Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Michigan State University, East Lansing, October 14, 1960

Senator Kennedy: Lt. Governor John Swainson, Governor Williams, my colleague in the Senate, Senator McNamara, Jerry O’Rourke, ladies and gentlemen: Prince Bismarck once said that one third of the students of German Universities broke down from overwork, another third broke down from dissipation, and the other third ruled Germany. (Laughter) I do not know which third of the student body of Michigan State is here today, but I am sure that I am talking to the future rulers of America, in the sense that all educated men and women have an obligation to assume the discipline of self government.

I represent today and stand here as the Standard Bearer of the Democratic Party, and I carry that responsibility in the most difficult, dangerous and significant time in the life of the great Republic. Those of us who run as Democrats frequently quote the names of Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Truman, but what seems to me to be especially significant about 1960 is that the problems which are now descending upon us, and have descended upon us in the last few years, are problems which Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman did not face in any degree, or if they faced them they were only the size of a man’s hand on the horizon. The problems of which I speak go to the ability of a free society to successfully maintain itself over a long period of time against the disciplined power of a monolithic state. That question has never been determined with satisfaction as to whether a free society can maintain that competition, and it will be our responsibility in the next decade, two decades or three to try to prove that we can.

For example, is it possible for a free society over a long period of time to so increase its economic growth, in other words, double our present rate of economic growth, so that we are able to maintain full employment, so that we are able to maintain our defensive obligations, we are able to maintain those expenditures in the public sector which are necessary, and also fulfill our commitments around the world?

Secondly, is it possible for a society such as ours in the next ten years, when automation will become the regular rule instead of the exception – and I spent a month in West Virginia, nearly a week in McDowell County, West Virginia, which mines more coal than ever before in its history, which mines more coal than any county in the United States, and has more families getting surplus food packages than any other county in the United States, where 20 years ago there was full employment. Can we in this State of Michigan and the United States, in the Sixties, by governmental action, by action of labor and management, at a time when new machinery is coming in at a tremendous rate in all the basic industries, can we maintain full employment? A problem entirely different than the problem which faced Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s.

Is it possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to come to an agreement on the cessation of nuclear tests, which provide a reasonable chance for an inspection system which will give us adequate guarantees, and if we do come to an agreement, what about the Red Chinese? Shouldn’t they be brought into those conversations if any agreement is to have significance? Or otherwise, is it possible for the Soviet Union to conduct its tests within the frontiers of China, and have the Chinese Communists indicated in their present discussions any desire to reach any agreement with any of us in the West short of an all-out war to which they are presently committed in their foreign and internal policy?

Fourthly, is it possible for those countries to the south of us, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, faced as they are with a revolution of rising expectation, faced with a steadily increasing population, with inadequate resources, with totally inadequate educational base, is it possible for them to maintain freedom or are they going to be impressed by the example of the Chinese and the Russians in mobilizing in a short period of time all the resources of the state for the service of the state?
These are not new problems. They have been with us for some time. My point is this administration has never even recognized their existence in a very real sense. (Applause)

The economic growth of which I spoke is not only nearly a third that of the Soviet Union, but it is also only a half that of West Germany, Italy and France, and slightly less than that of Great Britain last year, the lowest of any major industrialized society in the world. A recession in 1954 and a recession in 1958. The Wall Journal, which is the bible of the Republican candidates on all occasions says is now under way, two years after the recession of 1958 so quickly did our productive capacity catch up with demand.

Secondly, this administration has shown as little interest in the subject of nuclear testing, a cessation of it and disarmament as it is possible to show. We have had, as I said in the debate last night, less than 100 people working in the entire federal structure on the subject of disarmament, a subject as complicated in its own way as armaments, requiring the most extensive chemical and physical investigation in research, less than 100 people scattered through the government.
Our position at Geneva on discussion after discussion has reflected it. We did not even have a position at Geneva a year ago. We had to appoint an ad hoc committee under Mr. Coolidge from Massachusetts, who made a study of it for three months with a special committee, and then that report was thrown out and we accepted the British position.

Thirdly, on the subject of economic breakthrough of the under-developed countries, a subject which this university has had more consistent interest in than almost any other educational institution in the western world – (applause) – you know from your experience here in this college that none of these countries are moving ahead within the so-called free zone. India and the rest, none of them are moving ahead in a way which would indicate that they can match in any degree the economic mobilization of the Chinese Communists. India’s rate of economic growth is not sufficient to take care of the increase in their population and provide a steadily rising per capita income, and this administration has refused to put the Development Loan Fund in sufficient strength with sufficient vigor on a long range enough basis to permit these countries to meet their problems.

And fourthly, a new, emerging problem of the kind that we have seen in Africa has caught this administration flatfooted. We did not establish a Bureau of African Affairs in the State Department until 1957. We gave last year two per cent of all the Development Loan Fund, money appropriated to assist under-developed countries, less than 2 per cent of all of Africa.

There are four countries in Africa now in the United Nations that do not have a single American diplomatic representative within their frontiers. Ghana, which was independent in 1957 and Guinea, in 1958, it took us four months to recognize the independence of Guinea; after it had declared its independence of France, the Soviet Ambassador showed up that day and we did not send an Ambassador for from six to eight months to Guinea. And now Guinea supports the foreign policy.

There are 12 college graduates in the Congo out of a country of a million. The United States in June offered 300 scholarships to the Congo. That was more than we offered to all of Africa the year before. There are less foreign students studying in the United States today than there were a decade ago, under American financed programs by the federal government, less than 200 scholarships for all of Africa. There were, in 1957, more Foreign Service personnel in Western Germany than in all of Africa. There has not been a Latin American program under the Voice of America, except for the three months of the Hungarian crisis, in the last eight years.

Now, anyone who tells me we have never had it so good, anyone who says this kind of experience should be rewarded with four more years of administration in the most changing time in the life of our country, does not look around them. (Applause) The record, I believe, of our two parties, their ability to meet new problems, goes all the way back to the beginning of this century. The Republican candidates and their slogans tell the story: Stand pat with McKinley; Return to normalcy with Harding; Keep cool with Coolidge – (laughter – Repeal social security with Alf Landon. I don’t know what Thomas Dewey ran on, nor did he. (Laughter and applause) But I do say that the slogans of the Democratic candidates in this century retell a story. Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal and in my judgment – (applause) – in my judgment the accomplishments of those administrations in the field of foreign policy were directly related to their accomplishments in the domestic field.

The 14 Points of Woodrow Wilson had its domestic counterpart in the New Freedom. The Four Freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt had its counterpart in the New Deal, and the Marshall Plan, the NATO doctrine, Point IV, the Truman doctrine, all had this counterpart in the Fair Deal program of President Truman. (Applause)

So that is the decision which you as voters will reach on November 8, and it is our only responsibility to attempt to suggest the alternatives. The decision you must reach is not merely between Mr. Nixon and myself. In a sense it is not merely between the Republican and the Democratic Parties. It is between a concept of the future, a basic realization, which I believe all Americans must possess, that the balance of power is not shifting in our direction, that what we are now doing is not good enough, that we have lost in a major sense the imagination of the people of the world as a vital, free society, a revolutionary society. We do not demonstrate in our dealings the same confidence that Mr. Khrushchev’s children will be free men as he demonstrates in his dealings with us and with all other men that our children will be communists. I believe that we possess the most radical of all doctrines, but I do not think that that can be promoted, I do not believe that we can indicate to a watching world as we sit on a most conspicuous stage that we represent the way to the future until the Democratic Party and those that believe that this country must begin to move again, assume positions of responsibility. Thank You. (Applause)

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 913, "Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 14 October 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.