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.
THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY – AND YOUR VOTE
You all know what brings me to Nebraska. I am a candidate in your primary for President of the United States. And I would like to take this opportunity to talk with you -- not about my own candidacy, but about that Presidential primary, how important it is and how important your individual vote will be. For I strongly urge every citizen of this state -- Republicans, Democrats or Independents -- whomever they may support -- to go to the polls next Tuesday and cast that all-important vote.
“In every American election,” wrote James Bryce more than 80 years ago, “there are two acts of choice, two periods of contest. The first is the selection of the candidate from within the party by the party: the other is the struggle between the parties for the place. Frequently the former of these is the more keenly fought over -- (and) the more important.”
And never was the process of selecting a candidate more important -- more meaningful -- than today. For during the coming year we will select not merely a party favorite, but a potential national leader for the fabulous sixties. We will not merely reward faithful service -- we will choose a man to be the center of energy and activity in our entire governmental system, and indeed in the whole free world. Only if the parties choose their candidates well -- only then will the American People next November be able to select a man equipped with the qualities which our country, and our age, demand.
In this all-important process of nomination the American people are entitled to a voice. The people of Nebraska -- and the people of other states are entitled to be heard. Fifty years ago, when New Jersey was attempting to establish a Presidential Primary law, one well-known political leader was indignant. The Legislature, he said, as a spokesman for the voters, “has no more right to attempt to fix by law the method of selecting delegates to a national convention than it has to attempt to fix the method of selecting delegates to an Eagles Convention or a Rotary conclave.”
But today we know that national conventions are not social gatherings. Political parties are not private clubs. They are at the heart of the democratic process -- they are the instrument of the popular will -- they are the method, and the best method yet devised, by which the people rule. When they act, they act not merely for themselves but for millions. And their actions must be responsive to the will and needs of those they represent.
For 50 years, no Republican or Democrat has reached the White House without entering and winning at least one contested primary. No man has won a national election who was unwilling to test his candidacy with the people. No man has occupied the post of Chief Executive until he first occupied one of several places on the primary ballot.
And in this vital process of selecting a candidate Nebraska has always played an important role. For this is a historic primary -- one of the first in the nation, dating all the way back to 1911. Every Democratic President in this century has come to Nebraska to submit his candidacy to the judgment of your people -- Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and Harry Truman in 1948. And Republican contenders too -- over the years -- have come to Nebraska. Your primary is an important vital tradition in Nebraska politics, forged in the spirit of the progressive popular reform movement which inspired both parties in this state under Bryan, Norris and a host of others.
For if a candidate wishes to understand the needs and aspirations of the people he seeks to serve -- he must go among them. He must view the cities and towns and factories and farms first hand. He must campaign in all sections of the country -- the East, the West, and the Far West -- if he is to understand the problems of all sections -- and not merely his own. He must listen as well as talk, see as well as be seen, learn as well as teach. And the primary is the greatest instrument there is for that kind of education.
Thomas Jefferson knew that there are always, in effect, “two parties. Those who fear and distrust the people and wish to (take) all power from them -- (and) those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them as the most honest and safe depository of the public interest.”
Jefferson would have approved of the Nebraska primary. He would have urged you to cast your ballot in it. And I am sure he would have urged a Democratic victory in November.
But we Democrats are not looking for victory for its own sake. We want to win -- but we want to win because we believe that America and America’s future needs a Democratic victory. And America needs that victory not merely because it needs a renewal and a rebirth of the programs of the New Deal -- but because it also needs the creative, dynamic leadership of the Democratic Party to meet the new problems of the sixties.
We are of course -- 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.
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, now 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 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?
I have been in the coal mines of West Virginia, where one man and one machine can do the work of ten men -- and ten men are out of a job, their families dependent on a subsistence diet of surplus flour, rice, corn mean and dried milk. This cannot be allowed to happen in America -- abundance should be a blessing, not a curse -- and a new Democratic administration will meet this 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. And a Democratic Administration will come up with such a program -- and restore prosperity to our farms.
(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? We must give serious consideration to every serious plan from every source 0 -- and seize the initiative on disarmament -- an initiative the Republicans have failed to take -- an initiative the Democratic Party intends to take.
(4) Can we join with our allies to strengthen the forces of freedom-loving peoples all over the world -- helping to stabilize the infant governments of emerging nations 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 to win new friendships with new nations and to win back the friendship of our historic “good neighbors” all over the world. For only a Democratic program -- a program that substitutes ideas and substance for empty Republican slogans -- can keep the free world free.
(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 yet shown specifically how we intend to meet this challenge. But we have shown that only a Democratic Administration can hope to meet it.
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” to use Woodrow Wilson’s phrase, 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, “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.”