John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, the Little White House, Warm Springs, GA

October 10, 1960

It is a deep privilege to speak here in Warm Springs.

No Democrat - and particularly no Democrat who aspires to be President - can stand on this spot without mingled feelings of awe and gratitude - awe for the great man who lived here, worked here, and died here, for the greatness of his works and the greatness of his soul - and gratitude that he raised a Democratic banner that we can be proud to raise today - a banner that summons all Americans, in every section, in every walk of life, in every race and creed.

Franklin Roosevelt was the champion of little children and the champion of the aged. He understood the needs of the farmer and the worker, the big city and the small town. His heart went out to those who were handicapped as he had been, and to those who were poor as he had never been.

The basic force in all this was not so much his party or his intellect - it was his spirit - a spirit he breathed into our National Government - a spirit he breathed into our party - a spirit which did not die when he died, but must be carried on by those of us who invoke his name today.

It was a spirit of strength and progress - to get America moving. And it was a spirit of compassion - not condescension, but compassion.

It was the compassion of a man who had suffered deeply himself and who, through his own ordeal, had learned to identify himself with the suffering of others - the man who said, in accepting his second nomination in 1936:

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

Franklin Roosevelt knew who had been ignored and omitted by 12 years of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. And he set about to help them - to remember the forgotten man, to light the farms, to help the aged, to protect the worker, to open new doors to the Negro, to care for the needs of millions of Americans in a thousand different ways.

Those who had previously held a monopoly on the Government's attention denounced the New Deal as the road to socialism and bankruptcy. They are still making those charges today. But can anyone here really imagine an America without the New Deal? Can anyone imagine this Nation without social security, without unemployment compensation and old-age assistance, without minimum wages and maximum working hours, without Federal guarantees of collective bargaining, without regulation of security issues and stock exchanges, without the guarantee of bank deposits, without protection for our farmers?

There were many conferences on all these programs held here at Warm Springs. President Roosevelt used to talk about the "spirit of Warm Springs * * * the general feeling that we are all part of a family." It was here, for example, that the REA was born - because it was here that he discovered his electric bill was four times as large as his bill at Hyde Park - and he realized that rural areas would never get adequate low-cost electricity unless the Federal Government provided some leadership.

Franklin Roosevelt did not believe Government was the answer to everything. None of us attaches any magic to dollars that go to Washington and return, if local and private efforts can do the job. The conquest of polio - one of F.D.R.'s fondest dreams - is a vivid testimonial of the work which private research and foundations can do, backed by Federal funds only where necessary.

But here in Warm Springs, he told a press conference in 1934 that he was going to continue his fight to help the needy people of this country " * * * for the very simple reason that if the Government does not do it nobody else will or can." And even in the field of health, Franklin Roosevelt was not afraid to pioneer in governmental efforts wherever he found "nobody else will or can.' He cared greatly about what he once called "the war against the crippling of our men and women and, especially, of children."

Illness is a national problem. It recognizes no barriers of race or religion or region, and its conquest must be a national effort benefiting all Americans - for the protections of our Government in every field must be extended without regard to artificial distinctions, and full participation in our national life must be open to all.

As I have said in every part of the country, this Nation - if it is to be true to its ideals and obligations - must assure every citizen full protection of his constitutional rights and his equal opportunity to participate with every other American in every phase of our national life.

Franklin Roosevelt's record in the advancement of health was tremendous. But he would not be content if he felt our concern today was merely in preserving his accomplishments. F.D.R. was never a man to rest on the record of the past. He had served in the administration of Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom. But he knew in 1932 that the New Freedom was no longer enough - and he moved boldly to the New Deal. And so must we, in 1960, recognize that there are problems which were not solved or not even contemplated by the New Deal - and we must boldly move forward to meet the needs of 1960's new frontiers.

In no area is progress more vitally needed than the area of health. The cost of medical care has skyrocketed beyond the reach of many citizens, particularly our older citizens - and yet the present administration requires them to take a "pauper's oath" before they can receive assistance. There are too few doctors, too few nurses, and too few hospitals. Too few of our handicapped are being rehabilitated - too many medical research projects are financially starved - too many rivers are dangerously polluted. Drugs are too expensive - insurance plans are too limited.

