John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles, CA

November 02, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Roz [Wyman], Mrs. Warschaw, Mrs. Mosk, Governor Brown, Mrs. Price, Mr. Reeves, ladies and gentlemen, Governor Brown just said that all the beautiful girls were up in front. But having been in the back, I don't appreciate that view. [Laughter.]

In any case, I appreciate your welcome. As the cow said to the Maine farmer, "Thank you for a warm hand on a cold morning." [Laughter and applause.] I am delighted to be here this morning, and I appreciate all you are doing in this campaign. This is a beautiful State. I am confident that Mr. Nixon will enjoy it after the election. [Applause.] Mr. Nixon is calling me a liar so much every day, and other choice adjectives, that used to be reserved for the California scenes, which is now being exposed to the Nation it is rather difficult for me to confirm anything other than to confirm what Governor Brown said, that there are the most beautiful women in California, and I challenge him to call me a liar. [Applause.]

But we are going to keep at it in the next 4 or 5 days. I had to have Governor Brown ride with me down the center of Los Angeles, and Mr. Nixon requires President Eisenhower to ride down the streets of New York with him. Yesterday, I said Governor Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge, Vice President Nixon, and I thought they ought to have Barry Goldwater. [Laughter.] So they can all be in the car together. [Laughter.]

This is an important election and really it just isn't between Mr. Nixon and myself, or really just between our two parties. I really believe Mr. Nixon, after he was nominated, could have made a judgment of the needs of our country and the needs around the world and conducted a campaign based on those needs. In my judgment, Governor Rockefeller would have conducted that kind of campaign. But Mr. Nixon chose to go in a different direction. He chose to run on a program which says that our prestige has never been higher in the world, in spite of the fact that the USIA studies, locked up in his own State Department, completely refute that position, studies which they refuse to release, and he has chosen to run at home here on our unexampled prosperity. There is no note of urgency there. There is not any doubt in my mind that the success of Woodrow Wilson the success of Franklin Roosevelt, came in the early days of their administrations. There are months of grace - Governor Brown is familiar with that - where a Governor is permitted to proceed on his program without too much difficulty. And it is true of a President. They talk of the 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt. There is not any doubt that the first 2 years of Woodrow Wilson's administration saw many of the domestic reforms which were so essential, the Federal Reserve Board and all the rest written into law. But unless the groundwork is laid during the campaign, all that valuable time is then lost. The next President of the United States takes office on January 20. He then has to go to work, his time begins to run out almost immediately. So unless he is prepared for action, then, valuable time is lost, never to be regained.

The point of all this is that unless you lay the groundwork in a campaign for later administrative and legislative and executive action then your chances of providing progress for our country and our people, needed actions, become lessened.

Mr. Nixon has not sounded any note of urgency in his campaign. He is accompanied in his travels by Cabinet members, Mr. Seaton, Mr. Schreiber, Mr. Rogers, and the others, who are familiar figures in Washington. There is no idea that a new, fresh vigor is going to take over, a sense of urgency, a sense of commitment, a sense of the feeling that in this great Republic we are going to have to move forward again. If we don't feel it now, the chances of feeling it next January or February or March in a Congress controlled by the Democrats, a President who has run for office, perhaps, and won, on a program which bears little recognition of the facts, which is my polite way of referring to Mr. Nixon and he refers to me impolitely [laughter], I think that our chances [laughter]

(At this point there was a microphone repair.)

That never happens with the Vice President. I understand that everything is in perfect order. [Laughter and applause.] It does not get the votes, but it is well organized. [Laughter.] I am now going to have to give a new speech, evidently. [Laughter.] You all know Pat Hillings, don't you ? [Laughter and applause.]

One of the subjects on which we are going to have to act, and on which I am really not convinced that the Republican Party and Mr. Nixon are committed, despite the position papers, is on the subject of education. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If you expect a nation to be ignorant and free, you expect what never was and never will be." So from the time of the Northwest Ordinance, which was written by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and other distinguished founders of our country, which set aside in the Northwest Territory one lot out of every township for the maintenance of education, we have recognized that education is not only a local responsibility not only a responsibility of the State, but also a responsibility of the National Government. When the Land Grant College Act was passed in the administration of Abraham Lincoln, it provided that public lands in every State would be set aside for the maintenance of State universities and State colleges. The same is true in our own day. We need the best educated citizens in the world to maintain a free society. [Applause.] The property tax in all of your communities is already heavily burdened. In many places in the United States, it is a confiscatory tax - and I don't want any young man or woman in the United States to be denied an education merely because we rely on one source of revenue, without using wisely the sources of revenue that are available to us. Even today, 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls who graduate from high school never see the inside of a college. In the next 10 years we are going to have to build as many college classrooms and dormitories as we have built in the last 200 years. We are going to have twice as many boys and girls applying for college in 1970 as are applying in 1960. That represents a responsibility for us all.

Ten years ago we were turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as the Russians. Today they are turning out twice as many as we are, and even more ominous, because I don't say that scientists and engineers are all that we need, but even more ominous is the fact that they are devoting a far larger percentage of their national income, their gross national product, to education, than we are. We need in a free society, where the responsibility lies with the people, with their own good judgment and sense of responsibility and restraint, we want the best educated people in the world. We are at the mercy, and the cause of freedom is at the mercy, of a majority of our citizens, and as one of those citizens who is so involved, as you all are, all of us want those citizens to be well educated. [Applause.]

