John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, High School Auditorium, Pocatello, Idaho

September 06, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Church, State officers, I want to express my appreciation to you for your generous reception at 4:30 in the morning, and also 9 :30. I must say that I was not surprised that Frank Church told me this morning that one-third, pretty near, of the people who had gone to Alaska had come from the State of Idaho, when I saw 100 people at the airport at 4:30 in the morning. Back East the Democrats go to bed about 9 o'clock regardless of what happens, so I was very impressed and my appreciation goes to all. [Laughter.] I have been traveling around the United States for the last few days since the close of Congress, really beginning the Democratic campaign of 1960. In that campaign, I have been discussing some of the problems which the United States faces, and also some of the opportunities which I have included under the general heading of the New Frontier, some of the opportunities which we face as a country. I do not take a depressed view of the future of the United States. I think our potential is unlimited, because the combination of an energetic people, of a free society, occupying a happy land, I think makes us an unbeatable combination for the future.

I look to the future of the United States with optimism. I regard our function as the minority party, as members of the Democratic Party, to merely offer the American people alternatives which will increase their strength, their prosperity, and their security. We do not travel in the United States and criticize present action because we feel depressed about the future of our country. We travel the United States in this campaign because it is our responsibility to present to the American people alternative courses of action which will make this a stronger and a better place in which to live. The more I travel in this country, the more I see of it, the more optimistic I become. I think the future of the United States is unlimited, and I say that after traveling to Maine on Friday, to the last frontier of Alaska on Saturday, and to the great industrial frontier of Michigan yesterday.

I come today to the frontier of energy, which is symbolized by the vitality which is on the surface in Alaska, and also the energy which is underground in the State of Idaho. [Applause.] I recognize that Idaho is regarded as the potato capital of the world. I was in Aroostook County, Maine, which regards itself as the potato capital of the world. I do not know enough about the rival claims or I know too much about them to make a judgment on which really is the potato capital of the world, except I do believe that it is vitally important for us in this campaign, perhaps not to settle that dispute, but to settle the question of where the capital of the free world is, and that should be Washington, D.C., and will be again. [Applause.]

The great issue which the United States faces in this campaign, of course, is our relation with the Sino-Soviet bloc, how we can live in the same world with them, possessing, as we both do, a hydrogen capacity which could destroy mankind as well as our society, and also maintain our security and the security of the free world. That is the basic issue which is before us as Americans, and as believers in freedom, and it is the solution to this somewhat parochial situation that we must address our energy.

But I also think it is true that we cannot possibly hope to be strong and vigorous in foreign policy, we cannot hope to assert our will against that of the Communists, until we are a strong and vigorous country here at home. I do not accept the view that we can be influential abroad, that we can be a source of leadership abroad, unless we also are a source of leadership here at home. [Applause.]

I think the administrations of Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman prove that point. It is a fact that in those administrations the vitality of the American system was mostly developed, and it has been in those administrations which have stood still at home that we have stood still abroad. Therefore I address myself to domestic matters here in Idaho, but I do so with the realization that they involve our future security throughout the world. I think that the test, of course, of a free society is the kind of leadership it has. The leadership and the support that that leadership can secure, really is essential to the successful working of a free system. A democracy is the most difficult kind of government to operate. It represents the last flowering, really of the human experience. The Communist system really is as old as Egypt, and we represent really the most modern and evolutionary development of the human experience. Therefore, what we need is good leadership, and I think Frank Church is the kind of man which this country needs in a position of leadership. [Applause.]

It was not an accident that he was chosen to keynote the Democratic convention as one of the youngest members of the Senate, as a Member of the Senate who has not served out his first term, and coming from a small State, with few electoral votes. He nevertheless was chosen to express the vision of the Democratic Party at the Democratic convention. That is a testimony not only to Idaho but to Frank Church, and I am delighted with it. [Applause.]

I hope this State will send another Senator to stand beside him in the Senate and speak for progress for this State and for the country, and will send Bob McLaughlin to the U.S. Senate in November. [Applause.]