Unfortunately these problems have been neglected for 8 years by a party "frozen in the ice of its own indifference." It's election year now - and their candidate has come out with a grand new "program to combat disease in the 1960's." But where was he in the 1950's - when his party cut back our efforts for TB control, for water-pollution control, for new hospitals, for medical research, for medical education, for cancer research, and for services to crippled children? Whatever progress was made in this field was made by a Democratic Congress over the foot-dragging opposition of the Republican Party. For him to boast now of the increase in funds for medical research-funds his party opposed all the way - is the height of election-year hypocrisy.

But more important than the past is the question: What do we do now? Anyone who can visit Warm Springs, as I have, will be reminded that every year we delay will cause unnecessary suffering. I propose for immediate action the following program for the new frontiers of health:

First, we must provide a more adequate program of medical care for the aged - a system which enables a man, during his working days, to set aside in a trust fund the cost of health insurance after retirement, so he can receive care then as a matter of right, not charity - without burdening his children and without taking a humiliating "pauper's oath."

Second, we must provide Federal grants for the construction, expansion, and modernization of medical schools, dental schools, and schools of public health. We are graduating only 7,500 doctors a year in the entire country - our hospitals and other facilities are under-staffed - most doctors' offices are overcrowded - and even to maintain the present ratio, we shall need nearly half again as many by 1975. This will require at least 20 new schools as well as expanding present facilities - and had the Republicans not blocked this project in 1955, those schools could be training new doctors today.

Third, we must provide loans and scholarships for medical students. There are one-third fewer applicants to our medical schools today than there were in 1950 - even though the need for their services is much greater. The reason is that a medical education has become too expensive for most young people and their parents - nearly $12,000, not counting the years in undergraduate work before and internship or special studies afterward. Only 1 out of 10 has any kind of scholarship - and the average scholarship is only $500. Low-interest loans and fellowships must be made available by the Federal Government - converting them into scholarships for those willing to devote their talents to fighting disease in the underdeveloped nations - for which we need a new World Health Center - and those willing to devote their talents in this country to those rural and other areas with a shocking lack of doctors. In some cities, there is a doctor for every 250 people. In some counties, there is 1 for every 3,000 people. I think we can do better. We can take these steps to get more doctors - and more nurses as well.

Fourth, we must provide grants for renovating our older hospitals. The Hill-Burton Act has been responsible for the construction of new hospitals with some 200,000 beds. Every year the Republicans try to cut this appropriation back-and every year the Democrats increase it-70 percent more than the Republicans wanted in the last 3 years. But new hospitals are not enough. Most of our older cities have older hospitals which could be renovated, modernized, and expanded to help meet the load - and grants for this purpose, along with research into improved hospital operation and administration, could bring the cost and the shortage down at the same time.

Fifth, we must provide long-term grants for increased medical research, including basic research. What has already been accomplished in polio and TB shows what might soon be accomplished for cancer, mental illness, arteriosclerosis, and new ways of prolonging man's productive days instead of just prolonging his life. All of this and more is underway. I am proud that we have resisted each year the Republican attempts to cut back medical research from the levels recommended by experts. I am proud to have sponsored the increase in basic research - less dramatic but equally needed - and the new U.S. Medical Library, which saves time, money and suffering by helping coordinate research all over the country. But now we must do more - not only more money, but longer commitments so that experiments can be planned and equipment bought.

Sixth and finally, we must expand our efforts for rehabilitation. We see here what can be done. But the tragic fact of the matter is that for the Nation as a whole, very little is being done. Two million handicapped or disabled people in America today could be rehabilitated if the funds and services were available - but instead we are providing for 88,000. We can do better - we must do better - if we are to live up to "the spirit of Warm Springs."

This is not a program for socialized medicine - it is a program to prevent socialized medicine, by meeting our critical needs in a manner consistent with our obligation to freedom and the doctor's obligation to humanity. In meeting these problems - as in meeting all the problems that press in upon us in the sixties, problems of falling farm income, unemployment, race relations, housing, education, and, above all, problems of war and peace - our task is not light. Our responsibilities are many. Our crities will be strong.

But I ask you to remember that, here at Warm Springs, they found among Franklin Roosevelt's papers a speech he had written but never delivered - and it closed with these words:

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, the Little White House, Warm Springs, GA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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