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 stated my conviction that the central issue in this or any other campaign is the Presidency itself. The Republican “heir to the throne” -- the only surviving heir, I might add -- accused me of confusing strong Presidential leadership with table-pounding -- and he asserted that President Truman, for example, had too often been only a table-pounder.
Now Harry Truman needs no accolades from me -- and no rejoinder to Mr. Nixon -- to go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents of all time. But the facts of the matter are that during these last eight years of inaction and reaction -- as the Republicans in the Congress and even in the Cabinet were vetoing the President’s own programs -- a little more of Harry Truman’s brand of “table-pounding” might have gone a long way.
Mr. Nixon also said last week that he wants to carry on the Eisenhower 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 toward war.
Mr. Nixon said he wants to carry on the Eisenhower policies. I say the country cannot afford it. 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 Eisenhower, this nation needs a strong, creative Democrat in the White House.
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 FDR.’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 Eisenhower Administration itself.
I recognize the President’s great popularity in the polls -- the strength of his personal appeal -- the magic of his name. But I also firmly believe that the American people next November will respect that candidate and that the 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.
The Eisenhower “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 they talk about their prosperity … but it is a prosperity for some, not for all. And it is an abundance of goods, not of courage. We have the most gadgets and the most gimmicks in our history, the biggest TV and tail-fins -- but we also have the worst slums, the most crowded schools, and the greatest erosion of our national resources and our national will. It may be, for some, an age of material prosperity -- but it is also an age of spiritual poverty.
There is, in short, 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.