John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks in Harrisburg at a Democratic State Finance Committee Dinner

September 20, 1962

Governor Lawrence; Senator Clark; your next Governor, Dick Dilworth; Members of the Congress; your candidates for State office; ladies and gentlemen:

I will introduce myself. I am Teddy Kennedy's brother, and I'm glad to be here tonight.

This evening marks the beginning of the 1962 campaign for Governors, Senators, Congressmen, State Senators and Representatives, and other State officials across the United States. And I think it most appropriate that I should start this most important campaign here in this State of Pennsylvania--a State which made my nomination for this office possible, a State which made my election to this office possible, a State which has sent to the United States Senate Senator Clark, who has fought for progress for this State and country and will in the future, a State which has elected Congressmen who on issue after issue during the last sessions of the Congress have stood up and spoken for the people. And we need them back and we need more of them, and with your help we're going to get them.

The fact of the matter is that there are 47 days from tonight until election eve, and there are a great many things we have to do. But in a very larger sense a campaign has been going on in this country for 20 months, because 20 months ago today I assumed the responsibility of President of the United States, and during those 20 months, and in the 20 months to come, we must be committed, as we have been in the past, to getting this country moving.

I am not on the ballot in this campaign, but as President of the United States I have a large responsibility for the progress that this country makes, and one fact is clear beyond dispute and that is that this country requires, if it is to move, a progressive Congress--in short, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. But more is at stake than what party controls the Congress and the various State governments. The American people on November 6th must choose whether this Nation sails or anchors, whether we are to step up the progress that we have already made, or return to drift and deadlock.

I do not intend to conceal the differences between our two parties. Those differences are available for all to see. If the Democratic Party is charged with disturbing the status quo, with stirring up the great interests of this country, and with daring to try something new, I plead "guilty." And if the Republican Party is charged with wanting to return to the past, with opposing nearly every constructive measure we have put forward, then they must plead "guilty." And the American people will make their judgment.

It was a cold day in January when this Democratic administration took office. The Nation's engine was idling. We were in our third recession in 7 years. Nearly 51/2 million Americans were out of work, the largest number since World War II. Here in Pennsylvania, and in other great industrial States, too many mines and too many steel mills and too many towns had people out of work; too many cities were decaying with slums for housing and congested transit and polluted water and increasing crime and increasing delinquency. Those working men and women who were unorganized were often denied a fair wage. Those who were Negroes were often denied their constitutional rights. Those who were on welfare were denied a chance to do better.

There were not enough safeguards for migrant workers, not enough homes for the elderly, not enough loans for small business. Food surpluses piled up in this very rich country of ours while thousands of families in this State, in West Virginia, and other places went unassisted. Unsuspecting housewives were sold harmful or worthless drugs, and the Congress and the President had, for 6 years, been deadlocked in divided, divisive, do-nothing Government.

Around the world the picture was dreary. Mr. Khrushchev vowed in the early days of January 1961 that he would eradicate this splinter Berlin from the heart of Europe. There was an imminent peril of a military takeover in Laos. The tide was running against us in Viet-Nam. There was a danger of a Communist foothold in the Congo. The dark clouds were gathering in Latin America, which had been ignored for 8 years, and the Communists had already taken over Cuba.

There had been a deterioration in our relations with Western Europe, and the President of the United States had to cancel his trip to Japan. And the steady decline in our balance of payments position meant a massive outpouring of the gold resources of the United States. Other countries were doubting the credibility of a defensive deterrent position when our defense was hamstrung for budgetary reasons. They were not impressed by our space effort, which was determined to maintain a second position, which is like having a second best poker hand. They were unsure about what we meant about the equality of man or the urgency of peace.

All of this was an months ago tonight, and were I to tell you tonight that all was well, or were I to say that the 87th Congress had done all the things which we feel must be done, I would be setting my sights too low. But the facts of the matter are that progress has been made on every single one of these problems; that the decline in our position has been reversed; and that this country is moving forward again.

At home the gross national product, which is the measuring stick for the productivity of the United States, has risen by more than 10 percent since that day, by nearly $50 billion above its previous peak. Although unemployment is still high, and is still much too high, it is 40 percent less in this State than it was 20 months ago, and it should be less and it will be if we can carry out the measures that are so essential.

