John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Wittenberg College Stadium, Springfield, Ohio

October 17, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Doctor, Governor Di Salle, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Sullivan, distinguished guests, I am very grateful to your president for his warm welcome. This is an old university and has sheltered many ideas in its search for the truth, and today it shelters the Democratic candidate, and I hope with some effect. I come here today to ask you to join us in this campaign, with full recognition that as your president said, I seek the office of the Presidency in the most difficult and dangerous time in the life of our country, and I think it appropriate that I should bring this campaign to the campus of this distinguished university for two reasons: First, because the students who study here have the longest investment in life in our country. Secondly, because this university stands for freedom, for intellectual freedom, for the search for the truth, and we are all engaged in that great endeavor, and perhaps lastly because if this country is going to not only survive, to endure, but to prevail, at least its system, then there must be the closest cooperation between our universities and our politicians, between our academicians and intellectuals and those who guide our governmental life.

During the 19th century, America had many distinguished Senators, Presidents, Congressmen. Many of them have come down as the most celebrated political figures in the history of our country: Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, all the rest. But it is an interesting fact that most of these men dealt in their whole entire political life, which in the case of Calhoun, Clay, and Webster stretched over a period of 40 years, dealt with only four or five major problems: tariffs, the development of the West, the admission of new States, the role of slavery, the ending of slavery, our relations with England, our relations with France. It occupied them from the first day they went into politics until in the case of Webster he died 40 years later.

Now the problems swarm across the desk of the political leaders of this country: monetary and fiscal policy, the control of outer space, disarmament, nuclear cessations, control of agricultural surpluses, control of business cycles, automation, stimulation of our economy, the extension of the franchise to our citizens, the extension of our influence around the world, the struggle for a better world, the struggle for a stronger America, and unless there is the most intimate association between those who look to the far horizons and those who deal with our daily problems, then quite obviously we shall not pass through these stormy times with success, so I am delighted to come here today. I think it is appropriate we bring this campaign here. I hope the Republicans do likewise. And I hope whichever candidate is successful that the association will endure.

Prince Bismarck once said that one-third of the students of German universities broke down from overwork, another third broke down from dissipation, and the other third ruled Germany. I do not know which third of the student body of Wittenberg is here today, but I am confident I am talking to the future rulers of America in the sense that all educated citizens participate in government, and I am also pleased to see that there are students in this college who are availing themselves of the right of petition as expressed in the American Constitution, a petition for a most important cause, the extension of the franchise to all Americans. I join you in that effort. [Applause.]

Many Americans sometimes point out to those who criticize us from abroad that this is a great country, that we have a free system, that we are moving steadily forward in the implementation of our ideals, and then they are disappointed that they are not more impressed abroad. I think the reason is that we have set an extremely high standard for ourselves. We have set a higher standard than any other country, really, than any other system. The promise of the Declaration of Independeuc, the promise of the American Constitution, the words which have been used to implement it by Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson and the rest, set a standard which we must live up to if we are going to extend our influence not only through our own country but if we are going to associate ourselves intimately with those who also seek the road of freedom, and, therefore, in carrying out your effort today you serve your country and you serve the cause of freedom. And let me make it clear, and there should be no disagreement between the two parties on this issue, I believe that every American, regardless of their race, their creed, or their color is entitled not only to vote, but to hold office in our country. [Applause.]

In considering what we shall do in the sixties, there is one subject that I have not discussed in this campaign, and that I have chosen to discuss here today. It involves the recognition that if we are to be successful in the days to come, if we are to implement a program for the 1960's, then we need the government that is honest, a government that is efficient a government that is dedicated, a government that is committed solely to the public interest. One cannot make such sweeping promises without recognizing that these promises have been made before. Every challenger for public office, especially for the Presidency, talks about a great crusade to end corruption; to obtain government clean as a hound's tooth. But experience has shown that promises are not enough. For ours is a government of men, not of promises, and some men yield to temptation. Other men lack discrimination, and other men see no wrong in pursuing their private interest in their public capacity. The problem is not merely one of deep freezes and vicuna coats. Less flamboyant but at least equally flagrant are the cases of those who use their office to obtain contracts for firms in which they have a financial interest. Those who use their position to repay political or financial debts, those who extract power from the information they receive, or the power they wield. These cases are not only tragic in the public sense, in terms of justice denied, of taxes wasted, of problems ignored. These tragedies have their private effects as well, for cheating in the Government cannot help but affect cheating in the classroom, on the quiz show, in the expense account. The appointment of good men, moreover is not a matter of morality alone. It may not be unethical to appoint an ambassador who is not acquainted with the language or the problems of the countries involved, but it is harmful to the interest of our Nation. It may not be immoral to appoint to key positions men drawn only from the area of private business who intend to return to that business as soon as possible. But the national interest cannot be maintained by men in our Defense Department with an average tenure of less than 1 year. [Applause.]

It may not be improper to confine Presidential appointees to the members of one party, but the whole Nation was the beneficiary of the service of Stimson, Knox, Forrestal, McCloy, and Lovett, and I can not recall in the last 8 years a single major member of my party who has been appointed to a high position in the national security field, in Defense or in State, with the exception of one man, the Ambassador to Germany, Mr. David Bruce. [Applause.]

