John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at a Dinner of the Democratic Party of Cook County

October 19, 1962

Mr. Mayor, my old friend Mayor Daley; Assessor ,Cullerton; Governor Kerner; Senator Douglas; Members of the Congress; Reverend Clergy; ladies and gentlemen:

I'm delighted to come back to Illinois from whence I came, in a sense, and to express my warm regards for all of you. Those of us who move from political occasion to political occasion, and being the leader of a political party is one of the traditional responsibilities of the Presidency, a responsibility from which I do not shrink, though on occasion others have--but I come here tonight not merely because this is an outstanding political occasion sponsored by the Mayor, but because we're here on most serious business, which affects the welfare of our country. We are here tonight to elect Members to the House, to the Senate, to the State offices. We are here as Democrats because we believe that the Democratic Party has a function to fulfill in the most difficult and promising time in the life of our country.

Woodrow Wilson once said, "What good is a political party unless it's being used by the Nation for a great occasion?" What is the great occasion for which the Nation will use the Democratic Party in 19627 Why should they choose us and not the Republicans? The Republicans are equally patriotic, are equally devoted to our country, are equally anxious to see it move ahead. What makes this election important in 1962 is that the two parties have clear and distinct differences in their approach as to how they should move this country ahead, or, indeed, whether the country should just sit down and rest.

So I come here in 1962 as President of the United States, as one anxious to see the United States fulfill its promise in the next 2 years, and because I realize that it will depend in the final analysis upon the Members of the House and Senate as to how strong and vigorous this country really is.

It has been said so often that we are in a period of competition with the Soviet Union. Of course it's true. We can meet that competition in part by making ourselves militarily strong, by being first in space, which this administration has decided to do with the country's support, but it is also important to remember what Mr. Khrushchev once said, and that is that the day that the Soviet Union begins to out-produce the United States, the greatest productive power in the world, the United States, the day the Communists are able to come from behind and catch us and pass us, then, he said, "the hinge of history would begin to move."

So we come in 1962 to debate not merely old slogans and clichés and old charges, but to debate which political party best meets the needs of the United States in 1963 and 1964, to educate our children, to provide jobs for our citizens, to provide a better standard of life for our people, to provide better opportunities for all of them, and provide security when they're older.

Which country can do this better? I believe our country can. And which political party can lead our country in doing it? The Democratic Party, as it has so often in the past. When I see the things which are written in some of our great newspapers about the program of our party, I barely recognize them. But I recall the same things that were written in the 1930's against the programs of Franklin Roosevelt, and there isn't a person in this country today who does not benefit from these programs. In the 1970's, it is my hope that the people of the United States will benefit from what we did.

The fact of the matter is the Republicans opposed all those basic programs in the thirties as they do in the sixties. And that's why I come here in all good faith and ask you to elect Democrats to the House and Senate who recognize the needs of our time and are willing to act. And we have some of them here tonight--Congressmen Bill Dawson and Barratt O'Hara; and John Kluczynski, and Tom O'Brien, and Roland Libonati, and Dan Rostenkowski, Roman Pucinski, and Ed Finnegan--these men on issue after issue which affects not only the welfare of their district, but the vitality of the United States, they have stood up and voted "aye," and they are the kind of men who in the 1930's did the same. So I hope that you're going to elect them and those who are running with them who are here tonight: John Kennedy, Richard Friedman, Joe Salerno--who are candidates for the Congress.

And with three more Congressmen, all the fights that we lost that we could have won, and all the fights that will be coming up in the next 2 years that we can win, if Illinois will support the Democratic Party in 1962.

Now I have been examining objectively the campaign for the United States Senate. I wanted to find out, as I'm sure you do, which candidate the people of Illinois will support, and I've found, after examining the record of the two candidates, that there is only one candidate in this race who supported our efforts to expand the coverage and increase the amount of a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour, one candidate voted "yes" and the other voted "no" against the $50 a week for somebody working in a business which does a gross volume of a million dollars a year or more. There is only one candidate in this race for the Senate who supported the efforts of Paul Douglas to pass the Area Redevelopment Act, which was specifically drafted to assist the chronically unemployed areas of southern Illinois, as well as parts of Indiana and West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania, where we have had people out of work for 2, 3, and 4 years, 30 percent of the population--a bill drafted to assist those communities-one candidate in the Senate voted "aye" and the other against it.

There is one candidate in the Senate race who voted to assist education, secondary education, and to pay our teachers better, and higher education. This State has more children in it that I saw today and most of them will want to go to college in 1970. Where're they going to go? We're going to have to build in the years from 1960 to 1970 as many college buildings in this country to send our sons and daughters to college as we built in 150 years. We're going to double the population of our colleges in 10 years, and if we don't, we fall behind. They are our greatest resource.

