Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Western Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 7, 1960

I am here this morning to apologize for the speech delivered on the Senate Floor by one of my predecessors from Massachusetts. He was talking about a mail route from the Missouri to the Columbia Rivers and he was, as always, eloquent: "What do we want," he said, "with this vast worthless area? This region of savages and wild beasts, of...shifting sands, dust, cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever put these great deserts, or those endless mountain ranges...? What can we ever hope to do with the Western Coast, a Coast of three thousand miles, rock-bound, cheerless, uninviting and not a harbor on it? What use have we for this country?"

Those were not the words of a modern Republican but an ancient Whig. Daniel Webster. And the answer to this question lies all about us - in the great deserts reclaimed, in the mountains of natural resources, in the great ports and mines and power projects. It is still vast, but not worthless - still rock-bound but not cheerless. And yet the miraculous changes transforming this region in the last century are not enough. The Western frontier is still to be explored - its needs are still to be met.

But I am not here to talk to you about western needs. I do not propose to offer solutions to western problems, or to tell you how the next President must answer western demands. Nor do I think that you want to hear such a speech. For I am confident that you share my faith in the vision of two great easterners - Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt - to whom the great resources of the west were a source of American greatness - to whom the growth of the West was a key to American growth - to whom the untapped abundance of the West was the basis of American abundance - to whom the future of the West was America’s future.

Today - under an Administration headed not by easterners (like the two Roosevelts) but by a Kansan and a Californian - we are in the midst of a depression - a depression in the handling of our natural resources. This is not a depression of scarcity - it is not caused by a lack of water or power or land. It is due to despoilment, under-development and neglect - it is due to a lack of vision and a lack of faith - it is due to a reluctance to make the effort needed to transform our untapped abundance into the raw materials required for today’s needs and tomorrow’s goals. Every day in which we lack leadership - every day in which no plans are drawn or efforts made - plunges us deeper into this depression.

In the next fifteen years our population will continue to expand. By 1975 there will be 230 million Americans - with the West growing four times as fast as the rest of the country. And for this growing America we will need a growing supply of resources. By 1975 we will need twice as much water - water for growing cities, our farms and our industry. We will consume twice as much food, and we will need 3-1/2 million more acres on which to grow this food - acres which must be reclaimed now if they are to feed a nation in the future. We will need three times as much power to drive the machinery and light the homes of our expanding economy.

We will need millions of acres more land for wildlife and recreation. We will need increased efforts to stop the devastating floods which cause over a billion dollars worth of damage each year and take an incalculable toll in human life and human welfare. We will need vigorous action to halt the destructive and dangerous contamination of our rivers, and lakes, and of the air we breathe. We will need increased research and development, to find new sources of water in the ocean and new uses for our vast mineral resources in the earth - resources which Americans alone have consumed, in the last fifty years, in quantities greater than all mankind consumed in the entire course of recorded history.

These are the challenges of the future - challenges which we must meet in the Sixties, if we are to meet the needs of this generation, and preserve the heritage of future generations.

But these challenges have not been met. The past eight years have compiled a record of timidity - of failure. Any administration which has forgotten the West is an administration which has neglected the nation. And this Administration’s record of failure and neglect is not only set down in statistics and reports - it is burned into the land around us - in the parched and arid acres of much of the southwest - in the millions of acre-feet of water which flow filthy and unused to the sea - in the rotting timber of our national forests. This is their monument of failure - a visible, tangible, shameful monument.

Let us look at this record of failure - a record which the next - Democratic - Administration - must reverse.

1. First: Despite our growing needs - our expanding population - we have actually been spending less on our natural resources in the past eight years than we did under Harry Truman and we have spent less in a period when inflation has cut the value of each resource dollar by one-third. While the Administration’s own conservative Department of Commerce has been saying that we must spend at least 3 1⁄2 billion dollars per year to meet our minimum resource needs - the Administration’s budget has asked for less than half that amount.

2. Secondly: With the exception of one project - the Colorado River Storage Project - the product of the imagination and planning of Oscar Chapman - there has not been one single multipurpose, basin-wide project by the United States in the past eight years - projects which might transform the Columbia or Connecticut River basins, or the Rampart Canyon area in Alaska. We must return to the concept of Teddy Roosevelt who realized that "a river was a unit from its source to the sea," and that only by planning for all the needs of an entire basin could we effectively conserve and develop the potentialities of our great rivers.

