Text of Sen. Kennedy’s Speech
October 10, 1958
Text of Sen. Kennedy’s Speech
Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) spoke in behalf of the entire Democratic ticket Thursday at a luncheon sponsored by the Wood County Democratic Committee. Senator Kennedy specifically urged the election of Robert C. Byrd and Jennings Randolph, who are the Democratic nominees for the Senate.
The text of Senator Kennedy’s remarks follows:
We are gathered here to discuss the issues of the campaign that will reach its climax in the months ahead. Some of the political pundits have been saying that this is a strange campaign—that there is no way of telling whether the country would be better off with a Repblican [sic] or a Democratic Congress. That kind of analysis, in my opinion, is wholly superficial.
It is true that the Democratic 85th Congress achieved a remarkable record of supporting the President of the United States on the key parts of his program. It is true that the Republican 83rd Congress did not support the President nearly as well. It is true, too, that Democratic votes and leadership were necessary to save the Presidents [sic] trade and aid programs, our participation in the international labor organization, and our contribution to United Nations Point Four technical assistance.
It is particularly true that the Republicans are completely out of ammunition in this campaign. Heretofore they have dealt in irresponsible accusations concerning Democratic administrations and foreign wars—they have reserved for themselves the title of the Party of Peace—but now American troops patrol Lebanon, American warships patrol the Formosan Straits, and we have teetered consistently on the brink of foreign wars on [no] Americans wants or could even explain.
Heretofore the Republicans have tried to make an issue of corruption in government—but no longer does Mr. Nixon defy us to name him once case of Republican corruption, no longer does Mr. Eisenhower promise prompt action on any wrongdoers in his own official family. The best they can say now is that Democratic administrations fined the wrongdoers and prosecuted them, while Republicans treat them more kindly.
Heretofore the Republicans have irresponsibly assailed the Democrats as the protectors of unscrupulous labor bosses—but when the votes were counted in the House of Representatives on the labor reform bill that would have put Jimmy Hoffa and his lilk [sic] out of business, more than two-thirds of the Democrats supported the Kennedy-Ives bill while nearly four-fifths of the Republicans opposed it.
Heretofore the Republicans have accused the Democrats of being anti-business—they have relied upon the businessmen of America for their funds and their votes—but the record now shows that it was the Democratic 85th Congress that brought tax relief to 98 per cent of the firms in this country and made permanent a strengthened Small Business Administration, and that when the Democrats went further, in the amendment offered by Senator Fulbright and sought to make corporate income taxes more gradual for small business, it was defeated by the opposition of two-thirds of the Senate Republicans.
Heretofore the Republicans have insisted that they were the party of sound money and balanced budgets—but the record of the present administration shows the worst peacetime inflation in our history, a series of unbalanced budgets despite cuts by the Democratic Congresses, an increase in the number of alphabet agencies and non-defense employees, and a Democratic Congress which, in its last session, managed to fill the gaps and shortcomings of the Eisenhower program and still keep total non-defense appropriations nearly $1.5 billion below the amount requested by the President.
The Republicans cannot talk about prosperity, with more than five million still unemployed, with millions of others working a short week, with production in our key industries still down some 30 per cent, and the number of business failures still rising. They cannot talk about a “do-nothing Congress[“] when the President, himself, as well as every impartial observer, has agreed that this has been one of the most productive, constructive Congresses in recent history. They cannot talk about a hostile Congress that will engage in a “cold war[“] with the Executive Branch—when the record of constructive cooperation has been so much higher in this Congress than in the Republican 83rd.
In short, if these pundits who talk about no campaign issues mean that there is a lack of Republican issues—that the old GOP slogans have lost their meaning—we might agree with them. We might even feel sorry for the man in Republican headquarters who was employed to cross out the work “prosperity[“] in all of those speeches and leaflets hailing “peace, prosperity, and progress[“]—and now has to throw them away altogether.
But this is not to say that there are no longer any burning issues—that there is no real difference between our two major parties—that all the battle of the past have been won—and that elections are hereafter to be decided more on personalities and public relations than on issues. I know that some members of our own party may endorse such sentiments. But I cannot agree.
I cannot agree that the issues are all gone or the problems all solved. This is no time for the Democratic Party to be basking in its past glory—or even to content itself with the record of the past two years: This is a time to look to the future—a time to reform our ranks, re-state our objectives, and march ahead.
For our agenda today is, if anything, longer than it was in the 1930’s. We have not yet eliminated the malignant effects of poverty, injustice, and illness for the land. We have not yet met the needs of more than five million unemployed workers—of more than four million people driven from their farms—of the nearly seven million families, believe it or not, still trying to get by on less than two thousand dollars a year. We have not yet ended the waste of our natural resources—reversed the decay that is blighting so many of our major cities—or, most tragic of all, found the means to stop man’s destruction of man.