The wages and salaries of our working men and women have risen $27 billion, or 10 percent. Our families have more than $30 billion more than they had a year and a half ago, and the profits enjoyed by our businessmen have risen over $10 billion, or 26 percent.

Seven hundred depressed areas are finally receiving redevelopment aid, 5 years later than was necessary after the bill had been vetoed twice, once by a Congress and once by a President of the United States.

We have passed the most comprehensive housing bill in the history of this country. We have stepped up sharply the building of new homes for older people, a supplemental unemployment benefit to nearly three million jobless workers, and each month's payment to about 200,000 children of those who are unemployed has helped see these families through the lean months of the recession. A manpower development and training program, sponsored by Senator Clark of this State and Congressman Holland of Pennsylvania, will train and retrain hundreds and thousands of workers in the next 3 years, many of them here in this State.

Here in Harrisburg, for example, men will be trained as auto mechanics and instrument men--men who could not otherwise find a job.

A 1900 million public works program, which Senator Clark helped to start, will soon be creating more jobs in better communities across the United States.

Five thousand cities and towns now receive new help in attacking water pollution, a program which was before the Congress for a number of years which we could not get enacted. Thousands of other communities will receive help in clearing slums, and fighting juvenile delinquency, and improving mass transit, and building nursing homes and hospitals, and highways and airports, and, above all, more homes, homes for the average family as well as those who are well-to-do, and poor, and college dormitories for those who're at school.

Aid has been stepped up to nearly three million other aged, blind, disabled, and dependent people, and Federal help has been made possible to reduce their dependency upon welfare. Five hundred thousand men and women now find it possible to retire at age 62 instead of age 65. Railroad and bus excise taxes have been removed, and other measures have been taken which help small businessmen.

No Congress in recent years has made a record of progress and compassion to match this. And only a Democratic Congress could pass these bills, for they were Democratic bills, sponsored, guided, and enacted by Democratic majorities, and in most cases against the near unanimous opposition of the Republican Party. And that's why this election is so important.

And this session of the Congress is not over. In the next 2 weeks I expect to have on my desk a new farm bill, which will cut back on our surpluses, which weigh heavily on the farmers' price and the taxpayers' pocket; a drug bill, which will make it as certain as it can be that no harmful or worthless drugs are sold to the American people; a tax bill, which will provide incentives for new investment in new machinery and, therefore, new jobs; a health bill, enabling all of our children, before they go to school, to become immunized against familiar and deadly diseases--every child in the United States. And perhaps most important of all, a trade expansion bill, which will give jobs to our industries and our agriculture and permit us to have the closest ties with the great market which is springing up in Western Europe. All this and more will be passed by this Congress.

But we did also fail in some measures, and that's why this election is important here in this State, the election of Governor Dilworth, which I am sure he will be, as well as the Members of the Congress. Today in the House of Representatives we lost a bill to assist higher education, to make it possible for the 7t/2 million young men and women who will apply for admission to college in 1970, twice as many as we have today, and that bill was lost by 30 votes, and three-fourths of the Republicans voted against it.

We lost a bill in July, medical care for the aged. A change of 2 votes in the United States Senate would have passed that bill. These are the measures which will come back again in the next session of the Congress, and I'm asking the people of Pennsylvania to send us Democratic Congressmen, to send us Senator Clark, to elect Governor Dilworth, to give this State and country the kind of progressive leadership it needs and deserves.

This country is a strong country. In the last 16 months the United States has increased the number of combat-ready divisions from 11 to 16. We now have 50 percent of the Strategic Air Force on 15-minute alert, 24 hours a day. We have stepped up the production of Polaris submarines. We have made and are making and will make an effort to insure that before this decade is out, the United States will be number one in space and we will not have to look up to Soviet success around the world.

If we do these things as in earlier days they were done by other Presidents and other Congresses, then we will make it possible for those who are coming after us to enjoy the same security, the same peace, and the same sense of being part of a strong and living and forward-looking America. This is what I ask your help in making possible this year.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the State Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, Pa. In his opening words he referred to Governor David L. Lawrence and U.S. Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania; and to former Mayor Richardson Dilworth of Philadelphia, Democratic candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks in Harrisburg at a Democratic State Finance Committee Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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