Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at the Gridiron Club, Washington, D.C., March 15, 1958

I have just received the following wire from my generous daddy: "Dear Jack – Don’t buy a single vote more than necessary – I’ll be damned if I am going to pay for a landslide."

I am grateful to my father for his support – but I am even more grateful to "Mr. Sam" Rayburn. At the last Democratic Convention, if he had not recognized the Tennessee and Oklahoma delegations when he did, I might have won that race with Senator Kefauver – and my political career would now be over.

I have been told tonight that if I will only not reveal the truth about the members of The Gridiron Club in front of their bosses, they in turn can insure me the Democratic Presidential nomination. I am not the first politician to be thus tempted by the newspaper fraternity. 

When Speaker Joe Cannon half a century ago was told by the ANPA that, in exchange for his opposition to the newsprint tariff, the publishers would deliver him the Presidency, Speaker Cannon removed his cigar and replied: "You know, 2,000 years ago or so, another fellow was tempted like this. And the tempter led him up on the highest mountain top; and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and all the valleys of milk and honey – and he said, ‘If you will fall down and worship me, all of this will I give you’. "But the truth of the matter is," Speaker Cannon went on, "he didn’t own one damn inch of it."

I am not sure that the members of The Gridiron Club do either. 

Frankly, I am not now making any plans for the Presidency. Should I be elected, I do hope that Bishop Bromley Oxnam of the P.A.O.U. will be my personal envoy to The Vatican – and he’s instructed to open negotiations for that Trans-Atlantic Tunnel immediately.

Otherwise, I am not campaigning. It is true that I have traveled some – because I told Paul Butler that I would be willing to go to all states with promising Democratic candidates. I should have known that we have no other kind.

I make these statements in confidence. But are they safe? I understand, for instance, that The Gridiron Club files have recently been broken into. Someone stole your officers’ election returns for the next six years.

Moreover, I have been told that this is a predominantly Republican organization – and that your affairs usually open with the prayer that Divine Providence will remain under the protection of the Administration. 

But I am here bearing an olive branch – to unveil a new Democratic strategy. If we can’t lick the press, we’ll join ‘em. So I say: Newspapers and Democrats, let us unite!

Under our regime, all reporters can go to Communist China without official protection – in fact I’m drawing up now a list of those I want to go first. Under our regime, you can stand as close as you want to the missile launchings at Cape Canaveral. We’ll report to the press all confidential high-level conferences, such as this recent conversation between the President and the Secretary of State, revealed here for the first time: "Where did you go?" "Out!" "What did you do?" "Nothing!"

Now you can help us in a number of ways. too. The first is to screen all our potential candidates for 1960.

I dreamed about 1960 myself the other night, and I told Stuart Symington and Lyndon Johnson about it in the Cloakroom yesterday, I told them how the Lord came into my bedroom, anointed my head, and said: 'John Kennedy, I hereby appoint you President of the United States.'"Stu Symington said: "That’s strange, Jack, because I, too, had a similar dream last night, in which the Lord anointed me and declared me, Stuart Symington, President of the United States and outer space." And Lyndon Johnson said: "That’s very interesting, gentlemen; because I, too, had a similar dream last night – and I don’t remember anointing either one of you!"

We do have lots of candidates. A recent AP survey asked each Senator about his preference for the Presidency – and 96 Senators each received one vote.

One possible ticket would be Soapy Williams and Orval Faubus – that way the voters could hear a real debate of the issues without ever tuning in the Republicans.

I do not deny that the Democrats have their differences. The Democratic Advisory Council has succeeded in splitting our Party right down the middle – and that gives us more unity than we’ve had in 20 years.

But we want you to help by reporting all Republican feuds in full. Some of them are diminishing, I must admit. 

Vice President Nixon and Sherman Adams, for example, decided to bury the hatchet – in Harold Stassen. Mr. Stassen announces he will run for Governor of Pennsylvania. He has already been Governor of Minnesota – that leaves only 46 states in jeopardy.

I do not say that Sherman Adams alone is responsible for these key decisions. All I say is that the Constitution will prohibit him from seeking a third term.

But the key Republican, of course, is my old friend, Dick Nixon, the most popular man in his Party. Some people used to say that Dick was doing the basement work over at Republican headquarters. But now they’ve given those janitorial duties to Sherman Adams, and moved Dick upstairs to teach the men’s bible class.

But now we turn to an area where we can really join forces usefully – getting the facts on the recession.

As I interpret the President, we’re now at the end of the beginning of the upturn of the downturn. Every bright spot the White House finds in the economy is like the policeman bending over the body in the alley who says cheerfully: "Two of his wounds are fatal – but the other one’s not so bad."

No anti-recession program for the farmers has been announced except Mr. Benson’s hope to get the Government out of the farming business. The farmer’s program is to get Mr. Benson out of the governing business.

Amazing as it may seem, the Republicans have learned to increase the cost of living in a recession – a real fact. If they get it up much higher, they can put a dog in it.

But whatever our failings as Republicans and Democrats – and they are many – the fact remains that we together are the only instruments of popular government that the American people possess. We are all they have.

The question is – whether a Democratic society – with its freedom of choice – its breadth of opportunity – its range of alternatives – can meet the single-minded advance of the Communists. 

Our decisions are more subtle than dramatic. Our far-flung interests are more complex than consistent – our crises more chronic than easily solved.

Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Have we got what it takes to carry through in an age where – as never before – our very survival is at stake – where we and the Russians have the power to destroy one-quarter of the earth’s population – a feat not accomplished since Cain slew Abel? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction – but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the inside of the earth and the inside of men’s minds?

We are moving ahead along a knife-edged path which requires leadership better equipped than any since Lincoln’s day to make clear to our people the vast spectrum of our challenges.

In the words of Woodrow Wilson: "We must neither run with the crowd nor deride it – but seek sober counsel for it – and for ourselves."

 

Speech sources: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12. Speeches and the Press. Box 899, Folder: "Gridiron Club, Washington, D.C., 15 March 1958"David F. Powers Personal Papers. Series 09. John F. Kennedy Speeches File. Box 29, Folder: "Gridiron Club, Washington, DC, 15 March 1958".