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Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, "Breakfast with Kennedy", Lawrence Hotel, Erie, PA

September 28, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Governor Lawrence, Reverend Clergy, Mrs. Price, ladies and gentlemen: I am very grateful for the Governor's generous remarks, and his kind analogy with Mr. Perry. The only thing is that Mr. Perry did not have to fight three times all over again after having gone through it once. It is like playing Ohio State every Saturday for 4 weeks in a row. So we will try again next week.

I appreciate your coming to the breakfast. I am touched by the - not as deeply touched as you have been this morning. [Laughter and applause.] It always warms the hearts of the Democrats to see contributors gathered together in one room on an occasion such as this. I wish there were some other way to run a campaign, but this is what makes the mare go, and this is what keeps us moving today from here to Buffalo and on through New York. You would not have wanted to have gotten a telegram from Albany saying we were stranded there. [Laughter.] So I hope you will keep us going. We are very grateful for it.

This is an important campaign and it does involve us all greatly. I have the honor to lead the Democratic Party in this campaign, but the contest is not merely Mr. Nixon versus myself. We have a tendency sometimes in this country to personify or personalize all of our issues. We look at Mr. Castro and we look at Mr. Khrushchev and we look at Mr. Nasser and all the rest. Really, the important thing about Mr. Khrushchev is not Mr. Khrushchev himself being a formidable figure, but it is the Communist system. We worried the same way about Stalin, and we worry about Khrushchev. When Khrushchev disappears, we will worry about Koslov and Mikoyan, whoever emerges out of that. It is the power of the system that counts, and it is the same thing of the United States. The vigor and leadership of the President is an ingredient in national strength, but in the final analysis it is the sum of the total that counts. Presidents may change, but the power of the United States, in the balance of world politics, in the balance of the power struggle of the world, is the great force on the side of freedom. So in a very real sense, we are all involved. When the United States is in trouble, it isn't the President that is in trouble. It is the United States.

So this is the struggle between Mr. Nixon and myself. I think it is a struggle really in a larger sense between two different concepts of government which has gone on for many years, and which continues in 1960. We have a Democratic Congress. I hope we are going to have a Democratic Executive. I hope that the Democratic Executive and the Democratic Congress in a responsible and effective way will try to set before the American people the unfinished agenda, the unfinished business. I think it would be helpful if we could make a determination of what we have to do in the next 10 years to maintain our military position, our economic strength, our social strength, here in the United States and throughout the world. Then I am confident we can do it. I don't think there is any doubt that even though I have been critical of some phases of our national leadership, I have never been critical of our country. I think its potential is unlimited. We proved it in two wars. We proved it in peacetime. Therefore, we are all united in support of our country.

Mr. Nixon persists in saying that I am downgrading America. I downgrade the leadership, which is getting in some phases of our national lives but I don't downgrade the country. I upgrade it. After traveling through it for many years, after having been in 50 States and after having been as much of it as I have, no American could possibly have anything but the greatest confidence in it and its people. The problem is that we make sure that in the sixties that we recognize not merely the difficulties we are passing through now, but that we try to do everything in relationship to what needs to be done.

Mr. Nixon Monday night, and it was well within his debate rights, kept applying to the present statistics what might have happened 10 or 12 years ago. I prefer to apply what is happening today with what needs to happen. I prefer to apply what we are doing with what the Communist world is doing. I think it better to apply what is happening today. Is our prestige increasing relative to theirs around the world? That is the only question before us. In other words, by 1970, will we be stronger in relation to them than we are today, or weaker? That is what the determination is that the American people have to make.

My judgment is we can be stronger. My judgment is that with the present relative rate, how ever, there is no assurance of that. I ask your help in this campaign and I want to express my appreciation for the support you have given this campaign, in this State and throughout the country.

We could not possibly have carried on without help like this. I want you to know that I think in addition to being of assistance on this occasion, I think that you are also meeting the responsibilities which go with citizenship. This campaign cannot possibly be run without money to pay for transportation - these are the humdrum things - television, radio, and all the rest. Where are we going to get the assistance? We are going to get it from the people who will be willing to help, even though they have many other responsibilities or we just won't get it. I think that both parties ought to have assistance in presenting their views. Then the American people can make a fair choice. Then there is no inequality in their ability to deliver their message. Then the choice is very fair, and we get democracy at its highest. So I hope that you feel as I feel, that in helping this campaign, you also contribute not merely as Democrats or Republicans to a campaign, but in fulfilling a responsibility which goes with citizenship. I appreciate it very much. I appreciate your help in this campaign. I do think we have a great chance to win, but, more important than that, we do have a chance to be of service to our country. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, "Breakfast with Kennedy", Lawrence Hotel, Erie, PA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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