This last session of the Congress did not fulfill our expectations. One of the reasons was the parliamentary obstruction which the House Rules Committee threw in the way of a successful consideration of bills on education and housing. Both of these are most important issues to the State of Idaho. This State could well use Federal aid for education. It could well use Federal aid for teachers' salaries, and this State's lumber industry could well use a go-ahead signal in the housing industry. But in both of those bills, after they had passed the Senate, members of the House Rules Committee, every Republican member of the Rules Committee, joining with a few Democrats on that committee, in spite of the wishes of the majority of the Democrats on the House Rules Committee, voted against even permitting the Members of the House to vote on housing and education.

Now, you cannot move ahead when a few men block passage. Therefore, I think it is essential if we are going to secure a green light to move ahead, that we send Ralph Harding to speak for this district in the Congress of the United States. [Applause.] I have been in the Congress for 14 years, and if there is any lesson that I have learned in that 14 years, it is that in spite of the fact that the Congress of the United States is one of the three coordinate branches of the Federal Government, equal in all respects to the executive and the judiciary, the fact of the matter is that both by the Constitution and by the pressure of events a President is necessary who will cooperate with that Congress if that Congress is going to be effective. If we appropriate money, the President is not compelled to spend it. If we appropriate $600 million for defense, the President can impound it. If we pass legislation dealing with the minimum wage or medical care for the aged tied to social security, if the President vetoes that bill, his veto can be sustained by one-third of the Senate plus one and/or one-third of the House plus one. Therefore, in order for the Congress, which is today Democratic, to fulfill its commitments as supporters of the Democratic platform it is also necessary to have a President that can work with the Congress and not against it. I run for the Office of the Presidency recognizing that the Presidency is the wellspring of action in the American constitutional system. Only the President speaks for the United States. Frank Church speaks for Idaho, and I speak for Massachusetts and Senator Jackson speaks for Washington. But only the President of the United States speaks for Washington and Idaho and Massachusetts, and only if a President supports action can this country hope to move ahead. You have seen that as it affects the State of Idaho in recent weeks. The decision of the President of the United States to veto the bill which would have brought relief to the lead and zinc mines of the State of Idaho indicated that in spite of the fact that it had passed both the House and the Senate, the President of the United States was able to kill it because of the powers of that Office. I do not say that those powers should be limited. It should be within the jurisdiction of the President and in his competence to veto bills. But I do say that we will move ahead more if a President of the United States shares the views of a Democratic Congress rather than opposes them. [Applause.]

Another bill which I think is of importance, and I was asked about it at the press conference this morning, but I did not know what they were talking about, was, of course, the project which deals with the Burns Creek. I had considered the matter and voted for it twice as part of the effort to finish the Palisades project. Let me make it clear that project has come before the U.S. Senate twice. It deals with a matter of supporting power and irrigation. I supported it on both of those occasions. Unfortunately, in the last days of the last session that bill did not come to the floor of the House of Representatives. I want to make it perfectly clear that if I am elected President or if I serve in the U.S. Senate, that that project will receive my support for the third time. [Applause.]

I don't want to, however, dwell on the past. I want to stress the future, for this election does not really go in the long run to the records of the two parties in past years. The only significance of analyzing the past is that it does give us some key to the future. I think that here in this particular part of Idaho we have one of the keys for the future. That is in the National Reactor Testing Station at Arco. Here is the key to our own military mobility. But it is also a key to the development of the peaceful use of atomic energy, which can make atomic energy not merely a burden for mankind but a blessing. This station is an important output and an important outpost to the new frontier of energy. This Nation can be proud of what is going on at that station. But the Nation should also be concerned about what is not going on at the Arco station. That station is doing an excellent job of testing atomic powerplants and reactors. But if we are moving ahead, if we are going to move ahead with more vision and vigor in this field, Arco today could be testing on an extensive scale advanced reactor concepts for rocket propulsion, space vehicles, and civilian atomic power. If this Nation were moving ahead with more aggressive research and development in this field, the benefits would be felt throughout the West, for in this region alone are more than three-fourths of the free world's known uranium reserves, uranium mines which are now plagued with cutbacks and stretchouts could be tapped to their fall potential. But even more important, that kind of aggressive atomic research and development is needed if this country is going to win the race for peaceful competition. [Applause.]

