John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks in Hollywood at a Breakfast With Democratic State Committeewomen of California.

June 08, 1963

Carmen, Senator Engle, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express Senator Engle's and my appreciation to you for coming out this morning.

Looking at all you ladies and seeing what you have done with some of your distinguished officeholders, I recall an experience of the suffragettes who picketed the White House back during the First World War. The leader of the suffragettes was arrested. And as she was taken away in a truck, she turned to her girls and said "Don't worry girls. Pray to the Lord. She will protect you."

I want to express our thanks to you, those of us who hold public office to those of you who make it possible. And I wanted to say one or two words about why I think what you are doing is important and why I think what Senator Engle and Senator Mansfield and your State offices and State legislatures are doing is important.

Woodrow Wilson once said, "What use is a political party unless it is being served and being used by the Nation for some great purpose?" So the question, really, which both political parties must constantly face: what purpose do we serve, what good are we doing the Nation, of all the problems that face us at home and abroad, how is our party, whether we are Democrats or Republicans, how are we measuring up, what is our program, what are the needs of the country and what are we doing about them?

Now, the Democratic Party has answered that question with remarkable success in every generation, and the result has been that what was regarded as controversial and dangerous and new from the time of Thomas Jefferson and Jackson, and Cleveland and Wilson, and Roosevelt and Truman, we now almost take for granted. So the question that we have is, in the 1960's, whether we as Democrats--and I think that citizens who are Republicans might well ask themselves the same question--what are we doing in the 1960's to meet the problems this country now faces at home and abroad?

Well, let me first just say briefly what I think our problems are. When we came into office in 1961 we faced three or four very serious problems on the home front and we have been attempting to deal with them, not wholly successfully, but we have recognized the problems and are now trying to develop solutions. The basic fact was that we faced entirely different problems and in many ways more complex problems, and more sophisticated problems, and more sensitive problems than we did in the 1930's, even though they were not as dramatic and not as immediately dangerous. We have since 1957 been moving through a period of almost chronic sluggishness in our economy and in the last 3 years of the 1950's we had passed through two recessions from which we had emerged in each case weaker.

In addition, it was recognized in the 1960's that there was about to pour onto the labor market millions of young men and women who were born in the post-war baby boom, many of whom were unskilled at a very time when machines were throwing other men out of work. So it was recognized that we had to find a system for providing over 25,000 new jobs a week in order to take care of the people coming into the labor market and in order to take care of the people that machines were throwing out of work.

This is a difficult, complex, and unsolved problem, but one which requires our attention and one which requires our solution. We have proposed a number of solutions, and I must say that nearly every one of them has been opposed by the Republican Party.

What we have done is this: We have provided retraining for those who are chronically unemployed. We have reduced the retirement age for women from 65 to 62, so that some women can move out of the labor market. We have increased the minimum wage and expanded its coverage. We have taken a whole variety of steps to deal with those areas of chronic depression. For example, we give assistance now in the area redevelopment bill to those areas in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky and Southern Illinois, particularly the old coal towns where 15 or 20 or 25 percent of the people have been out of work for 3, 4, and 5 years. This is one phase of the problem--the chronic unemployables, we might call them, retraining, concentrated attention by the National Government, and all the rest.

In addition to that, however, we face the problem of our entire economy. And for that reason we have proposed a reduction this year, which will take place over a period of 18 months, of our taxes by $10 billion on the assumption--and I think a proven assumption--that the taxes which were passed during the Second World War and in Korea put such a drain on our economy that as we moved into a recession and moved out of it, the burden of that taxation strangled the recovery and we moved from recession to recession with higher and higher rates of unemployment.

If we are able, with the tax cut that we are now talking about, to move to the end of this year at the present rate of economic recovery from the end of 1960, this will be the longest period of recovery from a recession which has taken place since the Civil War. And if we move through '64 and '65 and '66, which I believe we can, with perhaps rather slight reductions, if any, this will be a unique record in the history of the United States.

