John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, North Tonawanda, NY

September 28, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Prendergast, Mr. Levitt, Mayor Wagner; the last Presidential candidate to come into this particular area of New York was Al Smith in 1928. Governor Smith in that campaign and in many campaigns preceding it used as his basic slogan the motto, "Let's look at the record," and he compared what he had done in New York State and he compared the record of the Democratic Party over the preceding years to that of the Republican Party. I say in 1960, let's look at the record.

Mr. Nixon has stated that party labels don't mean very much in 1960. I think they mean a good deal, because they tell something about the candidates of both parties. The Republicans never would have nominated me, and the Democrats never would have nominated Mr. Nixon. They nominated Mr. Nixon because they knew where he stood, because they knew that he believed in the things for which they believed in, and I do not. I think that is the issue in this campaign. Are we going to move forward or are we going to stand still? Are we going to send a green light to the 1960's? Are we going to feel that everything that is being done today is as good as we can do? I think the record of the Democratic Party written in this century, written in the last 25 years, establishes a sound basis for us in the 1960's, and that is a record of service to the people, of believing that however good this country may be, it can be better. This country has been made by people who were not satisfied. The whole Western United States was developed by people who wanted to better themselves. The United States was built by people who came from other sections because they thought they could have a better life.

Mr. Nixon says I am running America down. I am not. I am trying to build America up. What I am saying is that with vigorous leadership, with leadership which will realize the potential of this country, this country can maintain its own freedom and the freedom of those who look to us for help.

This is an important election, and I come to you in 1960, in October and September, asking your assistance. This is not merely a contest between Mr. Nixon and myself. It is a contest between two parties, and it is a contest between two parties which have had a different philosophy during their political tradition. All through our history in this century, the Democratic Party has looked to the future, with Woodrow Wilson's new freedom, and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Harry Truman's Fair Deal. We have looked ahead, and I ask you to look ahead in this country. We face an extremely difficult and hazardous time. I don't think the office of the Presidency is going to be easy. I think in many ways the job of the next President will be more difficult than any President since Abraham Lincoln, and it isn't merely the office of the President - I think the job of an average citizen in the United States, the responsibilities that he will face, are more difficult and burdensome than they have been ever in the past. When presidential candidates ran many years ago, they discussed only a few issues, because only a few issues disturbed our tranquillity. Now the issues which face us are not merely to maintain employment in Niagara County, not merely to develop the resources of northern New York, not merely to make a better life for our people in New York State and in the United States. Now the President, and therefore the people, have to be concerned with the Congo and Cuba and Laos, countries which most of us had never heard of 10 years ago, and yet which will affect the lives of everyone here - Guinea, Ghana, countries which were colonial countries 2 years ago, now independent. What they do will affect the security of your children in every school in this country. Therefore, we stand as the dominant force in the coalition for freedom which must move strongly in the next 10 years.

I ask your support in this campaign, not merely because I think we can move this country here at home, but also because I think if we do the things at home that must be done, I think it is possible for us to stand once again in the world, not as a dominant power, but as the leader of a coalition of countries who wish to associate with us, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

I wish we could worry just about our own problems, but I do disagree strongly with those who say that they are conservatives at home and risktakers abroad. I think that we have to move here at home. I think we have to carry a big stick, and I think, as Theodore Roosevelt said, we should speak softly. We want peace. We want security for ourselves. We want to maintain life in this continent and this planet. We want freedom to expand, and I think the best way we can do it is to do our job here in this State and here in this country. Build a better life for our people and then what we do here will speak far more loudly than what we say.

This is a contest of nerve and will. The next 10, 15, or 20 years may determine the outcome. The Soviet system and our system are on trial. The question will be, Which system has the longest staying power? Which can maintain itself in good times and bad? Which can serve as an inspiration to people around the world? Do they want to move with them or with us? Khrushchev and the President of the United States, only personify the two sides. The real question is, which system and which people have the power, the will, the determination and the conviction? I think we do. I think our future can be assured, but I think we have a responsibility to ourselves and to those who look to us to move in this country, to set before ourselves our unfinished business, and then get to it.

I ask your help in this campaign, and I can assure you that if we are successful, we are going to work to make the United States not first if, but, or when, but first, period. And we are going to move. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, North Tonawanda, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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