Excerpts from debate between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon
Featuring Howard K. Smith as moderator
Simulcast on radio and TV live on September 26, 1960

Click here to listen to this debate in its entirety (Real Audio)

     MR. SMITH.. Good evening.
     The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for a discussion of issues in the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency.
     The candidates need no introduction. The Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy.
     According to rules set by the candidates themselves, each man shall make an opening statement of approximately 8 minutes' duration and a closing statement of approximately three minutes' duration.
     In between the candidates will answer, or comment upon answers to questions put by a panel of correspondents.
     In this, the first discussion in a series of four joint appearances, the subject matter, it has been agreed, will be restricted to internal or domestic American matters.
     And now, for the first opening statement by Senator John F. Kennedy.

     MR. KENNEDY. Mr. Smith, Mr. Nixon.
In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this Nation could exist half slave or half free.
     In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half slave or half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, in the direction of the road that we are taking, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery.
     I think it will depend in great measure upon what we do here in the United States, on the kind of society that we build, on the kind of strength that we maintain.
     We discuss tonight domestic issues, but I would not want that to be-- any implication to be given that this does not involve directly our struggle with Mr. Khrushchev for survival.
     Mr. Khrushchev is in New York, and he maintains the Communist offensive throughout the world because of the productive power of the Soviet Union, itself.
     The Chinese Communists have always had a large population but they are important and dangerous now because they are mounting a major effort within their own country; the kind of country we have here, the kind of society we have, the kind of strength we build in the United States will be the defense of freedom.
     If we do well here, if we meet our obligations, if we are moving ahead, then I think freedom will be secure around the world. If we fail, then freedom fails.
     Therefore, I think the question before the American people is: Are we doing as much as we can do? Are we as strong as we should be? Are we as strong as we must be if we are going to maintain our independence, and if we're going to maintain and hold out the hand of friendship to those who look to us for assistance, to those who look to us for survival? I should make it very clear that I do not think we're doing enough, that I am not satisfied as an American with the progress that we are making.
     This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country; and this is a powerful country but I think it could be a more powerful country.
     I'm not satisfied to have 50 percent of our steel-mill capacity unused.
     I'm not satisfied when the United States had last year the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world--because economic growth means strength and vitality. It means we're able to sustain our defenses; it means we're able to meet our commitments abroad.
     I'm not satisfied, when we have over $9 billion dollars worth of food, some of it rotting even though there is a hungry world and even though 4 million Americans wait every month for a food package from the Government, which averages 5 cents a day per individual.
     I saw cases in West Virginia, here in the United States, where children took home part of their school lunch in order to feed their families because I don't think we're meeting our obligations toward these Americans.
     I'm not satisfied when the Soviet Union is turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are.
     I'm not satisfied when many of our teachers are inadequately paid, or when our children go to school part-time shifts. I think we should have an educational system second to none.
     I'm not satisfied when I see men like Jimmy Hoffa, in charge of the largest union in the United States, still free.
     I'm not satisfied when we are failing to develop the natural resources of the United States to the fullest. Here in the United States, which developed the Tennessee Valley and which built the Grand Coulee and the other dams in the Northwest United States, at the present rate of hydropower production--and that is the hallmark of an industrialized society--the Soviet Union by 1975 will be producing more power than we are.
     These are all the things I think in this country that can make our society strong, or can mean that it stands still.
     I'm not satisfied until every American enjoys his full constitutional rights. If a Negro baby is born, and this is true also of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in some of our cities, he has about one-half as much chance to get through high school as a white baby. He has one-third as much chance to get through college as a white student. He has about a third as much chance to be a professional man, and about half as much chance to own a house. He has about four times as much chance that he'll be out of work in his life as the white baby. I think we can do better. I don't want the talents of any American to go to waste.
     I know that there are those who want to turn everything over to the Government. I don't at all. I want the individuals to meet their responsibilities and I want the States to meet their responsibilities. But I think there is also a national responsibility.
     The argument has been used against every piece of social legislation in the last 25 years. The people of the United States individually could not have developed the Tennessee Valley; collectively they could have.
     A cotton farmer in Georgia, or a peanut farmer or a dairy farmer in Wisconsin and Minnesota-- he cannot protect himself against the forces of supply and demand in the marketplace, but working together in effective governmental programs he can do so.
     Seventeen million Americans, who live over 65 on an average social security check of about $78 a month--they're not able to sustain themselves individually, but they can sustain themselves through the social security system.
     I don't believe in big government, but I believe in effective governmental action, and I think that's the only way that the United States is going to maintain its freedom; it's the only way that we're going to move ahead. I think we can do a better job. I think we're going to have to do a better job if we are going to meet the responsibilities which time and events have placed upon us.
     We cannot turn the job over to anyone else. If the United States fails, then the whole cause of freedom fails, and I think it depends in great measure on what we do here in this country.
     The reason Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor in Latin America was because he was a good neighbor in the United States, because they felt that the American society was moving again. I want us to recapture that image. I want people in Latin America and Africa and Asia to start to look to America to see how we're doing things, to wonder what the President of the United States is doing, and not to look at Khrushchev, or look at the Chinese Communists. That is the obligation upon our generation.
     In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said in his inaugural that this generation of Americans has a "rendezvous with destiny." I think our generation of Americans has the same "rendezvous." The question now is: Can freedom be maintained under the most severe attack it has ever known? I think it can be. And I think in the final analysis it depends upon what we do here. I think it's time America started moving again.


