Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Scranton, Pennsylvania, October 28, 1960

SENATOR KENNEDY: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank the next Congressman from this district, Stanley Prokop, Governor Lawrence, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Lawlor, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I come here tonight to ask your support, for Stanley Prokop, for those candidates who are running for assembly and the state senate, because I believe that Pennsylvania and the nation needs to have Democratic leadership. (Applause) And let me say that I am glad to be in this county, in this city, because it is my judgment that here in Pennsylvania the next President of the United States may well be close even on November 8. (Applause)

I understand that as a result of the registration in this county, I was informed by Mr. Lawlor that for the first time in the memory of man, it goes back no further, for the first time in history, Pennsylvania now has a Democratic majority, over 3,000. (Applause) May I say that I would not be here tonight, I would be home in bed, if it had not been for the support I received from your distinguished Governor and the Pennsylvania delegation at the Democratic Convention. (Applause) The fact is that Pennsylvania made it possible for me to be nominated, and I would like to have you finish the job. (Applause)

I am also glad to be here because the publisher of the Scranton Times, Mr. Miner, has been generous enough to endorse my candidacy. (Applause) Unlike Mr. Nixon, who has hundreds of papers supporting him, as they do all Republicans, Democratic candidates have only a few, and we really cherish them. So we want to thank him very much. (Applause)

Let me say that I think this choice that lies for the voters of Pennsylvania and the nation on November 8 is very clear. If you want to sit still in Scranton, if you want to continue the present leadership, if you want to see the United States fail to move forward throughout the world and in our own country, Mr. Nixon is your man. (Response from the audience.)

But if you believe as I believe that now in the United States that this is one of the great watersheds in history, as was 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was chosen, and in 1912, when Woodrow Wilson was chosen (applause) I believe that this is a time of decision for America - before you decide who should be the next President, who should be your Congressman, you have to decide what your view is of your country, your community, your history, your future. You have to decide whether you are comfortable and happy and fat and prosperous today or whether you agree that as a citizen of the United States, as a defender of freedom, it is our obligation to move our country forward, not to be satisfied with anything but the best. And we want the best for this country. (Applause)

I am not entirely convinced that Mr. Nixon offers it. I believe Mr. Nixon offers more of the same, but less. He continues to look behind him, he continues to look in the past, he continues to make arguments which have little relevancy with the facts. He continues to be further and further removed from reality in discussing the problems of the United States and the problems we face in the world. In Michigan I saw it, when he made a speech about the number of automobiles we were now producing. I would like to ask him how many of those automobiles are being sold, because by the middle of November, according to every calculation, we will build more cars in September and October than we have in years, and by the middle of November there will be more automobiles unsold than there have been in the history of the United States.

Now, what kind of prosperity is that when the auto industry speeds it up now and then leaves them unsold for the dealers in November? If that is the kind of prosperity we are talking about, I don't think that is the kind that Americans want. What kind of prosperity is it when we build this year 30 per cent less homes than we built last year. That affects the job of everyone here, everyone who works in construction, everyone who works in home materials, everyone who works in textiles, everyone who works in any industry is affected by the rate of home building and auto building in the United States. They are our two basic industries. Fifty per cent of the steel capacity is being used, 30 per cent less homes, nearly four and a half million people out of work, and three million working part time.

The Wall Street Journal, which should be Mr. Nixon's bible, says it is a recessions. I don't know what you would call it, and I would not calculate what it is. But in any case, it is not good enough, and if Mr. Nixon is satisfied is satisfied with it, that is another difference of opinion we have. (Applause) The fact of the matter is in this county alone, in this area of Pennsylvania, nearly one quarter of a million people, one out of every four, have moved to find a better chance some place else. I want rather than young people looking for jobs elsewhere, I want the jobs to come here. (Applause)

I think Franklin Roosevelt put the choice for us just about as sharply and clearly as any American has ever put it when he came before 100,000 people in Franklin Field Philadelphia, in 1936, to accept his second Presidential nomination, and in that speech he said: "Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine Justice weighs the sins of the cold blooded and the sins of the warm hearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference". And in my opinion that is what our opposition is and Mr. Nixon represents as he approaches the future of this country. (Applause)

Yesterday I saw he was heckled and to the hecklers he said, "We are going to take care of you." In my judgment, the people of the United States will make a judgment on November 8 as to which candidate which party, which political philosophy, which future, they believe best represents the aspirations of our society. Let me make it very clear that no voter should go to the polls thinking Mr. Nixon and I stand for anywhere near the same thing in 1960.

