SENATOR KENNEDY: Mayor Wagner, members of the Central Labor Union, retired members, ladies and gentleman: I am grateful for a very generous introduction by the distinguished Mayor of this city, whose interest in the problems which he was now discussing and which we are meeting to discuss today, the problems of our senior citizens, has been handed to him from father to son. I come here today as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party. That is a proud title, because I stand in succession to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson. (Applause)
During the last session of the Congress in August, we offered on the floor of the United States Senate a bill which would tie medical care for the aged to the social security system. We failed by five votes, and this was regarded as an ignominious defeat. I don't think it is at all, because that defeat is going to bring a victory in January for this cause. (Applause)
When the social security system was put in in the mid-1930's, it did not suddenly leap out of the forehead of a Senator or a Congressman or a President. It had been worked on for a decade by men and women such as yourselves, in all parts of the country, in the State of Wisconsin, by Governor Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt in the State of New York. This is a long struggle. (Applause) This is a long struggle; the struggle to tie medical care for the aged to social security began in the administration of Harry Truman. He was defeated. We were defeated in this summer. But we have come closer. Every defeat in the long run in a cause like this is a victory. We are going to win that fight next year, because it must be won in the same way that Bob Wagner and Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930's won their fight for social security. (Applause) And it is not just social security. Franklin Roosevelt said, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny," and so does this one, so does this one 25 years later. It is not only medical care for the aged. It is minimum wage, it is housing for the elderly, for public housing. It is all under social security. It is an end to racial discrimination. It is the same fight begun by Woodrow Wilson in 1913 and carried on then by the Democratic Party since its earliest inception. (Applause) And anyone who thinks the fight is over, that there are no longer any major issues, that all the things that had to be done were done in the 1930's or the 1940's, and that the only function of government is to be a caretaker, they should vote Republican. But anyone who believes, regardless of their age, anyone who is still young in heart, who looks to the future, not to the past, who sees the unfinished business of this society, they should come with us across a new frontier of this country in 1960. (Applause)
I think that this business of our country is for the government and the people to be associated together in great enterprises, the care of the aged, - to make their life more secure, to house them, full employment for those working; the education of our children. Those are common responsibilities which any administration must face, but which some administrations have turned a deaf ear to. I think that this job can be done. I think the brightest days of this country in a sense of a country on the move and energetically still lie ahead of us, and the important thing to recognize as we look to the problems that face us abroad is that they are interconnected. It is a country that is moving at home that is moving abroad. A distinguished Republican said some time ago, "I am a liberal abroad and a conservative at home." Well, I am not. I don't think you can be successful abroad unless you are successful in the United States. Unless you are a liberal here, you can't be a liberal abroad. (Applause)
This is an important election, and all elections are important, but this is important because the United States is important, and because the challenges of our country are greater today than they have ever been in the past. We want your help in this campaign. We want you to help us register all those who believe in our cause. We want you to help us on election day get everyone out to vote. How can we sit in a country which gives us so many blessings and when election day comes say, "Well, I am going to stay home"? When traveling through countries of Europe, the Vice President of the United States, himself, when he went to Poland, a half million people turned out. I am sure he would say himself it is not because he was the Vice President of the United States, but because the United States stands for something, and because they wanted to be free, too. But we are free, and it is worth an effort to maintain it.
So I come today, assuring you of our continued interest in policies which the Democratic Party originated, sponsored, fathered, and will fight for today and in the future, and in return we want your help, we want your support, we want you to stand with us in this election, to join us and give us your heart and your hand and your voice, and we will win. Thank you. (Applause)
Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12. Speeches and the Press. Box 911, Folder: "Senior citizens rally, New York City, 14 September 1960".