3. Third: The administration has requested less than fifty per cent of the amount needed to maintain and make useful one of our most important national assets - the great national forests. Last spring we heard - from the Secretary of Agriculture - the heroic words of the pioneer - promising a bold new program for our forests. But January brought instead the cold phrases of the budgeteer - cutting the heart out of the Administration’s own program - requesting less than fifty percent of the needed funds. Our forests are one of our most vital assets - they contain more than one-half the commercial timber of the West - they provide recreation for millions - they are the major source of water for more than 1600 cities and towns - they drive more than 600 hydro-electric projects - they are necessary to the control of destructive floods - their proper management would provide jobs for six million Americans and repay every dollar of investment. We must reverse this failure - we must restore our great woodlands as a source of strength for the nation’s future.

4. Fourth: Until this year - and the coming of an election - the whole nation, not only the West, was the victim of one of the most shortsighted and destructive policies in the history of our natural resources - the policy of no new starts. This policy was misnamed - it should have been called the policy of no more progress - no more progress toward utilizing the 90 million wasted kilowatts contained in our flowing rivers - no more progress toward supplying land, industry and people with some of the 675 million acre-feet of water which is now unused. We must, and shall, resume the march forward.

5. Fifth: All Congressional efforts to meet the problem of water pollution - to halt the wasteful and dangerous contamination of our lakes and rivers - to provide healthy and usable water for our homes and industries - have met with Administration delay and opposition. Even today the threat of veto hangs over the expansion of the Federal water pollution program - a program which is falling short only because it lacks funds, vision and executive leadership.

6. Sixth and finally: Efforts to use science and technology to find new sources of water and new uses for mineral resources have been frustrated by Administration policy - and starved by lack of leadership. Only the untiring efforts of Senator Anderson brought about the beginning of a saline water conversion program - a program which may hold the key to our future - and possibly the world’s. New and better coal research has been vetoed - mineral development has been forgotten but in an age of science, the newest of man’s tools must be applied to the oldest of man’s problems - the development of his natural resources.

These failures and many more like them have been produced by policies which are unsound by the very standards used to create them - in terms of dollars and cents. For every dollar spent on flood control, on reclamation, on power, on increasing water supplies, not only contributes immeasurable to national welfare but returns manyfold to the Federal treasury. Western reclamation projects have produced more tax revenue since 1940 than the cost of all reclamation projects in our history.

We in the Democratic Party are not spenders but investors - and we are willing to show our faith in America by investing in her future. In the past eight years we have heard much about budgets and deficits - but the facts are that in the past eight years we have incurred the greatest deficit in the history of this country - an enormous debt in wasted resources - in polluted and untapped water - in unused power - in decaying forest - in parched and useless land - contaminated air - and destroyed natural beauty. This is a deficit in faith - a deficit in vision - and a deficit in leadership.

A Senator from South Carolina said in 1843 that "to talk about constructing a railroad to the western shore of this continent manifests a wild spirit of adventure which I never expected to hear broached in the Senate of the United States." Today we must again call upon that "wild spirit of adventure" - for we are confronted with dangers and challenges greater than any man has ever known. To meet these challenges we must be strong - we must summon all our resources - resources of mind and spirit, and the resources which lie beneath our earth, and in our mountains, and in our rivers - those resources on which we have built a great nation - those resources on which her continued greatness depends. And for those resources, we must look as Americans have always looked - westward.

I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast in April of 1941 - when to the East, Europe crumbled before the Nazi onslaught - and Churchill, looking westward to America for support, quoted the words of the poet Arthur Clough:

"And not by Eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the night
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly -
But westward, look, the land is bright."

Today, back East in Washington, as we view a leadership of indecision and drift - of confusion and pettiness - the prospects often look dark. But as we Democrats gather strength for the leadership will soon be ours - as we begin the task of preparing America for her time of greatness - we, too, can say - "But westward, look, the land is bright."

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 906, "Western conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 7 February 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.