This is a transcription of these remarks made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of these remarks exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Thank you, Governor, I am grateful to Governor Hodges, a distinguished Governor of North Carolina for the past 4 years, for being with us tonight in New Hampshire and also for his counsel and friendship and support in this campaign. This campaign is now coming to an end, and I imagine that many of you who have found your television screens taken up by it will be glad. But it is an important responsibility for us all. You have to make a choice tomorrow on who shall be the next President of the United States. The President is given great powers under the Constitution, and great powers by the force of events. Who that President will be, on his judgment, foresight, sense of responsibility, commitment, sense of vigor, will rest in great measure the future of the entire country, the education of your children, full employment for our people, medical care for our older citizens, development of our natural resources, the kind of agricultural program that we have, whether this country, in short, moves forward.
The President is the moral leader. He speaks for all the people. I speak in the Senate today for Massachusetts. Governor Hodges represents North Carolina. Other Senators represent other States. Only the President speaks for Massachusetts and North Carolina and California. It is the great office in the free world. All the issues come to rest on the desk of the President. So there is not a more sober responsibility that a free people have than to pick a President. I ask your support with full knowledge that this office will be extremely burdensome, extremely responsible; in many ways more difficult than it has been since Lincoln. But I served in the Congress for 14 years. I served the country in the Pacific 4 years before that. I am devoted to the interests of this country, and I think if this country is going to move ahead, I think if this country is going to maintain the peace, if we are going to be the leaders, I believe progress must be our most important ingredient. We must move ahead in America.
I believe that my party, the Democrats, are committed to that and have been through Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Truman, and the others. And the Republican Party has stood still. I just don’t believe that the 1960’s is a time to stand still.
Every piece of important legislation of benefit to our people was opposed by the Republicans when they first came into being, away back to the Federal Reserve Board, all the reforms of the Roosevelt administration, social security, all the others, minimum wage, housing, benefits to the farmers, all opposed.
Now, with that long history, TVA, the development of our resources, all in opposition, with that long history, how can we expect that that party and that candidate can move this country ahead, with all the changes coming on, the prospects for unemployment, the recession possibly this winter in 1961, with our farm income down 25 percent, with 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls never seeing the inside of a college, who graduate from high school, our prestige in the world being affected, with Communists on the march, Castro on the march. I believe the United States has to make a decision. You have to make your decision tomorrow. What is your view of your country? What do you think ought to be done in the sixties?
If you think that the United States has to move ahead, if you are not satisfied today, if you think we must do better, on that basis I ask your support. I can give you assurances that we will move ahead and that we will meet our responsibilities at home and abroad.
I thought tonight I might try to answer eight or nine of the leading questions which I have gotten in this campaign in all sections of the United States so that you will have all my views on these matters. My wife, of course, would have been campaigning with me, but we are going to have a child in about 3 weeks, so she is home. She and I will vote tomorrow and then I will go home and wait for the results. But my three sisters have been campaigning for me all fall. They are with me tonight and perhaps they will read the questions off and I will try to answer them.
First is my sister, Patricia Lawford, who joins us today, who comes from California. Next is my sister, Jean Smith, who lives in New York, and has joined us for today; and my sister, Eunice Shriver from Illinois. Between them they have 10 children, but they have not seen much of them lately.
Girls, why don’t we go ahead: Pat?
QUESTION: From Syracuse, N.Y.: How can you stop the Communists?
SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, the big responsibility of checking the advance of the Communists and for really advancing the cause of freedom depends on the United States. We are really the only hope for freedom. If the United States should fail, or if our strength should diminish, or if our military defenses become lessened, or if we cease to speak with vigor, then of course, the Communists would have a free road, Africa, Asia, Latin America. That is going to be the great challenge of the sixties.
