Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 914, Folder: "Allentown, Pennsylvania, 28 October 1960".
Governor Lawrence, Senator Clark, ladies and gentlemen: I come to this district as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States in a difficult and challenging time in the life of our country. A week from Tuesday you must make your decision on which party, which candidate, which philosophy of the future, which judgment of the present, because of your own good judgment of what is best for the United States. I don’t think that any American this year will vote on any other basis than what is best for our country, because this is a sober and challenging time in the life of the great Republic.
Now, on what basis should you make your judgment? First, I would say this: Mr. Nixon and I differ very basically on the present position of the United States in the world, on the present position of the American economy, and on what must be done to strengthen our country. He runs on a program, “You’ve never had it so good,” and he runs on a program that our prestige in the world is at an all time high. I want to make it very clear that I disagree with him on both counts. (Applause)
As an American I am not satisfied to pass through in a period of eight years a recession in 1954, a recession in 1958, and now in 1960 to have only 50 per cent of the steel mills of Pennsylvania and the United States operating, to have 100,000 steel workers out of work, to build 30 per cent less homes this year than last year, to find that the prestige and influence of the United States, according to studies undertaken by the United States abroad, is lower than it has been in many years. I am not satisfied as an American, and I hope you are not, either. (Applause)
Mr. Nixon accuses me of downgrading America. I do not need any lesson on devotion to my country from Mr. Nixon or anyone else. (Applause) What I do downgrade is the kind of leadership which at this difficult time speaks throughout the country of our great progress, of how well we are doing, we never had it so good, things are fine. There is no sense of urgency, no sense of concern. This a race between the comfortable, the satisfied, the happy and the concerned, those that care that this country will move ahead, those that want to see us do better, those who believe that this great country must do better. On that basis I ask your support on November 8. (Applause)
You cannot possibly tell me that we are going to win this competition with Mr. Khrushchev in the future when 20 or 25 per cent of our capacity is unused, when four and a half million Americans are out of work, when 35 per cent of our brightest boys and girls graduating from high school never see the inside of a college, and 16 million Americans live on an average social security check of less than $72 a month. And this administration says, when we try to provide aid to education, when we try to provide medical care for the aged, it is too extreme. When we try to pass $1.25 minimum wage, per hour, $50 a week -- (Applause) -- $50 a week, Mr. Nixon says it is extreme.
Mr. Nixon represents the same party that in the mid-Thirties voted 90 per cent against social security, 90 per cent against the minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, and in 1960 voted 90 per cent against the $1.25 minimum wage, and medical care for the aged tied to social security. (Applause)
If that is the kind of leadership in these difficult days that you think is best for your country, Mr. Nixon is your man. (Response from the audience) But if you share my view that this country has to move forward again, that we will only be strong in Latin America, Africa, and Asia and Europe -- we will only be as strong as we are here at home, our society is on the move. If we have purpose and direction and force, then what we are will speak far louder than what we say.
Mr. Nixon chose to devote his speech here to Cuba. If there would be one topic that I would be reluctant to discuss if I were Republican, it would be Cuba. (Applause) But I would also like to hear him discuss not just Cuba, but also the United States, Pennsylvania, how we are going to build a strong society here in the United States. I don’t worry about the cause of freedom, I don’t worry about our prestige around the world, our influence around the globe, as long as we are moving here at home. But if we sit still, if we present an untrue image, if we don’t look like we know where we are going, then people around the world begin to wonder whether the future is with us. That is the difference between Mr. Nixon and myself. That is why I come here today and ask your support on November 8. (Applause)
This struggle between Mr. Nixon and myself, between the leadership of the Republican Party and the leadership which we represent, is as old as this century. Mr. Nixon’s party has produced in this century McKinley, Coolidge, Harding, Hoover, Landon, Dewey and Mr. Nixon. (Response from the audience) The Democratic Party produced Woodrow Wilson (applause), Franklin Roosevelt (applause), and Harry Truman (applause).
Now, if you like the McKinley-Landon-Coolidge-Harding viewpoint, Mr. Nixon is your man. (Response from the audience) If you have the view that I have, that it is time for us to pick ourselves up and move, to set before -- and this the President must do -- set before the American people the unfinished business of our society, to build in this country a strong and vital example of what freedom can do, on that basis I ask your help to give us the opportunity to get America moving again. Thank you. (Applause)