on voters not being allowed to take notes into the voting booth.

But the Bible tells us to judge a tree by its fruits. For "what is past is prologue" - and any American who is concerned about Mr. Nixon's attitude in the future would do well to inform himself of Mr. Nixon's attitude in the past.

1. First on the list is the agricultural gap - the complete contrast between Mr. Nixon's promises on the farm problem today and his votes on the farm problem over the last 14 years. Today he puts the blame for the farm mess on the fact that Secretary of Agriculture Benson has lacked the necessary "ability and success." But only a few years ago he called Mr. Benson "one of the best Secretaries of Agriculture in our history." He proposes in his new farm program a "substantial expansion" of the conservation reserve - and yet, as a Republican Senator from California and as Vice President, he voted six times in 3 years to cut Democratic appropriations for soil conservation. He says now "we should accelerate our efforts in underdeveloped nations" to "stimulate commercial markets for our farm people" - but when in 1952 the Department of Agriculture sought funds for this very purpose, Senator Nixon voted to cut them. He now says he favors the other services provided by the Department of Agriculture - but in 1951 it was a Nixon amendment which would have eliminated the annual yearbook and other research bulletins. Mr. Nixon downgrades support for our farmers - and our farmers are not likely to support Mr. Nixon.

2. Second is the Nixon gap on education - a gap highlighted by his vote as Vice President defeating funds for higher teachers' salaries only a few days after he made a speech in Chicago calling for higher teachers' salaries. His campaign position paper on education supports Federal grants to school districts burdened by Federal employees or installation - but as a Senator he voted to cut the very heart out of these funds. He calls now for matching grants to private colleges and universities, so that every talented student can go to college - but, when that fight was being waged a few years ago, he termed such a program "undesirable." He calls now for a program of loans and grants for college classrooms and dormitories - but he never said a word when that very bill was twice passed by the Democrats and twice vetoed by the Republicans. This Nation needs better educated citizens - but they are smart enough now not to fall for these promises again.

3. Third is the Nixon gap in the field of health and social security. His new position paper calls for matching grants to expand medical schools, dental schools, and medical research facilities, and help for our medical students as well - but as a Republican Senator he voted against the bill which would have built these facilities by this time and relieved the doctor shortage. He calls for increased appropriations for medical research - but he never lifted a finger when the party he leads was slashing this budget during the last 8 years. He insists now that our older citizens are entitled to decent medical care - but he called the bill which Senator Douglas and I supported achieving this goal under social security, an "extreme" measure - because it was defeated by 32 out of 33 Senate Republicans. He now talks about improving our social security program - but as a Congressman he voted against expanded social security coverage and increased social security benefits and as Vice President he defeated a measure to pay only $5 a month more for the aged, the blind, and the disabled who must receive public assistance. I believe this country can do better by its retired citizens - and we can start in November by retiring Mr. Nixon.

4. Fourth, the Nixon gap on REA and public power is equally striking. He says now that we must "produce the power we need at the lowest cost" - but the record shows that he has voted four times against adequate appropriations for REA, four times against the TVA, and consistently against power development and transmission lines in the Missouri Valley, Grand Coulee, Bonneville, and the Bureau of Reclamation. He calls for "greater emphasis on new starts for sound multipurpose projects" for reclamation, power, and flood control - but only last February he called the administration's "no new starts" policy "sound." I call it folly - and ask your help to get our resource development moving again.

5. Fifth, the Nixon housing gap should concern everyone who lives in our cities and suburbs, everyone who wants someday to buy their own home. His new position paper on housing praises the Housing Act of 1949 - but it neglects to mention that Congressman Nixon voted against that very bill. It calls for action on middle - income housing - but it neglects to mention his vote against this in 1950. It calls for a greater flow of housing credit so more Americans can afford more home - but it neglects to mention his vote as Vice President to increase interest rates on GI housing loans. Higher interest rates never built a single house, but the new Democratic administration will.

6. Sixth, there is a Nixon gap on matters affecting labor and employment. He told a labor convention this fall that, if he is elected, "labor will have a friend in the White House." But his voting record as Congressman, Senator, and Vice President has been consistently antilabor. He says he supports the minimum wage - but as a Congressman he voted to eliminate from its protection a million workers already covered: and as Vice President he opposed our efforts to expand coverage and raise the minimum to $1.25 an hour. He makes campaign promises to help our distressed areas and our unemployed workers - but as Vice President he has consistently opposed our party's efforts, sparked by Senator Douglas, to get such measures enacted. Our unemployed workers only wish he loved them in May as he does in November.

7. Seventh is the gap between promise and performance in the field of civil rights. In the big Northern States, at least, Mr. Nixon makes a great show of supporting Federal action to implement the full constitutional rights of every American - but both as a Congressman and as a Senator, he voted time and time again against effective legislation for equal job opportunities. He boasts now about his experience as Chairman of the Executive Committee To Eliminate Discrimination in Government Contracts - but the facts are that in 8 years he did not invoke a single sanction to enforce the clause (in every Government contract) that prevents racial discrimination in hiring. As a result, millions of skilled and professional jobs are denied to talented Negroes. I think a nation that holds itself out as the champion of democracy has an obligation to do better by all Americans.

8. Finally, the voters ought to be aware of the Nixon gap on the subject of inflation - for here he has had some real experience. Last year, having broken every campaign promise ever made on holding down the high cost of living, the Republicans finally decided to do something about it. They appointed another committee - a committee to study the problem. Mr. Nixon was the chairman; and he filed a report that was supposed to tell us how to stabilize prices and increase our economic growth.

The Washington Post called Mr. Nixon's report "one of the most redundant, uninspired, and generally useless documents lately to come off the Government's mimeograph machines."

The New York Herald Tribune, a Republican paper, said it was like something you wrote in high school.

The Wall Street Journal said it was fine except it had no recommendations on what it was appointed to do.

I do not believe that this is the kind of experience this Nation will want to reward with the White House. As Otto Kerner can tell you, no judge is impressed by the experience of a driver whose record is full of accidents.

I believe the American people prefer their experience under the Democratic Party. Our experience is written in the Social Security Act, the minimum wage laws, the FHA, the REA, guaranteed bank deposits, TVA and a host of other programs.

The Bible tells us that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Mr. Nixon has sown the seeds of negation. Time after time, he has said "No" to the American people. And on November 8, the American people will say "No" to Mr. Nixon. The Democratic Party has sown the seeds of accomplishments and progress; and on November 8, we shall reap a great harvest of victory.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy at Rock Island, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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