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 great quality of the Oregon Democratic Party has been its recognition of the right of dissent. Constructive dissent, respectfully offered, is at the heart of a Presidential campaign and a successful democracy. We know that the country we so deeply respect is strong enough to face criticism from its friends at home. But it is an unfortunate fact that it is not strong enough today to avoid not merely criticism but a lack of respect, from its friends around the world.
There is no disputing the fact that our prestige, our stature and thus our influence have all declined abroad. And I find the American people very uneasy about it.
They wonder why a new generation in the Congo, who once quoted Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, now quote Karl Marx. They wonder why in nations of South America, our former Good Neighbors, stones were thrown at our Vice President. They wonder why the nation of Japan, whom we treated so generously after victory, could not guarantee the safety of our President. They wonder why America is regarded with so much contempt on the once-friendly island of Cuba, only 90 miles away, that its erratic leader feels free to denounce us with words and threaten us with missiles.
The American people do not like to see our airmen beaten up in the Congo -- or contemptuously seized by the Russians. The do not like to see our President humiliated at the Paris Summit Conference.
What has happened to our prestige? It is not enough to blame it all on Communist propaganda. Nor is it enough to merely call for more American propaganda or spending. The roots of our trouble go deeper. We are losing the respect of the peoples of the world primarily because we are in danger of losing those qualities they have always respected.
First, the peoples of the world respect strength. In former years, they were grateful that America’s military might was their chief protection. But now they are no longer certain of an American lead that will continue to shield them in the indefinite future -- when the missile gap widens and atomic weapons spread. And they are uneasy about a military strategy that relies so heavily on massive retaliation, tying our hands in case of a limited war. They are not interested in a fire department that can put out a fire only by blowing up their house.
Secondly, the peoples of the world respect achievement. For most of the 20th century they have admired the wonders of American science and education and economic growth. But now they are not all certain as to which way the future lies. The first vehicle in space was called Sputnik, not Vanguard. The first country to place its national emblem on the moon was Russia, not America. The first passengers to return safely from a trip through space were named Strelka and Belka, not Rover or Fido -- or even Checkers. They wonder why Russia has a rate of economic growth more than twice as fast as ours. They wonder why Russia is turning out scientists and engineers at twice the rate we do. And they are entitled to an answer.
Third, the peoples of the world respect sincerity. They believed in the Good Neighbor policy of Franklin Roosevelt -- because he was a good neighbor here at home -- because his administration had compassion for the unemployed and the poor and the handicapped. The colored people of Africa and Asia believed in Harry Truman’s Point Four Program -- because they knew he practiced the American principles of equal opportunity for all, regardless of race or creed, here at home. But now they are doubtful whether a party which has shown no real concern for civil rights -- no real compassion for its underprivileged -- is likely to show much more concern or compassion for the colored and so-called underprivileged nations of the world.
Fourth, the people of the world respect those who long for peace -- and they sincerely wonder how strongly America desires peace. They are afraid of diplomatic policies that teeter on the brink of war. They are dismayed that our negotiators have no solid plans for disarmament. And they are discouraged by a philosophy that puts its faith in swapping threats and insults with the Russians. For they know that it can lead in only one direction -- to mankind’s final war.
Fifth and finally, the peoples of the world respect a nation which can see beyond its own image. To us the major issue is the fight against Communism. But to most of the peoples of the world, that is a far off battle -- compared to their battles against poverty and disease and unemployment and illiteracy. Neither do they share our belief that our way, the private enterprise way, is necessarily the best path for any country under any circumstances. Each time we condition our assistance on changes in their economic system -- each time they feel that our friendship is merely to gain recruits against Communism – and each time we dismiss anti-American agitators as Communist tools, or condemn neutrals as politically naïve -- our prestige will suffer -- and our relations with our allies will worsen.
To rebuild American prestige now will not be easy. It cannot be done overnight by a new administration. For now the suspicions have been planted -- the doubts have been expressed -- and respect once lost can never be fully regained.
But I believe that the peoples of the Free World -- troubled and restless -- are looking for new leadership form the United States. And I believe they are willing to accept and respect the leadership of an administration that will move vigorously on these five fronts:
An administration that moves rapidly to rebuild our defenses, until America is once again first in military power across the board
An administration that moves rapidly to revamp our goals in education and research, until American science and learning are one again preeminent
An administration that moves rapidly to reshape our image here at home, until it is clear to all the world that the revolution for equal rights is still an American revolution
An administration that moves rapidly to renew our leadership for peace, until we have brought to that universal pursuit the same concentration of resources and efforts that we have brought to the preparation of war
And finally, an administration that moves rapidly to remold our attitudes toward the aspirations of other nations, until we have a fuller understanding of their problems, their requirements and their fundamental values.
Once we move with vigor on all five of these New Frontiers in foreign and domestic affairs, we can regain the confidence and trust of men and women around the world -- we can more comfortably wear the mantle of world leadership -- and we can win the fight for peace.