John F. Kennedy in Kennedy, by Ted Sorensen


On Health Care: Attempted unsuccessfully to create retirement-based Medicare

Of all his narrow losses, the most discouraging to him was the defeat of his "Medicare" bill--the long-sought plan enabling American working men and women to contribute to their own old-age health insurance program under Social Security instead of forcin them, once their jobs and savings were gone, to fall back on public or private charity. The cost of his own father's hospitalization made him all the more aware of how impossible it was for those less wealthy to bear such a burden. The Medicare bill was lost, and he went immediately on television to declare that this "most serious defeat for every American family" would be a key issue in the fall campaign. The 87th and 88th Congresses would in time pass more health care legislation than any two Congresses in history--including landmarks in mental health and mental retardation, medical schools, drug safety, hospital construction and air & water pollution--but the President never got over the disappointment of this defeat
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 342-344 Jan 1, 1965

On Education: The human mind is our fundamental resource

Kennedy linked education to our military, scientific and economic strength. "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource."

The one domestic subject that mattered most to John Kennedy was education. Throughout his campaign and throughout his Presidency, he devoted more time and talks to this single topic than to any other domestic issue. Without notes he would cite all the discouraging statistics: only six out of every ten students in the fifth grade would finish high school; only nine out of sixteen high school graduates would go to college; one million Americans were already out of school and out of work . He said to me "That's the fifth governor I've talked to who doesn't see how he can squeeze any more from property taxes to build enough schools. "

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 358 Jan 1, 1965

On Education: 1963 Higher Education Act: more grants; more colleges

Patience on the part of the President--and new constructive NEA leadership--produced the Higher Education Act of 1963, authorizing several times more college aid in a five year period than had been appropriated under the Land Grant College Act in a century, and providing classrooms for several hundred thousand students, 25 to 30 new community colleges a year, 10 to 20 new graduate centers, several new technical institutes and better college libraries.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 359 Jan 1, 1965

On Education: Aid to Education Bill defeated when private schools excluded

The NDEA enacted in 1958 included loans for private school education in categories necessary to defense. [Kennedy's] bill for general aid to elementary and secondary education failed. In 1961 Kennedy presented a massive Federal aid to education bill limited, as he emphasized, to public schools "in accordance with the clear prohibition of the Constitution." The national Catholic Welfare Conference, representing the full hierarchy in America, immediately called for the Kennedy bill's defeat unless loans to nonpublic schools were added. The President reflected his determination
  1. to promote public school education AND
  2. to preserve church-state separation.
It was a sorry ending to a sad story. Solid Republican opposition, joined not only by conservatives Democrats but by those unwilling to face voting the bill up or down on its merits, overwhelmingly defeated a motion even to bring the bill up for consideration. Federal aid to education was dead.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 359-262 Jan 1, 1965

On Education: Pray ourselves, if courts won't allow school prayer

The President took much of the force out of any drive to amend the Constitution [such as] the prayer case: "It is important that we support the Supreme Court decisions even when we may not agree with them. We have in this case a very easy remedy and that is to pray ourselves. We can pray a good deal more at home, we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity, and we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of all of our children. That power is very much open to us.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 364 Jan 1, 1965

On Budget & Economy: Presided over strongest economic expansion in modern history

During the four years following John Kennedy's inauguration, the US experienced the longest and strongest economic expansion in this nation's modern history--GDP increased more in 4 years than it had in the previous 8. By 1964, a record $100 billion, 16% growth in the nation's total output had provided more than 2.75 million more jobs and a record rise in labor income. The amount of idle manufacturing capacity had been reduced by half, and for the first time, the 70-million-job barrier had been shattered
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 393 Jan 1, 1965

On Budget & Economy: 1961 recession plan: prompt recovery toward long-term growth

