Remarks of Representative John F. Kennedy at the Pennsylvania Young Democrats Regional Convention, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, July 16, 1949

1949 is a year of crisis for the United States, and it is therefore a year of decision for the Democratic Party, which must bear the major responsibility for the course this country takes. It is obvious that the great Republic is about to reap the whirlwind – sown during the years of war and the post-war inflation. We face a debt of 250 billion dollars, a deficit of 5 billion dollars for fiscal ’50, the specter of growing unemployment especially severe in the light industries of New England, the prospect of real wages of those employed in many areas decreasing, profits of corporations down 13% below the first half of last year. 1949 may be the year of transition from the soft dollar of the 40’s to the hard dollar of the 50’s.

In the field of foreign relations we look upon a darkening scene. The Marshall Plan has failed to break down the centuries old barriers between the countries of Western Europe. The hope of placing the European economy on a sound basis is fading as country after country finds that the seller’s market is over, with the day of reckoning when the flow of dollars under the Marshall Plan from the United States to Europe ceases only two years away.

And in the Far East, we have failed to grasp the extent to which our safety is wrapped up in a non-Communist China. All of us as American citizens must feel deep concern as we come face to face with these problems abroad and at home. Certainly as Democrats we must feel a sense of urgency. A great responsibility rests with the President and the Democratic Party. The country’s ability to survive the future will rest in a major degree on our judgment and vigor.

As we move forward into the future, we are armed with weapons developed over the past twenty years to protect this country. They will aid in making our future secure. That we have them at hand in this critical period is due to the foresight and vision of the Democratic Party in the last two decades. The security and exchange commission which will prevent stock market crashes like that of ’29, the Federal Deposit Insurance which will protect us in the future from wide spread bank failures which characterized the Depression period, unemployment compensation and Social Security which helps protect the worker, farm legislation which includes price support and protects farmers from disaster, state and federal minimum wage laws which will prevent rapid and dangerous drops in wages which were typical of the Depression period, the Wagner Act – which should be restored – which gave labor the legal right to organize and bargain collectively. All of this legislation will serve us well, and it will be re-enforced by new social legislation I hope in the days to come.

Certainly compared to the problems that need solving, the record of Congress to date has been a disappointment to those who believe in the Fair Deal. Our failure to repeal the Taft-Hartley bill, to lift the minimum wage from 40 to 75 cents with additional coverage – so important toward building a consumer purchasing power – to extend the Social Security in order to protect those who are exposed to the rigors and contractions of our economic system, to enact the civil rights program – a basic part of our democratic program – must be of concern to all of us.

The difficulties that we have encountered in our attempt to repeal the Taft-Hartley bill in the House demonstrates the importance of the election of 1950 and 1952, if any basic legislation of Fair Deal is to be enacted.

One bright light on the horizon has been indication that more of the Southern Democrats are supporting Fair Deal legislation with the exception of civil rights. Without the support of some Southerners we could not have enacted public housing legislation, and could not have re-committed the Wood bill. I believe that this trend in the South augurs well for our future.

Some years ago, while sitting in the office of General Eisenhower, the then Chief of Staff of the United States Army, I saw a picture hung on the wall of the famous and celebrated race between the turtle and the rabbit. The picture depicted the turtle with his neck out stretched reaching the finish line just a fraction ahead of the onrushing rabbit. Underneath these words: “This fellow would not have won had he not stuck his neck out”.

The picture appealed to me for certainly nothing is ever done, nor ever will be done without someone sticking his neck out. Certainly those who fought for the establishment of a constitutional democracy, those who invented the machines and implements which gave us comfort, those who have provided outstanding leadership in our government down through its history were all men who were willing to turn away from the past, push into the future, and above all, were willing to “stick their necks out”.

The United States is chartering a new course in history. The United States needs new leadership in government – men and women of vision and intelligence and more men and women who are willing to put their political necks on the block to be chopped off in behalf of what they believe to be right.

As young men and women we have the most to lose – the most to win. The problems we face today are difficult. There is no easy solution, no short cut. But we go forward to win nothing less than the brave-in-heart have hoped for and fought for before. We shall go forward to mount the range seeing behind us the long way we have come from servitude, and seeing ahead of us the promised land of peace and freedom.

Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 02. Speeches, 1946-1952. Box 93, Folder: "Economics speech: Pennsylvania Young Democrats, 16 July 1949".