The harsh facts of the matter are that this Nation today is not moving ahead on the kind of research and development project in atomic energy that we must do if we are going to maintain our position of leadership in this vital field of energy. The National Science Advisory Committee on Mineral Research has also indicated that we are not moving ahead in that field, and they have recommended more intensive research into getting at minerals deep under ground, to find new ways of locating the vast wealth which is underneath the sediment covering the Western States.

Our methods of exploring mineral deposits on or near the surface are no longer sufficient, particularly if we are to compete with foreign producers who work rich ranges of ore. Similarly, our research in the peaceful uses of atomic energy has fallen far short of expectation. This is a matter of particular interest to the people who live in my own section of New England. We have the highest power rates in the United States, nearly twice as high as they are in the Tennessee Valley or in the Northwest United States. Our only hope of maintaining our industry in that old section of the United States, for we lack your hydro resources, is to secure, quickly, atomic energy for peaceful uses. We will be the first section of the United States to use that atomic energy. Therefore, I want to point out once again the interrelationship between the American economy. This is of interest to you because you have the stations and you have the uranium. It is of interest to those of us who live in the East because we can use it first. This is the kind of partnership which the Democratic Party preaches and it is under that kind of partnership that this country will move ahead. [Applause.]

This is an important election because this is a most important time. All of us who read this morning's paper about what goes on in the Congo, or who has read the paper of 2 months ago about what went on in Laos, or has read the papers of the last 2 years about what has been going on in Cuba, know that there is no real balance in the power relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. That balance can be changed by a change in government. If the people of those areas of Latin America and Africa and the Middle East and Asia come to feel that the future belongs to the Communist world, that we are on the way out, that our system, while very nice, is a system which has a definite evolutionary limitation, then, of course, the young and aggressive, and those who are ambitious and searching for power, will begin to make their peace with the Communist world. They will begin to travel in China and Russia. They will begin to exchange visits, students will want to go to school in Czechoslovakia, Eastern Germany, Moscow, and Peiping, and not be so interested in coming to France or England, or the United States. Once they feel that the sun of the West is setting and that the sun of the East is rising, that we are unable to solve our problems, that the Communists who have moved from a room in Switzerland in the days before World War I into dominating great reaches of the globe and great masses of the population are still expanding their power outward, then quite obviously the power balance be gins to shift against us.

It may not require military intervention. It may be a long, slow process like the rotting of a great tree inside, which ultimately blows over from the first small wind that passes, and then we all say, "What happened? We never thought that tree would fall."

That is what we have to be concerned about, to make sure that the people of the world feel that this system of ours has endless vitality, that we are moving ahead, that we are solving our problems, that they can look to us for leadership in the future, that the balance of power is shifting to us, not to the Communists. That, I think, is the basic issue of this campaign.

I mentioned before the fact, and some of you may have seen it, that a Gallup poll was taken in 10 countries scattered around the world, asking those people which country they thought would be first in 1970, militarily and scientifically. A majority in both categories in the 10 countries felt that by the year 1970 the Soviet Union would be first, militarily and scientifically. They have seen the Soviet Union first in space; they have seen it first around the moon, and first around the sun. They see them turning out more engineers and scientists than we do. They see them making gains in Cuba and the Congo, Laos, in the last years. They realize that in January or February, India, which represents a great hope for freedom, may be facing an economic crisis. They see uncertainty in other countries. They see the Soviet Union having a foothold in the Middle East, which has been an object of Russian policy for two or three hundred years, and they come to the conclusion that the Soviet tide is rising and ours is ebbing. I think it is up to us to reverse that point. I think it is up to us to demonstrate that this is a great country, representing the greatest form of government, but that freedom and strength go hand in hand, and are not contradictory. I ask your help in this election. I think we can win this election. [Applause.] And I think then that this country will begin to move again, and that the title of citizen of the United States will once again be the proudest boast of any people. This country is a great country. I think it can be greater. This State is a great State, but I think it can be greater. It is with that optimism and that confidence that I think we should move again in this State and country. I ask your help. I am convinced that with it we can win. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, High School Auditorium, Pocatello, Idaho Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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