John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Oakland, CA, Civic Auditorium - (Advance Release Text)

September 08, 1960

This is a great rally. Ours is a great party. You won a great victory 2 years ago here in California, and this State is going to lead the way to another great victory exactly 2 months from tonight.

Pat Brown, working with a Democratic legislature, has written human rights into California law - broader unemployment compensation. More help for the aged and needy. And a guarantee of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, creed, or color.

In the next 4 years a Democratic President, working with a Democratic Congress, will write human rights into Federal law.

Two months from tonight the votes will be counted. The people will have made their choice and I want to emphasize that it is not merely a choice between two men. It is a choice between two parties. And I take our party's case to the people - because for 40 years ours is the party that has cared about the people and their needs - and I think the people know it.

Forty years ago there was a Democratic President in the White House - Woodrow Wilson, champion of the child labor laws.

Twenty-seven years ago there was another Democratic President in the White House - Franklin Roosevelt, friend of the forgotten man.

Fifteen years ago Harry Truman was in the White House, fighting for civil rights.

Children, the jobless, minority rights - that is the story of human progress in our time - and that is the story of the Democratic Party.

But the story of the Republican Party's a different kind of story. And the Republican Party which we face this November is the same party we have always opposed. There is no new Republican Party - and no old Republican Party - there is only the same Republican Party which, for half a century, has opposed every single progressive measure which has been designed to improve human welfare and reduce human misery.

This is the party which opposed the introduction of social security - and then ran a campaign to repeal it. This is the party which opposed adequate workmen's compensation - adequate minimum wages - and adequate limitations on the hours of labor. This is the party which fought against housing programs, against school programs, and against food distribution programs. This is the party that opposed REA, TVA, and farm price support. This is the party that tried to block the New Deal - that tried to halt the Fair Deal - and that is trying to keep America from crossing the New Frontier. But they have never succeeded in the past - and with help they will not succeed in 1960.

And if the American people needed any reminder of this history - they have received this reminder during the past 8 years. For in the past 8 years the Republican Party has not proposed one single constructive new program to increase the welfare of the American people - not one new move of benefit to all the people, or those who need it most - and they have hampered, opposed, and obstructed every Democratic effort to deal with our urgent needs.

Although there are 4 million unemployed workers in this country - forced to get by on an average unemployment compensation check of $31 a week - the Republican Party has blocked all Democratic efforts to modernize and extend our system of unemployment compensation.

Although 5 million Americans must struggle for survival on Government surplus foods consisting of less than $10 a month worth of rice, flour, cornmeal and dried eggs for a family of four - the Republicans have refused to put into operation an expanded food distribution program voted by a Democratic Congress. And in West Virginia I saw the hunger, the malnutrition, and the despair which this refusal has brought about.

Although we have 130,000 fewer classrooms than we need - although our teachers are underpaid and our schools understaffed - the Republicans have blocked every Democratic effort to provide the assistance that would give us the educational system worthy of a great nation.

Although 15 million Americans are forced to live in substandard dwellings - the Republican Party has adopted policies which have slowed down private housing - and consistently blocked Democratic efforts to enact programs to clear our slums, renew our cities, and provide decent homes for Americans of low and moderate incomes.

And finally, although 9 million Americans over the age of 65 receive incomes of less than $20 a week - and 3 million more receive incomes of less than $40 a week - amounts on which they cannot afford their higher medical bills - the Republican Party, only 2 weeks ago, blocked our efforts to provide medical care for the aged under social security.

Some people say that this last brief session of the Congress was a handicap to the Democratic Party - and it is true that the Republicans blocked our efforts on every major front. But that session was an education to the American people - it taught them that if they want to have, among other urgent items, decent medical care for our older citizens they are only going to get it under the leadership of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic bill embodied Democratic principles. We wanted our older citizens to receive help in meeting their staggering medical bills without making them take a pauper's oath - without forcing them to go on relief - and without requiring them to be dependent upon the annual appropriations of Congress and 50 State legislative bodies. We wanted them to receive that kind of help because they deserved it - because it was a right they had earned, not charity they were being given - and we wanted a program based on the pay-as-you-go social insurance principles of the social security system.

The Republicans defeated this bill. They told us about States' rights. They told us about freedom of choice, but they did not tell us what any of these things had to do with our bill - and they did not explain what they were going to do for our older citizens.

It is time for action, not talk. Next January we will have that action and that is why I am glad to make medical care for the aged a top priority issue in this campaign.

This is the Republican record - a record of neglect and indifference - the record of a party, to quote Franklin Roosevelt, that is "frozen in the ice of its own indifference." And this is the record which the people of Oakland - and all the people of America - are going to reject in this election.

For today America needs the Democratic Party. And so long as there is one child without a decent diet or a decent school - so long as there is one family without a decent home - so long as there is one able-bodied American without a decent standard of living - so long as there is one retired American without dignity and hope - then so long will America need the Democratic Party.

First, America needs the Democratic Party because we intend to see to it that every older American is protected against the ravages of disease and disability through a system of social security insurance.

But we will do more than aid our older citizens. We will also ask their aid. The New Frontier is not only for the young. If we are to meet its great challenges and opportunities we need the wisdom, the skill, an the experience of our older citizens. We need their help and their guidance in building a better America, and I will ask them for that help and that guidance.

Secondly, America needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party intends to use the full legal and moral authority of the Federal Government - including in particular the Presidency itself - to put an end to racial and religious discrimination in every area of our national life, so that every American has the same right as every other American to go to school, to get a job, to vote to buy a house, to use any public facility, and to sit down at any public lunch counter. For we believe in the right of every American to stand up for his rights - even if to do so, he has to sit down for them.

Third, America needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party intends to help the States build classrooms and pay for the teachers which are necessary if we are to have an educational system second to none. And America cannot afford schools which are second to anyone.

Fourth, America needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party intends to wipe out the slums which mar our great cities - and help provide a decent home for the millions of Americans who today are denied an adequate shelter in which to raise their families. The last two Democratic housing bills were vetoed - but the Democratic housing bill of 1961 will become the law of the land.

Fifth, America needs the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party intends to make sure that every able-bodied American can maintain at least a minimum standard of living while he looks for a job - through increased food surplus distribution. And we also intend to make sure that every able-bodied American has a job to look for by adopting programs to aid depressed areas, increase our economic growth, and add the new industries and the new jobs which a growing population demands.

Franklin Roosevelt once reminded us that "we cannot be content - if some fraction of our people - whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth - is ill-fed, ill-clothed ill-housed, and insecure." And despite today's vital needs the Republican Party has been a contented party - a satisfied party - but we Democrats are not content. Ours is a restless party, an action party, a party which is determined to begin moving - again - and to put America on the move.

One final word: We live in a tumultuous world, a world of change and challenge. This may be the most important election in our lifetime.

From Cuba to the Congo, from the Middle East to Formosa Strait, the earth is trembling.

Only a party that understands human needs at home can understand the rising hopes of peoples overseas - and help them peaceably to find their way to freedom. Only a party that acts on behalf of the people at home can deserve leadership around the world. Only a party that believes in the future at home can help win the hearts of people who have broken with the past.

That task will require vision and leadership and sacrifice. And I am here to ask such an effort of you - and to remind you of the Biblical injunction - "Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand, from thy needy brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him."

We in the Democratic Party have not hardened our hearts - we will reach out a helping hand to those in need - and we will continue the struggle until poverty and injustice and hunger are wiped out from the face of this great rich land forever.

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Oakland, CA, Civic Auditorium - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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