John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Civic Auditorium, Portland, OR

September 07, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mrs. Green, Mrs. Neuberger, ladies and gentlemen: I am extremely indebted for a very generous introduction, as I was for a very generous seconding speech at the Los Angeles convention, by your distinguished Member of Congress and my faithful friend, Mrs. Green. [Applause.] I am delighted to be here tonight sharing a platform with a distinguished Oregon family - the wife of a former Senator and friend and colleague of mine - and the next Senator from the State of Oregon to the U.S. Senate, Senator Neuberger to be. [Applause.]

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an important election as Mrs. Green has suggested. I do not run for the office of the Presidency promising that if I am elected life will be easy, and that all the problems will be solved. In many ways, I think that the years will be as difficult in the 1960's as they were after the election 100 years ago of President Lincoln. In that election, Lincoln said that this Nation cannot exist half slave and half free. The question for the 1960's following this election will be whether the world can exist half slave and half free. [Applause.]

We are concerned with what happens in this State, and we are concerned with what happens in this country. We are concerned that we shall have vigorous executive leadership in meeting the problems that the great Republic faces here at home. But we are also concerned that the United States shall maintain the peace and maintain our security and maintain our strength and our prestige. [Applause.]

I do not believe that there is any American who can he satisfied with that strength and that prestige as it is reflected in events around us in the southern half of the globe. Americans wonder why it was that Africans who some years ago quoted Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt now quote Karl Marx in the Congo. They wonder why the nations of South America who once were engaged in a great enterprise called the good neighbor policy should now stone the Vice President of the United States. They wonder why America, which was once regarded in the 1930's with so much friendship on the island of Cuba should now be reviled and attacked by the erratic leader of that island only 90 miles from our shore. [Applause.]

It seems to me, and this is most dangerous for all of us, that we are all danger of losing the respect of the people of the world, because we are in danger of losing those very qualities which once caused them to respect us.

First, the people of the world respect strength. In former years they were grateful to the United States for the military protection that we guaranteed them. But now they are no longer certain that America's lead will continue in the future when they see the missile gap widen, and once our atomic monopoly begins to cease, and they are uneasy about a military strategy that relies so heavily upon massive retaliation, because they are not interested in seeing their house preserved, only to see it blown up. [Applause.]

Second, the people of the world respect achievement. For most of the 20th century they admired American science and American education, which was second to none. But now they are not at all certain about which way the future lies. The first vehicle in outer space was called sputnik, not Vanguard. The first country to place its national emblem on the moon was the Soviet Union, not the United States. The first canine passengers to outer space who safely returned were named Strelka and Belka, not Rover or Fido, or even Checkers. [Laughter and applause.]

They wonder why the Soviet Union has an economic growth of two or three times as much as the great productive country of the United States, and they wonder why it was last year that the United States had the lowest percentage of economic growth increase of any major industrial society in the world. They wonder why Russia is turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are, and they are entitled to an answer.

Third, the peoples of the world respect sincerity. The reason the good neighbor policy was so successful was because the people of Latin America knew that here in the United States the policy of Franklin Roosevelt was marked by compassion and interest. The colored people of Africa and Asia believed in Harry Truman's point 4 because they knew that he practiced in his administration those policies without regard to race or creed for all Americans. But now they are doubtful about a party which has shown no real concern in the executive branch for civil rights, no real compassion for the underprivileged, and they do not feel that any country and any administration which does not concern itself about the problems at home will be concerned about the problems of Africa and Asia. [Applause.]

Fourth, the people of the world want peace, and they sincerely wonder how much the United States wants peace. They are afraid of diplomatic policies that teeter on the brink. They are dismayed that there are only 100 Americans working in the entire Federal Government on the vital subject of disarmament. And they are discouraged by a philosophy that puts its faith in swapping insults with the Soviet Union, for they know it can lead in only one direction, and that would be toward mankind's final war.

Fifth, and finally, the people of the world respect a nation which can see beyond its own image. To us, the major issue is the fight against communism, but to them, those who live to the south of us, the fighting is against poverty and disease and illiteracy and ignorance. [Applause.]

Each time they feel that we seek to gain their friendship in order to secure a new recruit in a battle against the communism, and each time we dismiss anti-American agitators as tools of the Communists, or condemn neutrals out of hand, our prestige will suffer and our relations with those with whom we wish to be friends will worsen. To rebuild American prestige will not be easy. It cannot be done overnight by a new administration. But I can assure you that a new administration will make the effort. [Applause.]

I believe that the people of the world desire to be free, and they desire to follow the leadership of a strong and free United States. I think that we should move ahead on five fronts. We must have an administration that will rebuild our military strength until America is once again first across the board. [Applause.]

Secondly, we must have an administration that will revamp its goals in science and education until American science and American education are once again preeminent.

Third, we must have an administration that moves rapidly to shape our image here at home until it is clear to all the world that the revolution for equal rights is still an American revolution. [Applause.]

Fourth, we must have an administration that moves forward on the road to peace until we demonstrate to a watching world, as we sit on a most conspicuous stage, that we are willing to devote the same energies to the struggle for peace as we now do on the struggle for arms. [Applause.]

Fifth, and finally, we must have an administration that holds out a helping hand to all those who desire to be independent, that assists them in meeting their own problems, assists them on the road to freedom as a friend, not as a paternalistic country that desires to use them in a world war struggle. [Applause.]

