September 20, 1975
I am happy to announce my candidacy for President of the United States. I seek an open nomination openly arrived at, earned in the primaries and local caucuses and state conventions. I want to tell you why I am running and why I am asking people to join in running with me.
It may be hard for some to believe, but it is not lust for elective office or power. I know too well, and in ways too personal, the sadness and isolation associated with the Presidency. So I do not approach this campaign in a spirit of compulsive ambition or naive exhilaration.
The reason I am running is simply this: Given what I believe; what I have worked for throughout the last 30 years; what I see happening in this country and the world, and what I want to see happen; and given the lack of leadership to deal with our problems at home and abroad -- I could not stand aside.
Every candidate for the office of the presidency in recent memory has believed that his was the critical hour. So, it is difficult to find language undebased by the rhetoric of the past to express how I feel about where we are as a people today.
But we know -- all of us in this room and the millions of Americans who are not here --that this time is different. There are many reasons, but not more compelling than this: for only the second time in this century, the forward movement of America has been reversed; we have retrogressed as a society. And it is this sudden, overwhelming reversal of momentum, that has generated the vast crisis of confidence we face today. We face problems of character that confronted FDR, but none of his successors. Not since the great depression has America stood in fear of the future.
Is it any wonder that we have lost our way? Beliefs fundamental to American society have been confounded -- the beliefs:
that America fights only in just wars -- and wins because our cause is right;
that all presidents are righteous man worthy of public trust;
that all who seek work in this country can find it;
that continuous economic growth is our natural heritage;
that, alone among countries, the American economy has the strength to prosper in isolation.
I could go on but you know the litany.
How do we find a way forward? There are clear choices to be made.
The Republicans propose their favorite solution; -- blame the Government for everything. They claim somehow to get rid of government. And then; they say, we will return to normalcy. Rely on free markets, and everything will be again the way it was before… but we all that’s not true.
We know many markets are not free. The price we pay for food and gasoline, for a hospital bed or for heating oil, has climbed almost beyond sight, not because of competition but because a few people and a few organizations wield great economic power, and because Nixon and Ford have permitted huge sales of wheat to Russia before making sure there’s enough at home to feed America at reasonable prices.
In the name of a free market, the Administration has vetoed price controls on oil, while trying to stop an education bill that will have no effect on prices. The Republican strategy has been to fight inflation by putting people out of work. But the insecurity of double-digit inflation hasn’t been stopped by unemployment, by forcing men and women to suffer the indignity of no work while our society suffers from lack of what work alone can provide.
The Administration’s strategy has given us the worst depression since Herbert Hoover’s. Worse, it hasn’t even managed to keep prices down. American families deserve a better break than that.
Some Democrats say there’s nothing wrong that more money and more programs in Washington won’t cure. We need only rely on government, and all will be well.
In my judgment, this approach and the Republican approach are both dead wrong. In the words of Adlai Stephenson, “Let’s talk sense to the American people.” Let’s discuss the realities we all can see rather than repeating outdated phrases. What are those realities?
Mankind has entered a new era. But philosophic, religious and political beliefs can still provide the framework for our activity in the years ahead. But the problems we all face are different in nature, not just in size, from those we faced before. They will not respond to the old shibboleths and nostrums. Nationalism, jingoism, great power chauvinism, individualism, old-fashioned liberalism, populism, conservatism – none of these alone is sufficient for the future. Instead we must seek a common existence, rooted in our common humanity, which faces worldwide problems requiring common solutions. And, the first place where we must bring our common efforts to bear on our common human problems is here at home.
Common existence at home starts with putting the government -- as the expression of our common will -- on the side of the consumer, the taxpayer, the individual and the community. Government must abandon tasks that individuals, families, and neighborhoods can do for themselves. But, it must protect the condition in which they can remain truly free and independent.
We have learned -- through welfare waste, through schooling that does not educate, through houses we can’t afford, through products that don’t last -- that government and corporate bureaucracy are no substitute for self-reliant individual effort. But we have learned also -- through medical tragedy turned into economic disaster -- through joblessness that persists even while prices soar -- that the self-reliant individual and family can be reduced to myth if government, while “getting off people’s backs,” does not remain on their side.
I’m opposed to centralized, rigid, unresponsive bureaucracy; I worked to combat that kind of bureaucracy in business, as head of Chicago’s school board, and later in Washington and in the Foreign Service. In the Peace Corps, in Headstart, in Legal Services for the Poor, in Foster Grandparents, we created the least bureaucratic public enterprises in modern governmental history. But a purely negative approach to government will get us nowhere. Only a governmental policy actively working for the small and the personal can turn this country away from the large and the anonymous; only national commitment to the human scale can restore a sense of community.
Such a commitment means many things:
To millions of Americans who want work and cannot find it, my commitment is jobs. The independence of Americans and their families depends on work and there is much work to do. As Bob Kennedy said:
“It is the impulse of America that neither faith in nature, nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our hands, managed to reason and principal determine our destiny. “
To the tens of millions who see the fruits of their work consumed by uncontrollable inflation, my philosophy is limits on the forces that produce spiraling prices. To talk of “free markets” as the solution to inflation in fuel is a fraud. A market dominated by a handful of giant oil companies is not free. And, the domination of other markets by concentrated private power must be ended.
