Press Conference of Vice President Richard M. Nixon, WMBD-TV Studios, Peoria, IL
QUESTION. Do you feel, there is a possible recession and, second, how do you feel about the effect on your campaign?
The VICE PRESIDENT. First, answering the first part of the question first, obviously any drastic change in economic conditions affects the campaign, and a change for the worse would affect the campaign of whoever was running representing the administration. As economic conditions improve, it tends to help whoever represents the administration. That's the theoretical point I'll cover first. Now, as far as the question itself, as to what will happen to the economy, I am not bearish with regard to it. As I look at all the indicators, and particularly as I look at what to me is the most important indicator of all, retail sales, I find that the economy generally is in good, strong condition. You mentioned steel. Steel has been down but as automobiles go back into production, with new models, certainly there is some indication that steel also will move up. So, I do not believe, one, that there will be a recession; two, I do not, therefore, believe that an economic downturn will be one of the issues of this campaign.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, the U-2 incident, the State Department first came out with a statement--
The VICE PRESIDENT. Looking back on the U-2 incident, I think any of us as Sunday morning quarterbacks, might have done things differently. The State Department in the first instance was reacting having in mind what the possibilities might be in the event that the pilot, for example, were saved, were not saved, and also not knowing exactly how much the Russians knew. As it turned out, their guess proved to be a bad one. So, that makes the first decision look very bad. My own feeling about it is that, as I looked at the situation and studied it, looking at the men on the spots who had to make the decisions at the time, you could find a good reason for everything they did at that time. Looking at it now, we would say we wouldn't have done it that way and we ran too many risks in attempting to cover the situation where it seemed to be clear that we might be caught eventually as we were. So, that would be my analysis of it. In other words, I don't believe any good purpose is served by pointing to some of the State Department officials who were doing the best they could and who at the time would have justification for saying what they did if things had turned out differently.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, there is one question you have answered so many times and so completely. You have even suggested a cutoff date and have asked the people to join you in your comments toward your opponent. Is there any yardstick or is there any set of circumstances which would cause you to say this is the date and the hour to cut off discussion on that point?
The VICE PRESIDENT. As far as the cutoff date on the discussion of the so-called religious issue, which you apparently are referring to, I believe that as far as I am concerned it has been reached. I made a very complete statement on this on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. I made it absolutely clear that I disapproved of the religious issue being used in my behalf or against my opponent, or either way, as the case might be, just as he has indicated that religion should not be an issue. Also, I have made it very clear in a conference that I had in San Francisco that I thought there was no question whatever about Mr. Kennedy's putting the Constitution first; I did not think there was a religious issue in fact, and I would do everything I could to keep it out. Now, as far as I am concerned then I believe that further discussion of the issue on my part would only keep the issue in the public mind and in the headlines. As far as my opponent is concerned and as far as those who support him are concerned, they are going to have to make that decision. It would not be for me to judge them. Their situation is different, and I understand that. So, I would prefer to let them make their own determination. I would hope they would reach the same conclusion I did because the more they talk about it, the more I get questions like the one you just asked.
QUESTION. Mr. Nixon, two of the most powerful Republican newspapers in Illinois endorsed the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator and for Governor. How do you think that will affect your chances of taking Illinois?
The VICE PRESIDENT. It's always a problem, of course, when you are running for office to have your local ticket to have less support than the national ticket may have. Of course, sometimes it can be the other way. The local ticket can be stronger than the national ticket. Now, I would say, however, that our reports from Illinois to date have been good, starting with the showing in the primary and continuing through the convention and since the convention. My own view is that we have a good chance to take Illinois. We're not certainly taking it for granted, I can assure you. We intend to be back here on several occasions to campaign in the major cities of Illinois. We also intend to do some whistlestopping in the State. At the present time we believe our prospects are good, I would say, finally, with regard to the local candidates, the candidate for Governor and the candidate for Senator, that I would think their campaigns would begin to pick up at this point, and I would hope that they would, and I am going to do everything I can to pick them up because you generally will find that you cannot run alone in a campaign. You can run ahead of your ticket to an extent. But it is always hopeful to have all links and chains as strong as possible, and I am going to try to strengthen them while I am here.
QUESTION. Mr. Nixon, I would like to return to one aspect of the cutoff question. We know that often usually it is not on your initiative or Mr. Kennedy's initiative that the issue is discussed. I would like to ask you if you expect soon to reach a point where you will consider it improper or not useful to reply to questions on this subject?