I think on our side is the fact most people do want to be free. The whole experience of Eastern Germany, Hungary, and Poland shows that people do want to be free and independent. The whole movement in Africa against colonialism showed the people desired to be free. Therefore, if we associate ourselves with freedom, if we maintain our strength, in my judgment the people will choose our road rather than that of the Communists. But to do that, we have to maintain ourselves; we have to maintain our economic strength in the United States. What distresses me so much is to see us wasting so many of our resources and so many of our people. We have nearly 5 million people out of work today. Nearly 50 percent of all of our steel capacity is unused today. We built 30 percent less homes last month than we did a year ago, and we need more homes. This administration has permitted a recession in 1954, a recession in 1958, and now an economic slowdown in 1960. To prevent communism from spreading the United States must be strong, it must speak with vigor, it must be first. It must be first in science, first in education. Ten years ago we produced twice as many scientists and engineers as the Russians. Today they produce twice as many we do. So, we have to have the best talent we can get to represent us abroad. We have to.
I have suggested having a peace corps of young men and women who will be willing to spend 2 or 3 years of their lives as teachers and nurses, working in different countries which are backward and which are just beginning to develop, spreading the cause of freedom. Maintain our strength here, maintain our military defenses, speak quietly, associate ourselves with peace, try to distribute our food and other benefits we have to less fortunate people so that they know we are interested in them, and I believe if we do those things communism can be checked, but more important, freedom can begin to grow back of the Communist curtain.
QUESTION: Your next question, Jack, comes from Jacksonville, Fla.: What will you do about Castro?
SENATOR KENNEDY: I think we have two problems in regard to Castro. One is the problem of Castro himself, 90 miles off the coast of Florida, 8 minutes by jet. The second problem is how to prevent other Castroes from rising throughout Latin America. We have had difficulties in the last 2 years in Guatemala, Panama. Some of the countries to the south have also had indications that Castro and communism have seized control of the student groups, and some of the intellectual groups.
Our big problem would be to contain Castro, to prevent him spreading his influence throughout all of Latin America. To do that, we have to begin to pay attention to Latin America. Do you know that today the Soviet Union has 10 times the amount of broadcasts in Spanish we do to Latin America, 10 times? The Chinese Communists are working there all the time, exchanging missions. For a lot of people, the trouble is, of course, the people of Latin American live on a very bad standard of living, less than $90 a year in some cases. One of the papers this week carries a story of children in two villages in Brazil, not one child in the village lived beyond the first year. They all died of malnutrition and disease. These people will feel they have no chance, and then, of course, they will listen to Castroes.
So I would suggest that the United States try to develop again the spirit of the good neighbor policy of Franklin Roosevelt, that we regard this as the first line of defense, that we bring in students, that we broadcast in Spanish to Cuba and all of Latin America, that we tell our story, that we help them distribute their agricultural products and resources, and maintain their economy and provide a gradual increase in the standard of living for each person.
This is the key to Latin America. If that should ever crumble, and Castro should spread his power, then our security would be directly threatened. I would put this directly at the top. On the question of Castro, I would attempt to tell the people of Cuba by every known way, including radio and television, and today we have no radio or television to Cuba from the Government, telling them that we want them to be free, that Castro is past. And by working with the people of Latin America and the governments trying to isolate Castro until finally the people of Cuba can be free again.
QUESTION: Jack, this is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. If elected, will your actions as President be influenced by your church?
SENATOR KENNEDY. Well, I supposed this is, perhaps, the last time that question will come up. I want to make it very clear so that anyone who is listening who may be concerned about the matter and who may be going to vote tomorrow. I hope that you will make your judgment on whether I should be President or not based upon your judgment, your knowledge of my party, what my party stands for and what I stand for. I think you can rest assured that after 18 years in service of this country, my father having represented President Roosevelt in England before World War II, my grandfather having represented in the Congress, that we are as devoted to the maintenance of religious freedom, as devoted to the maintenance of the Constitution, as any of our fellow Americans. If I am elected President of the United States, I will take the oath to defend the Constitution, which includes the separation of church and state, and includes the provision that there shall be no religious test for office. I would not. If I permitted an improper influence to be brought to bear in the conduct of my public office, if I permitted my church or Pope to attempt to direct me in meeting my public responsibilities, my sworn responsibilities, I would properly be subject to impeachment. When I take that oath, if I take that oath, if I take the oath as President, the same way as I do as Senator, that oath is taken to God, and it is the highest oath that anyone can commit themselves to, to defend the public interest, defend the Constitution. That I shall do. If I am not elected President, I shall continue to do it in the Senate. But I don’t think any of my fellow Americans should have the slightest grounds for concern that if I were elected President, their future, their religious freedom, their freedom from any improper influence, would be wholly secure.
