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.
It is a long way from Maryland – where I was campaigning yesterday – to Oregon. But, although the distance is great, I feel very much at home. For here, as in Maryland, the American people are aroused –change is in the air – and the Democratic Party is beginning its great, triumphant march toward the White House in 1961. And I am confident that the State of Oregon will lead that march.
It is appropriate that I begin my tour in this State with an address to an audience of young people. For this is your election. What happens in July and November will affect your future for decades to come. Your welfare and your survival will depend to a very large degree on the actions – the leadership and the vision – of the next President of the United States. And with your help we are going to put a man in the White House who will make your future – and the future of our country – a bright one.
For today the Presidency is an office of awesome power. Across the desk of the next President of the United States will come decisions affecting national welfare, national prosperity and national survival itself. And these are decisions which only a President can make – which a President must make – and which, beginning in 1961, a Democratic President will make.
That is why I have stated my conviction that the central issue in this or any other campaign is the Presidency itself. Is that office to be a place of dynamic, creative leadership – a place where policies are made and carried out – an office in the great tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman – or are we to have four more years of drift and indecision – of failure to lead and failure to progress?
Mr. Nixon – the Republican heir to the throne – the lone surviving heir, I might add – recently stated that he intends to carry on the Republican policies. Let us hold him to that statement. For I do not and cannot believe that the voters of this country will accept four more years of the same tired policies – four more years of Mr. Denson’s high farm surpluses and low farm income – four more years of neglected slums, undeveloped power, overcrowded classrooms and the highest interest rates in history – and four more years of dwindling prestige abroad and dwindling security at home.
Yes, let us hold Mr. Nixon to his promise to carry on Republican policies. For the country cannot afford those policies. The country does not want those policies – and the American people are going to reject those policies in November.
For this nation needs a strong, creative Democrat in the White House. This nation needs a Democratic victory. And I think that 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 have a Democratic victory.
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 record itself.
For 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 the grim facts about what has happened to America, and what we must do to survive.
Republican peace and prosperity is a myth. We are not enjoying a period of peace – only a period of stagnation and retreat while America becomes second in missiles – second in space – second in education – and, if we don’t act fast and effectively, second in production and industrial might.
And the Republicans talk about their prosperity...but it is a prosperity for some, not for all. The 250,000 people in West Virginia who are forced to live on a government diet of rice, flour and cornmeal – with a can of dried eggs and a little dried milk – every month – these people are not prosperous. Certainly we have more goods—bigger television sets and larger movie screens than ever before – but we also have worse slums, the most crowded schools, and the greatest erosion of our national resources and our national will.
I come to Oregon to seek your support for the great office of President – the central position in our society – the place from which a true peace and a true prosperity can be brought to America. But I do not seek this office merely for the sake of the office itself. In the novel “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute – the story of the destruction of civilization in World War III – there is a scene in which the few remaining Americans – two naval officers and a few crewman – are gathered in Australia. One of the officers receives a message that the other officer is dying from radiation sickness, and that he is now Commander in Chief of the American Armed Forces. The officer remarks to his crew – ”I could run for President.”
That is not the Presidency which I seek. I do not want to be President of a destroyed world perishing under the mushroom clouds of nuclear holocaust. If the Presidency is not used to lead us from the edge of destruction – to restore America to the path of greatness and leadership – then the office itself is worthless.
Thus, it is vital both to our country and the world, that the Presidency again become a place of leadership – a place of action and progress – and a place of hope. And we must begin to rebuild this critical office now.
There is no time to be lost. The hour has struck. This is the year of our greatest challenge. This is the year of our greatest victory. For it is a time of decision – a time for Democratic leadership – a time, my friends, for greatness.