Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, MA
Senator KENNEDY. This is Senator Jackson of the State of Washington, who is chairman of the Democratic Party, who is visiting us in Cape Cod. I am afraid the weather reminds him of his own State.
I do want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Vice President on his nomination. He an I have been in the Congress for 14 years. We came to the House of Representatives on the same day and both served on the Labor Committee, and I therefore congratulate him on his nomination and on the support he has achieved from his own party.
If the reports are correct that Mr. Lodge is going to be the Vice President - he is a resident from this State. He is a very able public servant and, therefore, I know that if he is chosen by the Republican Party, the Democrats will have a vigorous fight in the fall.
QUESTION. What do you think will be the main issue in the campaign?
KENNEDY. I think that both parties in their platforms, though naturally I prefer our platform, have committed themselves to great goals - the strengthening of the United States, the improvement of economic security for our citizens, the improvement of American agriculture. I think in their platforms both parties have set these goals. I think the question is which party by its record in the Congress, by the record of its administrations in the past, really has evidenced a true commitment to the program of economic growth, to the needs of our older citizens, to assistance to education, to do something about American agriculture, to improve American security, to strengthen our Armed Forces, to assist the underdeveloped world. I think that the question is whether, based on the record, whether we can do the job or whether the Republican Party can do the job. I think we can.
QUESTION. Last night Tom Dewey charged that you once said that the President should apologize to Khrushchev over the U-2 incident. Have you any comment on that?
KENNEDY. No, I didn't say that. I said I thought at the time it would have been better for the President to express regret at the crash on Soviet territory rather than putting out a lie, as we did, which was later proved to be a lie before world opinion. However, I don't really mind Mr. Dewey. I perhaps have had worse things said about me by Democrats, and I therefore feel it's all proper and, in addition, Mr. Dewey's record as a political prophet is not without some blemish.
QUESTION. Senator, what do you propose to do to improve the international situation?
KENNEDY. I think we ought to strengthen the armed forces. I don't know whether it's going to be possible for us to appropriate an additional amount of money in the special session of Congress. I hope to talk about that with Senator Johnson tomorrow. Senator Jackson is a member of the Armed Services Committee and has done a great deal of work on that. I think he would agree, and he said so on many occasions on the Senate floor, that we should do it. I don't think we should wait until next year. I am not satisfied with the relative position of the United States vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and the Chinese in military strength. We have seen the great developments in the Polaris in recent days, but we only have a limited amount of Polarises that will be available in 1961 and 1962. I think this program, the commitment which we have made to maintain an airborne alert - all these will require additional funds. I hope it will be possible for us to do it in this session of the Congress. If not, we will have to do it in January.
Senator JACKSON. I think too that it should be pointed out that the Polaris program was accelerated by the Democrats in the Congress and the additional funds provided for this program and the stepping up of that effort was above and beyond the requests submitted by the President of the United States, and I think this is indeed an example of the kind of constructive record in the field of national security that the Democrats have established in the past several days - a constructive record of constructive criticism.
QUESTION. Senator, do you have any comment on the analysis that President Eisenhower gave tonight on the defense posture of the United States?
KENNEDY. I don't think that there is any doubt that today the strength of the United States in comparison to that of our adversary is certainly equal - in some areas it may even be greater. The question is whether the relative rate of growth of the United States in comparison to the Soviet Union and the Communist world is greater. I believe that by 1961-62-63, unless the United States takes immediate action, that there is danger that we will slip into a position. When Governor Rockefeller has said this very precisely in recent days - that we will slip into a position where we will not be able to carry out a second strike. Now I don't think there is any doubt that the belligerent and bellicose attitude displayed by the Communists in recent days and weeks is because they believe that the balance of power is shifting in their direction. And as the next President of the United States must negotiate over Berlin, and he must negotiate over other questions, and because I believe we should meet our commitments, I believe we should make a greater effort in the field of national defense. If we are wrong, then perhaps we will have appropriated unnecessary money. But if we are right, and the administration is wrong, then the security of the United States will be threatened.
