John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Multnomah Hotel, Portland, OR

September 07, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Brown Representative Whelan, Gordon Mrs. Neuberger, Mrs. Price, Mr. Sweetland, "Scoop" Jackson, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my appreciation to George Brown and to the members of this organization for your kindness in having this dinner tonight. I think this is an important election, and I think the State of Oregon is heavily involved. You have a chance which is not given, I think, to many States, to continue in office a distinguished name, borne by two distinguished people. I refer, of course, to your next U.S. Senator, Senator Neuberger. [Applause.] And I am confident that the people of this congressional district will send back to the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority Mrs. Green, whose perhaps least distinction has been that she has been the chairman of my campaign, but whose greatest distinction has been won in the Halls of Congress on behalf of the interests of this country. [Applause.]

I am delighted that we have here tonight our friends from Brazil. They inhabit a beautiful country which I visited, and I am delighted that they are coming here tonight, and traveling through the United States to see the American labor movement at work. I have served on the Labor Committees of the Congress now for 14 years, and I serve now as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor of the Senate. During that time, I think it can be said that the labor movement has concerned itself not only with the interest of its members, but also with the general public interest. Labor has identified itself with the fight for aid for education, with the fight for medical care for the aged under social security, with the fight for housing, the fight for a better system of social justice in this country, and for a stronger foreign policy abroad. They have been concerned with what concerns our country. Therefore I am delighted that I have received the endorsement of the AFL-CIO in this election. [Applause.]

This is an important election because it comes at a most important time in the life of our country. I think the August session of the Congress offered in my opinion a very clear example of how unfortunate it would be to have 4 more years of a divided government with neither party bearing responsibility and both parties sharing power. After passing in the U.S. Senate a bill providing for $l.25 minimum wage, we failed in the conference to secure the passage of that bill. After passing in the Senate of the United States a bill for aid for education, and a bill for aid for housing, we failed to get both of those bills to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote, and every Republican member of the Rules Committee of the House voted against them going to the floor of the House of Representatives. We failed to secure passage of a bill connected with the Forand bill, tying medical care for the aged to social security. Instead of the bill that was finally passed we received the support of one Republican Senator, Senator Case of New Jersey, and we were threatened by a Presidential veto.

There is not any doubt in my mind that our system of checks and balances, which I strongly support, cannot work effectively unless the House, the Senate, and the Presidency are working together for the general interest. I think that we can elect a Democratic President, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, and I think when that is done this country can begin to move again, and we will serve not only the interest of your members, but also the interest of the public at large.

I came here tonight because I want your support in this campaign. I want the support of the American labor movement and the members of their families, and I want to make it very clear that I want the support of all of organized labor. I have had my disagreements with Mr. Hoffa and they continue, and I have had my disagreements with Mr. Bridges and they continue. But I want the support, if I can get it, of the members of the Teamsters Union and the Longshoremen's Union, because I believe that the things we can work for in the Congress are in the interest of the members of those unions, even though I may not agree with those that head it up. My quarrel with them may continue. But I want to make it very clear that I welcome the support of the members of those two unions.

Now let me say in conclusion that this is going to be a very difficult and intense election. I think there are real issues at stake here which affect the welfare of the people of this State as well as the welfare of the people of this country. You who work in organized labor are basically concerned with one great question, and that is the maintenance of full employment in the United States. If your people can find work at decent wages, then your interests are protected, and that, in my opinion, must be a basic policy for the Government and for the free enterprise system here in this country, to make sure that everyone who wants to find a job can find one. Whether they work in organized labor or whether they are teachers or doctors or nurses, whatever they may be, the chance to work at decent wages must be a basic, fundamental premise upon which our society must be based. I think this country is going to have to move ahead. Last year we had the lowest rates of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world. One million five hundred thousand people will come into the labor movement every year in the 1960's and are going to have to find a job, and they come into the labor market at the very same time when automation is revolutionizing employment. You have seen it in your own city of Portland here. Therefore to find work for these people, to make sure that machines make life easier, instead of displacing men and women, I think it is going to be a basic domestic problem for the next administration, regardless of whether it is Republican or Democrat. This is a serious problem that faces us all. It affects you directly. You live with it. But only by developing economic policies which encourage the growth of the United States can we hope to maintain full employment in the United States. We had a recession in 1954, we had a recession in 1948, we have a plateau today, which may lead to some difficulties in 1961, unless we can get the economy of the United States moving at the kind of growth which we see not just in the Soviet Union, but which we see in Germany and France and England. All of those countries pretty nearly doubled the economic growth of the United States last year. So these are all matters which I think are extremely complicated.

In many ways they move beyond the problems which the New Deal and the Fair Deal faced in their days. They are new problems that require new solutions, and I think that the labor movement has a great role to play. So I come here tonight and ask your help. I am most grateful to Senator Morse for his wire. He and I worked closely together in the Congress in this last session to secure the passage of a bill providing $1.25 minimum wage. We failed, but I think that we have a chance in this campaign to discuss these issues, to discuss our failures and the reasons for them, and go to the people and ask them to make a decision, ask them to give us a mandate to move this country ahead on all of the great fronts which are traditional, I think, in the Democratic Party.

I run for office with the recognition that in this century the great Presidents in many cases have been Democratic Presidents, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman, and I think they have demonstrated what can be done, and I think we can do it in the 1960's. Thank you. [Applause.]

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

Simple Search of Our Archives