I think we have a chance. I know all the arguments against it, because I have heard them over and over again, but the fact of the matter is that we in the United States face the same problem as Great Britain does with a conservative government. Last spring, this spring, the conservative government came forward with a tax cut even larger than ours, with a balance of payments problem even more substantial than ours, and it was able to pass it in a few days. We have been fighting it out month after month, listening to speeches against this program which I regard as essential, even though it is complicated, even though it isn't immediately appreciated by the people who talk about a tax cut at a time of deficits. But we are going to have this program, I can assure you, or we are going to move into a recession, as we did in the 1950's when we moved through three of them. And we cannot afford to move from recession to recession with an unemployment rate of 5.7, .8, and 6 percent, and then move into another recession and come out of that recession with an unemployment rate of 7 percent, and then move along and stagger along for 24 months and move into another recession and come out of that with an unemployment rate of 8 or 9 percent.

We are going to have coming into the labor market a years from now 1 million more young boys and girls than we have this year. So we are faced with very complicated problems which require complicated solutions. It is not as easy as it was in the 1930's, in a sense, to talk about minimum wage and social security--the old slogans.

Now we have a complicated economy, a rich and prosperous country, but we have serious problems which many of our citizens do not notice, but which press upon us and can make the difference between a society which blooms and blossoms and is an ornament to the free world, or one which falls behind Western Europe and Japan and all of the other countries, which 8 or 9 years ago were the object of our assistance.

I think the job can be done, but it requires new tools because the problems are new. And I can assure you that your congressional delegation, and I mean this as a fact, and Senator Engle, have been strongly behind all of the efforts we have made to deal with a sluggish economy in a dynamic world, and I think we have every chance to be successful.

Another area where we need help is in education. I made a speech about it in San Diego 2 days ago, and then I went out on the Kitty Hawk, and for some reason they delivered the morning paper out there, and I read the statement of a distinguished Republican from San Diego saying this is a most extraordinary demand, that the President of the United States would consider that the Federal Government had a responsibility in this field. He has not read the Northwest Ordinance, where Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in the 1780's set aside in every 30 sections one section for the knowledge of our people. He has not followed his great leader, President Lincoln, who passed at the height of the Civil War the Land Grant Act, which makes your universities, State universities, and every State university, which started them all and made it possible for them to survive and endure.

Look at these figures of what we are going to be dealing with in the 1960's. We have 23 million Americans over 18 years of age with less than 8 years of schooling. What kind of work are they going to find? How are we going to get them a job in this modern age? What we need are research assistants. What we need are teachers. We need nurses. We need doctors. We need people who are well trained, well qualified. This is not the 1900's, when millions of immigrants came in with no skills except an ability to lift. Now we can lift ourselves with machines. And we have 23 million with less than 8 years of schooling, and 8 million with less than 5 years. What kind of citizens are they going to be? And they are coming out to California!

I hear people say, "Well, this isn't our problem. This is the problem of X State or Y State." But Americans can get in a car and drive, and they are going to come here-not to Massachusetts, unfortunately, so much--but they are coming.

Imagine having 8 million people in this rich country of ours with less than 5 years of education. So we have sent up an education bill to make it possible to assist bright young men and women to get Ph.D.'s, because we need them at the top, to get graduate degrees. We are going to have to double the number of our college dormitories, so we are going to have loans and grants for the construction of college dormitories, to give assistance so that we can raise teachers' salaries. This State does as well or better than any State in the Union. But the old slogans which we heard in the thirties about the great hand of the Federal Government reaching out--we hear it all--but unless we recognize that these aren't 50 separate States, but one Nation, and an uneducated boy--and if you can tell me what is economical about having an uneducated boy or girl come into the labor community, you have about 5, 6, 7, or 8 years to get him. Unless you educate him then, you will never educate him. He will be around for 30 or 40 years. If it costs you $500 in this State per year per student and you can educate him and perhaps send him to college, if he has the capability or otherwise he is out on the labor market year after year, probably on relief, probably on unemployment compensation, bringing up children who themselves will be uneducated. If you can imagine a greater waste--those are the real spenders, who make it impossible to educate boys and girls at the crucial time.

