John F. Kennedy photo

Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy at the Truman Library, Independence, MO

August 20, 1960

Mr. TRUMAN. Well, boys, do your stuff. What do you have on your mind? You are talking to the President of the United States who is to be.

QUESTION. Have you read the President ahead of you's new book, "Mr. Citizen," Mr. Kennedy?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes, sir, and he also gave me a copy of it today, the author's edition.

Mr. TRUMAN. Thank you, Ben, for that.

QUESTION. What have you and the candidate accomplished this morning? Just what took place?

Mr. TRUMAN. We have accomplished enough to win the war, that is all. Isn't that enough?

QUESTION. Mr. President, did you and Senator Kennedy talk over the things that Senator Kennedy would like you to do in the campaign, sir?

Mr. TRUMAN. Yes, and you will have to ask the Senator about it, and he can answer that question much better than I can.

Senator KENNEDY. I asked President Truman to participate actively in the campaign in his travels through the country and he said that he would.

QUESTION. Mr. President or Senator Kennedy or whoever would want to answer the question, is there any date or places that you could tell us about now where Mr. Truman will campaign?

Mr. TRUMAN. I have only one firm commitment and that is at Marion, Ind., for a Labor Day meeting on the 5th day of September, and I discussed the other proposed meetings with Senator Kennedy, and he has approved of the one in Marion, Ind.

QUESTION. Is it quite probable that there will be one in New York City, sir?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, yes. I asked President Truman to come to New York City, and he said he would.

QUESTION. Do you plan to use what is known as your "Give 'em hell" style?

Mr. TRUMAN. I never did have any "give 'em hell" style. I used to tell the truth on the Republicans, and they called it that. I still continue to tell the truth, and they will still think it is hell. They had two squads to follow me around, Senator, you remember, and I invited him to get on the train, and he was afraid and he could not.

Senator JACKSON. They have revised it again, and of course the truth does not need a squad.

Mr. TRUMAN. That is true.

QUESTION. What caused you to decide that Senator Kennedy was ready for the country?

Mr. TRUMAN. When the Democratic National Convention decided to nominate him for President. That is all the answer you need. The National Democratic Convention is the law for the Democratic Party. I am a Democrat and I follow the law.

QUESTION. On July 2, I believe you said that you thought the convention was fixed. Have you changed your opinion?

Mr. TRUMAN. I did not say that. I said it looked to me as if the convention was already made up the way it was supposed to go, and that is what the trouble was. And it was, and it has been done all right, and they nominated this man and I am going to support him. What are you going to do about that?

QUESTION. Mr. President, what is the prospect for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in your home State of Missouri?

Mr. TRUMAN. They will carry Missouri by an overwhelming majority, don't you worry about that.

QUESTION. I would like to ask the Senator, we have been hearing of him this week as not being in the best of health. How are you feeling this morning?

Senator KENNEDY. I am recovered.

QUESTION. Your voice and your sinus?

Senator KENNEDY. It is all right.

QUESTION. I am mighty glad to see you looking so well.

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you.

QUESTION. There has been some complaint by newsmen that the incumbent President does not hold news conferences often enough. If you are elected President, what will your policy be with regard to the holding of news conferences?

Senator KENNEDY. I think it is probably a question that had better wait, but I do think it is useful to see the press, and I think that the custom has been once a week. I would think that whoever was President would see the press at least once a week.

Mr. TRUMAN. If you don't, they will lie on you.

QUESTION. Mr. President, could you tell us what you think the overriding issue is going to be in this campaign.

Mr. TRUMAN. There are so many of them that I can't explain them all here, and not make a political speech.

QUESTION. Could you name a single one?

Mr. TRUMAN. There are three or four of them. The principle one, I think, is the foreign policy of the United States of America. The next one is handling of the agricultural policy. You know, they quarrel about what it costs to have an agricultural policy in this country. It cost $1 billion in the last 2 years I was in office and it is now costing $6 billion. The operation of the national debt and the handling of the finances of the United States has been a disgrace to the country, and it has cost the people about $20 billion. I think those are the principal issues, and I can't speak to you for the Senator, but you know what they are because you have been there.