You may decide to elect a Republican candidate, but I hope it is done on the basis of what you feel is best for the country and not because you have any concern about this matter. My brother fought in World War II, was killed; my brother-in-law – I spent 2 years in the hospital, after my service in the war. I am devoted to the United States, which is why I run for the Presidency. So I want you to know that on this matter you should not feel concerned, because I am going to meet my responsibilities to my country. And if I did not, I would properly be condemned by the people of this country, and I should be impeached by the Congress. And that is not going to happen. So I hope we have a chance to get that clear, because I think most Americans of my faith strongly believe as I do in the separation of church and state. It is ideal, and I don’t think that anyone, the Pope or anyone else, would attempt to interfere with that, and if he did, then I would say to him that it was highly improper.
General de Gaulle is of my faith; Chancellor Adenauer; they have three Prime Ministers of Canada. They have all met their responsibilities. We have two Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. Justice White came from Louisiana, a Confederate soldier. He was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, members of my faith have been Justices of the Supreme Court for almost two-fifths of the time the country has existed. They interpreted the Constitution and nobody suggested they did not meet their responsibilities 100 percent. And the same is true of De Gaulle and others. I am glad to have the opportunity to answer that one for the last time.
QUESTION: Kansas City, Kans.: How can you help the farmer?
SENATOR KENNEDY: The difficulty, of course, has been this administration’s farm program, and Mr. Nixon is committed to continue it, ties the support price for agricultural commodities to the market price. As the tremendous surplus hangs over the market, as the market price drops – for example, corn, which might have been or which was selling for $1.50 a bushel in 1952, now in the markets may go from 85, 90, or 95 cents, depending on the area and the type of corn. The support price is tied to that market price. Each year, as the market price drops, so does the support price. So next year, if the market price is 80 cents for corn, the support price will be less than 80 cents, 90 percent of 80 cents. If it goes next year to 75 cents, if the surplus goes into the market, once again the support price drops. We have seen a 25-percent drop in agricultural income in the last 8 years. Farmers are hard hit. The average wage for a farmer in Wisconsin is 55 cents an hour. For a cotton farmer in the South it is away down low. It is dropping very year. And Mr. Nixon promises to continue the same agricultural program and he uses the same language.
I would say that is the road to disaster for the farmer. In my judgment, we should attempt to bring a balance between supply and demand so that supply and demand will work for the farmer instead of against him, so that there will be a balance between his income and what he pays for the things which he buys, which have gone steadily up. And the support prices that we have should be tied to parity. Then there is a balance between income and outgo. Otherwise, if it is tied to the market price, if his costs go up and his income goes down, he is going to be ruined.
So I feel that working under the Democratic Party with the Democratic programs we can start the farmer, in fact I know we can start the farmer on the upward road as far as his income goes. We are committed to it. I am confident that we can do it. I think after eight years we should have a chance to do it.
QUESTION: This question comes from Louisville, Ky. How can we be certain that all of our talented children go to college?
SENATOR KENNEDY. I think it is one of the most important problems that we have. I come from the State of Massachusetts which had the first public schools, in Plymouth Mass., and I am an overseer of the oldest university in the United States, Harvard University. Today, as I said, 35 percent of our brightest boys and girls who graduate from high school never see the inside of a college. By 1970, there will be 7 million children, boys and girls, applying for admission to college, twice as many as we have today. A lot of them will be your sons and daughters. In order, therefore, for them to be admitted, we are going to have to build as many buildings in the next 10 years in the Nation as we have in the last 100 years. That is a tremendous assignment. One of the ways we can do that is to provide loans at low rates of interest by the Government to our universities so they can build dormitories and classrooms. We had that in a bill a year ago which the President vetoed. I believe that bill should be passed.
