John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Portland, Maine, Portland Stadium

September 02, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Miss Cormier, Frank Coffin, Jim Oliver, John Donovan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to Ed Muskie, my friend and colleague in the U.S. Senate, and I am delighted that I have had a chance to come here in this State on the opening day of a long campaign. As you probably may have heard, we leave tomorrow at 9 o'clock to speak at Anchorage at a dinner there, at 8 o'clock tomorrow evening, and then come back on Sunday night and go to Detroit. I suppose it took about a year and a half to 2 years to go to Alaska a few short years ago. But you can go to Alaska now in the space of a day, almost as fast as the sun. It is one more dramatic indication of the kind of world in which we live, the changing face of this world and the changing face of our country.

My grandfather and my mother spent many summers of their life within a short radius of this city in Old Orchard Beach. My father and mother came to this State on their honeymoon. I know Maine well because I live in Massachusetts. [Laughter.] It is not so different there; it is not so bad in Massachusetts. [Laughter.] I want some of you to go to Boston sometime and see what it is like.

I sit with Ed Muskie and I sit across, in the Congress, from Frank Coffin and from your Distinguished Congressman. Actually, as you know, the Constitution of the United States provided that the duty of the Senators should be confined to approving treaties and approving presidential appointments. But the Constitution of the United States gave great authority to Members of the House of Representatives, and particularly two authorities. One to raise taxes and the other to spend your money. That is what Frank Coffin has been doing for the last 2 years. [Laughter.] And if you have any complaints, don't take them to Ed Muskie or myself, but talk to Jim Oliver and Frank Coffin and all the rest of them that have been doing that. [Laughter.]

In any case, he has done a good job. He is the kind of young leader which our party needs. But more important than that - which our country needs. We cannot possibly afford to waste the talent that we have. Therefore, I am confident, and I say this as a fellow New Englander who is concerned that here in the oldest section of the United States, that we, too, should move ahead. I am confident that this State will give him a ringing endorsement as their Governor, and that you will send to the U.S. Senate a distinguished Senator in Lucia Cormier.

I sat in the U.S. Senate and saw our efforts to obtain medical care for the aged on social security fail by five votes in the U.S. Senate two weeks ago. If Miss Cormier had been a member of that body, she would have voted with us and we would have needed only four more votes. A Senator's voice is important. Decisions hang on the judgment of a few people. The contests are close, and, therefore, I urge this State to send her to Washington to speak with a voice of progress and vigor from an old section of the United States. And Jim Oliver and Dave Roberts and John Donovan to sit there in the House of Representatives and speak for Maine.

This is an important election. The last Democratic President of the United States was Franklin Pierce from the State of New Hampshire, from this section of the country. It took him 35 ballots to be nominated and he accepted reluctantly. It didn't happen that way in Los Angeles. I ran for the office of the Presidency after 14 years in the house of Representatives and the Senate because I have come to realize more than ever that this is the great office, that the power that the Constitution gives the President, the power and the responsibility which the force of events have thrust upon the President, makes this the center of action, makes this the mainspring, the wellspring, of the American system. Only the President speaks for the United States. I speak for Massachusetts. And Ed Muskie speaks for Maine. And Clair Engle speaks for California. But the President of the United States speaks for Maine and Massachusetts and California and Hawaii and Alaska. And he speaks not only for the United States, but he speaks for all those who desire to be free, who are willing to bear the burdens of freedom, who are willing to meet its responsibilities, who recognize that freedom is not license, but, instead, places a heavier burden upon us than any other political system.

This is an important election, as Ed Muskie said. I come here to Maine as a neighbor, but I don't come here saying that if I am elected that my only interest is going to be the protection of New England. That isn't what New England wants in a President. They want someone who understands this section and its needs, but they also want someone who will speak for the country in a difficult and trying period.

Demosthenes, when he was trying to rally the Athenians against Philip of Macedonia, said that "If you analyze it correctly, you will conclude that our critical situation is chiefly due to men who try to please the citizens rather than to tell them what they need to hear."