The VICE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I think so. For example, as I pointed out in my press conference in San Francisco, and also on "Meet the Press," it is a very terrible dilemma for a candidate, for both Senator Kennedy and myself; we like to be responsive to questions. We don't like to say, "No comment," and yet the moment we comment that is probably the news of the conference. My own view is that I have covered it thoroughly on "Meet the Press." I covered it in the press conference in San Francisco. I felt that today I could, since I had not been in this area before, with justification cover it at least to this extent. As far as I am concerned, I think the cutoff date with regard to answering questions has been reached.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, we in central Illinois were told last week that the farm policy would be near the views of Secretary of Agriculture Benson if you were elected. Does this mean more moves toward the so-called free agriculture?
The VICE PRESIDENT. Well, I intend to make two major speeches on farm policy, one in Iowa on Friday, the other in South Dakota on the following Friday. In those speeches I will make some proposals that will depart from some of the recommendations that Secretary Benson has made. I believe that as far as the term "free agriculture" is concerned, this is an objective toward which we should work. I believe, however, that we need more flexibility in working toward that objective than we have had in the past. I would not like to go further in what my policy will be since the speeches are in the process of preparation, and, incidentally for the members of the press, will be ready, I think, sometime tomorrow.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, if the Russians should successfully launch a man into space before election time, would this have an adverse effect upon your candidacy?
The VICE PRESIDENT. That is very hard to say. Obviously, any time a potential competitor of the United States gets ahead of us in a significant area it tends to make the people wonder if our own policies might have been at fault. Of course, in the area of space, we are well aware that the advantage the Russians have, and the only advantage, is in the size of their boosters. The reason they could possibly put a man in space before we could is because they have bigger boosters. The reason they have bigger boosters, of course, is well known. They started sooner. They started to experiment in this field in 1945 and 1946, and our major space program and booster program did not begin until 1953 and 1954. But I would say that if they do launch a man into space, we're not going to get downhearted, because our program is coming along splendidly. We have a big booster program, of course, on the way, and a man-in-space program, and if they do move ahead they won't stay there long? I'm confident that we have the ability and also that we have the resources to catch up and pass them.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, you did open the door a little bit on the farm subject at Grand Forks this afternoon, I believe, when you said we may have to pay more to get the surpluses off the farmers' back. I wonder, in view of that, if you can say how much more and for what length of time this might be necessary?
The VICE PRESIDENT. I would not like to say how much more because that I do specifically cover in my first speech. My first speech in Iowa, at Guthrie Center, will deal primarily with what we do with what I call the temporary problem. The surplus, how do we get rid of the nut, the surplus, which is the burden on the farmers' back, as a price depressant. Now, I have some ideas in this field I think will be helpful. I do believe, and I won't mind going this far, that in attacking the problem we should set a time in which we intend to deal with it. I think as we look at our programs in the surplus field over the past years, that we have had surpluses, that several of the programs have been admirable. The problem has been that we have not, in my opinion, gone far enough in dealing with the problem once and for all effectively; and in my opinion in determining how much we should spend, for example, next year in order to take a big bite out of the surpluses we should not be guided simply by the amount that is involved and the cost this year because it might be more than we have been spending, but we have to have in mind the fact that simply having the surplus problem as it is in the end costs us even more. So, my point is if, by a stepped-up program now, we can get the surpluses off the farmers' back, and for that matter, off the tax-payers' back as well, while it will cost more this year and perhaps for some other years as well, it will cost less in the long run.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, how serious do you personally consider the farmer's problem today and how much of your time are you going to devote to it in your campaigning?
The VICE PRESIDENT. You meant from a political standpoint?
The VICE PRESIDENT. The farmer's problem is obviously a keen political issue. I am not discouraged about it. I have been, as a matter of fact, encouraged by the reception we have had in farm areas, and also I should point out that the farmer is today a person who has very broad interests and is going to vote on not only farm programs; he is going to vote concerning foreign policy matters and others in which he has a great deal of interest, as well as the rest of the people. I am going to devote two major speeches to the farm program, and that does indicate, I believe, it's serious. I do feel we will make gains among the farmers this year over what we did in 1958.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, how is the knee, how are you feeling in general, and how do you feel about the reaction to your return to the campaign trail?
The VICE PRESIDENT. How is my knee, did you say?
QUESTION. How is your knee and how are you in general bearing up.