Secondly, we should provide a certain number of scholarships for our most gifted boys and girls. We can’t afford to let that talent go to waste. I know boys and girls who graduated from high school with high marks in mathematics, but because they have to support their family or for other reasons, they may be working in a job that does not use that talent at all. For those on top of a class, I believe a program of Federal loans – for example, the Federal Government now guarantees housing loans. In the State of Massachusetts, where I come from, the State loans to students who are able to demonstrate they can meet the requirements of college, gives them a loan at a low rate of interest. They pay that loan back 4 or 5 years after getting out of college. I believe that for all those students who desire to go to college but haven’t got the resources, if the Government could insure the loan, in the same way that it does the bank deposits or your housing loan, I believe then a good many boys and girls who today can’t go to college will have a chance to go. The administration has opposed this program, and I believe we ought to do that and provide Federal aid for school construction and Federal aid for teachers’ salaries.
Earlier this afternoon, Mr. Nixon stated that the bill that he voted against for Federal aid for teachers salaries would have direct – would have put the Federal Government in the business of teaching. Of course that is wholly untrue. The bill that came to a vote in the Senate, and he voted the tying vote against it, would have distributed funds to the States. The State then would have made the judgment whether the funds would have been used for teachers’ salaries or school construction. The decision would have been wholly the State’s. The curriculum and all the rest would have been just as it is now. This was really an attempt to destroy a great program, which I believe should be enacted, by attempting to use fears which are wholly inaccurate.
So I believe that we should move ahead on education. This is terribly important. The Soviet Union is making – is spending twice as much of its income in education as we are, and we need the best educated people in the world. A majority of our citizens make the judgments for us, and I think we ought to be well educated and responsible. I think we can do that in years to come.
QUESTION: Jack, the next question is: How can we afford the program of the Democratic Party?
SENATOR KENNEDY: A prominent association asked the Republicans and the Democrats for the cost of their budgets. The Democratic Party responded with a detailed breakdown of the cost of their program, which came to about a billion and a half billion dollars. The program of the Republicans, answered by the Republican Party, was two and a half billion dollars.
There are three ways in my judgment by which we can presently make economies. One, we pay today $3 billion more a year in taxes than we paid 10 years ago, just interest on the debt. This administration has put interest rates nearly at an alltime high since the twenties. That means every time you buy a house or buy a car on time, you are applying for the high interest rate policy of this administration. This is one of the reasons we had the recession in 1954, the recession in 1958, and the slowdown now, the high interest rate policy which makes it very difficult for farmers and small businessmen, and people who buy a home. If you buy a home today, $10,000, 30-year mortgage, you pay $3,000 more today than you would have 8 years ago, just for interest. And what is true there is true in these other programs. So we can save in the high interest rate policy.
No. 2, the administration signed a bill to provide medical care for our older citizens. That program, if fully used, would cost a billion dollars by the Government, and a billion dollars by the States. It provides that this fund should be handed out to anyone who certifies a pauper’s oath, who is over 65, who is medically indigent, has to endorse the same, and he gets assistance.
What is the program that we suggested? We suggest that it be done through social security, which has worked for 25 years. Every working man and woman under social security would contribute slightly less than 3 cents a day. At the end of his working years, the funds would have been built up, and he would be entitled, because of his contributions into this insurance system, to receive assistance in paying his medical bills, doctor bills, medicine bills, and hospitals. What is the best? The one that costs a billion dollars, and you can’t get any help unless you certify you are a pauper? Or our program which is financed by a contribution, and everyone under social security gets the benefit? So we can save in this area a billion dollars a year.
The third place is in agriculture. This administration has spent in the last 3 years in agriculture alone more than was spent in 20 years previously. Twenty year[s]. This administration has spent in the last 8 years for its agricultural program, which has done no good, more than the Department of Agriculture has spent in 100 years. That is the fiscal record of this administration, in 8 years more than 100 years. We spend about $6 billion a year in the Department of Agriculture. My judgment is a sound program can bring supply and demand into balance and save at least a billion dollars or a billion and a half. The fact of the matter is that the Democratic Congress, of which I am a member, in the last 6 years cut $12 billion off of the President’s budget request. The largest peacetime deficit in history was 1958 by this administration, $12 billion because of the recession. We can afford our programs. We can meet our responsibilities, and we can maintain full employment. We have reduced our tax receipts this year, our estimates by $3 or $4 billion, because business has dropped. If you are only using half of your steel capacity you are not getting tax revenues in. If you have 5 million people out of work, they are not contributing to these programs. So I want to make it very clear as a leader of my party that we are committed to a balanced budget if we are successful, over the period of the cycle, unless there is a serious recession, or unless there is a major national emergency. My judgment is our programs will be in balance. We will spend the money, however, in more productive programs, aid for the aged, education, and others, and not provide some of the waste that this administration is providing. This is a commitment which will be met.
