John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Civic Auditorium, Oakland, CA

September 08, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Governor Brown, Congressman Miller, Mrs. Engle, Attorney General Mosk, Congressman Shelley, Congressman Cohelan, Mrs. Price, distinguished guests, my sister, Pat, ladies and gentlemen. [Laughter.] It just shows what 14 years in the Congress can do to a man who is full of zip.

I appreciate that introduction very much, George. I am delighted to be here tonight, and I am particularly glad to be here in the company of three distinguished Members of Congress who have spoken powerfully for the interests of the people of northern California and have also spoken for the people of the United States, Congressman Miller, Congressman Cohelan, and Congressman Shelley. [Applause.]

Senator Jackson, Governor Brown, and I have been working on the railroad all day today. [Laughter.] We came all the way from Oregon to Oakland. But the truth of the matter is that our train is headed for Washington, D.C. [Applause.] The fact of the matter is that the election of 1960 is 2 months from tonight, and I think that 2 months from tonight the Democratic Party is going to regain the Chief Executive Office. [Applause.]

Pat Brown, since he has been Governor, has written, with the help of a Democratic senate and a Democratic legislature, a whole program of human rights. I think if we can get the Democrats in control of the Congress and of the Executive, in the next 4 years we can write into the program of this country a program of human rights. I ask your help. [Applause.]

This is not merely a contest between the Vice President of the United States and myself. This is a contest between two political parties and in spite of the fact that every 4 years the Republican Party has what Adlai Stevenson called the liberal hour, the record of the Republican Party is written in the last 4 years in the bills that did not become law, in the opposition they have had toward every piece of creative legislation since Woodrow Wilson's new freedom to the present effort that we made in the month of August in the Congress. They have opposed, they have stood against progress. I think their time is coming to an end. [Applause.] For the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party that we oppose is the same old party. There is no new Republican Party. There is the same old party, stretching back into history from the days of McKinley, through Coolidge and Harding and all the rest, and I think that in this great year of 1960, the American people are going to choose progress. [Applause.]

In 1936, speaking before 100,000 people in Franklin Field, Franklin Roosevelt accepted the second presidential nomination, and in that speech he 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.


The fact of the matter is that where Franklin Roosevelt set before our country its unfinished business, the agenda of the American society, this party has only set ceilings and limitations. The difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is we have faith in this country. We don't think what is happening now is good enough. We think we have a great country, but we think it can be greater and we are going to make it greater. [Applause.] Away back in 1933, the new President's friend, Robert Sherwood, contrasted the spirit of the New Deal with the moribund atmosphere of the outgoing Republican Party in a brief poem.

"Plodding feet, tramp, tramp,

The Grand Old Party breaking camp,

Blare of bugles, din, din,

The New Deal is moving in."

Today, on every major crisis that faces this country, from the plight of our citizens here in the United States to the problems that we face abroad, we hear no blare of bugles, din, din. We see only plodding feet, tramp, tramp, and the Grand Old Party breaking camp. [Applause.]

I don't say that this administration has remained silent on all these issues. In fact, on occasions they remind me of the exhortation from King Lear that goes:

I will do such things. What they are, yet I know not. But they shall be the terrors of the earth.


As there are 15 million Americans in the richest country on earth who live in substandard housing, as long as there are 5 million homes in the cities of the United States that lack plumbing of any kind, as long as there are nearly 15 million Americans who are not covered by the minimum wage of even a dollar, as long as the average wage for laundry women in five large cities of this country is 65 cents an hour for a 48-hour week, as long as there are over 100,000 people in the State of West Virginia alone who wait every month for a food package from the U.S. Government, which includes some grain, some rice, and this summer they are going to add lard - and when the President of the United States was asked about it at his news conference in May, he said, "We distributed $5 million in West Virginia last year." Five million dollars of surplus food to keep more than 100,000 people going for an entire year. I think it is time for a change. [Applause.]

As long as there are 9 million Americans over the age of 65 who receive incomes of less than $20 a week, 3 million more receiving incomes of less than $40 a week, amounts on which they cannot possibly afford to pay for their medical bills, and yet in the August session of the Congress, in our attempt to tie medical care for the aged to social security, we received the support of only one member of the minority party, Senator Case of New Jersey - that is the record of that party and we are going to defeat them in November. [Applause.]

This country needs the Democratic Party, for so long as there is one child without a decent education, so long as there is one family without a decent home, so long as there is one able-bodied citizen who wants to work and can't find it, so long as there is one retired American who lives out his life without dignity or hope, so long will we need the Democratic Party. [Applause.]

Let me make it very clear that if we are successful in January, we are going to recommend the following programs:

First, we are going to make sure that those Americans who are retired, who are on social security, who do need medical care, shall have it under the social security system. [Applause.]

Second, I think this country needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party intends to use the full legal and moral authority of the Federal Government, including, in particular, the Presidency, itself, to put an end to racial and religions discrimination in this country of ours. [Applause.] For we believe in the right of every American to stand up for his rights, even if to do so he has to sit down for them. [Applause.]

Third, America needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party believes in an obligation of the Federal Government as well as the States to make sure that we have the best educational system in the country, well paid and well trained teachers, teaching children in decent classrooms. That is an object of our political party. [Applause.] And under a Democratic Party, lastly, we are going to enact into law a bill for housing which was vetoed a year ago by the President of the United States and which was buried in the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives this year without a single Republican voting to send it to the floor of the House. [Applause.]

Franklin Roosevelt once reminded us that we cannot be content if some fraction of our people, whether it be one-third, or one-fifth, or one-tenth, is ill fed, ill clothed, ill housed and insecure, and despite today's vital needs the Republican Party in this century, in fact since the end of Teddy Roosevelt's administration, has been a contented party, a satisfied party, a believer in maintaining things as they are.

We think we can do better. We think we can strengthen this country. We think we can increase its security. We think we can make it once again an object of hope around the world. [Applause.]

Only a party which recognizes its obligations to its own citizens, only a country which feels that it must move ahead, only that kind of a country can present a vivid image to the world at large.

The reason that Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman were so successful in their day, the reason that Adlai Stevenson has had a strong image in spite of his defeats [applause], the reason that these men have been great symbols of the American Revolution in their time around the world was because they acted here at home. Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry Truman's Fair Deal, Adlai Stevenson's New America - and we are going to put those programs together in the New Frontier of the 1960's. [Applause.] I believe this country can meet our challenges.

I am in this campaign in 1960 remembering the words of a great American a hundred years ago in the election of 1860. In that election, Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend, "I know that there is a God, and that He hates injustice. I see the storm coming and I know His hand is in it. If He has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready."

Today, in 1960, as we see the storm breaking around our shores, we know there is a God and that He hates injustice, and we believe that He has a place and a part for us. I believe that we are ready. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Civic Auditorium, Oakland, CA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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