John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Rockford, IL, Coronado Theater Rally

October 24, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you. Governor Kerner, Senator Douglas, Ed Nielson, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, only in Rockford do we have rallies at 1 o'clock in the morning and 9 o'clock in the morning. [Applause.] This isn't the way they told me it was when I first decided to run for the Presidency. After reading about the schedules of the President, I thought we all stayed in bed until 10 or 11, and then got out and drove around. [Laughter.] We are up early and up late, and we are not going to slumber or rest until November 8, when the Democrats are given the lead. [Applause.]

I am delighted to be here. This county, this community, has not always been overwhelmingly Democratic, and I believe that the reception you have given to all of us that are running this year indicates that it is time that the Vice President came back to Illinois and started to look after it, because I think Illinois will go Democratic on November 8, and so will the United States. [Applause.] And I think it would be food for the local paper to report that Rockford went Democratic. [Applause.]

Mr. Nixon, as you know, ordinarily runs as a rather ambiguous figure who is not really attached to any party, because parties have no significance but the other day he went down there and Senator Goldwater got him in a room down in Arizona and said "Dick, you are a Republican, you have got to admit it." [Laughter.] So Nixon came out of the room rather shamefacedly and said, "Yes, I am a Republican and I endorse every Republican candidate from top to bottom with great pride."

I have been saying that, that I am a Democrat, for the past 14 years, because I believe the Democratic Party is associated with progress, because I believe the Democratic Party is associated with the public interest, and I do not need Barry Goldwater or anyone else to remind me that parties are important. [Applause.]

In fairness to the Vice President, I should say that he went to Jacksonville, Fla., the next day, and said party labels were not important. I should bring that out. But one of the reasons I am glad to be running this year in this State is because I run with three distinguished citizens of this State and country, Senator Douglas, with whom I have served in the U.S. Senate [applause] who speaks for the public interest. He and I have been together on the Labor Committee for a number of years. He is now the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Economic Report on which I serve. He is one of the most gifted figures in the Senate in this century, and I know that Illinois and the country will benefit by his service in the future. [Applause.] And by Otto Kerner, who runs for the Governor [applause] who has had a matchless reputation, a matchless reputation for honor and integrity and energy as a distinguished judge and will be a great Governor of the State of Illinois. And by your candidate for the Congress, Ed Nelson. [Applause.] Members of the House of Representatives have great responsibility placed upon them by the Constitution. They are the representatives of the people. Therefore, the power to tax, to appropriate money, other great powers, are vested in the Members of the House. We need the best talent we can get in the sixties on every level. [Applause.]

Every problem that faces us requires new solutions, because the problems are new. Lincoln and Douglas who debated in this State, really debated one great question in every debate, the question of the position of the Union, of the new States, of slavery, all tied to one great issue. We now face issues involving monetary and fiscal policy, full employment, outer space, control of arms, control of weapons, stronger defense, our influence in Latin America and Africa and Asia, new countries, new leaders, new problems, which swarm and pour across our desk and eventually rest on the desk of the next President of the United States. Harry Truman used to have a sign which said "The Buck Stops Here," and in 1961 the buck will stop on the desk of the President, will involve more serious problems, involving decisions more highly sophisticated than any in the long history of the United States. How to maintain our people working, how to maintain economic growth in a free society, how to maintain agricultural income when our production increases 6 percent a year and our consumption 3 percent a year. How can we maintain the best educational system in the world, how can we be first in outer space and first across the street, how can we extend our influence of freedom to all those billions of people who live in some cases on an income of $25, $50, or $100 a year, and look at the Chinese and the Russians and look at us and wonder in the sixties which road to take?

All these problems are new. All of them are difficult. There is no easy answer to any easy question, but because they are difficult, we need the best talent we can get. In every branch of government we need the most vigorous, foresighted, farsighted, intellectually curious, well-informed and responsible citizens we can get to serve the great Republic in the dangerous and changing years of the 1960's, and that is what we intend to do. [Applause.] And one of the ways in which we can do it, one of the ways in which we can contribute to the maintenance of freedom around the world is to build a strong society here in the United States. We really are the best advertisement for freedom. If we are moving ahead, if our people are working, if we have a sense of national purpose, then quite obviously people around the world who attempt to decide what they want to be, and the kind of life they want to lead, they are impressed by us. The reason that Franklin Roosevelt was a figure to contend with in Latin America and Africa and Asia in the thirties was not because American policy was intimately involved in the thirties in most of those areas. It was because they realized he was attempting to move his country forward, that his country had vigor, and, therefore, it impressed those who needed those qualities in their own lives. [Applause.]

I have been critical in this campaign that the United States has not carried out a more vigorous policy of information around the world. Do you know today in the changing and vital area of Africa that we are nearly 14th in radio broadcasts? That the Soviet Union broadcasts 10 times as much as we do to Latin America in Spanish? But in the final analysis, what we are here, as Emerson said more than a century ago, speaks far louder than what we say. What we are doing here, our sense of destiny and purpose, and in the final analysis the great servants of freedom, it is our obligation to build a vital society here which will spread its influence and the influence of freedom throughout the world.

One of the problems which we meet in building that vital society is how we care for those who have finished their work, who are retired, whose retirement is imminent, what kind of security and what kind of a life we can give them. It is on this issue that the parties have divided, and it is on this issue that Mr. Nixon and I have disagreed.