In short, we are not entering this campaign merely seeking reward for a job well done—we are seeking an opportunity to do the job that still needs to be done. There are schools and hospitals and urban renewal projects and dams and atomic power plants which will not be built unless we can achieve a substantial Democratic margin in the 86th Congress. There are unemployed workers, retired workers, workers without minimum wage protection, workers whose dues are exploited by unscrupulous racketeers—and only an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress can give them the attention and protection they deserve. We still must face the challenge of better immigration policies, better homes in better neighborhoods, better weapons against monopoly, better race relations, and a better health program to meet the staggering costs of medical research and medical care.
No, we do not lack an agenda—we do not lack issues for the campaign—and, in seeking to fulfill these responsibilities, we do not lack the support of the American people.
The Democratic Tradition
If I were to be asked what single message, above all others, should be brought home to the voters of this state during the coming campaign months, I think I would forget about the heated controversies of the day, the speculations of the future, the blame for the recent past—I would instead remind them, as I hope you will remind them, of one great historical truth—that in the most critical periods of our nation’s history, the Democratic Party has come through with competentn [sic], courageous, responsible leadership.
I was sharply reminded of this Democratic tradition early in January of this year. I was in New York to see the opening of a play about Franklin Roosevelt called “Sunrise at Campobello.”
It is not a play about politics. It is not about the Presidency or the Democratic Party. It is a play about the triumph of one man and his family over disaster—the disaster of physical illness.
But I thought, as I left the theater, that this play portrays more than this stirring personal triumph. It also brought to mind all the great qualities of leadership in times of crisis for which FDR was famous—not only the personal crisis of his paralysis, but the crisis of a chaotic economy, of a world at war, and all the rest.
We urgently need real leadership again in Washington today. For this nation now enters a period of greater proportion than any we have ever endured. We are confronted with a deepening crisis in world affairs, in our relations with our allies, in our prestige with the uncommitted nations, in our military, scientific, political, and economic race with the Soviets. The Soviets have outmaneuvered us in trade and aid. They have outshone us in scientific achievement.
The Middle East, the Far East, North Africa, Indonesia, Cyprus, Latin America—every part of the world is in flames or in ferment. The Republicans in 1956 may have cried “Peace, peace”—but there is no peace—there are American troops patrolling Lebanon, American vessels patrolling the Formosan Straits, and American Marines just back from the Caribbean. Friendly foreign governments slip into neutrality—neutralists slip into hostility. Time is no longer our friend—and disintegration seems to be our constant companion. Our alliances are crumbling—our prestige is declining—and what the Republicans did not tell us was that our position in the world—our security—our very hopes for survival—could be drastically diminished without a single shot being fired. A few years ago our firm, decisive leadership for peace was recognized around the world—now troops must be alerted to evacuate or goodwill ambassador from South America.
We will only be deceiving ourselves if we attribute all of our troubles around the world to Communist agitators. There are Communists in Latin America, to be sure—but they are successful because they exploit our government’s neglect of our former good neighbors. There are provocateurs in Lebanon and Algeria, to be sure—but their strength results from the massive decline of our prestige in North Africa and the Middle East.
These crises are not new. The fires have been smouldering for years in Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, and all over the world. They have cried out for action, for decision, for leadership, but there has been no leadership, there has been no decision—only drift and postponement, vacillation and indecision.
I do not pretend to say that these were all easy decisions. They did and will require some new burdens, some unpopular actions, some breaks with the traditional policies of the past. But I trust that the Democratic Piarty [sic], when [i]t assumes full responsibility, will not hesitate to act, whatever the sacrifice required.
Here at home, where the Republicans promised prosperity to match their peace, the economic situation today also remains stagnant. Let us not forget that over five million workers remain unemployed, with every indication that we will be confronted with that same figure when the next Congress opens. Let us remember that there are still additional millions working only part-time—that the number of depressed labor surplus areas remains high—that production in our key industries remains in the third quarter of this year at a level some 30 per cent below 1957. Our expenditures for new plant and equipment continue to decline—while business failures continue to rise. And yet the cost of living continues to break all records.
Indeed, since the end of World War II, we have never had so deep a recession—we have never had so high an inflation—and we have never had so much recession and so much inflation at the very same time.
We may still prevent continuing in a long period of economic inactivity—but only if we can obtain effective, imaginary, tireless leadership. That kind of leadership is sorely lacking in this administration.
