John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Auditorium, Kansas City, MO

October 22, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Symington, President Truman, Mr. Mayor, Governor, Senator Long, Governor-to-be Dalton [applause], Attorney General-to-be Tom Eagleton [applause], your distinguished Congressmen and my colleagues in the Congress, Congressman Bolling, Congressman Randall [applause], ladies, and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here, and I am extremely proud that our distinguished former President, President Truman [applause], who has laid the issues out, and Mr. Nixon, in this campaign [applause], who came 700 miles to be with us tonight. He has talked to everyone in the United States, and everyone in Missouri knew where he stood, what he liked, and what he didn't like. I am delighted he is here on our platform with us tonight.

I speak tonight in the presence of a great tradition. This auditorium was dedicated 24 years ago by a great Democratic President, Franklin D. Roosevelt [applause], and standing by him on that occasion was a young Senator from the State of Missouri, who is younger today, former Senator Harry Truman. [Applause.]

I must say they have made it easy to run as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 1960. Mr. Nixon has to talk about McKinley and Harding [laughter and applause] and Coolidge and Landon, and Dewey [response from the audience]. Sometimes I think it isn't fair to us. Who can I talk about? Woodrow Wilson? Franklin Roosevelt? [Applause.] Harry Truman? [Applause.] Mr. Nixon has two speeches. One is the speech that he gives in some parts of the country where he suspects some unsuspecting Democrats may be possibly passing by and turn to listen. In that speech he says, "Party labels don't mean a thing. What counts is the man." "I am not really anything. Therefore you can elect me." "I am not a Republican." [Applause and laughter.]

Then he gets down to Arizona in the land of Goldwater and he says "I am a Republican from top to bottom. I endorse everybody. I believe in the principles of the Republican Party."

Now, I don't have to do that. I can go north, south, east, and west, and say I am a Democrat. I stand in the Democratic tradition. [Applause.] And I believe party labels do mean something. Do you think the Democrats would ever have run a candidate like McKinley, who ran on the slogan "Stand Pat"? [Response from the audience.] Do you think they ever would have "Returned to Normalcy" with Warren G. Harding, or "Kept Cool With Coolidge"? [Response from the audience.]

We ran on slogans in our day like the New Freedom, which had its international counterpart in the 14 points. Franklin Roosevelt ran on the New Deal, which had its international counterpart in the Four Freedoms. Harry Truman ran on the Fair Deal [applause] which had its international counterpart in the Truman doctrine, the Marshal plan, NATO, Point Four. [Applause.] They didn't go around the world, President Truman and President Roosevelt, saying all was well. "You never had it so good." They took the American people into their confidence. They realized that these were challenging days for any free society, and it was incumbent upon the President, and only the President could do this, to set before the American people the unfinished agenda, the business, the things we must do if we are going to maintain our freedom and our independence. [Applause.]

I am here in part to repay an obligation which is more than a century old. Senator John Quincy Adams from my own State, who after being President of the United States, represented a small district in Massachusetts in the Congress of the United States for 20 years, there made his most distinguished record as a great fighter against slavery, and when he died, the man who gave the eulogy was a man from a different section, a different party, a different experience, a different State. It was the first Senator from the State of Missouri, one of the alltime greats who served this State with courage, and the Union, Senator Thomas Hart Benton. [Applause.] For 30 years Senator Benton said he had relied upon the intelligence and the fairness of the people of Missouri and they had never disappointed him. In his speech once he said, "I despise the bubble popularity that is won without merit and lost without pride. I value solid popularity, the esteem of good men for good action." That is what this world needs and that is what our country needs, not words and speeches given by candidates and others. What we need are good works and the esteem of good men, backed by good action. That is why the name of Wilson and Roosevelt and Truman goes ringing down the corridors, because they matched their words with action. [Applause.]

Mr. Nixon in our TV debate last night said America's prestige will be just as high abroad as the spokemen for America allow it to be.

That is the kind of sentence we have seen a good deal of in this campaign. Then he went on to say that any of the statements which we may have made in this campaign as the representatives of the Democratic Party on space and education and economic growth, our influence in Latin America, and all the rest can only have the effect of reducing our prestige. Mr. Nixon could not be more wrong. Our prestige abroad is not what we say it is, but what it is. [Applause.] It is not the esteem of good men for good words; it is the esteem of good men for good action. [Applause.] What we are here at home speaks far louder than what we say. The kind of society that we build here, the fairness with which we treat our people, their equal opportunity for development of their talents, the kind of jobs they hold and wages they earn, the kind of houses in which they live, the kind of education which they get, the kind of security which they achieve in their older age, these are the things that build a strong and vital society.

The Soviets reaching the moon was not an invention of my campaign. The first vehicle of space was called Sputnik, not Vanguard. The first passengers to return safely from outer space were named Strelka and Belka, not Rover, or Fido or even Checkers. [Applause.]