And if we are to open employment opportunities in this country for members of all races and creeds, then the Federal Government must set an example. There are 26 Negroes in the Foreign Service of the United States, and there are 6,000 members of the Foreign Service. There is not a district judge, Federal district judge, who is a Negro, in the United States, and there are more than 200. There are messengers, laborers, clerks, very few heads of departments. Very few of our facilities and people have been used in extending our influence around the world. It is an interesting fact today that Africa has one-fourth, or will shortly have, of all the votes of the General Assembly. And yet 26 Negroes, spread throughout the entire world, are speading for us as a source of democracy in this country. I believe we can do better. [Applause.]

The President himself must set the key example. I am not going to promise a Cabinet post or any other post to any race or ethnic group. That is racism in reverse at its worst. So I do not promise to consider race or religion in my appointments if I am successful. I promise only that I will not consider them. [Applause.]

If we are going to keep the cost of living in line and protect the interest of the consumers, then those agencies which regulate the cost of the public services must be dedicated to that mission and not concern themselves with future employment or personalities. I am making no charges and mentioning no names, for history teaches us that no political party has a monopoly on honesty. Both parties attract their share of crooks and weaklings. But that does not mean that these problems are incapable of solution. That does not mean that a campaign promise is enough. A new administration must screen out those who regard Government service as a door to power or wealth. Those who cannot distinguish between private gain and the public interest and those who believe that old-fashioned honesty with the public's money is both old and out of fashion. And the next President himself must set the moral tone and I refer not only to his language, but to his actions in office. [Applause.] For the Presidency, as Franklin Roosevelt himself has said, is preeminently a place of moral leadership. And I intend, if successful, to try to restore that leadership and atmosphere beginning in 1961. [Applause.]

Should I be elected President, it would be my intention to ask the ablest men in the country to make whatever sacrifice is required to bring to the Government a ministry of the best talents available, men with a single-minded loyalty to the national interest, men who would regard public office as a public trust. For no government is better than the men who compose it, and I want the best, and we need the best, and we deserve the best. [Applause.]

It would further be my intention at the earliest possible opportunity to submit to the Congress a single comprehensive code on conflicts of interest, aimed at eliminating duplications, inadvertencies and gaps, and drawing a clearer line between propriety and impropriety, and protecting the public against the unethical behavior without making it impossible for the able and conscientious citizen to serve his Government.

It would also be my intention through Executive orders, the appointing power and legislation, to reform and streamline our lagging administrative agencies. Of all the undiscussed problems of this campaign, one of the most important is the fact that it takes from 1 year to 3 years for a businessman, a labor union, an interest involved, to get a decision out of our National Government, and justice delayed is justice denied. It would not have been necessary, perhaps, for us to have passed a labor-management reform bill a year ago if it did not require 3 years for the National Labor Relations Board to give the employer or the employee involved relief.

We have to do better than this if this great bureaucracy of ours, if this great Government of ours, is going to function in the sixties. We have to prepare it for motion, we have to prepare it to move, we have to get the best people we can get, and then we have to organize our structure so that they can act. And that is not the situation today. [Applause.]

I therefore take this opportunity to give you the eight basic principles which I would use if elected President as a guide to the appointment and conduct of those who would serve in a new administration. It is not complete, but I think it does suggest at least the spirit with which we shall move.

First, no officer or employee of the executive branch shall use his official position for financial profit or personal gain, or reveal to others confidential information acquired through his position.

Second, no officer or employee shall engage in any business transactions with, or hold any financial interest in, or accept any gift, favor, or substantial hospitality for himself and his family from any enterprise or person who is doing business or seeking to do business with that unit of the Government which he serves, or is able to influence, or who is subject to regulation, investigation, or litigation under the jurisdiction of that unit. To be above criminality is not enough. Good judgment is also required. [Applause.]

Third, all gifts which cannot appropriately be refused, such as gifts from public organizations or from foreign governments to the President of the United States, shall immediately be assigned to the Smithsonian Institution or other Federal agencies for historic, scientific, or welfare use. [Applause.] The President must set the example not only for those babes who Mr. Nixon described the other day, who were held up in mothers' arms at these meetings, who must be protected [laughter] but for all his subordinates as well.

Fourth, no Federal appointee to any public regulatory agency shall represent any view other than the public interest. Appointments to such agencies - and it has been unfortunate in both parties that these agencies which were manned at the beginning of the thirties by men of vision, men of conviction, men of vitality, men of interest, because public attention has passed away from the agencies, it is difficult to get the best talent to come to Washington and work. But we have to do it, because your future, the future of this country, is tied up with the quality of our leadership in all branches of our national service.

Fifth, no member of any such agency, and no person who assists in its decisions, shall entertain any ex parte communication from any person, including political pressure or requests originating within the executive or legislative branches. I think it would be a source of satisfaction to Congressmen if this principle were passed into law, that their intervention in these cases is not welcome, so that those people who come down and attempt to pressure Congressmen and Senators to write to executive agencies to gain special privilege for them, if the Congressman or Senator could say "That day is past; from now on the agency will determine, unless there is abuse of the public trust." [Applause.] And all communications from the executive branch or the legislative branch shall be made a part of the record, the public record, and every party in interest is given an opportunity to reply. As Finley Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley" used to say, "Trust everyone, but cut the cards." [Laughter.]

