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First Televised Presidential Debate


Announcement of Candidacy for President
The Presidency in 1960
Accepting the Nomination
Address to the Greater Houston Minsterial Association


A man does what he must--in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures--and that is the basis of all human morality.



Many believed the debates between Kennedy and Nixon to be the turning point in the election. While the election was the closest Presidential election in American history, the common consensus is that Kennedy won these debates by a wide margin. Some said it was simply because John F. Kennedy looked better on camera, less nervous, more confident. Others felt the debates were the ideal forum for JFK to present his ideas to the electorate. What follows is the text from these debates, you be the judge.

Mr. Smith. Good Evening.

The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for a disussion 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 makes an opening state- ment of approximately 8 minutes' duration and a closing statement of approximately 3 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 Mr. John F. Kennedy.

John F. 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. Kruschev for survival.

Mr. Kruschev 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, this is a powerful country but I think it could be a more powerful country.

Im not satisfied to have 50% 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 committments abroad.

I'm not satisfied, when we have over $9 billions 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 in 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 Tenessee Valley and which built the Grand Coolee 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 also true 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 the 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 responsiblity.

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 Tenessee Valley, collectively they could have.

A cotton farmer in Georgia, or a peanut farmer or dairy farmer in Wisconson 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 dollars 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 the United States is going to maintain it's 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 look at Kruschev, or look at the Chinese Communists. That is the obligation upon our generation.

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said in his inaugural that his 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 know? I think it can be. And I think in the final analysis it depends on what we do here. I think it's time America started moving again.

Mr. Smith..

And now the opening statement by Vice President Richard M. Nixon

Richard Nixon

Mr. Smith, Mr. Kennedy. The things that Senator Kennedy said many of us can agree. There is no question but that we cannot discuss our internal affairs in the United States without recognizing that they have a tremendous bearing on our international position. There is no question but that this nation cannot stand still, because we are in a deadly competition, a competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking. We're ahead in this competition, as Senator Kennedy, I think, has implied. But when you're in a race, the only way to stay ahead is to move ahead, and I subscribe completely to the spirit that Senator Kennedy has expressed tonight, the spirit that the United States should move ahead.

Where then do we disagree?

I think we disagree on the implication of his remarks tonight and on the statements that he has made on many occasions during his campaign to the effect that the United States has been standing still.

We heard tonight, for example, the statement that our growth and national product last year was the lowest of any industrial nation in the world.

Now last year, of course, was 1958. That happened to be a recession year, but when we look at the growth of the GNP this year--a year of recovery--we find that it's 6 9/10 percent and one of the highest in the world today. More about that later.

Looking then to this problem of how the United States should move ahead and where the United States is moving, I think it is well that we take the advice of a very famous campaigner, "Let's look at the record."

Is it true that the United States is standing still?

Is it true that, as far as this country is concerned, as Senator Kennedy has charged, has been an administration of retreat, of defeat, of stagnation?

Well, we have a comparison that we can make. We have a record of the Truman administration of 7 years, and the 7 years of the Eisenhower administration.

When we compare these two records in the areas that Senator Kennedy has discussed tonight, I think we find that America has been moving ahead.

Let's take schools. We have built more schools in these 7 years then we built in the previous 7, for that matter in the previous 20 years.

Let's take hydroelectric power. We have developed more hydroelectric power in these 7 years than was developed in any previous administration in history.

Let us take hospitals. We find that more have been built in this administration than in the previous administration. The same is true of highways.

Let's put it in terms that all of us can understand.

We often hear gross national product discussed, and in that respect may I say that when we compare the growth in this administration with that of the previous administration, that then there was a total growth of 11% over 7 years; in this administration there has been a total growth of 19% over 7 years.

That shows that there's been more growth in this administration than in its predecessor. But let's not put it there; let's put it in terms of the average family.

What has happened to you?

We find that your wages have gone up five times as much in the Eisenhower administration as they did in the Truman administration.

What about the prices you pay?

We find that the prices you pay went up five times as much in the Truman administration as they did in the Eisenhower administration.

What's the net result of this?

This means that the average family income went up 15% in the Eisenhower years as against 2% in the Truman years.

Now, this is not standing still, but, good as the record is, may I emphasize that this isn't enough.

A record is never something to stand on, it's something to build on and in building this record, I believe that we have the secret for progress.

We know the way to progress and I think first of all our own record proves that we know the way.

Senator Kennedy has suggested that he believes he knows the way.