QUESTION. Would you make any recommendations to the candidate about foreign policy, any specific recommendations?

Mr. TRUMAN. The recommendations that I make are made on questions from the candidate for President as a result of my criticism and so you will have to ask him about that.

QUESTION. Would Senator Kennedy say something about that?

Senator KENNEDY. We discussed the farm program and we talked about the Democratic platform and I think the Democratic platform on farm policy is admirable, and I support it strongly.

QUESTION. In that connection, did you ask the President to do anything other than participate in the speaking engagements in the campaign?

Senator KENNEDY. That is all we discussed.

QUESTION. Do you have any plans either in formative stages, or have you thought about asking President Truman to become official or unofficial foreign policy adviser if you are elected?

Senator KENNEDY. No, but I think President Truman is a source of advice and counsel on all issues, including foreign policy, and that was one of the reasons I was anxious to talk to him.

QUESTION. Mr. President, I would like to ask you a question concerning something about which you should be an expert.

Mr. TRUMAN. I am an expert in nothing, Eddie, but go ahead.

QUESTION. The Gallup poll recently showed Vice President Nixon leading Senator Kennedy by I think it was 50 to ---

Senator KENNEDY. Forty-four.

QUESTION. I would like to have your comment.

Mr. TRUMAN. Do you remember a Gallup poll had showed Dewey to be 60 to 42 in 1948? That is about the same answer.

QUESTION. Sixty to forty-two?

Mr. TRUMAN. Or whatever it was. That is my viewpoint on polls. The Senator must make up his own mind on that. They don't mean a thing.

QUESTION. Did you discuss with Senator Kennedy how he might turn this special session of Congress to his advantage, like you appeared to do in 1948?

Mr. TRUMAN. He is a Member of Congress, and I am not and you will have to ask him about that.

QUESTION. Did that come up for discussion, sir?

(No answer.)

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, have you asked Mr. Truman to talk on any particular issues such as the farm program or national defense?

Senator KENNEDY. No, whatever he talks about will be appropriate.

QUESTION. You say that as a good Democrat, you of course will support Senator Kennedy. You told us out here before Los Angeles that you felt that Senator Kennedy was too young and inexperienced.

Mr. TRUMAN. I said the National Democratic Convention solved that, and that is all there is to that.

QUESTION. You now feel that he is?

Mr. TRUMAN. That is all there is to that.

QUESTION. Senator, you spoke of asking the President to campaign for you in New York. Could you tell us some of the other places you discussed and places where you would like to have him come in?

Senator KENNEDY. No, but we just mentioned New York and there were some other States, but I think that the Democratic National Committee is going to be talking to President Truman about his schedule. We did mention New York and I think we were talking about making farm speeches, and speeches in some other areas, and perhaps it would be better to wait until it is lined up.

QUESTION. You have said, Mr. President that he will win Missouri overwhelmingly. Would you care to make a prediction about the country?

Mr. TRUMAN. I am no political prophet nor pollster and I can't answer that question, for the simple reason that I don't have any faith in political prophets or pollsters, because the Democrats are going to win and that is all there is to it.

QUESTION. I want to direct a question to the new national chairman of the Democratic Party, Senator Jackson, from Washington. I know you are going to do an able job of leadership. What do you think Senator Kennedy's chances are going to be?

Senator JACKSON. There is no doubt about what the chances are. He is going to win. Let me state it this way. I can say in all candor, if a party chairman can be candid, that there is not a single State that as chairman I would be warranted in writing off today to the Republicans, not a single State. In other words, we have a chance to win in all 50, and we are going to put up a fight in all 50. We are going to win. I don't think that you can name a State where an objective reporter could come up and say, "The Democrats don't have a chance."