I think the choice is very clear. It is written in his record in 14 years in the Congress. It is written in the Republican record of 25 years of opposition to every piece of progressive legislation that has come before the Congress. (Applause) the same party that opposed 25 cents for a minimum wage in the mid-Thirties opposes unanimously, pretty nearly, in the House, $1.25 in 1960. The same party, the Republicans, who opposed social security in the mid-Thirties, opposed medical care for the aged. The same party which in 1960 talks about education, the same candidate who talks about aid to education, cast the decisive vote against aid to teachers salaries in the United States Senate. The same candidate who talks about housing and about aid to our colleges was a member of the administration which vetoed two housing bills, which would have provided low rent housing, housing for the elderly, and loans to our colleges and universities in order to build college classrooms and dormitories. Is that progress? (Response from the audience)

I always enjoy listening to Mr. Nixon talk about the Republican record on area redevelopment. On the national debate he talked about what he was going to do about Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. If I had not been there, if I had not observed that, I might have been impressed. The fact of the matter is he can't possibly explain away two Republican vetoes of area redevelopment. I was the floor manager of the first bill to pass the Senate. It came out of the committee of which I was chairman. Senator Clark of this state, Congressman Flood and your own future Congressman - that is the kind of leadership which stands for this sort of legislation. (Applause)

The first bill in 1956 which I managed died in the House. The Republicans opposed it. The next bill passed the Senate and the House and was vetoed by the President. The next bill passed in the Senate and the House and was vetoed by the President. They did not even introduce the Republican bill. They didn't even testify in favor of it until after the President had vetoed the second bill.

I come from a state which has had a good many people unemployed. If anyone can tell me a more desperate fate for an American than wanting to work and unable to find it, having children and a family to support - and this morning I talked to three steel workers who have been out of work since April. How do you meet the weekly budget? What do you do, go down and get surplus food, which amounts to five cents a day per person? What do you do about your children? What do you do about the mortgage on your house? After unemployment compensation runs out, then what do you do? You move away or you work in another state or your wife goes to work.

These are the things which divide our two parties. Medical care for the aged, aid to education, unemployment compensation insured by federal minimum standards, a minimum wage, area redevelopment, development of our natural resources. I don't believe there is any comparison in the record our parties for 25 years, and I don't think that there is any comparison in our approach to progressive social legislation which serves the people between Mr. Nixon and myself, I am glad to say. (Applause)

So you have to decide. I believe that the 1960's can be, in Dickens' phrase, the best of years or the worst of years. We can stand still here at home, we can see our prestige and influence go down around the world, we can see Castro's influence spread in Latin America, we can see the influence of the Communists spread in Africa, we can see the hope of freedom in Asia begin to collapse. We can see Eastern Europe permanently subjugated. We can see Western Europe moving toward independent neutrality. We can see all these things. We can be second in space. We can graduate one half as many scientists and engineers as the Soviet Union. We can provide more slums than we now have. All these things are possible.

We can also do other things. We can build this country of ours. We can provide jobs for our people. We can provide good education for our children. We can provide security under social security for our older citizens, and we can build this country so that it serves as an ornament to people all around the world who also want to be free. We can reestablish the same atmosphere which existed in the Thirties when Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor in Latin America, mostly because he was a good neighbor here in the United States. (Applause)

We can hold out the hand of friendship to people in Africa, newly independent, who want to stay independent, and we can demonstrate in Europe and in Eastern Europe that we stand for freedom, that we are committed to it, that we are its chief defenders and that this strong, vital, growing country of ours represents the way of the future. Mr. Khrushchev speaks with confidence that our children will be Communists. He could not be more wrong.

My judgment is that the future belongs to freedom. The whole history of the last ten years in Eastern Europe and Africa, all over the world, demonstrates that people want to be free. Freedom will be the ultimate unless we fail, because if we fail, then freedom has no strong source of power behind it. If we move ahead, if we build a strong and vital country here, if we demonstrate what a free society can do, then freedom is strong all around the world. We or they, the Communist system or freedom, it depends on us. Mr. Khrushchev will move and the Communist system will move with all of their energy in every area, and we have to move with a vitality that comes from freedom, which will be greater.

But we can not do it if we go and accept the idea what we are doing is good enough, that our prestige was never higher, that our rate of growth is satisfactory, and that all is being done in good time. So you have to decide. You have to make your individual judgment a week from Tuesday what kind of country you want, what kind of a present you judge it to be, what kind of future you feel it can be, what obligations and responsibilities as a citizen of a great free country you are willing to meet, and then when you make that judgment, we will know where America is going. (Applause)

Let me say in conclusion that this campaign, and I hear that some of you have been here since six o'clock or seven o'clock standing up - (response from the audience) - five o'clock, standing up, and I have also been working today. (Applause) But let me say I understand that the Republicans have some trouble filling their rooms even with chairs, but here they stand up. (Applause) But you have stood long enough and I have spoken long enough today. (Response from the audience)

Let me just say that I hope you are going to elect Stanley Prokop to be the Congressman. I think he stands for progress. (Applause) And the Assemblyman and the State Senator. They will give support to the things that Governor Lawrence is trying to do in the State of Pennsylvania. And I hope also you will stand with us nationally, that this county of Scranton, Lackawanna and the rest, and the State of Pennsylvania, on the night of November 8, will vote yes to the Sixties, will vote Democratic, will vote to move this country off dead center. I ask your help in doing that. (Applause) give us your hand, your voice, your vote, and all of us together will move forward in the Sixties. (Applause)

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 914, "Scranton, Pennsylvania, 28 October 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.