John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Cadillac Square, Detroit, MI

September 05, 1960

I have come here today, on this day that belongs to all the people, to state my case and my cause to you * * * the American people. I am here to ask for a mandate - a mandate to achieve the promises of that stirring and historic document the 1960 Democratic platform. I am here to ask for men - the men who can translate that platform into action.

Give me your mandate. Give me the men. Give us more men in the Senate like Phil Hart and Pat McNamara. We only need a few more. A shift of only four votes would have given us a decent bill to provide medical care for the aged under the social security system. And next January we will have those votes. We will not be threatened with a Presidential veto. And we will not have to settle for a medical care program that is based on the pauper's oath.

Give me a Congress next January with more members like your Michigan Democratic Congressmen. We only need a few more. A shift of four or five votes in the House last June would have enacted a real minimum wage bill, with coverage for several million more families and a minimum of $1.25 an hour. Next January we will have those votes - and you will have a President who knows what a strong minimum wage law means to stop runaway shops and to raise living standards.

I ask you also to elect John Swainson as Governor of Michigan - a great Governor to succeed a great Governor. And I intend to work with both John Swainson and Mennen Williams to lead this State and Nation to a future of hope and promise.

I am taking my case to the American people because that is where it belongs - because that is where there will be no threat of veto or parliamentary obstruction - and because that is where we can always place our confidence. I take our case to you because I am confident that the American people want an enduring peace in which human dignity, truth, and justice under law are secured for all men everywhere. I take our case to you because I am confident that you are willing to do whatever has to be done to make us first in the world militarily, and thus first in the fight for peace.

I take our case to you because I am confident that all of us here, as descendants of immigrants, are ready to renew our hospitality to the homeless, the tired, and the poor, from other lands, without discrimination as to national origin. I take our case to you because I am confident that, as citizens of one world, we are willing to share our plenty with our brothers in the new states of Asia and Africa, and with those in Europe and Latin America, who need our help and our friendship.

I take my case to you because I am confident that the American people are not going to tolerate pockets of poverty and chronic unemployment in this land, the waste of idle men and women who are ready, willing, and able to work, or the decline of our farms. I take my case to you because I know you agree with me that racial discrimination must be eliminated everywhere in our society; in jobs, in housing, in voting, in lunch counters, and in schools.

And finally, I am here because I know we share a deep-seated belief in free collective bargaining, and in the growth and development of free and responsible unions - and unlike our opponents, we do not believe in this only on Labor Day.

I welcome the support of the working men and women of this country. I am proud of the fact that I was endorsed by the AFL-CIO. For I know that the American Labor movement wants for America what I want for America: the elimination of poverty and unemployment, the reestablishment of America's world leadership, the guarantee of full civil rights for all our citizens. I know the American labor movement opposes what I oppose: complacency, unemployment, economic stagnation, racial discrimination, and national insecurity.

Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. But their work goes beyond their own jobs, and even beyond our borders.

Our unions have fought for aid to education, for better housing, for development of our natural resources, and for saving the family-sized farms. They have contributed funds and talent to improve our oversea relations. They have spoken, not for narrow self-interest, but for the public interest and for the people.

For the labor movement is people. Our unions have brought millions of men and women together, made them members one of another, and given them common tools for common goals.

Their goals are goals for all America - and their enemies are the enemies of all progress.

The two cannot be separated. The man who opposes a decent increase in the minimum wage is not likely to be more generous toward a badly underpaid schoolteacher. The man who opposes proper medical care for the aged has no more compassion for the small farmer or the small businessman or the hungry families in this Nation and around the world. He likes things the way they are. He sees no need to change - no need to grow. His theme song is: "You never had it so good."

But let him try to tell that to the more than 4 million men and women who cannot find employment. Let him try to tell that to the 3 million men forced to work less than full time. Let him try to tell that to those who live on our hard-hit farms, in our depressed areas, in our deserted textile and coal mine towns. Let him try to tell that to 5 million men, women, and children trying to get by on an average of $20 worth of surplus food a month - or the millions of retired workers trying to get by on all average annual income of less than $2,000 a year.

This is the greatest country in the world. But we can be still greater. This is the most prosperous country in the world. But we can be still more prosperous . . . so that every American can share in that prosperity. We have the means to achieve our goals - to put our house in order - to regain our position of preeminence in the world. It all comes under the name of "economic growth" and today I want to talk with you about economic growth. There is nothing cold or dull about the meaning of economic growth. It means jobs and homes and schools for our children. Lack of growth means unemployment and pockets of poverty and a weak, declining nation.

Under Republican leadership, we have not been growing. The workers have noted it in unemployment and short workweeks. Businessmen have noted it in idle plant capacity and rising inventories. And Mr. Khrushchev noted it when he promised to "bury" us.

Three facts are indisputable:

Fact No.1: Between 1947 and 1953, under the administration of Harry Truman, our average annual rate of growth was 4 1/2 percent. Between 1953 and 1959, under a Republican administration, the rate was only 2 1/2 percent - less than half as much. And today our key industries such as auto and steel are operating at much less than full capacity.

Fact No.2: While our economy is crawling forward at an average rate of only 2 1/2 percent, the Russian gross national product is annually increasing 7 percent - three times as fast.

Fact No.3: Our rate of growth was surpassed by almost every major industrial nation during the past years of drift and indecision - including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Japan. These are the facts which we must face. This is the record which our opponents have described as a "healthy rate of growth." And I defy them to find anything healthy about it.