We need something more in the way of leadership than those who talk blithely of a “breather” in the economy . . . or those who say everything will get better if we wait until the end of the year . . . or those who say reassuringly with Vice President Nixon: “There is nothing wrong with the economy that a good dose of confidence won’t cur[e],” and “It’s time to quit running America down.” Well, my friends—we of the Democratic Party say it’s time to start building America up.
Contrast, for example, Franklin Roosevelt’s vigorous attack on the depression in 1933 with the Republican response to last winter’s slump. In 1933, the same kind of contrast was offered between the hesitant, moribund outgoing Republican Administration and the new dynamic drive of the New Deal.
And as the Republicans packed to move out, Robert E. Sherwood contrasted the old and the new administrations in a brief, sardonic poem:
The Grand Old Party’s
Blare of bugles
The New Deal is moving in.”
What we need in America today is not so much confidence in the economy, but confidence in our leadership.
We see no new ideas, no bold action, no “blare of bugles.” We see only “plodding feet . . . tramp tramp”—and “the Grand Old Party . . . breaking camp.”
When an administration lets fall the reins of leadership, they must be firmly held by the Congress—and that must be a Democratic Congress—we must exercise that leadership.
We must demonstrate, in the world of Justice Holmes, that whether we must sail with the wind or against the wind, we must above all set sail—and not drift or lie at anchor.
Finally, let us remember in the future that we are only asking for trouble wheh [sic] we extend our commitments around the world without regard to the sufficiency of our military posture to fulfill those commitments.
In the Formosa Strait today, we are faced with another possibility of fighting a local brush-fire war after six years of steady deterioration in our capacity to fight local brush-fire wars. And this insufficiency of our military posture is even more striking in the matter of our defensive and deterrent strength. We are rapidly approaching that dangerous period which General Gavin and others have called the “gap” or the “missile lag period”—a period, in the words of General Gavin, “in which our own offensive and defensive missile capabilities will lag so far behind those of the Soviets as to place us in a position of great peril.”
The most critical years of the gap would appear to be 1960-1964. As the missile striking power of the Soviet Union increases and our own retaliatory power lags—as the adequacy of our continental defense falls behind that of the Soviets—as we fail to reduce sufficiently the vulnerability of our attack installations and planes, as contrasted with the wide dispersal of Soviet-Red Chinese power—the deterrent ratio might well shift to the Soviets so heavily during the years of the gap, as to open to them a new shortcut to world domination.
Our peril is not simply because Russian striking power during the years of the gap will have a slight edge over us in missile power—they will have several times as many: Intermediate range missiles to destroy our European missile and SAC bases; intercontinental missiles to devastate our own country installations, and Government; and history’s largest fleet of submarines, and possibly long-range supersonic jet bombers, to follow up this advantage. If by that time their submarines are capable of launching missiles, they could destroy 85 per cent of our industry, 43 per cent of our 50 largest cities, and most of the nation’s population.
We, on the other hand, are still emphasizing budgets over security—threatening to impound funds the Congress authorized for additional Polaris submarines—lacking the missile developments and bases needed to close the gap—relying upon a continental defense system inadequate for the missile age—and depending for deterrence and retaliation upon our manned bombers with all of their problems of sufficient alert, dispersal, and refueling.
Whether the Soviets will use their advantage to attack us in a nuclear holocaust or the nibble away gradually at our security, I do not know. I do know that these are facts which the American Congress and people must face—and understand—and act on accordingly. And yet, when I spoke of these matters on the Senate floor last month, Senator Capehart and other members of his party responded with outraged indignation. They talked of clearing the Senate galleries and closing the Senate doors for a “star chamber” session. They talked, despite the fact that Defense Department spokesmen had publicly confirmed these facts long ago, about our giving information to the enemy and alarming the American people. They talked about our undermining confidence in the President and “selling America short.”
But this is not a time to keep the facts from the people—to keep them complacent. To sound the alarm is not to panic but to seek action from an aroused public. For, as the poet Dante once said: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
No, my friends, it is not we who are selling America short—not those of us who believe that the American people have the capacity to accept the harsh facts of our position and respond to them. But I will tell you who is selling American short. It is the little men with little vision who say we cannot afford to build the world’s greatest defense against aggression—it is those who say we cannot afford to bolster the free world against the ravages of hunger and disease and disorder upon which Communism feeds. The men who lack confidence in America are the men who say our people are not up to facing the facts of our missile lag—who say they are not up to bearing the cost of survival.
These are the men who are selling America short—who have substituted fear for faith in our future—who are caught up in their own disbeliefs and doubts about our ability to build [a] better America.
The Democratic Party rejects these voices that would sell America short. Our party has never been the party of little men with little vision—and, with your help, it never will be.
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