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.
I have said many times that the central issue in this campaign is the need for a strong Presidency. Many Democrats, I know, would rather talk, not about the President, but about his heir to the throne – the only surviving heir, I might add.
But the Democratic Party, in my judgment, would be committing a grave error if it ever tried to out-Nixon Nixon – and I’m not sure that anyone can. For I am not nearly so concerned about Mr. Nixon’s past as I am about his future. I am not nearly so concerned about this conduct in the House as I am about his conduct in the White House.
When I last expressed my concern over the crumbling strength of the Presidency, Mr. Nixon replied that he could carry on in the Eisenhower tradition. Let us hold him to that – because I predict on November 8th the American people are going to reject that tradition. Perhaps we could afford a Coolidge following Harding. And perhaps we could afford a Pierce following Fillmore. But after Buchanan this nation needed a Lincoln – after Taft we needed a Wilson – after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt… And after eight years of this Administration, this nation needs a strong creative Democrat in the White House.
Today our very survival depends on that man in the White House – on his strength, his wisdom and his creative imagination.
We can no longer afford a William McKinley, whose backbone according to Teddy Roosevelt was “as firm as a chocolate éclair.”…
We can no longer afford a Calvin Coolidge, who caused a White House usher with 42 years service to say: “No other President in my time ever slept so much.”
We can no longer afford a Warren G. Harding, who reportedly said he saw no real problem in the Middle East “that the Arabs and Jews couldn’t settle around a table, in the good old Christian way.”…
We can no longer afford a Ulysses S. Grant, complaining that he didn’t want to be President – he just wanted to be the Mayor of Galena, Illinois long enough to build a sidewalk from his house to the station…
And we can no longer afford a James Buchanan, whose performance caused Ohio’s Senator Sherman to say: “The Constitution provides for every accidental contingency in the Executive – except a vacancy in the mind of the President.”
But the facts of the matter are that only a creative national party can provide a strong, creative President. The Republican Party is not a national party. It does not represent all sections, all interest groups, all voters. And that is why – historically and inevitably – the forces of inertia and reaction in the Republican Party oppose any powerful voice in the White House, Republican or Democratic, that tries to speak for the nation as a whole.
Theodore Roosevelt discovered that Herbert Hoover discovered that. And, even before he could become a candidate, Nelson Rockefeller discovered it.
But the Democratic Party is a national party – it believes in strong leadership – and, with your help, we will give the nation that leadership in January 1961.
But to send that Democrat to the White House we have to win. And I don’t believe this talk that we cannot win. I think we can win. I think we will win. I think the American people – after “eight gray years”, to use F.D.R.’s phrase – will know that, for their own future and their children’s future, we must win.
But we are not going to win by mocking Republican slogans – by putting the budget ahead of our security – by raising interest rates instead of production – by substituting pageants for policy in world affairs. And we are not going to win by dodging the real issue of this campaign – the Republican Administration itself.
Mr. Nixon said this week in Wisconsin that he wants to carry on this Administration’s policies. Let us hold him to that statement. For I cannot believe that the voters of this country will accept four more years of the same tired policies – four more years of Mr. Benson’s high farm surpluses and low farm income – four more years of neglected slums, overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers and the highest interest rates in history – and four more years of dwindling prestige abroad, dwindling security at home, and a collision course in Berlin.
I firmly believe that the American people next November will respect that candidate and that political party which have the courage to speak the truth – to tell the people of the grim facts about what has happened to America during the past eight years and what we must do to survive.
For “the test of our progress,” said Franklin Roosevelt, “is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
By that test, the last eight years have been eight years not of progress but of failure. Eight years of retreat from historic aims. We have still not met the needs of the 17 million Americans who go to bed hungry every night – the 15 million families living in substandard housing – the 7 million families struggling to survive on incomes of less than $2000 a year. We have more than 3 million unemployed workers, with jobless benefits averaging less than $31 a week. We have 16 million Americans aged 65 and over – and 80 per cent are living out their lives without a decent income. Five million homes in American cities lack any plumbing of any kind; seven million are unfit and ought to be replaced. One hundred and nineteen labor markets are still classified as distressed areas, with one out of eight workers unemployed. Six million American children live in the overcrowded hovels that breed delinquency, crime and disease. Millions of American workers are being paid less that $1 an hour, to say nothing of $1.25.
And yet the Vice President of the United States says – and I quote – that Americans are “living better today than ever before – and they are going to vote that way.”
The American people, in my opinion, are going to vote for a change – for a President willing to move ahead – for a President with new ideas and real courage. And I would remind them that just 100 years ago, a great Presidential candidate achieved national fame by speaking here, in this city, at the Cooper Union. He best demonstrated his concept of the Presidency when he summoned his war-time Cabinet to a meeting on the Emancipation Proclamation. That Cabinet had been carefully chosen to please and reflect many elements in the country. But “I have gathered you together,” Lincoln said, “to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter – that I have determined for myself.”
And later, when he went to sign it after several hours of exhausting handshaking that had left his arm weak, he said to those present: “If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say: ‘He hesitated’.”
But Lincoln’s hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate, He did not equivocate. For he was the President of the United States.
Our next Chief Executive must also be the President of the United States.