When this country, with all its potential, is growing at less than half the rate achieved by the Soviet Union, less than the rate of almost every major industrial nation on earth, then our health is obviously down and we had better call for a new doctor in Washington. These facts and figures are not remote. They affect the welfare of everyone. With a really healthy rate of growth, each family of four would have received, on the average, an additional $1,300 every year between 1953 and 1959 - a total of more than $7,000 - $7,000 you could have had for a rainy day, or to finance a college education, or to take a trip, or help buy a house - $7,000 that these restrictive policies have kept out of your pocket.

With a really healthy rate of growth, we can have full employment - and let me make clear right now my conviction that in this country we cannot afford to have any goal except genuine full employment.

With a really healthy rate of growth, we can end the gnawing doubts about our national defense. If we had maintained a healthy rate of growth, it would have paid many times over the cost of the vital defense programs which the administration has said we cannot afford - the cost of putting our Strategic Air Command on a continuous air alert, the cost of modernizing our Army and Navy, and the cost of building more Polaris and Minuteman missiles. These are steps which must be taken and, once this country starts moving again, these are steps that will be taken.

With a really healthy rate of growth, we can provide our children with the best in education and eliminate the shortage of classrooms and the scarcity of teachers which is depriving millions of young Americans of adequate school training. And finally, with a really healthy rate of growth, we will win the crusade for economic justice. Here we have no time to spare. For it is a shameful fact that 32 million people in this, the richest land on earth, are forced to live on a standard of living that is woefully inadequate - a standard below that which $2,600 a year would buy for a family of four. It is a shameful fact that 7 million of our fellow citizens are dependent upon charity for their existence - that 5 million city homes lack plumbing - that breeding places of juvenile crime abound in our cities - and that abject poverty characterizes too much of our farm community.

These are some of the reasons why I say economic growth is not simply a cold, remote statistic. And these are some of the reasons why it is not enough to merely talk about it. It is time to do something about it - and we are going to start on next November 8.

The first step we must take is to put into office an administration which has faith in a growing America. The Republican Party, since the departure of Theodore Roosevelt some 48 years ago, has not had this faith - and it does not have it today. For example, on August 10 the President said that automobile production may exceed 6 million - and this, he said, "is really a very fine year." But the facts of the matter are that we made 7.5 million cars a few years ago. The facts of the matter are that thousands of autoworkers are out of jobs today or working on short time. If this is "a very fine year," I don't want to see a very bad one.

While these men are idle - while these facilities are idle - we see critical needs on every side of us that could "consume and absorb" their output, if only given a chance. We see the need for schools - for highways - for dams and powerplants, homes and hospitals, stronger defenses, and a rebirth of our cities. These projects need busy plans and working men. And so our second step toward economic growth must be to put back to work our idle machines and men - to return to the Democratic policy of full employment which for 8 years has been shamefully neglected. We have the tools - the legislation and the programs to put men back to work - and in 1961 we are going to do it.

As a third step, we can help our Nation grow by unlocking the riches of our natural resources. From our forest must come the timber, from our rivers must come the water and power, and from our mines must come the fuels and metals to meet the needs of an expanding population. Franklin Roosevelt raised the economy of an entire region through unified development of the Tennessee Valley. The Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams have repaid their cost a hundredfold. Yet the Republican policy is "no new starts."

Fourth, we must put to work the wonders of automation in a way which will be a blessing for all America - not merely a curse for the workers. In the coal beds of West Virginia automation means joblessness, poverty, and deprivation. But automation can also bring lighter work, lower prices, and better jobs under a Government which cares for people - a Government which is unwilling to have men thrown on the scrap heap like obsolete machines.

And fifth and finally, if we want to grow, let us put an end to scarce money and high interest. Those who collect the interest may have profited. But every American who has financed a home, an automobile, a refrigerator, or a television set has suffered. Those of you who buy a home with a $10,000, 30-year mortgage today will pay out $3,300 more in interest charges than you would have paid under the last Democratic administration - $3,300 that could have been put to better use for you and your family.

This is a sound workable program to stimulate the growth of our free enterprise economy - a program which will keep our economy healthy and free - a program which will bring growth without inflation or increased government controls. We have heard that this kind of growth is merely an idle dream. But this country was built by dreamers - not by those of weak hearts and little faith.

In 1776 there were those who said that national independence was an idle dream. In 1789 there were those who said that a sovereign union of equal states was an idle dream. In 1860 there were those who said that freeing the slaves was an idle dream. In 1932 there were those who said that a New Deal for the American people was an idle dream.

Now, in 1960, we face problems unlike any we have faced before. Never has the challenge been so great. Never have the stakes been so large. Never have the dreams and the ideals and the dedication of free men been so essential.

We have no time for complacency, timidity, or doubt. This is a time for courage and action. This is a time for strong leaders - leaders who are not afraid of New Frontiers - leaders who are not afraid of the facts - leaders who can turn our dreams into reality.

Give me your mandate. Give us the men. For I believe the job can be done.

During the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill appealed to America for help, pleading "Give us the tools and we will finish the job." Today - in 1960 - when America faces challenges and perils greater than ever before, I say to all Americans who want to build a better America - "Give us the job for we have the tools."

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Cadillac Square, Detroit, MI Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives