We meet together to begin work for the great campaign of 1960. That campaign will decide whether the Democratic Party is at last to have a sufficient margin in the House of Representatives. That campaign will decide whether the Democratic Party can increase its margin in the Senate. That campaign will decide whether those who administer our state and local governments in the coming years will be imbued with the principles of the Democratic Party. And finally, that campaign will determine whether a Democrat will once again lead this nation – in the most important office in the world – in the office of the President of the United States.
We have every reason to be confident as this election approaches. Less than two years ago we won tremendous victories in the House, in the Senate and in Governors’ Mansions and State Legislatures all over the country. In fact, since the Democrats last met in a national convention in July, 1956, 47 out of the 50 states – including the new states of Alaska and Hawaii – have elected either a Democratic Governor, a Democratic Senator or a Democratic Congressman-at-large. In 47 states a statewide electorate has chosen the Democratic Party. In every state except New York, Illinois and New Hampshire, the elections of the past three years have demonstrated that a Democrat can carry that state. The potential for an overwhelming landslide victory is there – and this state looks like it will lead the parade.
But let us not take this victory for granted. Let us recall some sobering statistics on the other side. Let us recall that our national ticket in 1950 carried only seven states and lost 41. Let us remember that our national ticket has not obtained a clear majority of the popular vote since 1944.
Local victories do not make a national victory, even when added together. We learned in 1956 that we could carry the Congress but lose the White House. I have no doubt that Illinois will send Paul Douglas back to the Senate next year by a large margin – and I have no doubt that Alabama will send John Sparkman back to the Senate next year by a large margin. But that does not guarantee that Illinois and Alabama will both agree on and support the Democratic National ticket.
I have no doubt that a majority of Senators, Governors and Congressmen from each section of the country will be Democratic – but history teaches us that these majorities cannot always be translated into majorities for the national ticket.
Let us face frankly the advantages which the Republicans possess. They are in power nationally, controlling the executive branch – and that means power to channel defense contracts, award patronage, purchase surplus commodities, file criminal indictments and hold Presidential press conferences. The Republicans in addition have a great asset and a great campaigner in the current President of the United States. And Mr. Nixon himself is a skillful campaigner, an experienced political fighter, and a candidate with tremendous financial and newspaper backing.
But the Democratic Party has two important assets – assets which will be decisive if we know how to use them. The first is the record of eight years of Republican rule – the second, the Democratic Party’s tradition of a dynamic, progressive man in the White House – a tradition which the sixties demand.
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 F.D.R.’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 Republican Administration itself.
Mr. Nixon said last week that he wants to carry on this Administration’s 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 in Berlin.
Mr. Nixon said he wants to carry on this Administration’s 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 needs a Lincoln – after Taft we needed a Wilson – after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt. And after eight years of this Administration, this nation needs a strong, creative Democrat in the White House.
I recognize President Eisenhower’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 political party which have the courage to speak the truth – to tell the people the grim facts about what has happened to America during the past eight years and what we must do to survive. The 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 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 natural 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.
Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 906, "Lake County Women's Club breakfast, Gary, Indiana, 5 February 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.