Sixth, all appointments, both high and low, will be made on the basis of ability, without regard to race, creed, national origin, sex, or occupation. Campaign contributions - and this may be bad news for us, at least for the next 3 weeks [laughter] - campaign contributions will not be regarded as a substitute for training and experience for diplomatic positions. [Applause.] And appointees shall be drawn from all segments of the community, wherever the best talent can be found. This will not be a businessman's administration with business in the saddle, as Secretary McKay once described his mission. But neither will it be a labor administration or a farmers' administration. It will be an administration for and by the people. [Applause.]

Seventh, senior positions in the State Department, the Foreign Service, the Defense Department shall be filled by the best talent in both parties, and from the ranks of career diplomats and civil servants, and officials engaged primarily in the conduct of foreign and defense activities will not be permitted to participate actively in political campaigns. I do not want our politics colored by considerations of national security, and I do not want our national security colored by considerations of politics. [Applause.]

Eighth, and finally, preferences in appointments will be given to those willing to commit themselves to stay on the job long enough to learn what they must learn. The goal is a full-time effort for the full tenure of the Presidential term, without regard to any prior affiliation or prospective employment. The prospects for the Nation in the coming years are not easy. The tasks facing the President will not be easy, and no appointee should assume that his life will be any easier.

These eight guidelines are not a magic formula for achieving a government perfect in all its parts. All human weaknesses cannot be avoided. All errors of judgment can not be predicted. A code of ethics by itself may be found to be either too general to be meaningful or too specific to be enforceable. But these guidelines can illustrate the atmosphere, a tone of government, an attitude which the new President must take. We emphasize this basic principle. The essence of any government that belongs to the people must lie in the biblical injunction, "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other." All America seeks a government which no man holds to his own interest, and despises the public interest, and where all men serve only the public and love that master well. This is a problem which has disturbed our country for many years, and I do not suggest that the proposals that I have put forward will end the problem. But I do believe it incumbent upon any candidate for the Presidency to indicate in advance to all those who might serve in his office if he is successful, or in his administration, the standards which he will try to apply, which will be applied with vigor, will be applied with a sense of responsibility.

I hope, in closing, may I say that all of those of you who are students at this college will consider during your lifetime embarking on a career of public service. In the next 10 years we are going to try to develop in this country a sense of the public interest comparable or superior to what the Soviet Union is able to develop in its country by power of the police state. How many young students at this college are willing to spend part of their lives in Africa or Latin America or Asia, are willing to spend part of their time in this college learning not merely French or Spanish or Italian, but learning some of the esoteric dialects of India or Africa, learning something about those countries, preparing themselves as doctors or teachers or engineers or scientists, or nurses, or public health officials, or Foreign Service officers, to contribute part of your talents, part of the benefits of your education to society as a whole? This college was not founded and has not been maintained merely to give this school's graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is a higher purpose. Prof. Woodrow Wilson said that every man sent out from a college should be a man of his time as well as a man of his nation. I ask you to consider how you can best use the talents which society is now helping develop in you in order to maintain that free society. All of us are involved in the discipline of self-government. All of us in this country, in a sense, are officeholders. All of us make an important decision as to what this country must be and how it must move and what its function shall be, and what its image shall be, and whether it shall stand still, as I believe it is now doing, or whether it shall once again move forward. [Applause.]

I think the basic issue in this campaign is the very serious disagreement which Mr. Nixon and I have as to our relative position in the world today. He has argued that we have never had it so good, that our prestige is at the summit, that we merely have to look at the votes at the United Nations to see where our prestige may stand, that we are the strongest nation in the world, and all is being done in its own good time. I could not disagree more. So that you may have my position clearly when you mabe your judgment on November 8, I could not disagree more. [Applause.]

I do not believe when two countries only in Africa vote with us at the United Nations on the admission of Red China - Liberia and the Union of South Africa - I do not agree we are doing everything when we had more foreign students studying here in the United States 10 years ago under the Federal Government programs than we do today. I do not agree when we do not have a single Voice of America program in Spanish to all of Latin America for the last 8 years, except for 2 months. I do not agree when there are 4 countries in Africa members of the United Nations without a single American diplomat now in occupancy in those countries. I do not agree when Africa, which is going to control one-fourth of all the votes of the General Assembly, receives less than 2 percent of all the development loan assistance that we have poured out for underdeveloped countries last year. I do not agree when West Germany in 1957 had more diplomats stationed within the frontiers of Germany than in all the countries of Africa. I don't agree that everything is being done in good measure.

That is the issue which separates Mr. Nixon and myself. If you do not believe that we are moving ahead that we are developing our strength here, that we are presenting an image to the world of a vital and vigorous society, then in my judgment you should support our cause. If you do agree, then I think you should support Mr. Nixon and hold on tight. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Wittenberg College Stadium, Springfield, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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