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Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Madison Square Garden, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, New York, NY

October 21, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mayor Wagner, Mrs. Wagner, Harry Van Arsdale, your distinguished president, Mr. Freeman, Joe Keenan, Jeremiah Sullivan, ladies and gentlemen, I was glad to accept your invitation to come here for two or three reasons. In the first place, after 14 years on the Labor Committee, I knew a good deal about the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. I know a good deal about this union. I know a good deal about its leadership. I know what it has stood for. I know what its contribution has been. Therefore, I was delighted to accept the invitation to come here tonight and join you on this occasion. [Applause.]

Secondly, at the time that I was engaged in a hard fight in the West Virginia primary, when the issue was greatly in doubt, your distinguished president, Gordon Freeman, issued a statement in my behalf, one of the few people who did it, and, therefore, that gives me another reason for being here tonight. Joe Keenan, who has been your secretary, has been traveling with me as my assistant on labor matters in this campaign for many months. Harry Van Arsdale was a supporter of mine at the Democratic Convention. So I feel tonight that I am among friends. [Applause.]

This union has the responsibility to its members, to the community at large, and by joining together you work to protect the interest of your members, and you have and have had in your history a sense of responsibility to the public interest. I run for the office of the Presidency because I believe that only a national leadership which attempts to build our country, which attempts to build our economy, which attempts to move our country forward, to strengthen our position here at home, and abroad - that is the only kind of leadership that America needs and deserves in the 1960's. [Applause.]

This issue which divides Mr. Nixon and myself, which divides the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, has divided us through many years of our history. It divided the country in l932, and the American people choose progress. It divided the country in 1912, and the American people chose the New Freedom and Woodrow Wilson. The Repubiclan Party has been the party of the status quo. It has opposed most of the pieces of progressive legislation which now are generally accepted as being useful, useful to the public interest, but which were fought tooth and nail through the 1930's and 1940's. Now we come forward with new programs and new solutions to new problems. But I do not know that this administration has given us leadership, I don't think this administration has set before the country the unfinished business of our society. The last 9 months of thisyear - do you know what the economic growth of the United States is? And that goes to the question of whether you are going to have jobs and your children have jobs. It was minus 0.3 percent. The lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world. We are going to have to find 25,000 new jobs a week every week for the next 10 years. We are going to have to do that at a time when machines are taking the place of men. One machine - coal, steel, automobiles, paper, even in your business - 1 machine can take the job of 5 or 10 men. What happens to those 5 or 10 men? Unless our economy is moving ahead, and this is the central domestic responsibility of the next administration, unless our economy is moving ahead, you are going to have a gradual slackening of people working, and instead of there being 4 million, it will be more and more.

I think this is not an easy problem. I don't run for the Presidency saying that these problems are easy or the solutions are readily available. But I do say we can move off dead center. I do say that we have to bring people to Washington who are concerned with the public interest, who can look forward over the horizons of experience at home and abroad and give this country leadership. And this fight is a continuing one. In 1935, 90 percent of the Republicans voted against social security. In 1937 and 1938, 90 percent of the Republicans voted against the 25-cent minimum wage. This summer, when we tried to improve the standards of social security by providing medical care for the aged tied to social security, again the great majority of the Republicans, over 90 percent, voted against medical care for the aged tied to social security. Eighty percent of the members of the House of Representatives who are Republicans voted against the $1.25 minimum wage, $50 a week for a 40-hour week for an industry, a business, that makes more than a million dollars a year. How can anybody live on it? No Member of the Congress could. I believe that we can do better.

I come tonight and ask your help. I don't say this is an easy campaign. I don't say the problems that the next President will face are easy. But I believe that we have a great country, and I believe it is incumbent upon us to use our human and material resources to the fullest. We are the defenders of freedom. If we fail, if we stand still, if we give the impression that our brightest days are in the past, then it affects not only us, but all those who look to us for leadership. So I come here and stand as the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. I stand where in this century stood Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. [Applause.] Mr. Nixon stands in this century where McKinley stood and Harding and Coolidge and Landon and Dewey. And I believe the choice is clear. I believe in 1960 the American people are going to say, "Yes." I believe that they are tired of standing still. I believe this country is about to begin another great movement forward, and I come here tonight and ask your help in this effort. [Applause.]

I want the people of the world to know, those who live in the world south of us, I want those who live behind the Iron Curtain to know, that here in this country a new and vital leadership has taken over, a society which is determined to move ahead, a society which is determined to identify itself with the aspirations of people everywhere to be free, to live in dignity, to enjoy the rights which freedom gives them.

I come here tonight and ask you to join us in this effort to build a stronger country. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Madison Square Garden, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, New York, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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