[In his first State of the Union address, Kennedy stated], "The present state of our economy is disturbing. We take office in the wake of seven months of recession. Insured unemployment is at the highest peak in our history. In short, the American economy is in trouble. The most resourceful industrialized country on earth ranks among the last in economic growth. I will propose within the next 14 days measures aimed at insuring a prompt recovery and paving the way for increased long-range growth."
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 396 Jan 1, 1965

On Jobs: 1961: Added 13-week unemployment benefits in recession

On Feb. 2, 1961, Kennedy proposed legislation to add a temporary 13-week supplement to unemployment benefits, to extend aid to the children of unemployed workers, to redevelop distressed areas, to increase Social Security payments and encourage earlier retirement, to raise the minimum wage and broaden its coverage, to provide emergency relief to feed grain farmers and to finance a comprehensive home-building and slum clearance program. These 7 measures became law by the end of June, 161 days of action.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 397 Jan 1, 1965

On Budget & Economy: Heavy deficit spending to recover from 1961 recession

The need was to get money into the economy fast. Kennedy directed all Federal agencies to accelerate their procurement and construction. He released over a billion dollars in state highway aid funds ahead of schedule, raised farm price supports and advanced their payment, speeded up the distribution of tax refunds and GI life insurance dividends. He created a "pilot" Food Stamp program for the needy and expanded US Employment Offices. Finally, he encouraged the Federal Reserve Board to help keep long-term interest rates low through the purchase of long-term bonds.

While most of Kennedy's administrative moves added to the deficit--some by billions of dollars--none of them had to wait for legislation or appropriations. The money was paid out when the economy needed it most. He made clear--and this may have had the most important effect of all--that he would not cut back Federal spending when the recession reduced Federal revenues, or permit a tightening of credit when recovery began.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 397-398 Jan 1, 1965

On Free Trade: Economic isolation incompatible with political leadership

The [Roosevelt era's] Reciprocal Trade Act had become inadequate as successive renewals narrowed the President's negotiating authority. The President felt the fierce fight might be fought only once for a wholly new trade instrument. "The US did not rise to greatness by waiting for others to lead. Economic isolation and political leadership are wholly incompatible."

The 1962 bill gave the President a 5-year authority to cut all tariffs by as much as 50% and to cut tariffs down to zero on those commodities traded predominantly by the US. He never avoided the fact that, in order to sell more, we would have to buy more; and he proposed a measure to provide Federal "adjustment assistance" to firms and workers injured by any increase in imports deemed desirable. "It is time we recognized," he said, that trade is "no longer a matter of local economic interest but of high national policy. This bill by enabling us to strike a bargain with the common Market, will 'strike a blow' for freedom."

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 410-411 Jan 1, 1965

On Homeland Security: Increased defense spending, but also increased efficiency

Defense spending rose some $8 billion under Kennedy, constituting most of his Budget increase, but it was spent on more solid and dependable deterrents from which [inefficient] systems might otherwise have taken money. [Defense Secretary] McNamara and Kennedy formed a single Defense Intelligence Agency, which produced one confidential daily report instead of the previous eleven. They formed a single Defense Supply Agency, which tightened up procurement practices on everything from different belt buckles to missiles, noted that Army helicopters could use the one million too many small rockets in Air Force stockpiles (savings $41 million), and avoided duplications. They undertook a reorganization of the National Guard and they shut down, sold or cut back nearly three hundred inefficient installations. "The defense establishment," said Kennedy, "must be lean and fit."
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 417-418 Jan 1, 1965

On Budget & Economy: All presidents outspend their predecessors

Kennedy's favorite comparison was with the fiscal record of his Republican predecessor. On occasion, he would ask: considering Truman's expenditures in Korea and at the end of the Second World War, how do you think Eisenhower's eight budgets compared wit Truman's eight budgets? Eisenhower outspent Truman by $182 billion. "You could win a bet on that in any bar in the country," the President told me when I first gave him the figure. He would also cite Eisenhower's record of five deficits in eight years, including a peacetime high of $12 billion, the $23 billion Eisenhower added to the national debt and the 200,000 civilian employees he added to the Federal payroll. All Presidents, he continued, outspend their predecessors in a growing, progressive nation. The Kennedy administration's "domestic" increases didn't sound so outrageous when shown to be less than in the last three years of his predecessor.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 419 Jan 1, 1965