     MR. FLEMING. Senator, the Vice President in his campaign has said that you are naive and at times immature. He has raised the question of leadership.
     On this issue, why do you think people should vote for you rather than the Vice President?

     MR. KENNEDY. Well, the Vice President and I came to the Congress together in 1946.
     We both served in the Labor Committee. I've been there now for fourteen years, the same period of time that he has, so that our experience in government is comparable.
     Secondly, I think the question is "What are the programs that we advocate?"
     What is the party record that we lead?
     I come out of the Democratic party, which in this century has produced Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and which supported and sustained these programs which I've discussed tonight.

     Mr. Nixon comes out of the Republican party. He was nominated by it. And it is a fact that through most of these last 25 years the Republican leadership has opposed Federal aid for education, medical care for the aged, development of the Tennessee Valley, development of our natural resources.      
I think Mr. Nixon is an effective leader of his party. I hope he would grant me the same.
     The question before us is: Which point of view and which party do we want to lead the United States?


     MR. KENNEDY. Well, I'll just say that the question is of experience and the question also is what our judgment is of the future and what our goals are for the United States and what ability we have to implement those goals.
     Abraham Lincoln came to the Presidency in 1860 after a rather little known session in the House of Representatives and after being defeated for the Senate in '58, and was a distinguished President. There is no certain road to the Presidency. There are no guarantees that if you take one road or another that you will be a successful President.

     I have been in the Congress for 14 years. I have voted in the last 8 years, and the Vice President was presiding over the Senate and meeting his other responsibilities; I have met decisions over 800 times on matters which affect not only the domestic security of the United States, but as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
     The question really is: which candidate and which party can meet the problems that the United States is going to face in the '60's?


     MR. KENNEDY. Well, I would say in the latter that the--and that's what I found somewhat unsatisfactory about the figures, Mr. Nixon, that you used in your previous speech. When you talked about the Truman administration, you--Mr. Truman came to office in 1944, and at the end of the war, and the difficulties that were facing the United States during that period of transition, 1946, when price controls were lifted, so it's rather difficult to use an overall figure taking those 7 years and comparing them to the last 8 years. I prefer to take the overall percentage record of the last 20 years of the Democrats and the 8 years of the Republicans to show an overall period of growth.
     In regard to price stability, I'm not aware that that committee did produce recommendations that ever were, certainly, before the Congress from the point of view of legislation in regard to controlling prices. In regard to the exchange of students and labor unions, I am chairman of the subcommittee on Africa and I think that one of the most unfortunate phases of our policy towards that country was the very minute number of exchanges that we had. I think it's true of Latin America also. We did come forward with a program of students for the Congo of over 300, which was more than the Federal Government had for all of Africa the previous year
     So that I don't think that we have moved at least in those two areas with sufficient vigor.


   MR. KENNEDY. The point was made by Mr. Nixon that the Soviet production is only 44 percent of ours. I must say that 44 percent and that Soviet country is causing us a good deal of trouble tonight. I want to make sure that it stays in that relationship. I don't want to see the day when it's 60 percent of ours and 70 and 75 and 80 and 90 percent of ours, with all the force and power that it could bring to bear in order to cause our destruction.
     Secondly, the Vice President mentioned medical care for the aged. Our program was an amendment to the Kerr bill. The Kerr bill provided assistance to all those who were not on social security. I think it's a very clear contrast.
     In 1935, when the Social Security Act was written, 94 out of 95 Republicans voted against it. Mr. Landon ran in 1936 to repeal it.
     In August of 1960, when we tried to get it again, but this time for medical care, we received the support of one Republican in the Senate on this occasion.
     Thirdly, I think the question before the American people is as they look at this country, and as they look at the world around them, the goals are the same for all Americans; the means are at question; the means are at issue.
     If you feel that everything that is being done now is satisfactory, that the relative power and prestige and strength of the United States is increasing in relation to that of the Communists, that we are gaining more security, that we are achieving everything as a nation that we should achieve, that we are achieving a better life for our citizens and greater strength, then I agree. I think you should vote for Mr. Nixon.
     But if you feel that we have to move again in the sixties, that the function of the President is to set before the people the unfinished business of our society, as Franklin Roosevelt did in the thirties, the agenda for our people, what we must do as a society to meet our needs in this country and protect our security and help the cause of freedom--as I said at the beginning, the question before us all that faces all Republicans and all Democrats, is: Can freedom in the next generation conquer, or are the Communists going to be successful? That's the great issue.
     And if we meet our responsibilities, I think freedom will conquer. If we fail--if we fail to move ahead, if we fail to develop sufficient military and economic and social strength here in this country, then I think that the tide could begin to run against us, and I don't want historians 10 years from now, to say, these were the years when the tide ran out for the United States. I want them to say, these were the years when the tide came in, these were the years when the United States started to move again. That's the question before the American people, and only you can decide what you want, what you want this country to be, what you want to do with the future.
     I think we're ready to move. And it is to that great task, if we are successful, that we will address ourselves.