Do you know that in some States 40 percent of the nonwhite population have less than 5 years of school--40 percent--or 7 percent of the white population? We had a Federal Civil Service exam, the basic exam, for getting a job in the Government taken in the South recently. Fourteen hundred Negroes applied; 80 passed--80 passed! It is not their fault, but how can they pass if 40 percent of them have had less than 5 years in school? And they vote. They are citizens. Their power at the poll, which is the basic power in this democracy, is equal to any Ph.D.'s. Does anyone think it is economical and wise and frugal and prudent not to make it possible for them to be educated-at least to make the best of their talents, which is all we want in this country?

So there is a lot of unfinished business here and abroad. Will you tell me why this rich country of ours should have 3 percent of our children mentally retarded while Sweden has 1 percent? The reason, of course, is that they grow up in slums, that the mothers do not have prenatal care, they do not have special teachers--all of the things that will make it possible for us. We have set up the largest program in this country which has passed the Senate, and will pass the House, to make it possible for us to cut our statistics down from 3 percent who are mentally retarded, I hope down to a figure which they have reached already in some sections of Western Europe.

But once again, I do not regard that as wasteful. I do not regard that as wasteful. I am not impressed by that argument. To retrain a man, to educate a child, to give security to an older citizen, to find jobs for those who want to work--this country of ours is rich and can afford to do it. We can afford to do it, and I am confident will do it because the people of this country cannot possibly turn their backs upon history and expect, if we are going to continue to be the leader of the free world, unless we make this society of ours a dynamic one. We have to do at home what we are trying to do through the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps and our trade program and the Disarmament Agency and our concentration, and I think we have made some progress.

There was a meeting of all of the African states at Addis Ababa recently. It came at the worst time of the Birmingham crisis, when all the pictures were in all of the papers of the world. Only one African leader criticized the United States, because I think they realize that we have a long way to go. There is a good deal of unfinished business which we have inherited and about which perhaps we have done too little. But I think at least it is understood in Africa, as it must be in the United States, that we are going to meet our responsibility in the 1960's to provide equality of opportunity, to give every child, regardless of his color, a fair chance.

So I want to tell you that when you work for a political party in the 1960's, and particularly when you work for the Democratic Party, you are not engaging in a social activity. This is not a means of meeting together and this is not a club. This is an organization, an institution, a system for bringing our political policy, our views on the great problems we face at home and abroad. And I must say after looking at this country and the Congress for the last a1/2 years, if I ever had any doubts about which party stands for progress, which party recognizes the problems of the country in the 1960's, I don't have it today. It is the party of which we are a member--the Democratic Party.

We had a bill before the House Rules Committee the other day to help in beginning mass transit, which our cities are going to need. A distinguished Republican Congressman from Ohio said to Congressman Patman from Texas, who was testifying in favor of the bill, "Why are you from Texas interested in helping the people of New York solve their traffic problems?" And the Congressman from Texas said, "I am interested because this is the United States, and the people of Texas are as involved with the people of New York as the .people of New York must be with the people of Texas."

This idea that we are 50 separate countries, that the Federal Government does not have a responsibility to set a tone and a standard and example, whether it is in transit, or libraries, or retardation, or education, whether it is in space, or on the ground, or under the earth, the National Government, representing the will of 180 million people, must move ahead, must meet its responsibilities. And all those who say "go home" are those who have permitted this country to stagnate during the years of our past history, so we are in good company today.

All I want to say is, we have a long way to go and I want you to come with us.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in the Hollywood Palladium. His opening words referred to Mrs. Carmen H. Warschaw, Women's Chairman, Southern Section of the Democratic State Central Committee, who presided at the breakfast, and to Clair Engle, U.S. Senator from California.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks in Hollywood at a Breakfast With Democratic State Committeewomen of California. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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