We had a bill to assist those colleges, to build those dormitories and laboratories and engineering establishments. It failed, finally, in the House by 28 votes. One candidate is for it; one candidate is against it. There is only one candidate in this race who has supported effective civil rights, who has fought the filibuster in an effort to provide equal rights for all Americans, to which they are entitled by the Constitution and the laws of morality, and there is only one candidate in this race who supported an effective drug control bill before it became a national scandal, and there's only one candidate in this race who supported medical care for the aged under social security, and make no mistake about it, this bill does not affect primarily those who are old and destitute, because they will have some kind of care. It affects those and their families who must contribute to supporting an older parent who is sick, who can find their savings eaten alive, and who must at the same time educate their children. For 25 cents a week under social security we can give security to those who're older and also to their children who must meet their obligations.

And there's only one candidate in this race, and that candidate is Sid Yates, and that's why I hope he'll be in the United States Senate. You may say that you're not old, and you are getting more than $1.25 minimum wage, and you're not going to be out of a job, so you don't need unemployment compensation, you don't need job retraining, you don't live in southern Illinois, you live in the city, but you don't live in a project where urban renewal is important, but the fact of the matter is that no one in this country can be prosperous, regardless of what his method of earning a living may be, unless the entire country is prosperous. No one in this country can be prosperous if farm income declines.

Last year farm income for the average farm family in Illinois was up 30 percent of what it was the year before under Ezra Taft Benson. How can Illinois be prosperous if the people who make farm implements and automobiles and all the rest can't find anyone to sell it to? How can we be prosperous if we move from a recession in '58 and one in '60? Unless we can maintain the forward thrust of our economy there isn't anyone in the country whose interests aren't adversely affected.

That's what this election is about--which party and which candidates, based not on speeches they may make for 40 days before an election, but which party and which candidate, based on the last 50 years, best understands the domestic needs of this country; which party has said, "yes," and which party has said "no."

That's why I think the Democrats are going to win in November of 1962. The choice is clear. The Illinois Republican delegation-82 percent voted against the Housing Act of 1961, urban renewal, housing for the elderly, middle income housing, the Area Redevelopment; 100 percent of the Republicans from this State voted against area redevelopment after all those speeches about assisting the depressed areas and mining areas of southern Illinois. When we tried to do something about cleaning up the water, which is necessary for new industry, 65 percent of the Republicans from this State voted "no." On our space authorization to make this country first, 50 percent of the Republicans in this State voted "no."

On our emergency feed grain program which has increased the income of the farmers of this State, 100 percent voted "no."

Now, these are the issues. On urban affairs reorganization, to give our cities somebody sitting at the Cabinet on transportation, housing, all the rest, where 75 to 80 percent of our people live in the cities and have no voice, 100 percent of the Republicans from the State of Illinois voted "no." Therefore, I come out here bearing a responsibility which falls upon both the Congress and the President. We propose these programs which are of assistance to the economy and the people of this country and the Congress votes them up or down, and they have voted them up by 3 or 4 votes, and they have voted them down by 3 or 4 votes.

So I come to Illinois and ask your help in electing Sid Yates to the Senate, sending these Congressmen back, and committing Illinois and the country to moving forward in 1963 and 1964. This is a great and rich country. It is in the center of the stage. It sits in a most conspicuous position. Everything we do here is marked around the world in the great struggle which is reaching its climax in this decade. Everything we do for good and for bad. And I believe that we can do those things that can make this country not only the leader of the free world, but also a leader in whom all can have a sense of pride and a sense of participation and a sense of mutual progress. I come to Illinois and ask your help, not as part merely of a political campaign, but as part of a national movement to commit this country once and for all to progress.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at McCormick Place in Chicago. His opening words referred to Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago; P. J. Cullerton, Assessor of Cook County, Ill.; Otto Kerner, Governor of Illinois; Paul H. Douglas, U.S. Senator from Illinois; and the Reverend Michael l- Conway, the Reverend Dr. William L. Rest, and Rabbi Maurice I. Kliers. Later he referred to William L. Dawson, Barratt O'Hara, John C. Kluczynski, Thomas J. O'Brien, Roland V. Libonati, Dan Rostenkowski, Roman C. Pucinski, and Edward R. Finnegan, U.S. Representatives; John Kennedy, Richard Friedman, and Joseph Salerno, Democratic candidates for U.S. Representative from the 13th, 4th, and 10th Districts, respectively; and Sidney R. Yatcs, U.S. Representative and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate--all of Illinois.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Dinner of the Democratic Party of Cook County Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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