This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A single copy of the speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Governor Combs, Congressman Stubblefield, Congressman Chelf, Lt. Governor Wilson Wyatt, Governor Weatherby, your next United States Senator, Keen Johnson, fellow Democrats: It is an honor to come to Paducah, and it is an honor to come to the land of Mr. Barkley. What is impressive about Senator Barkley's career is that he came to the Congress of the United States in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. He bore the burdens in the heat of the day in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He served Harry Truman as Vice President, and I had the honor of serving with him in his last days in the United States Senate in 1955 and 1956. His career covered the administration of three great Democratic Presidents of this century, and I must say that Alben Barkley, when he came before the Democratic Convention in 1948, and they played that song, "My Old Kentucky Home," and he lifted a defeated convention to the heights, he spoke for the Democratic Party like I do today. (Applause)
Alben Barkley nor Harry Truman, nor Franklin Roosevelt, nor Woodrow Wilson, ever said party labels don't matter. We know that party labels do matter. (Applause) A party label tells you something about the candidate that that party presents. The Republican Party never would have nominated me and they never would have nominated Senator Barkley and they never would have nominated Franklin Roosevelt, and they never would have nominated Woodrow Wilson, and they certainly would not have nominated Harry Truman. Their candidates were different then as they are now. They went to the McKinleys and the Landons and the Coolidges and the Hoovers and the Deweys and the Nixons. (Laughter) That is where they stand.
They stood in the past still and they stand today still, and I cannot believe that Paducah, living as it does in the tradition of Democracy, living as it does on a great natural resource, living as it does in an area which has been developed by the partnership of the people of this area and by an effective national government, can possibly give their endorsement to a Republican leadership which has opposed the development of these natural resources, which looks to the past, which even in the most dangerous days of our time, the most dangerous days of our national history, still says "You have never had it so good." Mr. Khrushchev runs on that slogan. We can do better. We run on the slogan that this is a great people and a great country, but we run on the slogan and the view that it is the Republicans who downgrade this country. It is the Republicans who are unwilling to set before us our national agenda. It is the Republicans who do not have confidence that this country can fulfill a far greater role in our own national life and in the world than it does today. I think this is an important election, and I think the decisions very clear, and I think the issues are very sharp.
Mr. Nixon and I could not disagree more. This is not a contest where there are two candidates in general agreement. We disagree on the goals for the United States and we disagree on the means of achieving those goals, as we have disagreed in the great crises of our country stretching back to the days of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. (Applause)
Mr. Nixon said in Louisville the other day that Lyndon Johnson and I were not of the tradition of Jefferson and Jackson. Thomas Jefferson when he made the Louisiana Purchase almost was impeached by the Republicans of those days, the Federalist Party. Senator John Quincy Adams from my state of Massachusetts, who was a Federalist, who supported Thomas Jefferson, was forced to resign from the Senate, so bitter was the feeling against Jefferson. Andrew Jackson, when he seized and broke the power of the second Bank of America was the only President of the United States to ever be censured by the United States Senate, by the Whigs of that day, the forefathers of the Republican Party. Woodrow Wilson's aim to bring us into the League of Nations, which might have averted World War II, was blocked by a Republican dominated Senate. We are not of the tradition, they say, of Wilson and Jefferson and Jackson.
Well, Mr. Nixon is of the tradition of McKinley, Coolidge and Harding. (Applause)
We stand where our other great leaders of the Democratic Party have stood in their day, looking forward. We do not expect that we can win this election by easy phrases, and by presenting vague national goals. I don't run for the Presidency saying that if I am elected life will be easy. But I run for the office of the Presidency with the greatest faith in this country, with a realization, whether Mr. Nixon says so or not, whether our national leadership now recognizes it or not, that the United States is moving in the Sixties through the most difficult and hazardous period of our country's history, more hazardous, indeed, than any that the cause of freedom has ever faced. And I do not believe that the tide is going in our direction. I do not believe that our prestige and strength is increasing. I am not satisfied to have Mr. Castro not only raise the banner of revolt in Cuba against us, but all over Latin America. I am not satisfied to have Ghana and Africa, an independent country - Mr. Nixon visited it in 1957 gaining experience. Now, a week ago, Mr. Herter said it has moved into the Communist orbit in foreign policy. Laos, where we poured out the money, is now moving sharply in the direction of the Communists. Anyone who says that the power of the United States is increasing fast enough, that we are doing everything we should be doing, that we are developing our resources and our strength and our military potential and our economic growth as fast as we should do so, I believe does not serve this country. I think we serve this country, and our party serves the country, when we tell the truth, when we present the facts, honest and clearly, and give the American people an opportunity to make their judgment. The decision is yours not ours. (Applause)
You must decide what kind of a country you want. Your judgment is just as good as anyone else's in the world around us. There are no secrets today. Everyone can make their assessment of our national peril, of our national strength, whether the tide comes in for us or whether the tide goes out. But I don't want anyone to say after this election, win or lose, that the Democratic Party did not meet its commitment, and I believe its commitment is to present the people of this country with a sober assessment of our national opportunity and our national peril.
This is, as Dickens said, a century, the best of times and the worst of times. It is the best of times because science and technology and energy can change the life of every person in the world for the better in the next 10 or 20 years. We will get fresh water from salt water. We will double and triple our production. We will harness our rivers, the atom will bring a better life all around the globe.
And it is the worst of times, because we and the Communists are locked in deadly embrace all around the globe. The best of times, the worst of times, it is our function and our responsibility to make the best of the best times, and to meet the worst times with courage and fortitude and perseverance. Every generation of Americans has had to meet the same responsibility, in 1900, in 1917, in 1941, and again and again Americans have been willing to participate in the maintenance of freedom here and around the world. I come here today and ask your support in this campaign. I ask your help, not merely for our party, but for our country. (Applause)
Here in this community which depends upon the harnessing of the rivers, which depends upon the breaking of the atom, which depends upon the maintenance of an effective agricultural program, I believe that you here in Kentucky in the dark and bloody ground of history, you in Kentucky join me in looking forward out of this wellspring of American vitality and scenes of history, I believe that you say now in 1960 that it is time that the United States started moving again; it is time that we had in Washington once again an administration which will set before us the unfinished business, the agenda of our day, and which will start this country moving again. Thank you. (Applause)