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Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Wilkes-Barre, PA

October 28, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Mayor, Governor Lawrence, Senator Murray, Congressman Flood, ladies, and gentlemen, I come here to this city as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party, and I come here and ask your support. [Applause.] On November 8, a week from next Tuesday, you as citizens of this State and country have a sober judgment to make between the two candidates and the two parties. I don't think that there is any American now who can go to the polls on November 8, and be in any doubt that there are sharp differences between Mr. Nixon and myself, and they go to the future of our country. Mr. Nixon has chosen in the year of 1960, in these changing, revolutionary, and turbulent years, to run on a domestic program of "We've never had it so good." I wish he would come here and run on that program. [Applause.] And he has chosen at a time when freedom is under attack all over the globe, he has chosen to run on an international program that our prestige has never been higher, that of the Communists never lower, that everything is being done that must be done, and that the tide of history is moving in our favor.

I want to make it very clear as an American and as the standard bearer for my party that I do not agree with him in either category. I believe this is a great country, but think it ought to be greater, and I believe it is a powerful country. [Applause.] He says we have never had it so good, and I say we have to do better. [Applause.] My basic conviction is as we look at the world struggle, at our chances for peace, at our chances for security, at our chances to roll back the Communist offensive, rests in the final analysis upon one factor, and that is the strength of the United States, the power of the United States, a United States on the march, and my chief disagreement with Mr. Nixon is that the Republican Party in the last 8 years instead of setting before the Nation its unfinished business, has permitted the United States to stand still. [Applause.]

Any administration that vetoes twice the Flood-Douglas-Clark bill which I managed on the floor of the Senate the first time it came up as chairman of the Labor Subcommittee, vetoed it twice, for area depressed bills here in the State, in my own State of Massachusetts - can you tell me that is a progressive administration? [Response from the audience.]

Any administration which twice vetoes in the last 18 months, two housing bills - do you call that a progressive administration. [Response from the audience.] One of the results of that is that we this year in September built 30 percent less homes than we did a year ago. We tried to pass in the Senate of the United States this year a bill for $1.25 minimum wage for a 40-hour week. Mr. Nixon says it is extreme. Does anyone here think $1.25 an hour is extreme? [Response from the audience.] We tried to pass a bill for medical care for the aged tied to social security. Do you know the bill that finally passed that the President signed. That provides that if you are over 65, your husband or your wife gets sick, and if you are supporting your parents and they get sick, a heart attack, or any of the others, before they can get any assistance under that bill, they must sign a petition that they are medically indigent, a pauper's oath. They have to sell their property, have to spend their money, and then they can go down and get public assistance.

We attempted to pass a bill which would provide that it would be under social security. Everyone on social security would pay 3 cents a day. When they are retired, they would be entitled to medical attention, care, doctors, and the rest. We got 44 Democrats and one Republican, and Time magazine reported that when the vote was announced, Mr. Nixon turned and smiled. I wonder if he is going to be smiling November 9? [Response from the audience.]

The fact of the matter is, as Congressman Flood knows, that the party that voted 90 percent against the $1.25 minimum wage voted 90 percent in the midthirties against 25 cents. The party that voted against medical care for the aged, 90 percent in 1960, voted 90 percent against the social security in the midthirties. You have to make your judgment. You have to decide yourselves. This State depends on steel and coal and industry. Our steel mills today are working 50 percent of capacity. Last week the Soviet Union almost out produced us. Do you know that by mid-November we are going to have 1 million unsold cars in the United States, the largest number of history? And you call this a forward, progressive administration that runs on peace and prosperity? [Response from the audience.]

Mr. Nixon announced today that if he is elected President he is going to take a trip through the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. I remember in 1952 when they were running for President that they announced they were going to liberate Eastern Europe. I think what the people of Eastern Europe need are not parades, but they need a strong America committed to freedom here and around the world. [Applause.]

Let me conclude by making two points: First, that our chance for peace, our chance for freedom, our chance to meet our commitments to freedom around the globe, depend on one factor, a strong, progressive, forward-looking America. If we fail, freedom fails. If we succeed, freedom succeeds.

Secondly, we cannot have a strong, progressive, forward-looking America unless we get new leadership, new leadership that is committed to progress, not committed to standing still and looking back. [Applause.] Mr. Nixon runs as the Republican candidate, though he rarely admits it. [Laughter.] But I would remind you - and I would remind you that I am a Democratic candidate every day and in every State of the Union. [Applause.]

The Republicans have run in this century, Mr. McKinley, Harding - do you know what his slogan was? "Return to Normalcy." "Keep Cool with Coolidge," "A Chicken in Every Pot" with Herbert Hoover. [Laughter.] I don't know what Dewey's slogan was because we never really found out. [Laughter.] And now they run Mr. Nixon.

In the 20th century we ran Harry Truman, the Fair Deal, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal [applause] and Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, and I run in 1960, suggesting that it is time America picks it up and started toward the New Frontiers of the 1960's.

So I stand here tonight with your Congressman, Dan Flood, who has spoken for this district and the United States, and I stand as the standard bearer of a great old party, the oldest political party on earth. But I stand here tonight as the standard bearer of the youngest party, a party committed to progress, and if you in this city and you in this State of Pennsylvania share my view that it is time America started moving again, I ask your help in this effort. Give us your hand, your voice, your support. [Applause.]

In the Constitutional Convention, in your suburb of Philadelphia, there was a painting of a sun behind the desk of General Washington low on the horizon, and many of the delegates wondered whether it was a rising or a setting sun. And at the conclusion Benjamin Franklin stood up. He said, "We now know. It is a rising sun, and the beginning of a great new day."

I believe in 1960 for the United States, if we choose to look forward, if we choose to measure up to our responsibilities as Americans, as the chief defenders of freedom, and as progressive, forward looking strong people, in my judgment it can be a new day and the beginning of progress for the United States. Thank you.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Wilkes-Barre, PA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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