It is hard to come to Indiana in this month of February, one hundred years after the election of 1860, without thinking and saying something about Abraham Lincoln. Carl Sandburg tells how in 1816 Tom Lincoln and Abe on one horse, and Nancy Hanks and Sarah on the other, with pots, pans and the family Bible piled on, rode the hundred-mile trail into Indiana, to Little Pigeon Creek, where under the winter sky they lived in a "half-faced camp" with a log-fire burning night and day against the cold and the wilderness. And Sandburg tells of a night when little eight year old Abe, listening to a hoot-owl crying, went out to watch the quarter moon.
What did the moon see in that year of 1816, asks Sandburg. It had seen 16,000 wagons come along a Pennsylvania turnpike, heading west, seeing new land on the frontier –in Indiana where there were three people to the square mile. The moon saw a new land being opened, land that stretched from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains- the Louisiana purchase, which cost fifteen million dollars, a price that the budget-cutters of Jefferson's day argued we could not afford. The moon saw a boy who was to grow into a man on Indiana soil, where, Sandburg quotes one of Lincoln's friends as saying: "We lived the same as the Indiana, 'ceptin' we took an interest in politics and religion."
And what does the moon see now, this year of 1960, this fifteenth year of the atomic age, this first decade of the age of space?
Well, the people of Indiana still take an interest in politics and religion. And the traffic still flows over a Pennsylvania turnpike though at a somewhat faster pace.
And there are still pioneers- there are still new frontiers- some of them on the moon itself. But the moon has to look hard to find Americans on this new frontier. It sees a Soviet rocket to the moon, Soviet missiles soaring through space.
But we are asked today to forget about the missile gap, to forget about our dwindling prestige abroad and our dwindling defenses at home. These are of no importance in the 1960 election, we are told. According to the Vice President of the United States, Americans are "living better today than ever before and they are going to vote that way."
America is living today better than ever before. We have more swimming pools, freezers, boats and air-conditioners than the moon has ever seen before.
But "the test of our progress," said Franklin Roosevelt, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
By that test, the last eight years have been eight years of economic failure- eight years of retreat from historic aims. Last month, in his annual economic message, the President painted a picture of a fat and complacent nation- a nation of wealth and abundance- a satisfied nation: satisfied with what it had and satisfied with where it was going. But the truth of the matter is that behind the President's contented phrases are facts that give us no cause for such satisfaction. They do not meet the Roosevelt test.
Let us look at some of the phases and some of the facts.
1. "The increase in national output," said the President, "has made possible very great gains in the well-being of American families."
Yet- in an age of record national income- we have seven million families who must struggle to survive on incomes of less than $2,000 a year. We have more than three million unemployed. We have depressed areas where one-quarter of the workers have no job.
These "very great gains" the President talks about do not include those drawing unemployment compensation, whose families must get by on an average of $31 a week. We have seen no "very great gains" for 80 per cent of our old people, who must survive on substandard incomes- no very great gain in the well-being of seventeen million Americans who suffer from malnutrition while our farms produce ever-costlier surpluses- no very great gain in the well-being of those who must live in the five million homes that lack plumbing, or the five million residences which need desperately to be replaced.
2. "The American economy," said the President, "has sustained its long-term record of growth." But in fact we have declined to a growth rate which is only half the record increases of the Roosevelt-Truman era. The Soviet Union is expanding its economy three times as fast as the United States. Eight years of drift and retrenchment – holding down purchasing power, curbing small business, neglecting our farms and cities, wasting our natural resources- these are the policies that need to be reversed if we are to increase national income, create national wealth, and bring the good life to all Americans, while allowing us to meet our obligations abroad.
3. "Notable gains," said the President, "have been made in education and other cultural areas."
And yet today millions of young Americans are deprived of a decent education because of overcrowded classrooms- a lack of competent and well-paid teachers- and the unwillingness of our great, rich nation to ensure that poverty will not be a bar to higher education for any talented student. And these problems are getting worse as our population expands- as our schools grow older- as cities and towns are priced out of the teacher market. We are failing- shamefully failing- to make what the President calls "notable gains"- but we cannot fail education much longer without failing our future as well.
4. "The economic security of American families," said the President, "has been advanced significantly."
But family security has not been advanced significantly when the props beneath that security- fashioned nearly a generation ago by Franklin Roosevelt and the Congress- have been permitted to rust and decay: Minimum wages, social security, unemployment compensation, aids to housing and farmers and small business. And family security has not been advanced significantly when it is still subject to the whims of economic fluctuation. Under this Administration we have seen two serious recessions and- at the very same time- serious price inflation, eating away a family's savings, using up wage increases, destroying the value of insurance policies and pensions. We have seen the highest interest rates in history driving the price of money continually higher, slowing the construction of badly needed homes, and causing a record number of small business failures.
These are just a few of the facts behind the phrases- the hard facts of America's economy, stripped of the cover of complacent and unjustified words. We are failing to provide for those who have too little- we are failing to meet the Roosevelt standard and the standard of the Democratic Party. We are increasing our wealth, but we are failing to use that great wealth to meet the urgent needs of millions of our citizens, and the demands of our growing nation.
Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 906, "Democratic luncheon, East Chicago, Indiana, 5 February 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.