In 1957, a majority of the Republicans in the House killed aid to school construction. In 1958, every Republican in the key Education and Labor Committee voted against aid for school construction, and in 1960, when we tried again to provide aid for the construction of public school classrooms, 67 percent of all the Republicans in the House voted against it, and all four Republicans in the House Rules Committee joined together with two unwise Democrats - and we have some of them - all four of the Republicans joined together to kill the bill from ever getting to the floor of the House. That is the party that Mr. Nixon leads, and he is part of it. He cast the deciding vote in the Senate after making one of his moving and emotional speeches, the deciding vote - a week before about the plight of our teachers - cast the deciding vote in the Senate against aid for teachers' salaries. [Response from the audience.]

We need 135,000 more teachers. There are 3 million children in the United States being taught by teachers who do not have teacher certificates. The Republican Secretary of HEW says these low salaries of teachers are the most serious weakness in our country's educational system, and I hope he tells that to the Vice President or writes it to him in Whittier. [Laughter and applause.]

Here is what I think we ought to do in the next Congress. First, we ought to pass a bill which will provide assistance to the States, the States then to make the judgment of what percentage of the aid should be turned over to the teachers' salaries and school construction. In that way we can insure local control over education, local control over curriculum, and all the rest, but at the same time make sure that our schools are built and our teachers are compensated. [Applause.] Once we do that, we have a right to expect that our teachers will be well trained, will be imaginative, will be dedicated. We must search for new teaching methods. I have a professor from Harvard Law School who is working to help us in this campaign and he spends a good percentage of his time in a rather old-fashioned way correcting exams and all the rest. I believe that we can develop new techniques for treating those with the most talent, television and all the rest, to provide the widest dissemination of the best teaching skills we have in the country.

In addition, we have to make sure that our schools meet their responsibility, which is a responsibility of yours. In some States of the United States, and I don't know whether this is true of California, every graduate from high school, regardless of the standards of the high school, is admitted automatically to college, and then 45 to 50 percent of them flunk out after the first year. We ought to have a right to expect that every high school in the country will meet high school standards, and will make it possible for any child that graduates from that high school, who has talent, who has ability, who has motivation, who desires to go to college, will have the skills, study, and application applied to them in their earlier years so that they are able to make the grade when they enter college. [Applause.]

And then fourthly, I think that what we can do is provide scholarships for not only the brightest boys and girls. There are quite a lot of scholarships but we still have to do more in that area. That is only one of the problems. There are an awful lot of boys and girls who may not be brilliant in high school but who later do very well indeed and make some of our best citizens, but who nevertheless cannot win scholarships. I think what we could do is what we have done in Massachusetts, which is to provide loans, guaranteed by the State, to any boy or girl who is able to demonstrate competence in their ability to survive the first 6 months, which would be paid back with interest after they graduated. [Applause.]

Professor Harris at Harvard University and other places has demonstrated the actual financial return which a college education means to any boy or girl in their livelihood, the chances of earning a much greater amount of money in their lives as a result of the college education. Therefore for those young men and women who do not have the talent for scholarships, and who do not have the resources themselves, I believe that some form of a national reinsurance of State programs, of State banking programs, which would provide these loans, at low rates of interest, for those who have desire, for those who can do the job, for those who can survive in college and contribute, I believe that that offers the best way of providing them with an education, and at the same time maintaining the fiscal responsibility of the National Government.

I hope the next administration will devote itself to securing this kind of a plan which we have done so well with in housing by reinsurance of mortgages. I think we can reinsure a young man's education or a young woman's education. [Applause.]

And finally, in the next decade, by 1970, in order to provide all those buildings for all your sons and daughters, we are going to have to spend $6 billion more. Governor Brown deals with these statistics every day. The colleges just are not there. I am an officer of Harvard University, which is privately financed, and we just got through the largest fund-raising drive in the history of the United States, to raise $83 million to try to build the buildings we are going to need, and provide compensation for our teachers in order to maintain Harvard University's high standards.

The State of California has far greater problems almost than any other State because of the increase in population, and no State has met its responsibility better. I drive around the United States, and I see more mothers with young children who are going to pour into the colleges and universities in this State than in any State in the Union. We need them. This is not a waste. We need them. Therefore, we have to think of ways by which these buildings can be built and maintained and still maintain the fiscal responsibility of our State government and National Government, which is a great responsibility.

One of the ways by which this can be done and one of the unfortunate vetoes of the present administration was the veto of the program to provide loans to colleges at low rates of interest to build classrooms and dormitories. I believe that that kind of a program is fruitful, that it comes within the proper relationship between the National Government and the State colleges and universities. It provides them some assistance, but still maintains the burden upon them, of course. But it does at least provide a helping hand at a crucial time, and the next 10 years I think are crucial.

This is only one of many problems we are going to have. Our responsibility is to demonstrate that a free society, with its freedom of choice, breadth of opportunity, its reliance on a private enterprise system, that this kind of society, by ingenuity, by attracting the best people we can get, by application, by foresight and a sense of commitment, can compete with a totalitarian system. That is the most difficult of all assignments. Since the time of ancient Athens, history is replete with garrison states that have overcome free cities and free states and free countries. This is not any automatic contest in which our virtues will inevitably triumph. It will require the best we have. That is one of my basic disagreements, fundamental disagreements with Mr. Nixon and the Republicans. For him to use the arguments he is now using in this hazardous time in the life of our country seems to ignore the basic challenge that society now faces.

I saw enough of it in the thirties in England, of a free society competing with a totalitarian society. They have young men and women in Moscow studying esoteric doctrine and dialects of Africa and Asia. We have ambassadors who can't even speak French. They have young men and women who not only speak Arabic, but Swahili and all the others that we can't even pronounce. [Applause.]

We are going to have to do much better as a nation as well as individuals. I don't believe that the Republican Party or Mr. Nixon are prepared to make that kind of commitment and I think it involves the future of us all. [Applause.]

Abraham Lincoln once said, "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help." We criticize, but we are going to help. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles, CA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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