On Tax Reform: 1961: We need tax cut to keep drive from running out of gas

His effort was not how to divide the economic pie but how to enlarge it for everyone. Helping business profits led to more jobs. Helping consumer income led to more sales. When presented, it was a tax reform and tax reduction bill. When it was finally reported out [of the House], he had his major tax cut bill with a little tax reform. More reforms, he agreed, were overdue, but they could not even pass committee.

The President went on television once again. He illustrated how the bill would reduce th taxes of a typical family, and how their tax savings would be used to create more jobs. Ten thousand new jobs had to be created every day; recessions have occurred on the average every 44 months since World War I. "We need a tax cut to keep this present drive from running out of gas." The speech was a success and so was the bill. The Kennedy tax bill, enacted with the help of his successor, and the unparalleled period of expansion stand as a monument to his economic wisdom and political tenacity.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 433 Jan 1, 1965

On Education: Liberty without learning is always in peril

President Kennedy at Vanderbilt in May of 1963: "Liberty without learning is always in peril; and learning without liberty is always in vain. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law, to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human, degrades his heritage, ignores his learning and betrays his obligations."

An estimated one-third of all principal Kennedy programs made some form of education a central element, and the Office of Education called it the most significant legislative period in its hundred-year history. Nevertheless his bill for general aid to elementary and secondary education failed, unable to survive a harsh combination of controversies of which religion was only the most conspicuous.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 492 Jan 1, 1965

On Civil Rights: Impatient for school desegregation in early 1960s

A lack of adequate education is one root of other Negro problems, the President said, and the implementation of the Supreme Court's decision cannot be left solely to those who lack the resources to bring suits or withstand intimidation. "The pace is very slow. To many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court's decision nine years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. "
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 497-498 Jan 1, 1965

On Foreign Policy: 1961: Created the Peace Corps

Kennedy created in his first 100 days the Peace Corps: a cadre of mostly youthful volunteers carrying American energy and skills directly to the people of poor nations. They lived with those people in their villages, spoke their languages, helped them develop their natural and human resources, and received no compensation other than the satisfaction of helping others. The Peace Corps became in time--at least in the developing nations--the most stirring symbol of Kennedy's hope and promise.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 532 Jan 1, 1965

On Foreign Policy: "World safe for diversity", instead of "safe for democracy"

Although he did seek basic reforms in the efforts of other countries to make use of our funds, he knew that our own system could not be universally imposed or accepted in a world where most of the people "are not white, are not Christians, [and] know nothing about free enterprise or due process of law or the Australian ballot." All must adopt their own system, and the freedom to do so was at the heart of his policy. Without specifically contradicting Wilson's phrase of "a world made safe for democracy," he began in 1963 to refer in his speeches to "a world made safe for diversity." That single phrase summed up much of his new thinking in foreign policy.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 539 Jan 1, 1965

On Homeland Security: Defense spending should not be limited by budget amount

As President-elect, he gave his first basic policy change: "Under no circumstances should we allow a predetermined arbitrary financial limit to establish either strategy or force levels." Our strategy was to be determined by the objectives of our foreign policy. Our force levels were to be determined by the necessities of our safety and commitments. "Like any other investment," he said of defense spending in 1960, "it will be a gamble with our money. But the alternative is to gamble with our lives."
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 603 Jan 1, 1965

On War & Peace: Increased anti-guerilla forces; founded the Green Berets

His pride was the Army Special Forces, rapidly growing to a level some five or six times as large as when he took office. The President directed that the Special Forces wear green berets as a mark of distinction. He wanted them to be a dedicated, high quality elite corps of specialists, trained to train local partisans in guerilla warfare, prepared to perform a wide range of civilian as well as military tasks. He personally supervised the selection of new equipment--the replacement of boots with sneakers for example. "The new anti-guerilla forces proved one of his most important military contributions. In South Vietnam, they delivered babies, chopped trails, dug wells, prevented ambushes, raised morale and formed effective bands against the Communist.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 632-633 Jan 1, 1965