I respect the sincerity with he--which he makes that suggestion, but on the other hand, when we look at the various programs that he offers, they do not seem to be new. They seem to be simply retreads of the programs of the Truman administration which preceded him and I would suggest that during the course of the evening he might indicate those areas in which his programs are new, where they will mean more progress than we had then.

What kind of programs are we for?

We are for programs that will expand educational opportunities, that will give to all Americans their equal chance for education, for all of the things which are necessary and dear to the hearts of our people.

We are for programs, in addition, which will see that our medical care for the aged is much better handled than it is at the present time.

Here again, may I indicate that Senator Kennedy and I are not in disagreement as to the aim. We both want to help the old people. We want to see that they do have adequate medical care. The question is the means.

I think that the means I advocate will reach that goal better than the means that he advocates.

I could give better examples but for whatever it is, whether it's in the field of housing or health or medical care or schools, or the development of electric power, we have programs which we believe will move America, move her forward and build on the wonderful record that we have made over these past 7 years.

Now, when we look at these programs might I suggest that in evaluating them we often have a tendency to say that the test of a program is how much you're spending. I will concede that in all the areas to which I have referred, Senator Kennedy would have the Federal Government spend more than I would have it spend.

I costed out the cost of the Democratic platform. It runs a minimum of 13.2 billion a year more than we are presently spending to a maximum of 18 billion a year more than we're presently spending.

Now, does this mean that his program is better than ours?

Not at all, because it isn't a question of how much the Federal Government spends. It isn't a question of which government does the most. It's a question of which administration does the right things, and in our case, I do believe that our programs will stimulate the creative energies of 180 million free Americans.

I believe the programs that Senator Kennedy advocates will have a tendency to stifle those creative energies.

I believe, in other words, that his programs would lead to the stagnation of the motive power that we need in this country to get progress.

The final point that I would like to make is this: Senator Kennedy has suggested in his speeches that we lack compassion for the poor, for the old, and for others that are unfortunate.

Let us understand throughout this campaign that his motives and mine are sincere. I know what it means to be poor. I know what it means to see people who are unemployed.

I know Senator Kennedy feels as deeply about these problems as I do, but our disagreement is not about the goals for America but only about the means to reach those goals.

Mr. Smith

Thank you Mr. Nixon.

That completes the opening statements, and now the candidates will answer questions or comment upon one another's answers to questions put by correspondents of the networks. The correspondents: MR. VANOCUR. I'm Sander Vanocur, NBC News. MR. WARREN. I'm Charles Warren, Mutual News. MR. NOVINS. I'm Stuart Novins, CBS News. MR. FLEMING. Bob Fleming, ABC News MR. SMITH.. The first question to Senator Kennedy from Mr. Fleming.

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 Congress together in 1946.

We both served in the Labor Committee. I've been there now for 14 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 Tenessee 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 Smith

Mr. Nixon, would you like to comment on that statement?

Mr. Nixon

I have no comment

Mr. Smith

The next question--Mr. Novins.

Mr. Novins

Mr. Vice President, your campaign stresses the value of your 8-year experience, and the question arises as to whether that experience was as an observer or as a participant or as an initiator of policy making.

Would you tell us, please, specifically what major proposals you have made in the last 8 years that have been adopted by the administration?

Mr. Nixon

It would be rather difficult in 8 and--in two and a half minutes. I would suggest that these proposals could be mentioned:

First, after each of my foreign trips, I have made recommendations that have been adopted.

For example, after my first trip abroad, I strongly recommended that we increase our exchange programs particularly as they related to exchange of persons, of leaders in the labor field and in the information field.

After my trip to South America, I made recommendations that a separate inter-American lending agency be set up which the South American nations would like much better than a lend--than to participate in the lending agencies which treated all the countries of the world the same.

I have made other recommendations after each of the other trips.

For example, after my trip abroad to Hungary, I made some recommendations with regard to the Hungarian refugee situation which were adopted, not only by the President but some of them were enacted into law by the Congress.

Within the administration, as chairman of the President's Committee on Price Stability and Economic Growth, I had the opportunity to make recommendations which have been adopted within the Administration and which I think have been reasonably effective.

I know Senator Kennedy suggested in his speech at Cleveland yesterday that the committee had not been particularly effective. I would only suggest that while we do not take the credit for it, I would not presume to, that since that committee has been formed, the price line has been held very well within the United States.

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 the 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 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 I don't think that we have moved at least in those two areas with sufficient vigor.

Announcement of Candidacy for President
The Presidency in 1960
Accepting the Nomination
Address to the the Greater Houston Ministerial Association

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