Meet the Press   |  November 21, 2013

MTP Remembers JFK: The Presidential Campaign

The full special edition of Meet the Press featuring three interviews with then-Senator John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> narrator: this is "meet the press remembers."

>> gregory: i´m david gregory . thanks for joining "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign ." this month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president kennedy on november 22 , 1963 . president kennedy appeared on "meet the press" a total of eight times during his life. three of those appearances were during his presidential campaign in 1960 -- in january after he declared his candidacy, in july from the democratic national convention , and in october less than a month before the general election against richard nixon . we´ve assembled the most compelling parts of these three programs. the issues include richard nixon , lyndon johnson , the cold war , cuba , and the threat from the soviet union , jfk ´s stance on civil rights , and his attempt to become the first roman catholic president of the u.s. and now "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign ."

>> announcer: now here is the moderator of "meet the press," mr. ned brooks .

>> brooks: welcome once again to "meet the press." our guest is senator john kennedy of massachusetts, who yesterday announced his entrance into the race for the democratic presidential nomination . he said under no circumstances will he accept the nomination for vice president. senator kennedy is the front-runner in most of the public-opinion polls. as a member of the senate labor committee, he is certain to play a leading part in drafting legislation to deal with the steel dispute if it is not settled. senator kennedy began his career in the house of representatives at the age of 29. he was elected to the senate in 1952 and re-elected with the largest majority in the history of his state. he is the winner of a pulitzer prize for his book " profiles in courage ." and now seated around the press table ready to interview senator kennedy are richard wilson of the coles publications, john steele of time and life magazines, james reston of the new york times, and laurence e. spivak, our regular member of the "meet the press" panel. now, senator kennedy , if you´re ready, we´ll start the questions with mr. spivak.

>> spivak: senator, in the announcement of your candidacy yesterday, you said this -- "i belive that the democratic party has an historic function "to perform in the winning of the 1960 elections comparable to its role in 1932 ." could you tell us more precisely what you mean by that?

>> kennedy: well, i think that the election of ´32 was extremely essential because it, i think, helped save the private enterprise system in this country and i think, also, it contributed to the saving of democracy. now, i think in the 1960s , the issue is not democracy here at home or the private enterprise system, but i think it is around the world. i think the united states is the leader of the free world . it has a great role to play. i don´t think it´s been playing that role in the ´50s. and therefore, i think the democratic party has an historic function in this ´60 election.

>> spivak: well, don´t you think, senator, that the republicans are sure to run on peace and prosperity? and since we are at peace and the nation is prosperous, can they be beaten on those issues?

>> kennedy: yes, i think they can be beaten. i think really the problem with the democratic party is to attempt to bring home to the people the kind of problems that we´re going to face in the ´60s and also to bring home to the american people that we haven´t really faced these problems in the 1950s . when mr. eisenhower leaves office in 1960 , we´re going to be faced -- the next incumbent -- with overwhelming problems. we are going to be faced with a missile gap , which will make the difficulties of negotiating with the soviet union and the chinese in the ´60s extremely difficult. when mr. coolidge left the white house in 1928 , he was hailed. he was an extremely popular chief executive. i don´t think he was popular in 1930 .

>> brooks: mr. reston?

>> reston: senator, what do you do on this vice presidential question if there is a conflict between what is clearly in your personal interests and the interests of your party ? what about party allegiance on the vice presidential question?

>> kennedy: yes, well, i think i have an obligation to the democratic party .

>> reston: well, what do you do if it is the judgment of your party that you should accept the vice presidency ?

>> kennedy: well, i´m not going to accept the vice presidential nomination. i shall support the democratic ticket. i´ll work hard for it. but looking at the history of the last 60 years, i don´t recall a single case where a vice presidential candidate contributed an electoral vote . i think dewey lost california in 1948 with mr. warren at the height of his popularity as vice president. i know wendell willkie lost oregon in 1940 with charles mcnary , the most popular political figure in the history of oregon . a vice presidential candidate does not contribute. people vote for the presidential candidates on both sides. that´s what´s going to happen in 1960 . they presume that the presidential candidate is going to have a normal life expectancy. they don´t say, "we don´t like the presidential candidate , but we´ll vote for the vice presidential candidate ." if i can contribute the kind of strength that you might suggest by that question, possibly, i think that perhaps i should be nominated. if i cannot contribute it as nominee, then i believe that i can best serve the party and the country in the senate and i can serve what i prefer doing. i don´t want to spend the next eight years, as i said yesterday, presiding over the senate rarely -- as mr. nixon has rarely done -- voting in the case of ties on the rarest occasions, ´cause they rarely occur, and waiting for the president to die. unfortunately, in the constitution, that was all the authority the vice president was given.

