John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, La Crosse, WI, Airport

October 23, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Norm Clapp, Gov. Gaylord Nelson, Lt. Gov. Philleo Nash, distinguished Attorney General John Reynolds, your distinguished Senator and my friend and colleague, Bill Proxmire, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be in this district again. I can make one boast that no other presidential candidate in history can make. I have spent more time in the Third District than any candidate for the Presidency since George Washington. [Applause.] I chased Hubert Humphrey all over this district and never caught him. [Laughter.] I am also delighted to be here in Wisconsin and in this district because I am associated with the kind of Democrats who I believe mean a good deal, not only to Wisconsin, but to the United States. I refer particularly to your candidate for the Congress Norm Clapp. [Applause.] I came out here in 1958. We had a rally, I think, at this same airport. He didn't win. This time we are holding a rally in the daytime. The last time it was about midnight. We are holding a rally in the daytime because he is the kind of candidate who I believe can serve this district and serve the country. I am hopeful he will be elected to the House of Representatives and speak for the Third District and speak for the United States. I endorse him and urge his support with all my heart. He is the kind of man we need. [Applause.]

I am confident that Wisconsin will elect as Governor the man who has led this State in recent years, your distinguished Governor, Gaylord Nelson, and the men who are joined together with him in his administration. We are moving in changing times, and no candidate for the Presidency or for Governor or for Congress can possibly discuss in this campaign all of the issues which will disturb our life in the coming months and the coming years. In the final analysis it depends on the good judgment, the sense of vigor the sense of responsibility, the sense of the past, the sense of the future of the candidate. And, therefore, Wisconsin has shown particular skill in recent years in selecting men who can meet the new problems of the future.

I recognize that the problems which will face us in 1960, and in the immediate years that follow are in many ways more difficult and more complicated than any in our history. How are we going to maintain full employment in this country? How are we going to make sure that all of the men and women who need to work can find jobs at good pay? How are we going to maintain agricultural income in this country when our productivity is increasing at 6 percent a year, and our demand at 3 percent a year? How are we going to be first in outer space and first in the minds and the hearts of people all around the globe? These are the problems that disturb us. These are the problems that go to our survival, and it is upon this generation of Americans that our survival as a country will rest, and also our survival as the great defenders of freedom all around the globe.

I come to this district, which is particularly dependent upon agriculture, but I recognize that this district and districts like it also affect the general economy. It is no accident that the depression of 1929 followed a consistent farm drop in income all during the 1920's, and I don't think it is any accident that we had a recession in 1954, a recession in 1958, and now the beginning of what may be a recession in 1960, all tied to a sharp decrease in farm income in the last 8 years.

The reason is simple: It is the interdependence of the American economy. The farmers of this country are the best market for Detroit, and the automobile industry. The automobile industry is the best market for steel in Pittsburgh. And when farm income goes down, so does Detroit, and so does Pittsburgh, and so does La Crosse. Seven out of eight of the International Harvester Machines Co. plants in Illinois, right across your State border, have been shut down this fall for varying periods, throwing nearly 12,000 men out of work because farm income has dropped.

And what happens to the small businessmen in those communities and what happens finally to Chicago? This country of ours is tied together, it is tied together by geography, it is tied together by tradition, but it is also tied together by the dependence of each citizen one upon another, and this administration's policy which has defeated the farmer also, in my opinion, has had an effect upon the city.

Mr. Nixon went to New Jersey the other day and in one of those speeches for which he has become famous, he said that the proposals that I put forward for increasing farm income would increase food prices 25 percent. Then he comes out here to La Crosse and says that my farm plan would not mean a thing for the farmer. He should make up his mind. He should say the same thing in La Crosse as he does in New Jersey. [Applause.] The fact is he should say the same thing in the North that he says in the South, the same thing that he says in the East that he says in the West. The fact of the matter is that in a loaf of bread the farmer gets about 2 cents out of a 25- or 26-cent loaf of bread. It costs more to launder this shirt in a hotel than a farmer gets for the cotton in the shirt. If that farmer's income went up 10 or 15 percent, it could increase the price of that food 1 cent or a half a cent, because it goes to the percentage that the farmer gets in that loaf of bread.

Mr. Nixon's attempt to turn the country against the city, to send a Secretary of Agriculture to campaign in the city rather than on the farms, to continue as he has proposed to do, the very same agricultural program which has reduced farm income 25 percent, which has made the average wage for a dairy farmer in the State of Wisconsin, according to the University of Wisconsin, about 55 cents an hour, that he would propose in 1960 a continuation of the very same program, seems to me to give the farmers a very clear choice. Mr. Nixon's program has been expressed in two lines:

One, we will use the surplus to use up the surplus, whatever that may mean. Mr. Benson in 1956 said those very same words. Mr. Nixon is using the exact same phrases as well as the exact same program that Mr. Benson put forward. Then he said the support price for farm income, the long-term price-support system, with levels based on an average of market prices under the immediately preceding crop year.

