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.
Ladies and gentlemen, Judge Otto Kerner, the next Governor of the state of Illinois, Paul Douglas, the present United States Senator and the next United States Senator, Hayes Bell, candidate for the Congress from this district, and my sister, Eunice, Mrs. Sargeant Shriver, who lives in Illinois. (Applause) One of my sisters is married to someone who lives in New York, one in California. We realized long ago we would have to carry New York, Illinois and California. (Laughter and applause)
In any case, I appreciate your coming out here today, and I recognize that you come here today for this meeting because you share the view that this is an important election which involves the future of the United States, and also because you realize that the office of the Presidency is key. I speak in the Senate for Massachusetts, Senator Douglas for Illinois, Senator Engle for California, but only the President of the United States speaks for California and Illinois and Massachusetts, and he speaks for more than the United States. He speaks for the free world.
I believe there are two basic responsibilities which the next President of the United States must meet. One is our domestic strength, the maintenance of full employment, a strong and vital society, a strong educational system, the development of our resources and a moving America.
The second responsibility given to the President by the Constitution and by the force of events is the conduct of foreign affairs, and it is in this area that the great issues of war and peace, of strength and weakness, of ebb and flow will meet across the desk of the next President.
One of the issues in this area which has separated Mr. Nixon and myself, and on which you as citizens must render a judgment, is whether the strength of the United States and its image around the world has increased or decreased. Is our prestige, as Mr. Nixon says, at an all time high and that of the Communists at an all time low? (Response)
This is an important question, because prestige is not popularity. Prestige is the image which you give of a vital society which persuades other people to follow our leadership. If once they begin to feel that the Communist system represents the future, and that we represent the past, then all those people in Western Europe, Latin America and Africa and Asia, who we wish to follow our example, who we wish to be free, if once they decide the future belongs to the Communists, and not to us, here in Elgin you suffer, and we suffer across the country. This has been an issue in our campaign. I have said our prestige is not at its height. Mr. Nixon on the debate said it was. The New York Times this morning reported the results of the survey conducted by our Information Services this summer around the world and what their image was of the United States. Here is the headline on these findings which have been kept secret up to today.
“United States Survey Finds Others Consider the Soviet Union the Mightiest. Summer Poll Shows Belief is Nearly Unanimous Among the Nations Sampled. The Lead is Expected to Hold. Some Expect the Gap to Widen.”
Since they have the idea that the Communists and the Russians are stronger than we are, what happens to our alliance in Western Europe, what happens to our commitment to Berlin? What happens to the nations of Africa? We saw the result of this on the vote on the admission of Red China. Of the 16 new nations admitted to the United Nations from Africa, do you know how many voted with us? None. Not one voted with us on the admission of Red China. More nations voted against us from Asia than voted with us. The reason is right here. Because we are second in space, because the Soviet Union economic growth is three times ours today, and that goes to your job in Elgin, because they are turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are, and because Khrushchev looks with confidence to the future, people begin to feel that our brightest days are in the past.
I don’t share that view. I want Mr. Khrushchev and the world to know that a new generation of Americans is taking over, Americans who fought in Europe and in the Pacific to maintain our freedom in World War II and who are going to rebuild the image of America as a strong and vital society, and that is the issue which you have to decide. (Applause) You have to decide, and it is your decision. All I can do as a candidate for the Presidency, all I can do as a candidate for the Presidency is to make a judgment on what this country must do, but as citizens you have to decide what you want the country to be, and you have to decide if what we are now doing is good enough, or whether once again the United States should pick itself up and start moving again. Thank you. (Applause)