There is not anyone in this room, probably, who does not have some member of his family who is over the age of 65, who lives with an income which has dropped, who live out their lives wondering what the future will hold, and who represent a responsibility and an obligation to many of you. I will give you what I believe we should do, and it involves the lives of 17 million of our fellow Americans who live on an average social security check of less than $78 a month. Nearly 9 million of them live on less than $1,000 a year, and they live at a time when this income has dropped, their needs for better health have increased, they live in inadequate housing in many cases, and as the ancient Chinese used to remind us, the test of a society is how it deals with its older people. I believe we can do better. [Applause.]

In judging the two parties and in judging the two candidates, I think on this question we have a strong difference of opinion. When Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress passed the first social security act in the mid-thirties, 90 percent of the Republicans voted against it. In August of 1960, when we tried to pass a bill for medical care for the aged tied to social security, 90 percent of the Republicans voted against it.

Now look at the contrast between the present bill, which the administration signed, and what we proposed. Under the present bill it is going to cost, if fully used, $2 billion a year from the taxpayer, $1 billion in the States and $1 billion in the National Government. The bill was so bad that Governor Rockefeller of New York attacked it and refused to implement it. It means before anyone can get medical assistance, he must be medically indigent, which is the phrase used. In other words, if he saved up $600 or $700 or $2,000, and the husband or the wife gets a heart disease or some other disease, and it requires a medical bill of $500 or $600 to pay the doctors, before they can receive assistance under the bill, they must indicate that they are medically indigent. They must take, in effect, a pauper's oath that they have no resources and then they can get a handout to help meet their medical obligation. That is the Republican approach. [Response from the audience.]

We have proposed that medical care for the aged be tied to social security [applause]; that all people who participate in social security will pay for their treatment, which will average about 3 cents a day, which will average about $10 a year during their working years, and then when they are retired, after they have contributed to that themselves, they will receive assistance in paying their bills, the doctors and the hospitalization and all the rest. The measure is balanced financially. It is actuarially sound. It is in the tradition of social security. There is no pauper's oath. There is no commitment that we are medically indigent before we receive the assistance, and it does not represent a drain on the Treasury of $2 billion, because it is paid for on the way. [Applause.]

Now, which of us is financially responsive? Which of us has concern for unreasonable expenditures? Which of us wants to meet the job? Or which of us opposes action in this field as we have for 25 years. I believe Mr. Nixon has led the wrecking crew, not merely been a member of it. [Applause.]

In 1935 they opposed it. In 1949 Mr. Nixon, himself, and 110 other Republicans in the House of Representatives, voted to cut out benefits for those who were disabled under social security. In 1956 this Republican administration opposed lowering the retirement age for women to 62 years. In 1956, the Republican administration and 33 out of 39 Republican Senators opposed an increase in benefits to meet the cost of living. And after he became the Vice President, Mr. Nixon did not appear in the Senate to break a tie vote to increase payments to older people, to the blind and the disabled, and the measure lost. And this is a record of progress?

This is a candidate who is going to lead the United States ahead in the sixties? [Response from the audience.] "We are going to study it," he announced in this campaign. Well, we studied his record and the Republicans' record on this issue, and in my judgment, a sense of responsibility, a program which has been identified, as a matter of fact with the name of your Senator, Senator Douglas, throughout the period of 25 years, I believe in this area as in so many others, which affect our policy at home and abroad, this administration has stood still and so has Mr. Nixon. And in the 1960's, this country is going to have to move again. [Applause.]

All these things, in my judgment, in a great country like ours can be done, better housing for our people, care for their aged, to which they contribute - all these things can be done, a stronger income, a society that moves forward again. And I want to make it very clear that I do not run for the office saying that these problems are easy. We are going to have to find 25,000 new jobs a week every week for the next 10 years, to maintain full employment in this country. [Applause.] To find a job for everyone who will want to work will require that kind of expansion, and it comes at a time when machines are taking the place of men. This county is a rich agricultural county. It relies primarily on agriculture and dairying. The dairy farmers of this country on the average, though this county does better than most, average about 60 cents an hour in their pay. Their income has steadily dropped. The reason has been, of course, that this administration has been manned by people with little imagination, with really, in my opinion, no sense of the changes emerging around us. I look at this county, I look at Illinois, I look at the United States, I look at outer space, I look at Africa, I look at Latin America, and in all of the new problems which disturbed our lives in the fifties, this administration has not responded, it has not taken the initiative.

There are six countries in Africa that are members of the United Nations that do not have a single American diplomat in residence in any of the six. We offered more scholarships to Thailand a year ago than to all of South Africa and tropical Africa, all these new countries that are going to hold the balance of power in the world. We failed to be first in outer space and as a result, Mr. Allen, the head of our Information Service, has said that the United States now is regarded as second in science in many of the countries of the world to the Soviet Union, because this administration regarded it as a bauble and because it was manned by Mr. Wilson, the Secretary of Defense, who said he was not interested in spending money to find out why fried potatoes turned brown.

The point of the matter is that these are new times, requiring new people and new solutions. And I believe that in these kinds of times, when this country must move, when it must be inspired by energy, when it must drive ahead if we are going to survive, if we are going to defend freedom - we cannot sit by and let the world move around us, we have to move with it, we have to lead it. We don't want to be like the leader in the French Revolution who said, "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them." [Laughter.] We want to lead them ourselves. [Applause.] We want to direct them along the road to freedom, self-government, independence, their own masters, and I think that is what they want.

But if we give the impression that we are taking a long siesta while all around us energy bubbles, that the United States high noon was in the past, that our best days were behind us, and that we are a society reaching middle age - I don't believe it. This is a young and vital country. Its best days are ahead. And I come to this county and I come to Rockford in Illinois, and ask your support in making America move again. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Rockford, IL, Coronado Theater Rally Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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