Those words were spoken first by Mr. Benson several years ago. They are an exact quote from Mr. Nixon's speech given in South Dakota in which he described his farm program, and what did they mean? They mean that the support price for farm income will be tied to 90 percent of the market price for the immediate year or the immediate 3 preceding years. Therefore, if corn was selling for $1.50 in 1952, and is now 95 cents or 90 cents, the next year the support price will be 90 percent of that 90 cents, and then if the market price the next year is 85 cents, then the support price will be 90 percent of that 85 cents. Step by step, year by year, the farmers' income will drop, because it is not tied to parity, it is not tied to the cost of the things for which he must put out, all his purchases, it is only tied to what he got in the market the preceding year.

The farmers of Wisconsin and Minnesota have a very clear choice. Mr. Nixon does not offer a new program. He continues the old one, and the farmers of this State and Minnesota must decide do they want that program, is that what they want, is that what we have been hearing for 8 years. We have not been. The farmers know that Mr. Benson's program has brought them close to ruin, and Mr. Nixon proposes to continue it. I must say that given this very clear choice, given the experience of the last 8 years, it seems to me that the farmers of this State and Minnesota should determine to support our efforts to raise farm income, efforts which have been identified with the names of Gaylord Nelson and Bill Proxmire in the Senate, and Hubert Humphrey in Minnesota, which I have committed myself to as a presidential candidate in the Democratic platform, in my speech in South Dakota in which we associated the support and farm income with the whole concept of parity, the kind of income which a farmer would get if he did the same amount of work, with the same managerial skill, in a related industry. I believe that these are two very clear choices, and what the farmer decides affects all of you who do not live on the farm. Every smalltown merchant in any one of the towns of this district knows that you are affected by the income of the farmers surrounding you. The State of Wisconsin rises or falls, depending on farm income, and so does Minnesota.

I could understand in 1952, after President Eisenhower made a speech in which he endorsed the concept of parity price at 100 percent, that the farmers of this State and Minnesota could say, "That sounds good." Now we have had 8 years. Now Mr. Nixon trots out the same old program. He has given it new names, Operation Consume and Operation Safeguard. But the words are the same, the melody is the same. Only the lighting and the makeup are different. [Laughter and applause.]

Let me just say why I believe we can do a better job. One example of this administration's failure to take action: In 1954 millions of children in Africa, Asia, and South America were suffering from a common deficiency disease called kwashiorkor, caused by a lack of protein in the diet. It stunts the victims' minds and bodies. The U.N. World Health Organization reported that fully one-half of these hospitalized children died. Yet the management and prevention of this disease were simple: A modest daily ration of nonfat dry milk. At that time the United States possessed an enormous quantity of this nonfat dry milk. The United States could have saved children's lives. It could have put this milk to work. It could have contributed a helping hand to people around the world who needed it. Do you know what we did with this milk? We negotiated to sell our entire stockpile of nonfat dry milk to animal feed manufacturers without competitive bidding at a price of 3.5 cents per pound, about one-fifth of the market price. It sold the milk for hog feed with the stipulation it could not be used for human consumption. In this fashion, it sold an unbelievable total of nearly 600 million pounds of milk, an amount nearly equal to the production of the State of Wisconsin for 1 year, and an amount sufficient to provide a glass of milk every day for a full year to 33 million children. Mr. Benson was asked why the administration had virtually given the dry milk stockpile away to the animal feed manufacturers, and why he had not used our abundance to help fight one of the greatest diseases across the world. He replied there were too many difficulties involved.

Now we are going to live with difficulty in the 1960's. Anyone who is a citizen of this country, who reads the paper, knows that events and history and the world and geography are changing every day. No candidate for the Presidency can map out with certainly any program and be sure that conditions will be the same 4 or 5 years from now - the truth squad may be pulling out [laughter] they can't stand it. [Laughter and applause.]

All we can guarantee, all we can guarantee is that we are going to get the best people who have been associated with policies that are progressive in the past, the best talent, those with the greatest amount of intellectual curiosity, foresight, knowledge of the world, knowledge of our times, and with a sense of compassion, and we are going to put them to work, and we are going to identify this country with the great cause of freedom around the world. That is the commitment we make. Not a life of ease, not of a solution of all the problems that disturb us. Action, motion, movement, identification. And I come to this district which I know well, and ask your support in this campaign. I ask you to join us in giving Wisconsin leadership. I ask you to join us in getting America moving again. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, La Crosse, WI, Airport Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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