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Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Concourse Plaza Hotel, Bronx, NY

November 05, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mayor Wagner, my longtime friend and colleague, and I am happy to say supporter, Congressman Buckley [applause] - in fact, I would not be where I am if it were not for Congressman Buckley and his generous support. [Applause.] My colleagues in the Congress who are here today - I want you to meet Mrs. Margaret Price, who is the vice chairman of the national committee in charge of women's functions and coordination. [Applause.] Ladies and gentlemen: I said up the street that I was a former resident of the Bronx. Nobody believes that but it is true. I went to school in the Bronx. Now, Riverdale is part of the Bronx, and I lived there for 5 or 6 years. [Laughter and applause.] No other candidate for the Presidency can make that statement. [Laughter.] In fact, I do not know the last time that a candidate from the Bronx ran for the Presidency, but I am here to ask your help. I don't think we are going to run all right in Riverdale, but we will be here. I think one of the things about being a candidate for the Democratic candidate for the Presidency is that you can admit you are a Democrat. Mr. Nixon, one of the many difficulties he has been facing is, of course, the question of running on the Republican record. He keeps saying that party labels don't mean very much, that it is the man. I think it is the man that the party puts up, and I think the record of the past gives an indication of the future. [Applause.]

Nixon, in a high-level or high-road campaign which emphasizes the issues, in the last 7 days has called me an economic ignoramus, a Pied Piper, and all the rest. I just confine myself to calling him a Republican. [Laughter and applause.] But he says that is really getting low [Laughter.] I want to say one word about a proposal which I wanted to put forward today, and that was to take this opportunity of announcing my intention, if I am successful on Tuesday, to appoint a Consumer Counsel in the Office of the President of the United States. It will be the function of this Counsel to represent the interests of consumers in the administrative procedures of Government, and in the congressional procedures of the Government. The wage earners who pay the rent, the housewives who shop for the families, all have a vital interest in governmental policy, which affects them, and affects their ability to meet their responsibilities. And yet all these great interests, of which all of us have a part, really go unrepresented before the committees of the agencies of our National Government.

The congressional committees and the executive department all have a direct impact on the daily lives and the standard of living of the American consumer, and one of the first tasks of the Consumer Council will be to help formulate economic policies which will keep a general rise in the price level from having a discriminatory effect upon the wage earners of the United States and their families. [Applause.]

Last month, the cost of living hit an alltime high in the history of the United States, the culmination of a steady rise in the cost of living of over 10 percent. The cost of medical care has gone up 32 percent in the last 8 years. The cost of rent has gone up 20 percent. The cost of household management has gone up 23 percent. In short, the consumer has had to bear an undue share of the price rises which have lowered the purchasing power of every American family.

We intend to halt this steady deterioration in their position.

Aside from participation in the formulation of policy, the Office of the Consumer Counsel will have four major functions. First, it will scrutinize the activities of all governmental agencies which have a responsibility of regulating business activities in the public interest. While the railroad companies and the airlines, the drug companies and all the others are represented before these agencies, by high-priced attorneys, the consumers, whose protection is at stake, are not represented today. [Applause.]

Second, the Consumer Counsel will represent consumer interests before congressional committees. Each year, dozens of bills are heard before the congressional committees an are acted upon, which affect the welfare of the consumers of the United States. The consumers have no voice to speak for their interests. When I conduct hearings as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, we hear from representatives of organized labor, we hear from the representatives of business, we occasionally hear from public interest groups. But we do not have anyone who speaks to us about the effect of any policy that we take upon the consumers of the United States. And what is true of Labor is true of the Banking and Currency Committee, is true of the Committee on the Judiciary, is true, in fact, of every committee of the Congress, whose actions affect the cost of living. And I believe that it would be useful to have someone who could go before these committees, when a bill which is important and controversial is before the Congress, and discuss some of the effects that this might have upon the cost of living. [Applause.]

I believe that if the interest is properly represented, it will greatly aid the executive department in meeting its responsibilities to the people.

Fourth, the Consumer Counsel will keep the President informed about any deficiencies in administration harmful to the consumer and will participate in the formulation, drafting, and presentation of new legislation to advance the interest of the American consumer.

I believe that such a Consumer Counsel, perhaps a woman familiar with consumer problems, will be the surest safeguard of the public interest in a Government where private interests are well represented. [Applause.]

President Truman used to say that there are 14 million Americans who have sufficient resources, sufficient knowledge of the workings of government, to be able to protect their interests, and it is the function of the President of the United States to protect the interest of the other 150 million, and that is what we are going to do. [Applause.]

During a series of congressional investigations into a highly suspicious series of land sales, a Boston lawyer Louis Brandeis, later Justice of the Supreme Court, appeared before the committee as a representative of a group of citizens alarmed at the waste in the public interest. When he took the witness stand, a Congressman challenged his right to be present. "Who, sir," he asked, "Do you represent?" "I, sir," replied Mr. Brandeis, "am the people's counsel." It is my hope and belief that this new officer of the Government will also be the people's counsel and speak for the people. [Applause.]

Let me say that this campaign, happily for us all, is coming to an end. If somebody told me that it is going to be on November 16, instead of November 8, I might just fade right out. But we can last until November 8. I have been in the last 3 days in eight States, among them California, New Mexico, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, and the Bronx, the ninth State. [Applause and laughter.] And I come here today and ask your help in this campaign. [Applause.]

Mr. George Gallup described a week ago our problem as Democrats. He said that in a poll that he had taken we were leading, the Democrats, 49 to 45 for Mr. Nixon. But when he took out the 4 percent who he did not think would vote, based upon their previous experience, the result was 49 to 49. We lose that 4 percent. They are Democrats. I assume Mr. Gallup was reporting the facts as he saw them. They are Democrats. The Republicans vote. We all know that Suburbia turns out and all the rest of the areas of New York, where Republicans live - Riverdale, all those other places. [Laughter.] We know that they turn out. They are going to be out to vote 90 percent. We can't lose 4 percent in any State. Four percent is a terrific vote in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, California - 4 percent will decide the result in any of those States. Now, we can't get that 4 percent out unless you get them out, unless you help get them out, unless you are able.

I have attempted to make the issues sufficiently sharp, sufficiently clear, and I believe there are great stakes in the issue, to try to interest the people to come out to vote. But in the final analysis, it depends upon your willingness to assume your responsibilities as you have so often in the past, your responsibilities on Tuesday. Let us see if we can get that 4 percent, and if we do, we are going to win. [Applause.]

Last night we had a parade in Chicago of 1 million people. I said to Mayor Daley, "They are all going to be so tired from being in the parade that they won't be able to get up on Tuesday." [Laughter.] He said, "No, they will get up." I thought so, too. I think they will here in the Bronx. This election is important: The Presidency is a great office. It has unparalleled influence over the lives of all of us. Every decision the President makes affects the security and well-being of every person in the United States as it never has before, as it never has before. Its possibilities, its opportunities for service are unlimited in 1960, and I think we don't want the Republicans and Mr. Nixon to assume that responsibility. We want progress. We want a Democratic President. We want a President that will move this country forward. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Concourse Plaza Hotel, Bronx, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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