John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Fieldhouse, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

October 23, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Congressman Kastenmeier, Governor Nelson, Senator Proxmire, Mayor Nestigan, Mr. Lucey, Mr. Evjue, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my appreciation to your Congressman and to your State officials. Bob Kastenmeier has been a distinguished Congressman, an able spokesman for this district. Mr. Nixon said the other day that he could endorse any Republican running for office with the greatest enthusiasm. I endorse Bob Kastenmeier with the greatest enthusiasm. [Applause.] And I am proud to be associated on this platform with the candidates the Democrats of Wisconsin have put forward, your Congressman, your Governor, your Lieutenant Governor, your attorney general, your U.S. Senator - they speak for progress in Wisconsin and progress in the Nation. They are part of the Wisconsin idea and I am proud to be here with them. [Applause.]

We are involved in the last 2 weeks of a hard-fought campaign. I must admit that there is some difficulty running against Mr. Nixon. I never know whether I am running against the Republican Mr. Nixon who goes to Arizona and who says that he stands as a Republican from top to bottom, or the Mr. Nixon who goes to Jacksonville, Fla., and says that party labels don't mean anything, what counts is the man, or the man who goes to New York it and strikes a blow for civil rights, or the man who goes to Virginia and informs them that he knows their problems as he went to school in the South once himself. But I know what the issue is. It is an old issue that has been fought in this country year after year, political generation after political generation, and that is between the happy and the content and the fat, and the concerned and those who look forward. I believe in 1960 the American people are going to move forward again. [Applause.]

I think this is an important election. I believe that the next President of the United States and the next Congress are going to have to deal with three sets of problems, all of them different. One is the longest problem, which is most continuing, which is a problem and an opportunity which has been with us since our country was founded, and which was with us in 1960, and that is to make good on the commitments of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that they are entitled to fairness and justice and equal opportunity, and it is the responsibility of the people speaking through their National Government, speaking through their President, to accord them those rights. That is the first opportunity and the first responsibility of the President of the United States. [Applause.]

I said on the first debate that I was concerned as an American when two children are born in two houses next door to each other, one is white and the other is a Negro. That Negro baby has one-half, regardless of his talents, statistically has one-half as much chance of finishing high school as the white baby, one-third as much chance of finishing college, one-fourth as much chance of being a professional man or woman, four times as much chance of being out of work in his life, one-third as much chance of owning his own home, about one-fourth as much chance of putting his child through college.

I believe that there are, of course, people who are not equal in talent, people who are not equal in motivation. But if there are going to be inequalities, it should be on the grounds of their ability and dedication, not on the grounds of their color. That is what we wish to wipe out. [Applause.]

The second set of problems that the President will face are the traditional ones. They stem from the administration of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They are the efforts which Democratic Presidents and Democratic Congresses have made to write into law a whole platform of social legislation, which permits all Americans to participate in our standard of living, minimum wage, social security, unemployment compensation, housing, aid to education, medical care for the aged, all of the great litany of pieces of social legislation for which we are distinguished which make it easy for a Democratic candidate to run for the Presidency, and which Mr. Nixon's party has opposed. It is our function, however, not to merely invoke the names of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, not to merely live off what they did, but to bring these old programs up to date. Franklin Roosevelt proposed a 25-cent minimum wage, back in the middle thirties; 90 percent of the Republicans voted against it. We proposed this summer a minimum wage of $1.25 and 90 percent of the Members of the House of Representatives voted against it. These are the traditional issues, old but still new, and I believe that the next President and the next Congress must meet their responsibilities in this field.

We are talking, however, about two sets of problems which are familiar, with which we dealt in the past, the solution of which is easy, to get a President and a Congress that believe in progress. But there are a third set of problems which are entirely new, and it is this third set of problems that will most disturb the sleep of the next President of the United States and the next House and the next Senate. And it is to their solution that we must begin to address ourselves in this campaign, because unless the next President of the United States is prepared for action when he gets elected, then he will lose January, February, March, April, and May of 1961, which should be his best and most vigorous months.

Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt made their greatest contribution to the advancement of this country in their first 2 years, and we as Democrats, those of us who are committed to progress, should now be considering the solutions of the new problems that will face the United States in the 1960's.

