The American people in November of 1960 will make a decisive choice - a choice that will affect us for years to come. They will decide the kind of leadership this country is to have in the years of the Sixties - crucial, critical years - years of decision - years of change - years of crisis.
I have said in recent weeks that in the Sixties we will need a forceful and creative President in the White House - a President who will be the vital center of action in our entire political system - a President in the Democratic tradition of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
For, in the turbulent Sixties, we can no longer afford a program of indecision and drift - policies of little vision and less vigor. For, whether we like it or not, the man who is elected in November of 1960 is going to be a "crisis President" - just as Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were crisis Presidents. Whatever his party affiliation, and regardless of his wishes for a tranquil term, the next President of the United States must be prepared to face at least six great crises in the Sixties - the inevitable crises of our time - the crises which lurk beneath today's surface gloss of peace and prosperity - crises which only firm, dynamic leadership - Democratic leadership - can meet.
The first crisis which must be faced by the next President is the crisis of our expanding population. This year will conclude the largest ten year growth in the history of our country - a growth which equals the entire population of Poland or Spain. And the Sixties will see another such explosion - we will continue to grow at a rate which will double our population by the end of the century - only 41 years away.
Yet this growth of the fifties has not been matched by our public programs - just as we have not planned to match the growth of the Sixties. Today fifteen million people live in substandard housing - five million urban homes lack plumbing of any kind - seven million urban homes need to be totally replaced. And our crowded cities continue to grow. Inadequate streets and highways become more clogged. Public transportation continues to break down. Our older cities continue to decay. Yet plans and projects initiated as far back as 1950 are still unfinished. And new plans to meet new needs are not being prepared.
More people of all ages necessarily means more children of school age - ten million more in the Sixties alone. Ten million more children in need of adequate classrooms, a decent education, competent and well-paid teachers. Ten million more children who will enter a school system which is inadequate even for today's needs.
And along with more children we will continue to have more older Americans. Unless action is taken soon, these older Americans will continue to find their social security checks eaten away by inflation - their health needs unfilled by our social security program - their housing needs unmet.
The crisis of our exploding population will affect every act of our next President. It cannot be ignored - it cannot be vetoed out of existence. It is a crisis which must be faced - and which a Democratic administration will face.
Secondly, our next President must be prepared to meet the crisis of American agriculture: high farm surpluses and low farm income. New farm technology - a revolution comparable to the industrial revolution of the 19th Century - is giving us the greatest surpluses in our history from the smallest farm population working the least acreage.
While the rest of America continues to grow in the Sixties - unless something is done - farm population will continue to dwindle, farm income will continue to decrease. Our abundance of food will continue to be a curse - a curse for the farmer, for the nation and for a hungry world. This has been the farm program for the Fifties. Only a change in policies - a change in leadership - can help our next President meet this growing crisis in the Sixties
Third, our next President must face the crisis of automation - the replacement of men by machines - the replacement of established industries by new products. We can smile today at the plight of the blacksmith when the automobile replaced the horse and buggy. But coal miners, sheep-growers, railroad workers, telephone operators, office employees, auto workers, and millions of other Americans are not smiling at the threat of their own replacement by modern machines.
Today, computers can do in seconds what would take man centuries. Tomorrow nuclear power, thermo-electric refrigeration, food from algae and the ocean depths, books printed by radio-isotopes, light without batteries, and factories run by a single button will bring us new wonders - and new problems.
We must welcome this revolution and its promise of a better life. But at the same time we cannot continue to forget our unemployed workers and our depressed areas. We must re-train those out of work - we must rehabilitate our depressed cities and towns - and, if we are to increase our economic growth - we must make sure that the technological advances of the future are made available to the people and not locked away in either private or Pentagon vaults.
Fourth is the crisis caused by American poverty in the midst of American plenty. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. For most Americans poverty, famine and pestilence are words from the distant past.
But how can we refuse to share this growing abundance with the millions of unemployed who must exist on an average of $31 a week? Why can we not reduce the number of families, already one in every four, who struggle to survive on incomes of less than $2000 a year - the forgotten group at the bottom of F.D.R.'s "economic pyramid" which actually increased since 1953. We cannot continue to allow millions of Americans to work for substandard wages and live in substandard houses. This gap between our national wealth and the poverty of too many citizens has reached the crisis stage - and we must elect a President who is willing to tackle it.
Fifth, he must face in the sixties the crisis of the underdeveloped and emerging nations. During the coming decade, half a billion people will be added to the population of the world. The burden of this fantastic increase - which will be approximately equal to the entire population of Europe - will fall upon those nations in the bottom half of the globe which are least able to bear it - the nations of Africa and Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. And these same troubled areas of the world will continue to see the birth of struggling new nations - for man's eternal desire to be free and independent will continue to rise to the fore.
The future of those areas holds the key to our own future. If we cannot help them conquer their poverty - if we cannot help them achieve a secure and stable society - then our future as well as theirs will be endangered. The outcome of India's fierce economic struggle with Red China may determine the future of all Asia.
If these countries are to get ahead of their population increases, they must step up the expansion of their economies - and this means they must obtain development capital from the wealthy nations of the West. And if those now struggling to win their freedom are to look toward the West - and not to Moscow or Peiping - once that freedom is achieved, we must make complete clear our strong, unequivocal stand for self-determination. This nation - itself born in a revolution from foreign rule - should lead this nationalist surge instead of helping to throttle it. Perhaps it will be too late for the next President to deal with this crisis in some areas - but in Africa and elsewhere, this crisis is still to be met.
Sixth and finally is the crisis of our crumbling defenses - our growing inability to meet as equals at the international conference table. We began the Fifties with overwhelming military superiority - strength enough to ensure that no one would dare attack. But during the past eight years our military strength has deteriorated - the Russians have taken the lead in missiles, in space and in conventional weapons. During the Sixties, devastation will be literally only minutes away. During those years, in terms of vulnerability to attack, we will be closer to the Soviet Union than France was to Germany in 1939.
It is not his year that causes greatest concern. Nor the years after 1964, when we expect to have an arsenal of sufficient size and strength to deter any aggressor. But it is the years in between - the years of the gap - when the next President of the United States will be confronted with a crisis no previous President has ever known. We will be on the short end of the nuclear deterrent ratio - and we will also lack the versatility needed to halt local brush-fire aggressions with conventional weapons.
And yet it is only with such strength that we can persuade the Russians to meet us at the conference table - that war is useless, and would mean the devastation of Soviet civilization.
These are the six great crises of our time - the six great crises which our next President must meet. And to meet these crises the American people cannot - will not - turn to the Republican party. For a party of the status quo - a party with a record of unmet national goals and unsolved national problems - cannot hope to lead us through the exciting turbulent, critical years of the Sixties.
The Democratic Party on the other hand has traditionally been the party of peaceful revolution and change. We have been the party of new ideas, new experiments and new approaches. For we know that our country has surmounted great crises in the past, not because of our wealth, not because of our rhetoric, not because we had longer cars and white iceboxes and bigger television screens than anyone else, but because our ideas were more compelling and more penetrating and more wise and enduring.
In 1960, I am confident, the American people will not be content to stand still - they will see the approaching crises - they will again look for imagination and vitality and action. And for these qualities they will turn once again, as they have in the past, to the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 905, "Roosevelt Birthday Ball, Salt Lake City, Utah, 30 January 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.