I did not invent our overcrowded schools. I did not invent the 5 or 6 million Americans that live out their lives waiting for food packages from the Federal Government which amount to 5 cents per day per person. I did not invent the fact that our steel capacity today is moving ahead and being used only 50 percent of capacity. I did not invent the fact that there is $9 billion worth of surplus food stored away in this rich country of ours, and farm income has dropped 25 percent in the last 8 years. A farmer in Missouri said last spring, "I am going to plant corn and I hope I break even. I need the money."

They have not been breaking even. And even Mr. Nixon admitted it in the great debate he had with Mr. Krushchev, when he stuck his finger in Mr. Khrushchev's face and said, "You may be ahead of us in rockets but we are ahead of you in color television." [Applause.]

These rockets impress people. How impressed have they been with our color television? Mr. George Allen, the head of the USIA, the Director of our Information Service, made the most alarming statement when he said last June that 40 years ago the Soviet Union was the most backward country in Europe, now, because they had achieved a significant breakthrough in space, many of the people of the underdeveloped world began to think that they equaled the United States in science and productivity. And a Gallup poll taken last February, in 9 out of 10 countries, showed that a majority of people thought that the Soviet Union would be the first in science in 1970, and first in military power.

I did not invent it, Mr. Nixon. The facts are there. It has been achieved. This image of America, during an administration which you have claimed to be a partner, and as a citizen of the United States, I believe it is time for a change. [Applause.]

I believe that we can get at this matter very fairly. There are now within the Department of State certain studies and certain polls which have been made of our position overseas. The State Department has been reluctant and unwilling to release them, even though they have been paid for by the taxpayers of the United States, and even though the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Fulbright, has asked that they be made public, for our information. Mr. Nixon said that he had no objection, and I will quote him: he "would have no objection to making them public." I challenge him to demonstrate his influence with this administration and his willingness to have the real facts known. [Applause.]

I challenge him to have these facts made public and then we can determine which candidate, which party, addresses itself and themselves to the great issues which face our country. [Applause.] In the coming years, we must rebuild our strength around the world. We must demonstrate that we are a strong and vital society, that we are solving our own problems, that we are identified with the fight which is going on against the poverty and disease and illiteracy and ignorance, that in this free country of ours we are our brothers' keeper, and that here in the United States we are building the kind of society which they can build in their own time with our help.

I think the next President of the United States should reestablish the atmosphere that existed in the 1930's of the good neighbor policy. [Applause.] We must demonstrate in Africa, by an imaginative use of technical assistance, a program initiated by President Truman on what can be done in those great countries where people live on an income of $35, $40, or $45 a year. How can we hope, where ignorance is their constant companion, where there is in the Congo less than 12 college graduates, where the standard of living is pathetically low, how can we expect them to choose freedom, how can we expect them to identify themselves with us? How can we expect to block the Communist advance when we have been wholly indifferent?

I believe the responsibilities which the next President and the next administration will bear are as great as any in our history. I believe that this country can meet any of its responsibilities. I have the greatest possible confidence in it. I believe with new leadership this country can begin the great march forward in the sixties that must be taken if we are going to maintain the peace and maintain our own security [Applause.]

This is a great country, but this country cannot move forward unless the people of this country will make a decision for progress on November 8, the kind of decision which they made in November of 1948 and November of 1932 and November of 1912, the decision to pick themselves up and start along the road of motion, of vigor.

Mr. Nixon suggests that everything that could be done is being done. He says our prestige is so high he runs on a slogan "We never had it so good." What kind of leadership can that party and that candidate give in the changing years of the 1960's if he cannot read the map of the world and see our dangers and see our opportunities? [Applause.]

I come here to Missouri and ask your help in this campaign. I ask you to join us in building this country. I ask you to take your decision for progress on November 8 to build Missouri, to build the United States, to build the cause of freedom. Franklin Roosevelt in accepting his second presidential nomination before 100,000 people at Franklin Field, said:

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

I do not believe in 1961 the people of this country want a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. I think in 1960 and 1961 they are going to choose the kind of government identified with the names of Truman and Symington and Bolling and Dalton and the others. [Applause.] They are going to choose progress. [Applause.]

One hundred years ago in the campaign of 1860, Lincoln wrote to a friend:

I know there is a God and I know He hates injustice. I see the storm coming and I see His hand in it. But if He has a place and a part for me, I believe I am ready.

Now, 100 years later in 1960, when the issues are much the same, though the scale is larger, we know there is a God and we know He hates injustice. We see the storm coming, and we know His hand is in it. But if He has a place and a part for us, I believe we are ready. Thank you. [Applause; standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Auditorium, Kansas City, MO Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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