One, how is it possible for a free society, operating with a free enterprise economy - how is it possible for that free society to double its rate of economic growth? We have talked a good deal about economic growth. Mr. Nixon has dismissed it as growthmanship. But it goes to the heart and survival of our free society. We are going to have to find 25,000 jobs a week every week for the next 10 years if we are going to maintain full employment in the United States. Our average rate of economic growth in the last 8 years was about 2 1/2 percent; that of Western Germany 5 to 6 percent, that of Italy, 4 to 4.5 percent, that of France, nearly 5 percent. In the last 8 years overall, the United States has had the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world. We have an economic growth of about one-third that of the Soviet Union, less than Japan. How is it going to be possible for this country to maintain full employment with a low rate of economic growth, especially at a time when machines are taking the jobs of men. I would consider that to be the No. 1 domestic problem which the next President of the United States will have to meet. He will have to use monetary and fiscal tools far more effectively, far more vigorously, than the present administration has been willing to do.

In the last 9 months of 1960, the United States had no economic growth. We lost minus 0.3. This goes to the question of whether the students at the University of Wisconsin will have jobs, whether we will be able to maintain full employment, whether we are going to drag along with 50 percent of our steel capacity unused, as we are today, with 100,000 steelworkers out of work, with our other industries beginning to go part-time because we cannot consume what we are producing.

This is a new problem, entirely different from the kind of problem that Franklin Roosevelt met in the 1930's. But on its solution goes the survival of our free economy and our free system. We need to use our facilities to the utmost. We need the revenues which come from full use of our economy, in order to meet our obligations at home and abroad. We need a strong economy, or gold will continue to flow out of the United States. We need a strong economy if we are going to meet our obligations to the underdeveloped world, to maintain our defenses, to meet our needs in education and health and housing. I consider this to be, tied to the problem of agriculture, which is entirely different, to be the No. 1 domestic problem. the next President will face.

Secondly, how is it possible for the United States and the Soviet Union and France and Britain to come to a conclusion to cease nuclear testing with some worthwhile inspection system? How is it possible for us, who initiated the first atomic advance - how is it possible for us to make a decisive breakthrough in this area? Because of experiments now going on in Western Germany, it appears likely that almost 20 countries will have an atomic capacity by 1965. China, Egypt, Cuba - all the rest of them, all possessing atomic weapons, all possessing a hydrogen capacity perhaps all possessing ballistic missiles, and the means of delivering them.

When we realize that war has been the constant companion of mankind through the ages, we are about to move into a period of history when any country or combination of countries can destroy themselves, their adversaries, and perhaps the human race, all in the next 10 years. And this administration has failed to recognize the decisive nature of what science is doing to our hopes for the future. This administration has had less than 100 people working in the entire national administration on the subject of disarmament. We have gone into every conference unprepared. This administration, a year ago, in order to get a position on disarmament, appointed a lawyer from my own State of Massachusetts, Mr. Coolidge, who had had no previous experience in the field. After 3 months, his report was dismissed and so was he, and a New York lawyer, after 5 weeks of preparation, was sent to head up our mission to the Disarmament Conference. One hundred people working on one of the most important, involved, specialized fields the subject of disarmament, nuclear control. I believe we can do better, and I believe we must do better. [Applause.]

The third new question and the last one I wish to mention goes to the problem of the globe to the south of us. Here in these countries where the average income may be $100 a year, it may be $25 a year, as it is in Libya, in these countries, with the tremendous increasing population, with inadequate resources, in many cases - can these countries make an economic breakthrough under a system of freedom? Or is it necessary for them to follow the example of the Communists, the Chinese, and the Russians? They see Russia, which 40 years ago was the most backward country in Europe, now moving steadily up on the United States. They see China. Ten years ago China and India started from the same economic base, with the same economic problems, and yet China, by methods repugnant to us has be an to move its industrial growth forward at a faster rate than that of India through freedom.

What role can we play? What role can Western Europe play? Does the plan that this administration puts forward really offer hope to Latin America and Africa and Asia? What decision will they make in the next 5 or 10 years as to how they shall mobilize their resources?

This administration has remained almost indifferent to the great challenging problem of the 1950's. Not one Spanish program to all of Latin America; the Soviet Union has 10 times the broadcasts we do to Latin America, the foreign service. We are the 14th country in radio broadcasts to Africa. Even Indonesia has more than we do. There were more students from those countries 10 years ago in the United States than there are today. Guinea asked for 500 teachers last year. We gave them one.

We offered 300 scholarships to the Congo last June, more than we offered to all of Africa the year before. We had more people stationed in Western Germany in 1957 than in all of Africa. Out of a foreign service of 6,000 men and women, 26 are Negroes. I think we can do better, and I believe we are going to have to do better, or otherwise the United States is going to cease to lead.

