John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Chase Hotel, St. Louis, MO

October 02, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Bush, President Truman, Senator Symington, Governor Blair, Mayor Tucker, John Dalton, Ed Long, members of the Congress, ladies, and gentlemen: The big news story of the past 7 days was not Mr. Khrushchev or the presidential campaign; it was the news out of Boston that Mr. Ted Williams had retired as an active ballplayer for the Boston Red Sox. It seems that at 42 he was too old. It does show that perhaps experience doesn't count. [Laughter and applause.]

Massachusetts and Missouri are closely linked in the history of the United States. Both have been cradles of American freedom. The French who founded the city of St. Louis and the Germans who came after were searching for a freedom stronger and better than they had ever known, and if there is one principle that has stood out in the careers of the men that this State has sent to Washington, it has been their devotion to freedom and their willingness to fight for it. If there is one principle that has stood out in the career of Senator Stuart Symington, it is the principle that to protect individual liberties you must be strong as a nation. And there is one principle which stood out in the career of the late beloved Senator Hennings. It was that to be strong we must protect individual liberties. [Applause.]

And every citizen of my State and yours, every citizen of this free Nation and every other, is obligated to the Missourian who fought for both liberty and strength, President Harry Truman. [Applause.]

Last Thursday night in Boston Mr. Nixon dismissed me as, and I will quote him, "another Truman." I regard that as a great compliment. [Applause.]

But observing the content of Mr. Nixon's campaign, I have no hesitation in returning the compliment. I consider him another Dewey. [Laughter and applause.] Like Mr. Dewey, he represents a do-nothing party. Like Mr. Dewey he is a say-nothing candidate, and like Mr. Dewey he will win nothing in November. [Applause.]

Some of the experts are saying that this is 1928 all over again. For the sake of the farmer, the worker, the merchant, and the teacher; for the sake of all those who remember the days of 10-cent corn and 10-percent interest, I trust it will not be 1928 all over again. I think it will be 1948 all over again. [Applause.]

I think the American people are going to turn thumbs down just as they did in 1948 on a candidate who is running away from his party, who is trying to hide his party's record, and who is now saying, "Me, too" to all the Democratic programs he fought during his entire political public life. [Applause.]

Harry Truman, attacked in 1948 from both left and right, carried the banner of a liberal, responsible Democratic Party that believed in the people and I am proud to carry the same banner in 1960. [Applause.]

Much is different between 1948 and 1960, but much is the same. It was 2 years earlier, in 1946, that President Truman brought to Fulton College one of the great figures of the English-speaking world, and on that historic day in March Winston Churchill bluntly confronted our Nation, and the world, with the fact that from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain had descended across the continent. He warned the world that time is plenty short, that we cannot, and I quote him, "Take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late," and that "Our difficuties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them or by merely waiting to see what happens."

He called for action to establish conditions of freedom throughout the world, to strengthen our Western alliances and the United Nations, and he particularly emphasized these words which have meaning for us today. "From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they so much admire as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness. We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength."

These prophetic words of 1946 are true in 1960. If we are to protect our heritage of freedom, if we are to maintain it around the world, we must be strong, militarily, educationally, scientifically, and morally strong, and that is why I am dedicating this campaign to the goal of a stronger America, to the proposition that this Nation is strong, but can be stronger; that this Nation is powerful but can be more powerful.

Mr. Nixon says that my call for a stronger America demonstrates a lack of confidence. If by that he means a lack of confidence in Republican leadership, if by that he means a lack of confidence in his policies and in his platform, if by that he means a lack of confidence in the same Republican campaign promises that have been repeatedly broken in the last 8 years, then he is absolutely correct, I do lack confidence in that leadership and so do the American people. [Applause.]

But I have great confidence in this Nation and in the American people. I have confidence that this Nation is strong enough to permit a free and open discussion of the great probems which face us in this difficult and somber time in the life of our country. I have confidence in our ability to close the missile gap, to modernize our conventional forces and to give this country the kind of defensive strength that Stuart Symington has been warning for years we will need if we are going to remain free at the end of the next years.

I have confidence in this Nation's ability to look out for its older citizens, to see that they have a decent pension and a decent home and decent medical care. The people who oppose this program for medical care under social security are the very same people who fought President Roosevelt in 1935, the very same people who supported Alf Landon in his campaign in 1936, running on the single platform of repealing social security. They said then it would mortgage our future and socialize our economy. But the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt had confidence in the United States, and I have equal confidence that we can do a far better job than this administration has done in this area, as in so many others. I have confidence in an America where the farmer is not treated as a second-class citizen, where he can obtain, through joint action, by his own efforts and the co-ops and governmental action, the kind of bargaining power in the marketplace that will permit him to have a decent, livable income. I think it is time that this Nation faced up to the agricultural revolution which is a great asset, which is a great source of defense, which is a great source of peace, and a great source of security to us in a hungry world. And I cannot believe that the same programs which have left us with $9 billion of surplus food rotting away in a country which has over 4 million people living on surplus food packages, and hundreds of millions around the world - I cannot believe that the American people in 1960 are going to endorse that kind of an agricultural program again. I think we can do a better job. [Applause.]