>> reston: but didn´t you argue precisely the opposite way in 1956 when you sought the vice presidency ? didn´t you argue that you would add greatly to the strength of your party if they would give you the vice presidency ?

>> kennedy: well, the situation in 1956 is somewhat different, mr. reston, than it is in 1960 . i don´t think that mr. nixon would accept the vice presidential nomination in 1960 for his party . i haven´t heard it suggested that mr. johnson, mr. humphrey, mr. symington accept a vice presidential nomination. i think they´d all make it quite clear that they would not. now i´m making it clear that i will not. but i´ll work extremely hard for the party . and in 1956 when i was defeated for the vice presidential nomination, i think i probably spoke in more states for the party than any other democrat. and i´ll do so again.

>> brooks: mr. steele?

>> steele: senator kennedy , you defined the job of the vice president as that of breaking ties and watching the president´s health. does that mean that if you are the presidential nominee of the democratic party , you´ll select the throttle bottom as your vice presidential running mate?

>> kennedy: no, i´ll select the best man i could get if my life expectancy was not what i hope it will be. but that, really, is not, i wouldn´t think, an enviable prospect for the second man, whose only opportunity to exert influence on the course of events would be if i should die.

>> steele: well, now, will your refusal to accept the vice presidential nomination pertain if, by chance, you are defeated as the presidential nominee with no reference to the religious issue whatsoever? for instance, if the convention chooses governor stevenson or senator johnson or somebody else, will you still refuse a request that you accept the vice presidential nomination?

>> kennedy: yes. i don´t think the request will be made because i´ve made it so clear now, i hope, that i will not run.

>> steele: well, senator, on this line --

>> kennedy: there are a good many people who want to be vice president. i wanted to be in 1956 . and therefore -- and they´re very able men i think would make excellent presidents if the call came. and i think they should be given the opportunity.

>> steele: senator, richard nixon , who more or less has built his reputation as a vice president and as a stand-in at times for the president with a great deal of responsibility, is known pretty widely as a rough, tough gut-fighter as a campaigner. what makes you think you can beat him?

>> kennedy: well, i have no doubt that i can beat mr. nixon .

>> steele: for what reasons?

>> kennedy: i´ve run for election on five occasions and i´ve been successful. and i just have confidence i can beat mr. nixon . i don´t think the test is a rough, tough gut-fighter is who we´re gonna pick for president of the united states , i hope.

>> steele: what kind of a campaign would you run against him?

>> kennedy: i would run a campaign which attempted to show what i think the responsibilities of the united states are in the 1960s , why i think the democratic party , and if i were the nominee as the democratic nominee´s candidate, why i think that i could do a better job than mr. nixon could do. i think mr. nixon is a formidable candidate. i think whoever´s nominated will have a difficult fight with him. i personally happen to believe that i can defeat mr. nixon . but i think it will be a very -- but i don´t think it´s going to be, "who´s the toughest gut-fighter?"

>> brooks: mr. wilson?

>> wilson: senator, i´d like to ask just one question on this vice presidency and then move to something else. is it not a fact that the circumstances this year may be somewhat different than they have been previously with respect to the vice president? i refer to the common statement made among politicians that you, as a roman catholic , might suffer some difficulty as a candidate for president, as alfred e. smith did, but that as vice president, you would add a great deal to the ticket. isn´t that a different set of circumstances than previously existed, and what is your reaction to it?

>> kennedy: well, mr. wilson, i would be extremely sorry if they said, "we won´t take kennedy because he´s a catholic, but we want him because he´s a catholic for vice president." if we make the determination -- both of those determinations on the grounds of my religion, regardless of any other factors, i would think that the democratic party would not deserve to be successful because you would be giving an office to a candidate who potentially could be the president in either case and whose only claim under those conditions would be that he happened to go to church on sunday to the catholic church . i must say, i would consider that, at a most crucial time in the life of this country, to be a disastrous way of picking a ticket. and one of the ways that i hope to make it clear that i will not participate is by making it extremely clear that i´m not going to run for vice president. if the democratic party feels that i could be a successful candidate and a useful president, i hope they´ll pick me. if they don´t, i´ll work for the party . but i would not engage in the kind of operation which might be suggested in the question of attempting to attract catholics to a ticket because i happen to be on it as vice president. i must say, any catholic who voted for me on those grounds would be extremely unwise, and i would not run.

>> gregory: "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign " continues right after this.

>> gregory: "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign " continues now.

>> spivak: what specific sacrifices would you call upon the american people ?