Once we move again on these new frontiers, in foreign and domestic affairs, we can regain the trust and confidence of men and women of good will around the world. We can more comfortably wear the leadership of the free world, and we can win the fight for peace, and this country will move again. Thank you. [Applause.]

(The following is the question and answer period following Senator Kennedy's remarks:)

Senator JACKSON. Thank you, Mrs. Green.

Maureen Neuberger, my colleague in the U.S. Senate, Senator Lusk, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen: My good neighbors and friends across the river in Oregon. Senator Kennedy is desirous of making it possible for the audience to participate in these political undertakings during the course of the campaign. He is anxious to know what is on your minds. So we have worked out for these brief remaining few minutes to let you have a chance to ask questions of him. Obviously, all of the questions that have been previously submitted prior to going on television cannot be answered in the few remaining minutes. Those questions, however, will be answered by letter from Senator Kennedy. We will start out with the first question sent up to me, Senator Kennedy.

Are you for the Forand bill?

Senator KENNEDY. The question was, Am I for the Forand bill? I introduced a companion bill to the Forand bill in the U.S. Senate. The Forand bill, of course, puts medical care for the aged under the social security system. We tried to pass a bill comparable to that during the last session of the Congress. We failed by five votes in the U.S. Senate.

I think it ought to be pointed out that we received the support of only one member of the opposition party in that effort, and I think that it is something that we should try to do again next January, and wherever I am I am going to support it. [Applause.]

Senator JACKSON. The next question is, What is your stand on the minimum wage problem?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, we tried to put a bill through and passed it in the Senate 2 to 1, to provide a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour and expand the coverage to over 4 million Americans who today are not covered. A good many of these Americans receive wages of 75 to 80 cents an hour. The average wage for laundry women in five large cities in this country is 65 cents an hour for a 48-hour week. No American can live on that. I think we ought to do it in the next session. We failed in the Congress. I think the next time we can do it. We passed it in the Senate. I think we only failed by seven votes in the House. With a strong leadership, I think we can get it done next time, and I think we ought to do it because no American can live under that.

Senator JACKSON. The next question is, What can be done to improve the social security situation?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I think we touched on at least one phase, which is the care for the aged. I do think we should concern ourselves with particularly the retirement age for women, and secondly, the present limitations on social security provide that those who are receiving social security may earn only $1,200 a year. As the average social security check is only about $78 a month, it means that a lot of people who are retired who could earn more money do get a short change. I think that the charge to $1,800 is most worthwhile, combined with their social security payment, outside earnings up to $1,800, and I think they could do much better than they do today.

Those are two changes which I think are essential. [Applause.]

Senator JACKSON. I am 11 years old; what is my future with Kennedy?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I am afraid that if things work out well, by the time you are 21 I will be finished with my second term. [Applause.] Maybe then you can elect Senator Jackson. [Applause and laughter.]

Senator JACKSON. Will increased farm subsidies cause a greater surplus problem?

Senator KENNEDY. I think that the most important thing to do is to try to bring a balance between supply and demand, to make a determination as to how much we can consume of a commodity here, how much we can usefully distribute around the world to those who are hungry and who look to us for help, and how much we should distribute to our own people. There are over 5 million of them who are dependent upon surplus food distribution. I saw over 100,000 of them in West Virginia alone, and the food distributions, I think are shocking. They are so inadequate. But those three categories need to be filled, and then we should try to place a limitation on production so we don't have these surpluses hanging over the market which break the price. In other words, there should be sufficient acreage and unit control so that we don't have a surplus, but instead have a balance between supply and demand, and a fair price at the marketplace.

Senator JACKSON. Do we have any questions from the audience that have not been sent up?

FROM THE FLOOR. Do you know how many people are not under social security?

Senator KENNEDY. The question was, Do I know how many people are not under social security? There are a good many millions of people

FROM THE FLOOR. I am 72, and I don't get any social security.

Senator KENNEDY. I understand that. In the provision of the Senate bill that was passed, and it was not as good a bill as I hoped it would be, there were funds provided for those who are already retired but who are not under social security. What we sought to do was to provide an amendment on that bill which would add protection for those covered by social security. I agree there are two problems, one which goes to those which are on social security, and entitled to social security benefits. The second problem goes to those who have no social security and therefore no income. The bill that passed the Senate met that problem to some degree; the final version is not as satisfactory, and I agree with you, does represent unfinished business for the country.

Senator JACKSON. We have time for about one last question on television: Can a Catholic be elected President? [Applause.]

Senator KENNEDY. I must say that with all due respect, it seems to me that that question is worded wrongly. Can an American who happens to be a Catholic be elected President? [Applause.]

I must say that really it seems to me as one - well; there are two basic provisions in the U.S. Constitution. One is the first amendment providing separation of church and state, and the second is article 6, which provides there shall be no religious test for office. As the great struggle today is between those who believe in God and those who do not believe in God, it seems to me we should not divide ourselves in this crucial stage, but instead treat every American according to his desserts and that is make an individual judgment as to his competence to hold any office from serving in the service to President. [Applause.]

The standard which has just been shown is the standard which was carried by the Oregon delegation to the convention, so I am signing it. I am very pleased to see it.

May I thank you for coming tonight? In fact, Oregon supporting me in the convention helped nominate me. So now that you have taken me this far, I would appreciate your taking me the rest of the way. [Applause.]

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

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