John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Reyburn Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

October 31, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mayor Dilworth, Senator Clark, Congressman Green, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Tonight, 7 days from now, this campaign will be all over, and the American people will then make their judgment the next day, Tuesday, November 8. On Tuesday, November 8, you will be making your judgment, and I hope when you make your judgment you will bear the following facts in mind:

First, 1960 and the 1960's are going to be among the most difficult and hazardous years in our long history. We are engaged in a most difficult enterprise, that will require the best effort not only of the next President of the United States, but also every man and woman who considers himself a responsible citizen of our country. And what is that effort? That effort is to build a society here which demonstrates such vitality and strength and energy and purpose, that serves not only as an example of what freedom can do, but also serves as the maintenance and the bulwark of freedom, not only here in the United States but all around the globe.

The question you have to decide is this: Do you believe that Mr. Nixon and the Republican Party can provide the kind of leadership which this country needs? [Response from the audience.] I must say, after campaigning for the last 2 months, I have come to the same conclusion. [Applause.]

I believe that Mr. Nixon, after the Republican Convention, had two alternatives: One, he could run on the facts, on a realization that this was a difficult and dangerous and promising time, that unless the United States was prepared to make a major effort both at home and abroad we could not hope to maintain our position as the leader of the free world; we could not hope to make the balance of power to shift in the direction of freedom. That is the campaign Mr. Nixon could have made. In my judgment, it is the campaign that Governor Rockefeller would have made, and it would have been in accordance with the highest traditions of public service in this country. Instead, Mr. Nixon has chosen to go to the people in these days, saying that our prestige has never been higher, saying that we enjoy unparalleled prosperity here at home - facts which, of course, cannot be proved, which are in complete disagreement with every standard in every record in every survey, and which I believe can mean that the United States under his leadership, if he is successful, would not move with the kind of vigor which will be required.

I saw another election just like this one, in 1935, when Stanley Baldwin of England, when England was engaged in a deadly competition with Germany, chose to tell the people that everything was being done in good time, and that England's security was assured. Mr. Baldwin won that election and the British almost lost World War II.

Now, I don't know whether we are going to win this election or not. That judgment is yours. [Applause.] I don't know whether we are going to win the election or not, that is your judgment, and the judgment of the people of America. But I want to make it clear that they choose between two very different views of our country, what needs to be done, what must be done. As a citizen who is concerned about our country, I cannot possibly accept the conclusion which Mr. Nixon has come to. If he believes those conclusions, he is either misinformed or misleads the public. [Applause.] These are not the best of times. This is the best of countries but these are not the best of times. This is a great country, but I downgrade the leadership which Mr. Nixon now offers the American people. He knows, himself, that our influence and prestige is not as high as it once was. He knows that the first passengers to outer space were named Belka and some other Russian dog. They were not named Checkers or Rover. [Laughter.] As long as 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls graduating from high school never get to college, as long as only the children of wealthy or reasonably wealthy parents can hope to get through medical school, as long as we are producing far less doctors for our population than we were before, as long as we are not developing our resources, rebuilding our cities, moving our economy ahead, as long as we are not giving the same effort to disarmament and nuclear controls that we are to arms and war, as long as science and technology and space and the earth are not being used to make men's lives more secure, in my judgment we are not meeting our full potential, our full capacity.

I come to this ancient city here in Philadelphia. Many years ago an English journalist wrote, "Come weal or come woe, this city's status is quo." That is no longer true. I don't believe that the status quo is good enough for the United States. I don't believe in 1960, any more than in 1932, the people of this country are going to sit still, are going to look to the past, are going to turn the leadership of this country over to Mr. Nixon and the Republican Party that he represents, that he leads, when we need action and progress and to move forward. [Applause.]

This election may well be decided in Pennsylvania, and the election in Pennsylvania may well be decided in the city of Philadelphia. This is a judgment which you make, which affects this country's security, its future, your own vision of a shining America which meets its opportunities and its responsibilities, which stands once again as the unchallenged leader of freedom, a country and a leadership which identifies itself in this country with the needs of people and identifies itself around the world with the needs of the people; that does not regard Africa or Latin America or Asia as pawns in the cold war, but as people who want to be free. And we will associate with them not merely in the struggle against communism, but in the struggle against the disease and ignorance and illiteracy and lack of hope. I believe the 1960's can be, as Charles Dickens said, the best of years or the worst of years. I believe it is going to be the best of years. I believe on November 8 the United States is going to choose progress and this country is going to move again. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Reyburn Plaza, Philadelphia, PA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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