QUESTION. Do you feel there is a difference between the general attitude that President Eisenhower has taken toward defense spending and the position that Mr. Nixon and Mr. Rockefeller have taken?
KENNEDY. I think there is a substantial difference between the position which Mr. Rockefeller and the administration have taken. Mr. Rockefeller, in his statement of a month ago, called for an expenditure of additional money this year. He gave the figure of $3 billion for defense. He has indicated in recent days that he believes that should be done. I don't think that is the administration's position.
QUESTION. Did anything happen at the Republican Convention either in the platform or in the agreement with Governor Rockefeller causing you to make any changes in the campaign plans you have already made?
KENNEDY. No, this is going to be a hard-fought campaign. I do believe that the Democratic platform played a major role in improving the Republican platform. In addition, I do think that the concessions made to Governor Rockefeller on Friday night at the last minute improved the Republican platform. But the question is why it was necessary for Governor Rockefeller to threaten a floor fight if he did not have his views accepted on national defense and economic security and civil rights, and it was only by that threat that the Republican platform committee was persuaded to take a more liberal stand. I think that Mr. Rockefeller has been quieted, but I do believe that the issue still remains before the American people - which party is really committed to these goals. I don't doubt Mr. Rockefeller's commitment, I do doubt the commitment of the Republican Party.
QUESTION. The Vice President has suggested you ought to take up civil rights during the August session. Do you think that would be a good time to pass some of the platform promises?
KENNEDY. I think that whenever we can successfully move in expanding civil rights we ought to do so. As you know, a good deal of the Democratic platform called for an affirmative executive action. I think that if the Vice President can persuade the administration to do that, we should do it. We do have 3 weeks. Quite obviously it will be an extended debate. But if there is a determination by the Republicans to join in that, then I think that, perhaps, action can be taken. But I don't want to mislead those who believe in civil rights, as I do, by thinking that we can provide for the entire platform in 3 weeks when in the period of 8 years we have been only able to take care of the matter of voting. This is a serious matter; it requires executive action and congressional action, and it's going to require a substantial effort in both the House and Senate. Whether we can do that in 3 weeks is a matter which I will discuss with Senator Johnson tomorrow.
QUESTION. You mentioned Mr. Rockefeller several times. Do you think that the Republican ticket of Nixon and Lodge is the strongest one they could have found?
KENNEDY. Well, I didn't try to draw their ticket. I think that Mr. Lodge is a very able figure. He comes from Massachusetts. He and I have met on occasion and I think he is a formidable opponent.
QUESTION. Speakers at the Republican Convention indicated that during the campaign there is going to be a lot of stress made on charges that you are immature. Is there any one main point you expect to be aiming at Vice President Nixon?
KENNEDY. I think that the position which the Republicans are taking on my candidacy, I don't criticize. Mr. Nixon and I have been in the Congress for 14 years. I think the real issue is: Which party and which candidate is committed to these goals? Which has demonstrated it by his past record, not merely by a platform compromise, but by his record? I think that that is the real issue: Which candidate, which party understands the sixties and the problems we are going to face, which is ready to move forward, and which wants to stand still? I think that is the question that is going to be before us, not the relative age of Mr. Nixon and myself.
QUESTION. President Eisenhower has been a pretty popular president, as you know, by the vote he rolled up in 1956. How much of a factor do you expect him to be in this campaign?
KENNEDY. I think he is very helpful to Mr. Nixon.
Senator JACKSON. He has also demonstrated, however, his ability to extend his popularity is limited to himself. We have had three Democratic Congresses during his administration.
KENNEDY. Well, none of us are able to elect other people, unfortunately in this country. But I do think he is a help to Mr. Nixon. I would be glad to have his cooperation but I think he is already committed. (Laughter). Thank you very much.
John F. Kennedy, Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, MA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274717