John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Citizens for Kennedy Party, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City

September 14, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you. Governor Lehman, my wife, ladies, and gentlemen, I personally have lived through 10 presidential campaigns, but I must say the 11th makes me feel like I lived through 25. [Laughter.] We age fast in this business of running for the greatest office in the country, the greatest office in the free world. I remember reading when I was at school, when Governor Lehman was running for his third term as Governor that the rally in Madison Square Garden, when President Roosevelt was running for a second term, that some garment workers unfolded a great sign that said, "We love him for the enemies he has made." Well, I have been making some good enemies lately. [Applause.] I find it a rather agreeable experience. [Laughter.] But I am also rather pleased in this case with the friends that I have and that I have made, and I am most honored that one of them, stretching back all the way through 14 years of congressional service, has been Senator Lehman. I am most indebted to him. [Applause.]

I do not recall in my service in the Congress a man who was more consistent and single minded in his pursuit of what he thought was right, and, therefore, his endorsement and his support means more to us in this campaign than I can possibly say. [Applause.]

Someone was kind enough, though I don't know whether he meant it kindly, to say the other night that in my campaign in California I sounded like a Truman with a Harvard accent. [Laughter.] I don't know whether that is accurate or not, but I appreciate it, because in some ways this campaign does resemble the campaign of 1948, and I hope it will on November 8. [Applause.]

In going around the country, we have a tendency in the Democratic Party and as candidates, and in fact politicians in general, and we are frequently accused of it, of oversimplifying the issues, and particularly as a Democratic candidate I do find myself talking about many issues which have been with us for many years, but which I still consider to be important. They are issues which were alive in some cases in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. They were other issues which came to fruition in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. I am talking about the traditional Democratic issue with which I have been associated in my 14 years in the Congress and with which I believe the Democratic Party must continue to be associated: housing, care for the aged, education for our children, equality of opportunity, civil rights, and all the rest. I associate myself strongly with those issues in this campaign because I think in our time and in our own generation we have the same rendezvous with destiny that Franklin Roosevelt spoke about 25 years ago. We have still unfinished business in our society. [Applause.] And anyone who thinks that all of the responsibilities that we may have in this field were met satisfactorily and completely during the administration of Roosevelt and Truman is wrong. Problems change, populations increase, economies change, and the problems continue. So I can assure you that in addition to concerning ourselves with the new challenges, which I see ahead in the 1960's, the Democratic Party must be faithful and I as the Democratic candidate and standardbearer will be faithful to the traditional task of government, caring for those who cannot meet their own problems, joining as a people together in solving problems that face us across the Nation. But these, as I have said, are problems which are traditional. I think in many ways the next President of the United States is going to have to meet problems which are entirely new, for which we have no precedent, which were only clouds the size of a man's hand when Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman took office. I am thinking of the problem of economic growth, which has come upon us in an entirely different form than it came upon Franklin Roosevelt, or Harry Truman. How is it going to be possible for a free society, based on a free economy, to successfully stimulate its economy so that it is able to put to work a million and a half people who come every year into the labor market, at a time when machines are coming in which dislocate men and put them out of work, and maintain our economy at a comparable rate of growth, if not to the Soviet Union, at least to Western Germany, France, and England, and last year, as you know, ours was the lowest rate of economic growth of any modern industrialized society. How is it possible for us to maintain full employment at a time and in a decade when automation will become a by word? I lived with it for a month in West Virginia. I spent some time in McDowell County, W. Va., which mines more coal than it ever did in history more coal than any county in the United States, and has more people getting surplus packages from our Government than any county in the United States. What is true of McDowell County and true of the coal industry will be true of other industries stretching across the United States. This is going to be a problem for the next President of the United States. These problems which I now discuss and mention, the problem of an abundant agriculture and an inability to distribute it effectively, all of these problems are so-called domestic problems, and the Vice President of the United States has said, "I am a risk taker abroad and a conservative at home."

Well, I am not a conservative at home and I am not a risk taker abroad. [Applause.] The point of the matter is you cannot possibly separate our domestic policy from our foreign policy as the Republicans seek to do. [Applause.] One is bound to another; as one succeeds, the other will succeed, as one fails, the other will fail. The reason that Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman had impact abroad was because they were having impact at home; because Franklin Roosevelt worked on behalf of his people here in the United States, the people of Latin America were prepared to accept him as a good neighbor. [Applause.] Because Woodrow Wilson worked as the apostle of the new freedom in the United States, it was logical extension of his domestic policy when he put forward the 14 points and stood for the League of Nations.

I think that the Democratic Party can be a successful party here at home. I think it has the kind of quality and courage and initiative and energy and vigor and has people in its ranks of sufficient vitality, both physical and intellectual, that it can begin to move the United States here in this country. I think as we move here at home, our success will be reflected in policies around the world.

I don't think any Democratic administration would have waited 8 years, as the years of Franklin Roosevelt, to hold out a hand of friendship to Latin America [applause] and then do so only, I am afraid, because our relations with Castro had so soured that we felt we must rebuild our position in the rest of Latin America. [Applause.]

I am chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Foreign Relations Committee, and I can tell you that no modern American statesman is quoted today in Africa. They are not impressed by what is happening here in our own country. They are not impressed by the vigor with which we expand equal rights in the United States. They are not impressed that we are on the move. They feel that we are a society which may have seen its high noon, and that its brightest days were in the past, and now some of them look in other directions. Students come here with difficulty. Labor union officials come here in slender numbers, and many of them come to see me in Washington with a handful, one month and then another. There is no steady flow back and forth between the countries of Africa which will, in the next 2 or 3 years, number one-quarter of all the nations of the General Assembly.

The day when the United States could summon up great numbers of votes in the General Assembly is passing from the scene. It is going to be more difficult, and I do not necessarily object to that. But it will require reason and identification and a close, working partnership with those countries on the problems that they face as well as our own problems before they will associate themselves with us in great enterprises.

This is an important election. I think it is an election that can be won. I think it can be done in New York State. I do not accept the view that there are no differences between the candidates or the parties. I think there are. I think that we have seen them in the last 8 years, and will see them in the next 4 years. [Applause.]

Finally, may I say that we pass on. I go through some tunnel tomorrow morning and I am in New Jersey. But you stay here. I hope that in the coming 6 weeks you can associate with us not because the Democratic candidates, I hope, promise that if they are elected life will be easy and the problems all solved. I think to be an American in the next decade will be a hazardous experience. We will live on the edge of danger. But I do believe that if this country begins to move forward again, that we can once again regain our position as a great revolutionary country which believes in doctrines with which all people will wish to be associated. It is to this great effort that I think we should dedicate our cause. It is to this great effort that I think we can make it possible for all of us in the 1960's to move forward to the new frontiers. We say, "Yes" to the next decade. The Republicans say "No," and I think on November 8 the American people are going to say, "Yes" with us. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Citizens for Kennedy Party, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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