Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, First Time Voters Convocation, University of Southern California, November 1, 1960

Dr. Topping, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman: I am delighted to be here again at this distinguished university. As a former student of political science at Southern California in the East, Harvard University, it is a great pleasure to address this body. (Applause)

Beginning seven days from now, November 8, the responsibilities of Mr. Nixon and myself will have ceased, and your responsibility as voters will begin. You have to make your judgment between two candidates, between the parties that they represent, between the two political philosophies that they symbolize, and between their two different views of this country that its needs. And let me make it very clear that I think that there are very sharp differences which separate Mr. Nixon and myself. We hold entirely different views. (Applause) We hold entirely different views of our country’s position in the world, of the needs of our time, of the responsibilities of our national government, of our responsibilities as individual citizens.

You have to make your judgment a week from today of what you believe, of what you see is our role in the world, whether you share Mr. Nixon’s view that our prestige in the world has never been higher, and that of the Communists never lower. You have to find out whether you share his view that we have never had such great prosperity in this country, that everything that must be done is being done in its proper time, and that what we need is a continuation of the past. I want to make it clear that I wholly disagree with this view. I don’t believe that everything is being done in its proper time. I do not believe that our prestige in the world is at a record high. I do not believe that we have met our responsibilities as individuals and citizens of this great country.

1960 is the beginning of a great new revolutionary period. I cannot believe that in these changing times, these times of hazard and opportunity, that the voters of this country as citizens will choose the status quo. David Lloyd George once said a tired nation is a Tory nation, and I do not hold the view that the United States is either tired or Tory. (Applause)

You have to decide as young voters, as young voters who have the longest stake in the great Republic, who are the most concerned with search for truth, who have the least ties to the present and the most ties to the future, you have to decide which party, which candidate most nearly approximates your judgment of our country, its needs and its future. We are going into problems which are entirely different from any that this country has ever faced. The problem of how a free society, with its freedom of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range of alternatives -- how that free society can successfully compete with a totalitarian society. We believe that our society is the best, but that does not mean that it automatically survives. The whole history of the world, from the struggle of the Athenians against the Macedonians, to the experience of the British before World War II, in their competition with the Nazis, all show that for a free society to survive, to successfully compete, the leaders have to tell the truth. They have to be informed. They have to share their information with the people. I was in England and saw what happened in 1935 when Stanley Baldwin went to the people of England and told them that everything was being done in good measure, that the prestige of the British was at its height, that their security was insured. He won that election, and the British almost lost the war. We are not going to have a repetition of that in 1960. (Applause)

I don’t believe our economic growth is sufficient. I don’t believe that the influence of the United States in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is growing -- but diminishing. I don’t believe that the United States has allied itself with those people in their fight against poverty, ignorance and disease. We have regarded them as pawns in the struggle against Communism, and as a result, of the 16 new nations admitted to the United Nations this summer, not one voted with us on the admission of Red China.

The Soviet Union has ten times the broadcasts we have in Latin America in Spanish. In 1957 we had more people stationed in West Germany in our embassies than in all of the embassies of Africa combined. We have 100 people working in the United States Government on the subject of disarmament. Do you really believe, those of you who hold the signs of Mr. Nixon, do you really believe that this government, this administration, this party -- (Response from the audience) -- do you really believe the economic growth, the struggle for security, the struggle for the uncommitted world, the struggle for the minds of men, do you really believe that we have developed in this country a society that augments freedom, that has purpose and growth? Do you really believe that this country is meeting in its own good time all of the problems that it must, that the problems that are suggested by the Republican candidate and his party show an awareness of the future? (Response from the audience)

I want to make it clear that you must make your decision, you must make your judgment, you must decide yourself, and it is your decision. All I want to do, and my responsibility, is to make clear as the Standard Bearer for the Democratic Party that I believe the United States, if it is going to maintain its position as the leader of the free world, I believe the United States has to move again. I believe we have to pick ourselves up and start forward into the Sixties. I believe we need the best talent we can get to serve this country in a time of change, a time that can be, as Dickens said, the worst of times or the best of times. You have to decide what your judgment is. (Applause)

I want to make it clear that if I am elected on Tuesday, November 8, this country is going to move again. Thank you. (Applause)

(A Question and Answer session immediately followed the speech.)

MR. STEIGERWALT: As a student body President of the Associated Students of Southern California, and representing students of Southern California, and representing not only my fellow students but the First Voters of this area, at this time we would like to pose several questions to you regarding the 1960 Presidential Campaign.

Our first question is: Exactly what are today’s practical differences between the Republicans and Democratic Parties as you see them?

SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, I think that there are several significant differences. The first is the difference which is suggested by their record of the past. The fact of the matter is that the Republican Party has opposed every single piece of new, progressive legislation of benefit to the people in the last 25 years, social security -- (Applause) -- social security, housing, minimum wage -- (response from audience) -- civil rights. In 1953 and 1954 the Republicans controlled the administration, the House and the Senate. Not one single civil rights bill saw the light of day in either the House or the Senate.

Secondly, I think what is past is prologue. I think the general direction of the Republican Party and Mr. Nixon himself, as he has said on many occasions, is to be conservative, and a conservative defends the status quo. And I don’t believe in 1960 or in the 1960’s that there is going to be a status quo. I believe we either drop back or we move ahead. We do not sit on dead center. Secondly, the differences were suggested earlier in my speech. Mr. Nixon and I hold a wholly different view of our position in the world, of our prestige. Prestige is not popularity. Prestige involves the willingness of other countries to follow the leadership of another country, and the polls taken by the USIA this summer which have not been released, but which several papers have printed, show, for example, that only 7 per cent of the people of England and France now believe that we are ahead of the Soviet Union in science. A majority of people in the ten countries polled believe that the Soviet Union will be ahead of us militarily and scientifically and in economic growth by 1970. How many of those people will follow our lead, if they believe that the way to the future is our adversary and not ourselves?

So first in our party differences, in our willingness to move forward, in our willingness to provide programs which will serve our people; secondly, in our view of the world, our prestige in the world, judgment that we make of our prestige; thirdly, I believe that we, the Democratic Party, are far more concerned historically and at present about the problems of the under-developed world which hold the key to our future, Africa, Latin America, India versus China. I do not believe that the Republican Party has shared this concern. We are, for example, the 14th country in the world today in radio broadcasts to Africa. We gave the Congo last June -- we offered them more scholarships, 300, than we had offered all of Africa the year before. Do you know how many Congolese students are studying as a result of that in the United States? Six.

Guinea asked us for 500 teachers last year. Do you know how many we sent them? One. We gave Africa less than 5 per cent of all our funds for technical assistance. I don’t believe that this administration, either in nuclear testing or in the case of Africa, in the two revolutions of the Fifties, has demonstrated its willingness to break new ground. In those three areas, our parties and the candidates differ. (Applause)

MR. STEIGERWALT: Our second question: What three issues upon which you and Mr. Nixon greatly differ do you feel will be the most decisive in bringing voters into your respective camps, and in each case, why do you feel that your particular stand is better?

SENATOR KENNEDY: One is the issue we have discussed already, about our position in the world. The second is the question of economic growth which goes to the question of jobs, full employment, and our ability to meet the national budget, our defense and all the rest. The United States over the last eight years has had an economic growth of about 2.5 per cent a year. In the last nine months, our economic growth has dropped back, .3 percent. Western Germany had twice the economic growth that we did in the last eight years. Italy had a greater economic growth and so did France. The Soviet Union was, according to Mr. Allen Dulles, nearly two and a Union was, according to Mr. Allen Dulles, nearly two and a half times as much. We are going to have to find 25,000 new jobs a week for the next ten years, in order to maintain full employment.

I believe that that can be done only by an administration which is committed to progress, which in the management of the monetary and fiscal organs of government demonstrates an awareness of change, which supports programs which emphasize education, full employment, housing and all the rest. This year, for example, we are going to build 30 per cent less homes that we did a year ago. This year, by the middle of November, we will have nearly a million unsold cars, the largest by 500,000, nearly, than we have ever had in mid-November in the history of the United States. Anyone who is a student, who looks at the facts, believes that we have in Mr. Nixon’s words, unexampled prosperity, maybe should stay in school one more year. (Applause)

The third point on which we differ is in the record of our party, and the promise that that record gives to the future. 90 percent of the Republicans voted against a 25 cent minimum wage in 1935, and 90 per cent of them voted against the $1.25 an hour in 1960, which Mr. Nixon considers extreme. 90 per cent of the Republicans voted against the social security in the mid-Thirties and 95 per cent in 1960 voted against the medical care for the aged tied to social security. The fact of the matter is that on issues, medical care, social security, this administration vetoed two bills on housing, and one of them, the reason it was vetoed, was because it provided loans to college dormitories. We are going to have to build more college dormitories and classrooms in the next ten years than we have build in the last 200 years, to provide space for all the people who want to go to college by 1970.

Now, if you believe that a party which has opposed all of these pieces of progressive legislation in the past, legislation which we now take for granted, is equipped to lead a changing country in a changing world in 1960, then Mr. Nixon is your man. But I don’t agree. (Applause) (Response from the audience)

That was my brother. (Applause and laughter)

MR. STEIGERWALT: Mr. Kennedy, at this time we are running out of time, and at this time may I thank you on behalf of all students, the First Time Voters for this area. It has been a great pleasure having you with us. Thank you very much.

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 914, "University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, 1 November 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.