On Environment: Rural Areas Development program for agriculture technology

"Automation," Kennedy said at a news conference, "does not need to be our enemy. I think machines can make life easier for men, if men do not let the machines dominate them." Technological unemployment, which Kennedy understood, was a basic problem in our farm economy, which he never understood. New fertilizers, insecticides, and research had made American agriculture one of the productive miracles of the world, a sharp contrast with Communism's collective farms.

Kennedy, while keeping food prices relatively stable, took steps to raise net farm income per farm to a record high. A new Rural Areas Development program helped low-income farmers not only find new jobs and improve their homes, but also turn surplus cropland into recreation areas for fun and profit.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.402-403 Jan 1, 1965

On Civil Rights: Civil rights in public, not private intermarriage

Kennedy pressed for action [on civil rights for African-Americans] from clergymen of all faiths, certain they would "recognize the conflict between racial bigotry and the Holy Word." What about racial intermarriage? Asked one minister. "I am not talking about private lives," replied the President, dismissing the familiar bugaboo, "but public accommodation, public education, and public elections."

The overall response made Kennedy proud of his country. The citizen "lobby"--led by religious groups--was massive and effective. Even more striking was the voluntary removal of segregation signs and practices in chain stores, theaters and restaurants.

The nation's clergy were goaded into effective action on a major moral issue which had long preceded Kennedy's leadership. Progress was slow and insufficient, but, compared to the previous 100 years, rapid and gratifying.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.502 Jan 1, 1965

On Foreign Policy: Alianza para el Progreso: development aid for Latin America

In speeches [about Latin America], the emphasis was on the need for more self-help as well as American help, for ending injustice as well as poverty, for reform as well as relief. The Alianza para el Progreso "is more than a doctrine of development, it is the expression of the noblest goals of our society."

The President had begun work on a coffee stabilization agreement, sent more Peace Corpsmen south than to any other continent, and increased Food-for-Peace shipments. But the Alliance was slow getting started, and not without reason. With a rate of infant mortality nearly 4 times our own, a life expectancy less than 2/3 of our own, an illiteracy rate of 50%, and a highly suspicious attitude toward American investment, where were we to begin? The task, said the President, was "staggering in its dimensions," even for a ten-year plan.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.534-535 Jan 1, 1965

On Free Trade: Send surplus wheat to Russians, while subsidizing US farmers

While the sale of 65 million bushels of surplus wheat would hardly make a dent in our storage, it would bring added income and employment to American agriculture and business, benefit our balance of payments, and reduce Federal storage costs.

The granting of export licenses to sell wheat to the Russians was not prohibited under any of the statutes limiting commercial transactions with the Communists. But Congress had added to the Agricultural Act of 1961 an amendment opposing the sale of subsidized agricultural commodities to unfriendly nations. Republican legislators were already invoking this provision as an obstacle to any sale.

Kennedy decided to ignore it, and offered ample reason. It was only a non-binding declaration of intent. It had been adopted at the height of the Berlin crisis in a wholly different climate. And the subsidy went not to the foreign buyer but to the American heat farmer, regardless of where and whether the wheat was sold.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.741-742 Jan 1, 1965

The above quotations are from Kennedy, by Ted Sorensen.
Click here for other excerpts from Kennedy, by Ted Sorensen.
Click here for other excerpts by John F. Kennedy.
Click here for a profile of John F. Kennedy.
Please consider a donation to OnTheIssues.org!
Click for details -- or send donations to:
1770 Mass Ave. #630, Cambridge MA 02140
E-mail: [email protected]
(We rely on your support!)

Page last updated: Feb 23, 2019