>> kennedy: i would call, as i said earlier -- i would call for, at the present time , a large additional appropriation for national defense and i would call for the means of paying for it. that is one step we can take. i would strengthen the development loan fund, which i think is going to be the only means that we´re going to have available to assist in the development of it.

>> spivak: when you talk about the means, you mean increased taxes. you´re talking about increased taxes.

>> kennedy: if that´s necessary, yes.

>> spivak: what other sacrifices -- if i were someone who came to you and said, "what sacrifices do you want from us beyond taxes?"

>> kennedy: well, i think that that makes the point. the amount of our resources that we´re willing to devote to the security of the united states -- that´s the whole question now before us. there may be other sacrifices that time may bring. that´s the one that i suggest to the president.

>> spivak: you don´t think we´ve reached the stage yet where we ought to mobilize the entire nation in this fight for freedom?

>> kennedy: by mobilizing, what would you suggest, mr. spivak?

>> spivak: no, i´m asking the question.

>> kennedy: i don´t know what the phrase means. by mobilization, if you mean military, i don´t suggest that. what i´m suggesting is that we try to set before us the things that we must attempt to do in the next five years if we´re going to be secure, increase our security.

>> spivak: we´re still all fighting for shorter work hours. we´re still all fighting for...

>> kennedy: i oppose the shorter working hours .

>> spivak: ...for larger salaries. we´re still all fighting for soft living, more television sets, more automobiles. when you talk about sacrifices, what kind of sacrifices beyond the payment of a small amount of tax?

>> kennedy: i thought for the present, i´ve described the sacrifice that i suggest we try to make, and it looks as if they´re unwilling at the present time to continue it.

>> brooks: mr. steele?

>> steele: senator kennedy , you suggested very strongly that if president, one of the first problems you may have to face is an economic slow-down. what would be your ideas of meeting that?

>> kennedy: well, i think that the policy of the federal reserve board has been partly responsible for the slow-down. i don´t think there´s any doubt that the high interest rate policy, hard money policy , and all the rest have been partly responsible for the slow-down. in addition, i think a rather restrictive budget, in a way, has been partly responsible for the slow-down.

>> steele: a rather restrictive budget, sir?

>> kennedy: that´s correct. with $1 billion surplus, if we´re going to have 50% of capacity -- we´re going to have, i think, this week will be 4.5 million unemployed in july, which is the highest since world war ii -- i would say that we may be moving into a situation comparable to the ´58 recession.

>> steele: now, aside from federal reserve board action, how would you meet that? would you meet it with greater spending in the public domain ?

>> kennedy: i´ve suggested that in one section, the military, that we ought to spend more -- that´s correct.

>> steele: and what about on the civilian side?

>> kennedy: i think that i´ve talk about an appropriation -- i´ve talked about an appropriation of $2.5 billion to $3 billion on military, which i think would be an important beginning.

>> brooks: mr. childs?

>> childs: senator, if you´re president, you will probably -- very probably confront senator lyndon johnson as the majority leader of the senate. now, he´s said some rather harsh things about your youth and inexperience. do you think this could be an obstacle to an effective working arrangement with a democratic congress to put your program over?

>> kennedy: no, i think senator johnson´s a very patriotic american. and i think that after we´ve settled this matter, if he´s successful, i´ll strongly support him. if i´m successful, i´m sure that he´d strongly support me if i were elected. i´ve no doubt of it.

>> childs: and you feel that what he´s said about you will be forgotten in the --

>> kennedy: oh, everybody says everything about everybody, and i´ve had it said about me so many occasions that it doesn´t disturb me, so i´m not disturbed. i´m sure that he won´t be disturbed for having said it.

>> childs: you said in your june 14th foreign policy speech that the danger of triggering an irrational, accidental war was very great. how would you minimize the chances, if you were president, of triggering such a war?

>> kennedy: well, i think communication, of course, is the only...means and also make quite precise our guarantees. you have a situation now with cuba where mr. khruschchev is threatening if we take any action -- we don´t know exactly what action would bring about this rain of rockets. but you cannot continue to move from area to area where we threaten them with war to meet our commitments, they threaten us, they increase their commitments in the case which they´re trying to do in cuba . i would say this presents a constant hazard ´cause we could all be destroyed. i would think we would have to make very precise our commitment and then attempt to maintain communication with the soviet union , which i think, of course, is going to be -- present us with one of the great problems. i´d say communication, good ambassadors, frequent meeting with the foreign ministers , and be quite precise in our guarantees and inform them of actions we´re about to take.