We have confidence in the United States. That is the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats this year. They say we have never had it so good, and we say we can do better. They say they have never done so much, and I say we can do more. And I say we have to do more, because if the United States is not prepared to realize its potential to the fullest, to have the best educational system in the world, to give our citizens their equal constitutional rights, to move ahead as a vital and strong economy, then this country is not going to be able to sustain itself and will not serve as the chief defender of freedom around the world. What has been good enough in the past will not be good enough in the 1960's. The United States has no other country to which it can turn, if world events go against us. We are the only sentinel at the gate. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us for our own survival, as well as for our responsibility to the cause of freedom all over the globe, that we move ahead in all these areas, that we build a stronger and more vital society here in the United States, one that can serve as an inspiration to people all around the world, who stand today on the razor edge of decision, trying to decide whether the future belongs to the Communists or whether it belongs to us. I think it belongs to us, but I do not believe it is going to belong to us merely by wishing it. I think it will come when the next President of the United States sets before the American people the unfinished business of our society, our national goals, what we must hope to achieve in the next 10 years, if we are going to maintain our independence, if we are going to build our strength, if we are going to provide greater security for ourselves and for those who wish to move in the same direction that we are moving.

Latin America and Africa and Asia all stand now wondering which road to take. They will come with us if we can demonstrate here in this country that we are moving ahead, that we are solving our problems, and that we are holding out the hand of friendship to them. The reason that Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman were successful in their foreign policy was because they were successsful in their own country. [Applause.]

The New Freedom of Woodrow Wilson had its logical extension in the 14 points. The New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt was the domestic counterpart of the good neighbor policy, and the Fair Deal of President Truman had its match in the Marshall plan and NATO and point 4 and the Truman doctrine. You cannot move abroad unless you move at home.

Mr. Nixon has said that "I am a conservative at home and a risk-taker abroad." I am neither. I do not believe that in the United States and in the world, as difficult and somber as tbe world around us, I think we need a progressive at home, a progressive society, one that moves ahead, one that solves its problems, one that serves as an example, as it sits on a most conspicuous stage.

That is the decision before the people of the United States this year, which road they want to take; whether they feel what we are now doing is good enough or whether they have confidence that there are unrealized powers in our free society. I think that in 1960 the American people are going to say "Yes" to the next 10 years. They are going to give it the green light. [Applause.]

As one indication of how serious is the debate now taking place, last week, Monday night in the debate, I said that our power superiority is threatened by growing Soviet hydropower, a growth which is so rapid that it threatens to overtake the United States by 1975. Mr. Nixon said later this week that that statement was false. He boasts of tremendous power development during the past 8 years, and he asserted that the Russians can overtake us only if we did nothing for 15 years, while they built eight Grand Coulee Dams a year. That is his charge and what are the facts? The facts were reported last year by a committee of the U.S. Senate, over which Mr. Nixon occasionally presides. [Laughter.] That committee's findings, and I quote, were "Although the United States is still far ahead, the Russians could overtake us in 1975, in 15 years, unless we speed up or they slow down. Both countries will have," the Senate said, "an equal power generating capacity which will be 337,500,000 kilowatts in 1975."

It would not take eight Grand Coulee Dams a year to bridge the gap. It would not even take three. The facts of the matter are that this year the Soviets are building three dams larger than Grand Coulee, two of which are more than twice as large.

On this issue of power development, economic growth, of better schools, of a sound agricultural program, of moving ahead in a whole variety of areas, I think there is a very sharp difference between the two political parties. Mr. Nixon has said recently that parties don't count, what counts are the men. But I think what counts are the kinds of parties and the kind of men that those parties produce. I would not have been nominated by the Republican Party, nor would have Harry Truman, and the Democrats never would have nominated Richard Nixon. [Applause.] The fact is that the parties tell something. The political parties run like rivers through the history of this country, and their force and power and direction, and the movement of the flow all tell something about the movement in the future. What is past is prologue and the record of our two parties is written for the future as it has been for the past. I think the Democratic Party has again a rendezvous with destiny, an opportunity to be of service, not only to ourselves, not only to our own country, but to all those who look to us.

Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman have been the Democratic Presidents who have led this country in the 20th century. McKinley, Coolidge, Harding, Landon, Dewey, and the Vice President have led the Republican Party in the 20th century. I cannot believe, faced with the difficult problems that this country now faces, that the American people are going to turn back to a Republican leadership. I cannot believe that the American people are going to say in 1960 that we have never had it so good, and we want more of the same. I think they are going to want to cross the new frontier. [Applause.]

I think that all those who agree that we never want to have a trial of strength agree that it is incumbent upon us to rebuild the strength of the United States.

In 1964, this city will observe its 200th anniversary. I hope the next President of the United States comes to that occasion, and I hope he is able to say that this country has turned the corner, that the tide of history is once more moving in the direction of freedom, that America is on the way. I do not say that that job will be easy. During the next 4 years, the American Presidency will be at all times what Harry Truman called "the loneliest job in the world." There will be dangers and difficulties on every side for our country. There will be crises, both within and without. But it is, I think, our intention to bear in mind the words of Lincoln during the darkest days of the Civil War. Many were fearful of the outcome and many were concerned about our survival, and when a delegation called on the President to express its fears, Lincoln told them of an experience of his youth. "One night in November," he said, "a shower of meteors fell from the clear night sky. A friend standing by was frightened. But I looked up and between the falling stars I saw the fixed stars beyond, shining serene in the firmament, and I said, 'Let us not mind the meteors, let us keep our eyes on the stars.' "

As we face a difficult and sometimes dangerous future, let us look beyond the fiery meteors of the present and look to the steady stars that have guided this country through so many difficult times. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Chase Hotel, St. Louis, MO Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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