The VICE PRESIDENT. My knee is coming along fine. Generally speaking, I am in good physical condition, considering the rigors of travel, except for the usual touch of hay fever which comes to me every time at this time of year, and which you sometimes may notice in my voice, as well as in my nose, and, as far as the campaign to date, the receptions, I've be en very encouraged. The crowds have been big. That we would normally expect because people are curious. They want to see presidential candidates, and I recognize that. What is more, they have been enthusiastic - and that is what has been encouraging. The reports we have received from our local leaders have also been encouraging. I make it clear, we think it's going to be a very close fight, and we're going to campaign assuming that will be the case, but we have been encouraged by our reception to date.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, the Federal highway program has slowed down--
The VICE PRESIDENT. I think as far as the highway program is concerned, we simply have to get the Congress to understand the great support in the country for the highway program and what I believe to be the willingness in the country to pay the bill for it. I believe the highway program will go down in history as one of the major achievements of the Eisenhower administration, and I would certainly intend to give it every support, if elected, but I believe that we should pay for the program through increased taxes to the extent that such taxes may be necessary - gas taxes.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, in your acceptance speech you mentioned the fact you might call on us for sacrifices, but we haven't heard much about them to date. What do you have in mind in that way? Increased taxes?
The VICE PRESIDENT. When I spoke of sacrifices, I was speaking first of the possibility that, in the event our defense requirements, because of what the Russians were doing and because of new breakthroughs, became greater than we presently feel are necessary, we should have to be prepared to pay the taxes to meet those expenses. I would say that as far as sacrifices in a general sense are concerned, you could look at it this way: All Americans would like to have more of the income they produce. They would like to have less taxes than they presently are paying. I don't want any people in the country to have any illusions about the necessity for our maintaining, not only national defense, but our programs in the field of foreign policy at
adequate levels, and that must come first; and, while I do not anticipate at this point that further taxes would be necessary, at this point I believe we can have an adequate program with the tax level we presently have. There must be no doubt whatever among the people themselves that they must be willing to pay taxes, if necessary, to protect the security of the country.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, it has been charged, notably by Democrats, of course, our foreign policy has gone to pot. We have lost Cuba. How do you feel about that?
The VICE PRESIDENT. I disagree. I would be expected to, of course. The foreign policy critics made the same charge in 1956 when President Eisenhower was running. I remember that the former Governor of Illinois said that on many occasions our prestige was at alltime low. Today they say that our prestige is at an alltime low and, while they no longer say, as they did at the Los Angeles convention, that we're second militarily or economically, they say we're going to get that way. I don't believe that everything we've done, of course, is without criticism. We are bound to make mistakes, and hindsight is very convenient for the purpose of pointing up those mistakes - and it's proper, of course, to point them up - but when you look at the foreign policy of the United States overall, when you consider the support that we get in the United Nations for our positions whenever the Soviet Union is on the other side, the fact we've never lost a major vote in 8 years, when you consider that the receptions the President has had on his visits abroad, I say that those who are selling U.S. prestige abroad ought to go abroad and see.
QUESTION. Sir, if elected, how soon after the election would you expect to receive an invitation from Khrushchev to return to the summit, and would you accept such an invitation immediately?
The VICE PRESIDENT. As far as Mr. Khrushchev inviting me, or whoever is the next President, which would be Mr. Kennedy, I think it would be not particularly helpful to try to guess what he would do. He's rather unpredictable at the moment, I think. The second point I would make is: Whoever is President, I think, must examine any invitation to the summit with the greatest of care. We must not raise again the hopes of the world as they were raised by the agreement to attend the last summit and then have those hopes dashed by a completely irresponsible action on the part of Mr. Khrushchev, unless and until preparations are made at the diplomatic level which will give us considerable assurance that a summit, if it is held, may serve a reasonable purpose and provide some chance for progress toward relieving tensions, the next President, whoever he is, should not agree to a summit conference. I don't mean he should rule it out, but, I think, in view of what happened in Paris, that the only responsible course of action for a President is to look at summitry with a more jaundiced eye than we have previously and to be sure that we go to the summit and we have a chance to do something there.
QUESTION. Mr. Vice President, concerning Mr. Lodge.
The VICE PRESIDENT. I expect Mr. Lodge will be, as I have often indicated, a partner, particularly in the field of foreign policy, as well as in other fields to the extent that he can, and wherever a major decision involving U.N. is concerned, certainly I would have the greatest respect for his judgment in that particular field, and I have some ideas about additional assignments for him which I will announce at a later time.
Richard Nixon, Press Conference of Vice President Richard M. Nixon, WMBD-TV Studios, Peoria, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273904