Mr. TRUMAN. That is right.

Senator JACKSON. I am not saying we are going to carry them all necessarily, but there is not a single State. Vermont and Maine were famous in 1936, and Maine is now a Democratic State or at least it is a strong two party State. We have a Governor, a Senator, and two or three Congressmen. In Vermont, we elected a Congressman for the first time in 102 years or 106 years. That is the best way I can say it.

QUESTION. I wonder if you could give us just a little detail on your talk? What did you talk about, and how did it go? Any detail we would appreciate, any detail at all.

Mr. TRUMAN. We did not have any recording machine but we talked about winning an election, and that is what we are going to do.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, do you have any plans for further conferences with the President concerning either campaign plans or policy?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes, I will be talking with him during the campaign.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, we have heard President Truman and Senator Jackson's analysis of your chances for November. Would you care to give us your own analysis at this time?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes. I think we have a tough fight, and I think it is going to be contested in every State, but I think that we are going to win. I must say that I share the President's view to some degree about the difficulty of making a political prediction, or of a poll in August making a judgment of November. I have seen that go wrong in my own personal experience in so many occasions but I would say that we have a tough tight. In some areas it may be uphill. In my judgment we are going to win after a very vigorous campaign, and I am particularly glad that the President is going to join with us. We need the help of Democrats like him. I think we can get it. I think the fact that lie is willing to travel over the country on behalf of a candidate who runs almost 12 years after he won his victory in 1948, I think that gives us great encouragement. So I must say that I then am delighted that we all had a chance to come, and I am delighted that the President has been willing to associate himself in a strong way with our campaign.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, you said some areas might be difficult. Would you spell that out?

Senator KENNEDY. I just finished saying I think it will be a hard fought campaign, and a tough campaign. I don't take the view that we will win 50 States, but Senator Jackson may be right.

QUESTION. I think we have been fortunate to hear from most of the team and I think we ought to hear from the Senator from the great State of Missouri, Senator Symington, what he thinks about it all.

Senator SYMINGTON. Well, I am glad to be here, and Senator Kennedy, that is a privilege in itself, and it is a great honor for both of us to be here with President Truman. I am confident that the President will give all of his support, and he told me that before, to Senator Kennedy, and I think it is going to be very helpful. I fully concur with the President when he says that Missouri is going Democratic for Senator Kennedy, and I believe he has made a very wise choice in Senator Jackson, my colleague for many years in the Senate. We have been sitting next to each other and he is one of the hardest working and most dedicated Democrats I know. I think that the people of the United States are going to elect Senator Kennedy in November.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, I have a question from Massachusetts. She wants to know if you have endorsed Endicott Peabody for the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts.

Senator KENNEDY. I am not taking any position in the primaries in that State.

QUESTION. I would like to address a question to Senator Kennedy and Senator Jackson.

Senator, when Senator Johnson became the Vice Presidential nominee in Los Angeles, most people regarded it as a 10-strike, and thought it would assure carrying Texas and other States in the South. I believe the Republicans at first thought that, and now they seem to have some second thoughts on that. Leonard Hall, I think, sincerely is now talking about Nixon carrying Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and some other States in the South. I don't think it is just campaign talk. I wondered if you or Senator Jackson would comment on it?

Senator JACKSON. Well, we have a hard fight in those areas. When I referred to the 50 States, I tried to make it clear that there is not a single State that we would write off, and I wanted to make that abundantly clear. We do have a hard fight in Texas, and I would say in Florida, Virginia, and possibly in Oklahoma. But a hard fight may be a good thing for us, because I think it will make us redouble our efforts to win. But we can carry those States, and I am confident that we will.

The most encouraging part of it is the fact that the hard working Democrats in those areas now recognize that we do have a tight and they are in there pitching. This to me is the most hopeful sign. We have other areas where we have hard fights.

John F. Kennedy, Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy at the Truman Library, Independence, MO Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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