>> man: would this communication include your seeing, let us say, mr. khruschchev? how do you feel about summit meetings?

>> kennedy: well, i think that if it appeared that it would be in the service of peace, if there was some reason to believe that it might avert war or if there had been preliminary negotiations at the secondary level which made it promising, then i think that mr. khruschchev and the next president might meet. i would not move with speed in that area.

>> brooks: mr. spivak?

>> spivak: senator, the american people are gonna be asked to make a choice not only between two men for president, but between two parties. what do you see as the fundamental differences today between the republican and democratic party ?

>> kennedy: i think the democratic party -- the republican party really is the party of memory. i think it´s a party which really looks to the past, which looks to the present. i think mr. nixon in some of his recent speeches has demonstrated that. i think the democratic party , which is extremely old, the oldest party , i do think has a good deal -- a great deal more intellectual curiosity, intellectual vigor, and willingness to face entirely new problems in a new way.

>> gregory: "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign " continues right after this.

>> gregory: "meet the press remembers jfk : the presidential campaign " continues now. our final segment is from the program that aired on october 16, 1960 , just over three weeks before the general election .

>> brooks: mr. spivak?

>> spivak: senator kennedy , you and vice president nixon seem agreed that the united states is today the strongest military power in the world. now, since he believes, also, as you do, that every necessary step must be taken to keep it so, why do you continue to make an issue of our military strength ?

>> kennedy: we disagree very greatly. he says our prestige has never been higher.

>> spivak: talking about our military power .

>> kennedy: no, but this is all tied up with the prestige -- when i use the word "prestige," i´m talking about the image of the united states abroad -- militarily, economically, politically, socially, scientifically, educationally. i believe in all those areas, our relative position is not satisfactory. we have sufficient momentum. because we had an atomic monopoly for a while and a hydrogen monopoly and we had a great airlift capacity, we have sufficient momentum to carry us through to the present time as a strong military power . but the rate of increase, the rate of military growth is not in our favor. that´s what i disagree with. in fact, we´ve been living off our fat for the last three or four years, militarily. the soviet union made the great breakthrough in space and in missiles, and therefore they are going to be ahead of us in those very decisive weapons of war in the early ´60s. what is true militarily is true economically -- their rate of increase is greater -- is certainly true scientifically, and in the image they give to the world of a country on the make, on the move.

>> brooks: mr. able?

>> able: senator kennedy , both parties have been talking civil rights for a great many years. congress has passed two bills in the past four years, and yet thousands of citizens are still deprived of their voting rights . would you favor use of the 14th amendment , section ii, a tool that to my knowledge has not been used in our time, to penalize any state that denies its citizens the right to vote by reducing its congressional representation in direct proportion?

>> kennedy: no, i think that the best way is to implement the constitution and the laws which congress passed, which i think give the power -- the executive very clear power. i don´t feel that those powers have been used very effectively either in the ´57 or the ´60 act. but in my judgment, the executive has full power to provide the right to vote. i don´t think there´s any legal limitation now, any lack of weapons by the attorney general or the president to compel the right to vote if a major effort is made. and in my judgment, a major effort should be made in 1961 to make sure that there´s no subterfuge, that everyone has the right to vote, that no tests are used which deprive people artificially based on race of the right to vote. i feel that a real effort should be made in this field in 1961 . i think it would have the consent pretty much of the entire country.

>> brooks: mr. folliard?

>> folliard: henry cabot lodge made a speech in harlem and promised that a negro would be appointed to the cabinet if he and mr. nixon won. then he got down to north carolina and, as i understand it, sort of ate his words. you remarked on that yesterday. how would you feel about a negro in the cabinet if you were successful on november the 8th?

>> kennedy: well, i think we ought to pick the best people we can and the best for each of the tasks. if the best person is a negro or if he´s white or if he´s mexican descent or whether he´s irish descent or whatever he may be, i believe that he should get the job. but i do believe we should make a greater effort to bring negroes into participation in the higher branches of government. there are no federal district judges. there 200-odd of them. not one of them is a negro. we only have about 26 negroes in the entire foreign service of 6,000. so that i -- particularly now with the importance of africa and asia and all the rest, i do believe we should make a greater effort to encourage fuller participation on all levels of all the talent we can get -- negro, white, of any race.

>> gregory: i´ll be back with a few final words right after this.

>> gregory: a couple of final notes here. the second kennedy / nixon debate on october 7 , 1960 , took place right here at the nbc news bureau in washington just nine days before jfk ´s final appearance on the program. for more information on the program, please go to our website at meetthepressnbc.com. i´m david gregory . since 1947 , if it´s sunday, it´s "meet the press."