I hope that that will not be said about any Democratic candidate for any office, from the lowest office in the county to the President of the United States. I don't run for the office of the Presidency to tell you what you want to hear. I run for the office of the Presidency because in a dangerous time we need to be told what we must do if we are going to maintain our freedom and the freedom of those who depend upon us.

A well-known and distinguished Republican once said, "I am a liberal abroad and a conservative at home." I could not disagree more. You cannot possibly separate the world around us and carry out one set of policies there, and here in the United States drag down our efforts to move ahead.

The two Presidents of the United States in this century who had the most vigorous and vital foreign policy were Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and the reason for it was because the 14 points of Woodrow Wilson were directly related to his new freedom and the Four Freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt were directly related to the idealistic aspirations of the New Deal. The effort to make a better life for people in our own country reflected itself around the world.

You cannot be successful abroad unless you are successful at home because every problem that you have here in the United States has its implications abroad. If you have a bad and weak school system in this country, with poorly paid teachers, then you do not educate a child, and when that child is not educated you can never get it hack. He has lost his chance. And the Soviet Union works night and day to turn out the best educated citizens they can get in the disciplines of science, mathematics, and engineering.

Every time we waste our food in a hungry world here in this country, that affects the foreign policy and the security of the United States. Every time we deny to one of our citizens the right of equality of opportunity before the law, the right to send their children to schools on the basis of equality, so much weaker are we in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where we are a white minority in a colored world.

I don't hold the view at all that we can isolate ourselves into a system, while around the world we attempt to carry on the principles of the American Revolution. They are intermixed. If we are successful here, if we are moving ahead with a dynamic economy, then we shall be successful abroad.

Do you think it is any accident that the decline of American prestige relative to that of the Communist world takes places at a time when the United States had last year the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world?

I visited the Soviet Union in 1939. The Soviet Union was isolated, with countries hostile to her on every boundary. Today, 21 years later, China, Eastern Europe, her influence in the Middle East which has been an object of Russian policy for 300 years - you cannot possibly be satisfied that the power and influence of the United States is increasing relatively as fast as that of the Sino-Soviet bloc, and you do not have to look 90 miles beyond the coast of the United States if you think different.

I visited Havana 8 years ago and I was informed that the American Ambassador was the second most influential man in Cuba. He is not today. He cannot even get to see the Foreign Minister's assistant. This is the problem that we face in 1960.

What shall we do in this country? What shall we do around the world to reverse the trend of history, to take those actions here in this country and throughout the globe that shall make people feel that in the year of 1961 the American giant began to stir again, the great American boiler began to fire up again, this country began to move ahead again?

Those who live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America began to wonder what America was going to do and not merely what the Soviet Union was doing or the Chinese Communists. And the young men and women, those who are students, those who teach them, those who represent the intellectual vitality of these countries, began to look to the United States as a dynamic country which carried with it a hope for a better life for people all over the world.

Should we be astonished at what is happening in the Congo today when they have less than a handful, probably less than 14, college graduates in the whole country? When there is no officer who is a Negro who is native in any of their armed forces? Do you think that a country can manage a system as sensitive as democracy when it does not have the chance to educate its people ?

In Laos, Cambodia, the Congo, and Cuba we have seen in the last few years the tide turn against us. But I do not concern myself with the feeling that the decline of the United States has set in. This is a great country. It represents the best system of government there is. It represents in a real sense the kind of system that everyone wants to live under because it fits a basic aspiration of human beings, to live in an independent nation in a free way themselves.

We have the best system. We have every chance. We have the most power. We can, I believe, be a decisive influence in a difficult and trying period.

I ask your support in this campaign. This is not a contest merely between the Vice President and myself. This is a contest between all of us who believe that the future belongs to the United States. All of the men and women of talent and industry and interest and vitality who wish to serve this country, who wish to play a part in its life, I ask the support of all of you in this campaign in the State of Maine. I ask the support of all of those who believe that this country can lead the world and who believes that this country is ready to move again.

Thank you.

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

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