To the many whose hopes are suddenly shattered by economic collapse or unanticipated need -- whether in health or education, whether victims of crime or of misfortune – my philosophy is to provide a net beneath which we will not let one other fall and above which we will encourage all to rise. Each paying his fair share of the cost, all of us should be able to turn a community when faced by risks too large for anyone to bear alone. We need financially sound programs of health insurance, and ways of extending taxes downward to provide credit to those who have too little income, while fairly taxing those who have much. By prudent combinations of government stockpiling and regulation, we can control the most extreme fluctuations in economic life – maintaining a stability in food, fuel and other basic prices that will enable people to plan their lives without fear of uncontrollable financial disruptions.
To the millions of families who see their children fail and their neighborhoods collapse, the meaning of this philosophy is reunion -- reunion with the most basic sources of our national strength. Anti-neighborhood practices like red-lining and block-busing must be reversed. Anti-family practices like forced separation of parents on welfare must be ended. Discrimination against working women must be stopped. And, we need flexible work schedules to permit parents, fathers and mothers both, to care for their children. Finally, we must find ways to redesign our housing, tax, and other policies to allow families to live together, rather than in generational ghettos.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. But we can find answers together only if we are guided by some vision of where we want to go; it is a vision of freedom, of fairness, and fulfilling work that shapes the policies I favor.
Those policies cannot stop at the water’s edge. Domestic and foreign affairs are inseparable. A century ago Kierkegaard wrote: “The individual no longer belongs to his god, to himself, his beloved, to his art, or his science…“ Today no nation belongs to any one God or science, or solely to its citizens of its ideology. By circumstance, we belong to a still separated but now seamless world. In such a world, the shaping of a common existence is the precondition of a secure existence -- and perhaps of any existence at all.
We have ignored this truth to long. Seeking dominion, we have meddled too much abroad, as we have interfered too deeply in the lives of our citizens. Our indiscriminate interventions abroad came from fear. Cold war fears which led to a fear of change in some places escalated until we opposed change in all places. That’s not the American tradition.
We can best fight for the freedoms in which we believe by ceasing to act like international Tories -- the Redcoats of the 20th century. We are descendants of the men who fired the shot heard around the world. But when our arms and aid go to reactionary tyrants abroad, when our food is used for politics instead of hunger, when we move toward closer relations with the racist regime in Southern Africa, when the CIA lawlessly subverts government abroad, when our military and intelligence establishment use dangerous drugs in unethical experiments at home, it is anyone wonder that foreigners, once our friends, conclude that our values have collapsed?
And when our government for so many years acted as if the regime in Saigon was as worthy of support as our friends and allies in Europe, Japan and Israel, is it any wonder that our citizens began to wonder if commitments of any kind make sense?
Abroad, as at home, our challenge is to redefine the role of government. And the first step is to recognize our commitment to a common existence.
Our founders made a declaration of independence. Ours must be a declaration of interdependence. The United States must play a more positive role with our European and Japanese partners in resolving international recession. And, we must turn away from a pattern of confrontation and grudging negotiation with the governments of the Southern Hemisphere.
We were once a symbol of hope not because we manipulated events abroad but because we embrace the ideals that moved nations and shook the world. We can be a symbol of hope again.
The irony of America today is that we have everything to achieve our objectives: we have the people and the resources -- no nation has freer, better people or richer natural resources -- we have the highest political, religious and philosophical traditions; we have everything we need today … but leadership.
The test of leadership now, as it was for Lincoln, is to reach and bring into action the better angels of our nature. No poll can prove this, but I am convinced that people’s cynicism about politicians rises and falls with politicians’ cynicism about people. There are many frustrations and modern life, even the best of times, which a demagogue can invoke. He may win some passing applause and perhaps even votes, but if he releases the worst instincts of people, we will reap the whirlwind.
How do we decide who will lead the American people? The truth is that no one man and woman is qualified to lead single-handedly. From the experience of 30 years in public and private life, I know it is vital to do as much listening as talking, as much questioning as answering. For the American people are the greatest teachers of all. What we will need is a rallying together, a mutual struggle, not just a commitment to a candidate but commitment to one another.
So I look forward to a people’s campaign. And I’m grateful to the many who are here to start with me, including planeloads and busloads of friends and associates who have known me most of my life; people committed to justice and community, regardless of region, race, religion, and all the a conventional divisions of left, right and center.
Finally, I’m fortified by my family -- by my mother who has seen 23 presidential campaigns, by my wife, Eunice, and our sons and daughter, by my brother Herbert, by Rose Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy and Jackie, by Jean, and Pat, and Joan, and when my most admirable sister-in-law, Willa Shriver of Baltimore. In peace and war, in public and private life, they know the demands and duties, the joys and sorrows of the kind of course I’m taking, and have encouraged me to take it.
When my own family came to Maryland over 250 years ago, they came with dreams that millions of Americans have come to share. Those dreams nourish me today. They will inspire all of us in the days and months ahead.
Whenever Washington lacks positive direction, it has been remarked, you may be sure that something is struggling to be born in the nation. There is a wind coming. It can be a good wind or an ill wind; it is up to us, together, to set its direction.
Let us remember there is no conservative or liberal remedy for the sickness of the national spirit. The cure will come from honest, truthful leadership that summons the best in us – as we remember John Kennedy once did. His legacy awaits the leader who can claim it.
I intend to claim it, not for myself alone, but for the family that first brought it into being, for the millions who joyfully and hopefully entered public service in those days in order to produce a better life for all, and to those billions of unknown, uncounted human beings who I’ve seen all over the world -- in Asia, South America, Western Europe and the Soviet Union -- for whom the memory of those days and of John Kennedy is still an inspiration to their minds and a lift to their hearts. That’s what we must all be proud of once again.
Source: John F. Kennedy Library and Museum