QUESTI0N: This question is from Portland, Oreg.: How can you be sure that we will have peace?
SENATOR KENNEDY: We have to work at peace. The Bible said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” not the peace lovers, but the peacemakers, and the way to maintain the peace is to maintain our strength, to speak quietly, to identify ourselves with the cause of other people, to make it very clear to the Communists that we do not want war, that we are going to be firm, that we are building in this country a strong and vital society. I have seen enough of war myself to be completely sure that I would like best to be remembered, if I were elected President of the United States, as a President who maintains position and strength of the United States and maintained the peace. As I said earlier, we have been through a good deal in my family as a result of war, and I spent a long time hospitalized as a result, and I don’t want to see it happen to any other American. So we are committed to peace, we are committed to peace.
QUESTION. This question comes from Seattle, Wash.: Is there any difference between your foreign policy and the foreign policy of the Republicans?
SENATOR KENNEDY. Well, I feel that our policy in the last 2 years has brought a decline in American influence. Some of you have read the polls which have been taken abroad. In 10 countries abroad which were polled by the Government this summer 9 out of 10 of the countries thought that the Soviet Union was now ahead of us in science, was going ahead of us in military power and in economic strength. Now, if the people of the world get the idea that the leader of the free world is no longer the leader, we are no longer stronger than the Communists, who is going to follow us? We have to make sure that we maintain our strength and our prestige. We have to speak with conviction. We have to move ahead herein the United States. And then I believe we will be in a better position to command the support of people around the world.
QUESTION. One from Moline, Ill.
SENATOR KENNEDY. And I think that the entire policy of this administration has permitted our prestige to decline. For example, we paid no attention to those six countries in Africa today that are members of the United Nations, where there is not a single American ambassador. In 1957 we had more people in Western Germany than in all of Africa combined. We offered the Congo 300 scholarships for their young men and women to come over here, as if you could educate men and women overnight. Do you know that was more than we gave to all of Africa the year before? In Guinea, which became independent a year ago, Russia’s ambassador showed up the day they became independent, and our ambassador did not show up for 9 months. And they are beginning to vote with the Soviet Union, and Ghana and Guinea.
We cannot permit Castro to take over these countries because otherwise our influence would be threatened. We have to have the best people we can get who will speak the language, young men and women.
If I am successful tomorrow, I am going to bring the best people regardless of party, to serve the United States, and to represent us in positions of influence around the world.
QUESTION. Jack, the next question is: What would you do with small business?
Well, we have the highest bankruptcy rates in small business the last year than we have had since the end of World War II. Small business has been crushed. There are very few contracts from the Pentagon. Most of them go to the 10 largest companies in the United States. The tax policies favor the larger companies. The small businessman can’t get credit. His interest rates are so high, his taxes are burdensome, and he is in competition with big business, which is able to get Government contracts and which is able to get credit and advertising and all the rest. We have to get additionally identified with small business, and I think in 1961 we are going to have to protect the right of small businessmen to compete.
Well, now, our time is up and this campaign is coming to a close in just a few hours. I want to thank my three sisters and thank all of you who might have listened in. This campaign is important. I believe that we have a chance to move our country forward again. I represent a party which has been identified with progress and a better life for our people. The Republicans have stood still, and I don’t think that we can stand still in 1960. I ask your help, not merely in my own campaign, but I ask your help in picking the United States up and setting it forward on the road to progress. That is our opportunity and that is our necessity. If we are going to maintain our position and jobs for our people, and security in the world, then we have to move forward in the 1960’s, and the Democratic Party is identified with progress. Thank you for listening in, and I hope we will all meet again soon. Thank you.