John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by the Honorable John F. Kennedy, at Boys' Gymnasium, Montgomery-Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD

October 16, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Lee, Mr. Parker, if we can get the voting age to 16, we are going to skip this election [applause] otherwise it might be close. Our two county Chairman, Senator Kefauver, Congressman Lankford, Congressman Foley, my old friend and colleague from the House of Representatives, Congressman Sasscer, distinguished Comptroller, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my thanks to the county officials and to all of you for your kindness in holding this rally tonight. We have been to New Jersey today and Delaware, and to the 51st State, as I call Meet the Press, and tonight we go to the State of Ohio [applause] and carry on this campaign in this State and Ohio for the next 3 weeks, until we win [applause].

This is an important campaign because the Office of the Presidency is important. Senator Kefauver and I have been in the Congress for a good many years, he, nearly 20 and 114. I think both of us would agree, after having been in the House and the Senate, that because of the Constitution and because of the force of events, more and more depends upon the vigor, the vitality, the good judgment, the sense of history, the sense of the future, the foresight of the next President of the United States. The Congress has an important function, but in a very real sense the Congress can block, but only the President of the United States can propose, and I am waiting now for 2 months to see what proposals Mr. Nixon would put forward for the great problems which disturb the tranquillity of this country. I know he feels strongly about Mr. Truman's use of the word "hell," but otherwise, what is the issue? [Applause.]

Those of us who run in the Democratic Party in the names of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, not because we think the problems that we now face bear a great resemblance to the problems that they faced in their time but because we approached their different problems with a spirit which I think is common to the Democratic Party today.

Woodrow Wilson could run on the "New Freedom" and Franklin Roosevelt could serve in the administration of Woodrow Wilson and then run in 1932 on the "New Deal," and Harry Truman could serve as a Senator in the thirties in the "New Deal" and run in 1948 on the "Fair Deal," and I could serve in the Congress led by President Truman in 1947 and 1948, and run in 1960 on the "Fair Deal." The succession follows year after year, decade after decade, back through our history, and, though the problems change, I believe the spirit which motivates the Democratic Party is the same spirit of progress which motivated it when Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase. [Applause.]

I believe that we can divide, generally, the responsibilities which we will meet in the sixties into two categories. The first of those is to attempt to bring up to date those pieces of social legislation passed in the 1930's which still have great significance in the lives of our citizens today, and, therefore, while Franklin Roosevelt could propose in 1935 a 25-cent minimum wage, we proposed in 1960 a $1.25 minimum wage. Where Franklin Roosevelt proposed social security in 1935, we propose in 1960 medical care for the aged tied to social security. [Applause.]

These problems of housing and social security, unemployment compensation, minimum wages, and the others fall into the general category of proposals put forward either in the administration of President Wilson or President Roosevelt, or President Truman. In that field, though in some ways it is a new problem, but an old one, I would include education because this country has been aiding education since the country began, since the Northwest Ordinance set aside one-sixteenth of the territory in order to help education, back when this country was founded, to the land grant colleges in 1862, to the vocational aids, to the aids to impacted districts. We have provided for aid to education since the beginning of this country and will continue to do so.

In spite of the fact that Mr. Nixon has stated that it would result in Federal control over education, the Federal Government, and the States, and the local communities have harmonized their respective responsibilities and we have begun to move ahead, though we still have great unfinished business in that area as well. But these are the traditional problems which have faced our country and the solutions fall into the general category with which we are familiar. However, there are, I believe, in 1961 a whole new set of problems that are coming on which are not common to the past, which will require new solutions, problems which our party must consider and problems which I believe we must address ourselves to in the coming months in order to prepare ourselves for action in 1961.

No.1: How is it possible for a free society to stimulate its economic growth, to provide for an economic growth at least twice that which we now have, to provide 25,000 new jobs a week every week for the next 10 years at the very time when new machinery is taking the jobs of men in the basic industries. The result of the layoffs now is not merely that there is a general economic decline, but it is also due to the fact that one machine can do the job of five men. We produce now and use only 50 percent of our steel capacity and yet we produce almost as much steel as we did in 1952, with 100 percent of capacity. What are the prospects of hiring those steelworkers back? What are the prospects in a free enterprise system of maintaining full employment in the 1960's? What are the solutions for the problem of automation? That will be a problem for the next President of the United States, and I have not even heard it discussed in the last 8 years.

Secondly, how is it possible for the United States to provide for an orderly system of disarmament? How is it possible for us to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union which will permit a cessation of nuclear tests and begin to control outer space and prevent one power or another making a decisive breakthrough in those far distant regions? The United States in the last years has had less than 100 people working in the entire field of government on the highly sophisticated, highly technical, highly scientific subject of disarmament.

Mr. Nixon said the other night that they had quality, not quantity. I don't know who the geniuses are, but, 100 men, it is a terrible burden for them. [Applause.]

