John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN

October 02, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Governor Freeman, Congressman Blatnik, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I want to say that I am most indebted to my friend and colleague, Senator Humphrey, for his kind and generous introduction. Hubert and I chased each other all over northern Wisconsin during January, February, and March, and now we run together on a Democratic ticket for the Democratic Party, and a country which we feel can best be led by Democrats in the Senate and in the House and in the executive branch of the Government. [Applause.]

Everything that has happened since he was no longer a candidate has been easy. He made it so tough last winter that this fall is very pleasant. I am enjoying it. [Laughter.]

Mr. Nixon was staying home in bed when we were running all over Wisconsin and West Virginia, and I think we are ready to continue the fight through the month of October.[Applause.] And I am delighted to be here at this university. Prince Bismarck once said that one-third of the students of German universities broke down from overwork, another third broke down from dissipation, and the other third ruled Germany. I don't know which third of the student body is here today of the University of Minnesota in Duluth, but I am confident I am talking to the future rulers of this State and country in the sense that all educated men and women have an obligation to participate, to govern, to join in the great discipline of self-government, and I am proud to be here and I am proud of the fact that the Governor of this State has been farsighted enough to know that no State and no country can move ahead without the best educational system in the world.

I wish the present administration had had the vision in Washington that he has had in the State of Minnesota. [Applause.] And I am delighted to be here with John Blatnik. He and I came to Congress the same year, 14 years ago. He came after a distinguished war record, and he has served this State and country in peace. He speaks for this district, but he also speaks for the United States. He represents the kind of man of integrity and vigor which I think this country is going to need if it is going to move ahead, if it is going to meet his obligations. This is an important election, and I think the people of Minnesota have a most important judgment and decision to make. Mr. Nixon said on Monday night, and he said on other occasions, that parties don't make much difference, what counts is the man. I think what counts is the kind of a man a political party chooses. Mr. Nixon and I were not suddenly discovered after our two conventions. We have not been kept in ice. We are part of a long tradition, both of us, of a political service and political philosophy which stretches back in the case of the Democratic Party to the beginning of this country, and stretches back over 100 years in the case of the Republican Party, and consistently, on issue after issue, the two parties have taken different positions, because they represent different interests. The Democratic Party is the only national party in the United States. It is composed of miners and farmers. It is composed of potato growers in Maine. It is composed of fishermen in Washington State. It is composed of ranchers in Texas and peanut farmers in Georgia. It is composed of all the interests in the United States and, therefore, speaks for the people.

The base of the Republican Party is far narrower. It is not accident that the President in this century who broke away from the boundaries which had been set by his party was Theodore Roosevelt, and they read him out of the party in 1912, or he left, and the reason is simple. A Republican candidate and a Republican President, representing as he does those interests and members of the Republican Party, must take a particular position on a particular issue. Is it any accident that for the last 25 years the Republicans have voted against the minimum wage nearly every time? They voted against the 25 cents in 1935, and they voted against the $1.25 in 1960. They voted against the social security in 1935, and they voted against the medical care for the aged in 1960. They opposed unemployment compensation in the thirties, after the State of Wisconsin had originally invented it, and they opposed Federal standards for unemployment compensation in 1958 and 1959. Parties do mean something. If they don't mean something we ought to get rid of them. If parties don't tell us something about the political philosophy of a man, then it means that our parties have outrun their usefulness.

But they do tell us something. They do give us a point of view. Mr. Nixon never would have been nominated by the Democratic Party and I never would have been nominated by the Republican Party, because he does not agree with us and we do not agree with him. [Applause.]

On Monday night he said the goals of both parties are the same, the means are different.

I do not accept that view. I do not accept the view that the Republican Party's goals and our goals are the same, because if they are the same, why have they opposed progressive social legislation during the last quarter of a century? Why have they not been willing to grasp the future? Why have they not been willing to recognize that the United States moves in a difficult and dangerous time that requires a maximum effort? I don't think any Democratic President would have run this summer on the party labels that they had originally designed in the most dangerous time in the life of our country. I don't think any Democratic President would have counted the first vote of the United Nations, 70 to nothing, as a great success for the United States and felt that what was happening at the United Nations was a source of strength to us.

It is no accident Mr. Khrushchev spends a month there. He is a busy man. He thinks he is fulfilling a useful purpose. Day in and day out he confers with the neutralists, attempting to win their loyalty, attempting to win their commitments, as he has in the case of Cuba, as he is beginning to do in the case of Guinea and Ghana. He is a busy man. If he will stay in New York until October 15, it is because he feels that the time is moving in his direction. Before the United Nations ends, there will be other votes, and we will see what should be apparent, that the prestige and power of the United States is not increasing in relationship to that of a Communist world, that we are moving in the most hazardous period that this country has ever moved in, and I do not say that because I enjoy saying it. It is because I think it is the function of the Democratic Party in this election, as the only opposition party, as the only means of presenting alternative courses of action, to sound the alarm bell in the night.

The American people have 6 weeks in which to make a judgment as to what kind of America and what kind of a future they want. I hope that they give us the opportunity to serve this country, not because the future is easy, but because I think the future can be realized as a bright and promising one for us, and for the cause of freedom if we are willing to recognize facts as they are, if we are willing to recognize that there is an opportunity for us, but that it cannot be seized by dismissing the world around us as one which is bright and promising and moving in our direction.

In the next 4 years, in the next 8 years, in the next administration of the next President, Africa, Latin America, and Asia will all change. The question is, Will they move with us or will they move with Mr. Khrushchev? Will they decide that the future belongs to him or to us? Will they decide that they want to mobilize their resources through a system of freedom or will they determine that the way of the future is in the East, not the West? All this is tied into the problems that this district faces. This is a great boiler in the U.S. economy. The reason that this section of Minnesota has suffered three recessions in recent years is because the economy of the United States has not been moving. We are producing 50 percent of our capacity in steel. Last week, the Soviet Union outproduced us, not because they have more capacity - they have less than half our capacity - but they are using their capacity to the fullest. Here we are with a great food reserve, the strongest in the world, and yet we have not used that in an imaginative way. We are not using our steel capacity. We are not using our iron ore capacity. We are not using the St. Lawrence Seaway to capacity. This country cannot possibly maintain itself unless it moves here at home. If this country moves at home, if we maintain full employment, if we meet our responsibilities to our own citizens, if we spread the same image of vitality abroad, then I think those people who stand today on the razor edge of decision may decide that we represent the future, the Communist system the past. We, after all, represent the kind of country in which they want to live. They do not want to move to the East. Most of them have not thrown out colonial powers in order to substitute that of the Soviet Union. I believe that we can change the movement of history. I believe that the brightest days as far as service are not even those of Wilson or Roosevelt - I believe in the 1960's the United States can fulfill destiny as the great defender of freedom at a time of maximum danger.

But it requires us to realize where we are, and what we must do. It requires the next President of the United States to set before the American people our unfinished business, to give an impression around the world of force and vitality. "That which we do here, that which we are," as Emerson said, "speaks far louder than what we say." I am tired of seeing us follow the advice of the poet "to take the cash and let the credit go, nor heed the rumble of a distant drum." I heed that rumble and I am sure the American people do.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives