This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Forty-seven years ago this month, the leaders of the Democratic Party gathered jubilantly in Washington. For the first time in the 20th century, the victory was theirs – the Presidency was theirs – the power was theirs. But in his Inaugural address, President Woodrow Wilson sounded a more somber note: “The success of a party means little,” he said, “except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose.”
Now, 47 years later, we, too, are talking of our party’s coming success. But success for what? What “large and definite purpose” will the people find in our party?
We are – first and foremost – the heirs of the New Deal and the Fair Deal. We are proud of that heritage. We want to maintain our legacy – extend and carry on its programs to meet today’s need – strengthen it against decay and attack. But that means we all have work to do.
For we have not yet achieved a decent home in a decent neighborhood for every American family.
We have not yet made retirement a period of health and dignity and freedom from economic want for every aging or disabled worker.
We have not yet secured for every American, regardless of color, his right to equal opportunity – and that includes equal opportunity at the polls, in the classroom, in the five-and-ten-cent store, and at the lunch counter.
Our minimum wage laws are out-of-date. Our unemployment insurance is outmoded. Our anti-trust laws are ineffective. Our tax structure is unfair.
Too many streams are still polluted. Too many rivers are still not harnessed. Too many parks and forests are still neglected.
If we are to remain true to our party heritage – if we are to carry on the dreams of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman – then it is clear that there is much to be done – that our work is cut out. And we must never fail that trust.
But let us also face the facts frankly. These were all great programs. They were the product of great eras. But we live now in another era. And the Democratic Party cannot live forever off its New Deal-Fair Deal heritage.
There are new problems, new challenges, new dangers – problems Franklin Roosevelt never heard of – dangers Harry Truman never had to face – challenges our old Democratic platforms never covered.
Permit me to cite five tough, new questions of our time – five challenges the next President of the United States cannot ignore or avoid – five challenges which will require bold, new Democratic programs if they are to be met:
(1) Can the wonders of automation be harnessed to serve all America – to increase its productivity – to fulfill its public needs – to expand its private leisure – without bringing in its wake unemployment, hardship and bitterness? Assailing Republican claims of prosperity is not enough – nor do the old Democratic programs supply the answer – we must meet the problem head-on.
(2) Can the revolution in farm technology be harnessed for peace and plenty – without sacrificing the family farm to corporate ownership – without wasting $9 billion of foodstuffs, rotting in storage at the very time millions go to bed hungry or under-nourished? Assailing Mr. Benson is not enough – we must come up with a solid, workable farm program of our own.
(3) Can we devise adequate systems of inspection and control to end the fearful arms race – to end at least the pollution of our air and water and soil by continued nuclear testing? Assailing the recent Russian proposal is not enough – we must give serious consideration to every serious plan from every source – and seize the initiative on disarmament.
(4) Can we join with our allies in channeling enough aid to the less-developed nations of the world to launch their economies into orbit – closing the ever-widening gap between our living standards and theirs – encouraging their economies to grow faster than their population – and stabilizing their infant governments against the chaos on which Communism feasts and fattens? Assailing the Republican record of substituting empty pageants for policy is not enough – we must initiate a program that will win back our “good neighbors” all over the world.
(5) Finally, can our free society – our free education and free economy – compete with the Russian monolith – in the allocation of resources – in scientific achievement – in arms and aid and economic growth? Assailing budget ceilings is not enough – we must, without dissipating our gains in inflation, stimulate the economy to a level of expansion far higher than even the pre-Eisenhower years. We have not shown how we can meet this challenge.
These are among the new questions of the sixties – questions that, on the whole, did not confront the New Deal and the Fair Deal. These are new issues, new problems – our problems, to solve on our own, without borrowing on the legacies of the past.
I think we can do it. I think the American people know we can do it. I think that is the “large and definite purpose” for which they will use us in 1960.
I know these problems are tough. I know their solution will involve risks and hardships. But I remember F.D.R.’s First Inaugural some 27 years ago this month. He compared our plight in those dark days with the perils once facing our fore-fathers – perils they conquered, he said – and then some speech editor had eliminated the next phrase, but F.D.R. put it back in – perils they conquered, he said, “because they believed – and were not afraid.”
That was Franklin Roosevelt’s message in 1933. And that is our message today. And let it be said of this generation, as it was said of his, and as he said it of generations before – that they conquered their perils and met their challenges “because they believed – and were not afraid.”