Third, how is it possible for countries to the south of us, Latin America, Africa, Asia, how is it possible for those countries with an inadequate resource base, with a steadily increasing population, with widespread ignorance, misery, starvation, a lack of education, a lack of potential - how is it possible for them to maintain a free society? How is it possible for them to be devoted to freedom, particularly when they look to the example of the Soviet Union, which 40 years ago was the most backward country in Western Europe and now has passed even the great United States in some areas of science, in some areas of productivity, and which is turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are each year? What is the example that these people will choose to follow and what inspiration have we offered to them? I think the most serious problem that the United States has faced in many ways, certainly the most undiscussed problem, is the problem of Ghana. Why did the people of Ghana and the leadership decide, even though an independent country, even with a great tradition of being tied to the British, even though they had every prospect of maintaining a society tied to the West, why have they in the last 3 years since they have been independent suddenly begun to tie their policies closely to that of the Soviet Union? It is not chaos. It is not a military seizure of power like Cuba. Yet, Mr. Herter said 3 weeks ago that Ghana is supporting the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. What made Nkrumah, who studied in Pennsylvania, who got his education in this country, who went to, I believe Lincoln College in Pennsylvania, what made him decide, even though he had as his economic advisor an Englishman, what made him decide that the Soviet Union had more to offer him than the West? And what effect will that have not only on Ghana, but the same experience in Guinea, and what effect will that have on the newly emerging countries of Africa, and what have we done about it?

In 1957, we had more Foreign Service personnel stationed in Western Germany than we did in all of Africa. We had more people coming to this country sponsored by the Federal Government 10 years ago, then we do today. We offered more scholarships to the Congo in June than we did to all of Africa the year before, and of the 300 scholarships that we offered to the Congo, less than 7 Congolese citizens are now studying in the United States. We gave more aid to Yugoslavia since the end of the war up to a year ago, then we gave to all Latin America, until the Inter-American Bank was founded, until we broke with Castro on the sugar quota and decided we had almost ignored the needs of this vital hemisphere. And why is it that the candidate for the Presidency of Brazil feels it incumbent upon him for his political safety to take a journey to see Castro, not the President of the United States, to see Castro, in order to build his political fences in Brazil?

Mr. Nixon says our prestige has never been higher. Yet on the question of admission of Red China only two countries voted with us. The night before, in the debate, he called attention to the vote in the U.N. as evidence of our high prestige. The next day two countries in Africa voted with us, one Liberia, bound to us by ancient ties, and the other the Union of South Africa, hardly a country which enjoys close solidarity with the rest of Africa. More countries voted against us in Asia than voted for us.

I mention these things not because they are a source of satisfaction to any American, but because not only do I think we must do better, but I think we can do better. I do not hold the idea at all that there is any inevitability about this movement. I do not believe that the Communists have something to offer Africa, and Latin America, and Asia superior to what we offer. I believe that, in addition to freedom, our system does permit a development of the resources of the country. I believe with help India can prove it, and I believe it incumbent upon us to meet our responsibilities in this area through long-range loans of the kind that this administration has been unwilling to sponsor.

So, I would say the problems are difficult, but that should not faze a country which has passed through the experiences that we have had in our long history, but it certainly cannot say that the present leadership, based on its experience deserves another term.

I believe that, on that basis, the American people, who know just as well as anyone else the exact place in history that they are now occupying, who can judge the current of the tide of history as well as anyone else in the world, who know generally whether the tide is moving in their favor or not, who can look to outer space and look to the home across the street, know that this country is not meeting its maximum capability.

I do not downgrade America. [Applause.]

I do not downgrade America. I downgrade the prospective leadership which is offered by the Republican Party. [Applause.]

Mr. Nixon says the party doesn't matter. At least, he said that yesterday, and he also said the party did matter in an earlier speech. But, whichever view you take, and you can have your pick, whichever view you take, I believe the party does matter, the kind of candidates the party puts forward. Estes Kefauver would never have run as a Republican, nor would Congressman Lankford, or Congressman Foley. There is a difference between the two parties. There is a difference in their judgment of the future. There is certainly a difference in their record of the past. [Applause.]

And, therefore, the same political party which could vote nearly 90 to 1 against social security in 1935, could vote against medical care, with only 1 vote for it, in 1960, or the same party that voted 95 percent against the 25-cent minimum wage in 1935 could be opposed to $1.25 in 1960.

I believe that individuals and parties have characteristics and, therefore, the Republican candidates could run from the 20th century on slogans like "Stand Pat With McKinley" and "Return to Normalcy With Harding" and "Keep Cool With Coolidge." I don't know what Dewey's slogan was because he never worked it out. [Applause.]

In any case, I come tonight and ask your support in this very important campaign. I feel that this campaign has an opportunity to render a service and that is that when the campaign is over, in my judgment, the American people will have made their choice, and their choice will be progress. Their choice will be to move off dead center. Their choice will be to move into the 1960's. Their choice will be to assume the burdens and responsibilties of leadership. Their choice will be "Yes" to the next 10 years. Their choice will be the choice they have made in other great crises of our history. [Applause.]

In 1860 when the choice was somewhat similar in this country, the question of whether the world would exist and this country would exist half slave and half free, Lincoln wrote to a friend, "I know there is a God and that He hates unjustice. I see the storm coming and I know His hand and is in it, but, if He has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready."

Now, 100 years later, we know there is a God and we know He hates injustice and we see the storm coming and we see His hand in it, but, if he has a place and a part for us, I believe that we are ready.[Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech by the Honorable John F. Kennedy, at Boys' Gymnasium, Montgomery-Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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