Mr. Nixon pointed to the United Nations as evidence of our great program. The next day the question came on the admission of Red China. How many African nations voted with us? Not one of the newly admitted nations of Africa voted with us. The only two countries in Africa to vote with us were Liberia and the Union of South Africa. I believe that this administration by its failure to recognize the great questions which disturb our life has demonstrated its unfitness to lead us in the 1960's. I believe that before you can have the answers you must have the questions, and I don't think this administration has recognized the changing and revolutionary nature of the world in which we live; its solutions have been archaic, its proposals have been outdated. It has failed to recognize the change in circumstance in Africa or Latin America or Asia. [Applause.]

Mr. Nixon, speaking in September, said if we had proposed a program of economic aid to Latin America in 1955 Castro might never have happened. Why didn't we do so? The only statement that was made in 1955 was made by Mr. Nixon in Havana when he praised, and I quote him accurately, "The competence and stability of the Batista dictatorship."

These are the questions that you have to determine. Does this record give you confidence for the future? Are the kinds of men that have been appointed to ambassadorships, men who cannot even pronounce, not only the language, but can't even pronounce the name of the head of state, men who have been given ambassadorships as a reward for party contributions, who are sent to sensitive areas, students who have never been given a chance to study, sudden emergency programs put forward of 300 offers to the Congo? Do you know how many Congo students got to the United States? Seven. How many college graduates in the Congo? Twelve. Did we ever show any interest in their problems? Do you know the next part of Africa that will be free? The Portuguese colonies. Do you know how many students are studying in the United States from the Portuguese? None. They are going to become suddenly independent and we will offer them scholarships, as if you can turn out a man or woman as you do an automobile. It takes years. [Applause.]

The spokesmen for this administration spoke for many years about how we lost China. I would like to hear them talk about how India is going to be maintained as a free society. If India should fail in the third 5-year plan, the balance of power in the world would shift against freedom. India has within its borders 35 percent of all the underdeveloped people of the world. They are a free country, with sound economic planning, a chance to succeed, and yet when has Mr. Nixon in this campaign ever talked about a program which would assist India, not only by the United States, but by others who might be interested, particularly in Western Europe, to hold out the hand at the crucial moment? What we need is not hindsight. We need foresight. [Applause.] And we need men and women who will look beyond the next crisis and make a judgment.

Six countries now in Africa, members of the United Nations, have not a single American diplomatic residence in any of them. It took us 8 months to recognize Guinea and send an ambassador there. The Soviet Union took 1 day. And Guinea now votes with the Soviet Union.

I do not suggest that any of these problems are easy. I do not suggest that we have complete answers to any of them. But what I do suggest is that at least we have some concern, some recognition, some idea of the changing nature of our times. The whole problem in Cuba is not a dialogue about Mr. Castro. The whole problem in Cuba is what is going to happen in the rest of Latin America, whose side is going to be successful in those areas, which system offers the hope to these people. Bolivia, where the average annual income is about $100 a person - are they going to be more impressed by Castro and what he says, or are they going to be impressed by us? Franklin Roosevelt impressed them not so much because he poured out American money, but because he was a moving, compassionate figure, moving his own society at home, identifying himself with people around the world who also wish to live in the sun. I believe it is our function and our opportunity and our responsibility in the 1960's to identify ourselves with the cause of freedom, not only with the cause of freedom, but with a better life for these people. [Applause.] Franklin Roosevelt put it in 1936 in accepting his second presidential nomination before 100,000 people, and in that speech he said:

Governments can err, Presidents can 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.

I believe that 4 years of Mr. Nixon would be a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference, and I don't think the world can afford it. [Applause.] Other men who have led that party have tried to remake it and they all failed. Theodore Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, Robert LaFollette, George Norris, and even Nelson Rockefeller before he began to graze contentedly in Mr. Nixon's pasture tried to remake the Republican Party. They all failed. Mr. Nixon basks in the sun. He sends Senator Goldwater to campaign in the South in an old Confederate uniform telling them he does not mean anything he says on civil rights, while Senator Scott of Pennsylvania travels through the North and assures he is with them all the way. What kind of a party is that? What kind of leadership is that? [Applause.]

The Chicago Sun-Times this morning carries an interview with Mr. Nixon's ex-adviser, Murray Chotiner, who advises Mr. Nixon to become the old Mr. Nixon, start hitting again in this campaign. What kind of a country will we have with a candidate who cannot make up his mind whether he is going to be old or new? [Applause.]

I do not run as a candidate who says that party labels are unimportant. The significance of the party is its philosophy and the kind of candidates it puts up for office. I do not have to run with leap-year progressivism, which says every 4 years, "We are for progress" and votes against it in the Congress day in and day out. I run as a Democrat. I run as a believer in progress. [Applause.] I stand in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and in my judgment, in 1960, the people of this country are going to say "Yes" to the 1960's and they are going to start this country moving again. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Fieldhouse, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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