Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 912, Folder: "Belleville, Illinois, 3 October 1960"
Governor, the next Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, your present United States Senator, and I am sure your next United States Senator, my colleague in the Senate, Paul Douglas, Mel Price, your Congressman, ladies and gentlemen: I feel somewhat embarrassed saying anything unkind about the Republicans right in front of their headquarters. (Applause) I don't want them to call the Vice President and say we are mean in any way. But we are just trying to tell the truth. (Applause)
I think the overriding issue which is before the United States in 1960 is how we can maintain our freedom, how we can not only survive but how we can prevail. There are many domestic matters that disturb us, the decline in agriculture, the slowdown in industry, but they are all wrapped up in the one subject: How can the United States maintain its position, how can the United States build a stronger country here and help the cause of freedom throughout the world. I don't make any mistake about it, that the 1960s are going to be the most difficult and dangerous time in the life of our country. Anyone who says that the future is easy is wholly wrong. I think the future is going to be a difficult one, and because I think in the next ten years that the people of Latin America and Africa and Asia will begin to make their judgment as to which direction they should move; should they come with us, should they follow the road of freedom, or should they move in the direction of the Communists?
We can affect that judgment by the kind of society that we build here. George Allen, the head of the United States Information Service, testifying before a Congressional Committee this year, said that ever since Sputnik, ever since the United States was second in space, the people of the world had begun to feel the Soviet Union is moving ahead faster then we are. We cannot afford to fail in any area of our national and international life. If the people of the world begin to decide that the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists are strongest, if they begin to decide that their educational system is better than ours? If they decide that their effort in science and production is better than ours, if they decide that they represent the way of the future, and that we represent the way of the past, then we have lost the battle of the future.
I do not say that the future is easy. I do not say that time and events have not placed a heavy burden upon us all. It would be nice to turn those burdens over to some other country and some other people but we have had them placed on us, and I do not regret it. We cannot possibly afford to permit the Soviet Union to produce as it now does twice as many scientists and engineers as we do, to be first in space, to be increasing their economic productivity three times the rate we are.
I don't say that our future is in danger of a military attack if we maintain our strength. What I am concerned about is that the people of the world whose support we need, the people of the countries south of us, and Africa, and Asia and in Europe, itself, and in Eastern Europe, will begin to feel that the world and history are moving in the direction of our adversaries and that we are standing still. That is the basic dispute that I have with the present Republican leadership. Their slogan has been, "You never had it so good." I think that our slogan should be "We must do better, we must do better, we must do better." (Applause)
Mr. Nixon has said that when I say that some of these things could be better, that I am downgrading the United States. I don't downgrade the United States. I served it for 18 years. I have the greatest confidence in the United States. I am not satisfied to see it second best in any area of national and international life. (Applause) I want an America that is not first, if, not first but, not first when, but first, period, and I think we can do it. (Applause) I believe that this generation of Americans has the same rendezvous with destiny as that generation of Americans in 1936 to whom Franklin Roosevelt addressed those words, that that generation had a rendezvous with destiny. I believe we do, too. The rendezvous was the question of whether freedom could be maintained here in the United States. Our destiny is to determine whether freedom can be maintained throughout the world, whether a house divided against itself can survive, whether a world can exist half slave and half free.
I think we will move in the direction of freedom. That is the purpose of this campaign, to build a stronger country here, and in building a stronger country, we strengthen the cause of freedom all around the globe.
I ask your help in this campaign. I ask you to join me in a journey across the New Frontiers of the 1960's. I run for the office of the Presidency not promising the things I am going to do for the country, but asking you to join with me in serving our country, in making it greater, in making it stronger, in making it fulfill its manifest destiny.
This campaign is an important one. The American people have the choice of whether or not they are going to give the green light to the Sixties, whether they are going to move ahead, as Woodrow Wilson moved, and Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, whether we are going to say yes to the 1960s, whether we are going to move ahead. I ask your help in this campaign. Thank you. (Applause)