Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1962

Author: John F. Kennedy  | Date: October 14, 1962

Transcript of Interview With William Lawrence Recorded for the Program "Politics—’62"
October 14, 1962

WILLIAM H. LAWRENCE, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, as your campaign travel plans develop it’s becoming clear that you will be about the most traveled President, if not the most traveled President, in any off year, midterm election.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, well that’s right. I think that by November 6 we’ll have traveled more than any President and almost as much as all of them in this century in an off year, but that’s partly because of jet planes.

Mr. Lawrence: I was going to ask whether this was a calculated decision, or did the importunings of Democratic candidates just cause your schedule to grow like Topsy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it’s mostly—it’s because one of the big problems we always face in an off year is, first, the party in power traditionally loses seats. From the off year elections of 1930 until, through the off year election of 1958, the party in power lost an average of 39 House seats. Well, if we lost
39 House seats it would make it impossible for us to put through any of the programs which I believe to be vitally important to strengthen the economy of the United States.

So, I think, while I recognize the limitations of Presidential campaigning, traditionally it has not been very successful, at least I think it may arouse some interest in this campaign and encourage the turnout. One of the alarming statistics which I’ve seen, Bill, has been the distribution of votes between the Republicans and the Democratic Party. Generally, we do pretty well on that, but then when they ask which percentage are going to vote, then we don’t do so well. So, if we can arouse some interest and cause a bigger turnout then I’ll feel I’ve done the job, even though history’s against us.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, now, do you really enjoy campaigning at this brisk a pace, or do you find such a schedule as you have this weekend, for example, very tiring?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I guess this weekend we’re going to six States. No, I don’t enjoy it very much. I think one of the great myths in American life is that those who are in politics love to campaign. Well, maybe some do, but it’s hard work making a lot of speeches, and I have a good many other things to do, but on the other hand the decision which is made in the next 30 days is going to decide what kind of a Congress we’re going to have for the next 2 years. So I think that really there’s no place that I ought to be in these weekends that is more important, at least to the things that I’m interested in.

If we can elect, if we can hold our own in the Congress it would be extremely important. You’ll recall that we lost our bill for medical care for the aged, a change of 1 vote in the Senate; that we passed our farm bill finally by about 5 votes. We lost aid to higher education by about 27 votes. We won the Rules Committee fight, which is going to come up again in January, which decides whether all these bills should even come to the floor for a vote, we won that by only 5 votes. So that is why this Congress is so evenly balanced and the change of one or two seats one way or the other can make all the difference to very important programs.

Mr. Lawrence: I notice that former President Eisenhower is out campaigning and he charges that your bid to elect more Democrats to the Congress is really a demand for one-party rule and he says that people shouldn’t let you make their decisions for them. What’s your reaction to that, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the people are going to make their decisions on November 6. What has happened—and this has really been true for a great many years as these figures that I gave you indicate—that we have nearly total opposition by the Republicans,about seven-eighths vote against all these programs and on the farm bill we only picked up one Republican. And at least five-, six-, seven-eighths of them vote against us on all those programs—domestic programs—which I’ve discussed. Now, they are joined by about a fourth of the Democrats and this has really been true since the mid-thirties.

We have a party which covers all parts of the country. We include in it Wayne Morse, and Strom Thurmond, and Harry Byrd, men who don’t agree on a good many things, particularly on domestic matters. So I usually figure that we’re going to lose one-fourth of the Democrats, they’re going to vote with the Republicans and that’s why all these votes are so close. We’re not talking about one-party rule, we’re talking about whether we’ll win a majority, an effective, working, practical majority of 2, 3, or 4 votes and that’s what we’ve gone through for the whole 2 years.

Mr. Lawrence: When you talk of electing more Democrats though, Mr. President, you’re really talking about electing more from the North and from the West because you have just about solid Democratic representation from the South, anyway?

Tag PRESIDENT. Yes. Those issues are all decided. Some of them don’t agree with the program. Then, in addition, there are a good many one-party districts that the Republicans represent, that no one is going to do very much about. What we’re talking about are these swing districts which can go either way, which went very close in 1960 and 1958. And the choices here are between those Democrats who support these programs and the Republicans who oppose them.

Now what is at issue, in my opinion, is whether this economy of ours can produce at full blast. We had a recession in 1958, we had a recession in 1960, the recovery of this year is not as good as we had hoped. We still have too many unemployed. We have still too much of our factory capacity which is unused. We’re going to have to develop monetary policies, fiscal policies, and all the rest which will help us give the same thrust to our economy that Western Europe does.

Now the fact is, and these men are all good men, this is not a personal matter, but the Republicans do not agree with this concept. I don’t think that they recognize how serious is this challenge of building our strength at home in order to maintain it abroad. I think the Democrats that we are talking about in these districts which are in doubt now this November do.

Why should we not have a Department of Urban Affairs? I mean, 75 to 80 percent of our people live in our cities. Why shouldn’t we have aid to higher education? Why shouldn’t we have medical care for the aged? Why do we have difficulty passing a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour? That’s $50 a week. Yet 88 percent of the Republicans opposed a $50 a week minimum wage. Well, you can’t maintain a strong—who’s going to buy our automobiles and refrigerators if people are getting less than $50 a week? How do they live for less than $50 a week?

So, these are some of the issues and that’s why I am working so hard.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Mr. President, you spoke a moment ago of Democratic disaffection, that is, the conservatives, mostly Southern, who vote against your major administration programs, or at least some of the key ones. Is this problem likely to be more difficult in the next Congress because of the recent events in Mississippi and the action that you had to take there to enforce the court order?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you know, actually, a good many southerners vote with us. We get a good many from a number of the Southern States, Senators as well as Congressmen. The difficulty is that every issue the sides change a bit. Sometimes we don’t get as many. In the case of the farm bill we lost some of the Democrats from the Northeast United States who opposed these farm programs, generally. So that what we reallyhave to figure is that for one reason or another we usually lose about a fourth of the Democrats. You combine that with total Republican opposition and instead of our having a clear majority in the House and Senate we have a very razor’s edge.

I don’t think, I think that what’s happened in Oxford, Miss., has caused a good deal of concern. I think that most people in the South recognize my responsibility is to carry out the court order, my Constitutional responsibility. And I think that we will get support in the South for those measures which—in the same way as we did in the last 2 years.

What I want to emphasize is that the problem I’m talking about is the problem that goes back 30 years, that you’re familiar with, coalition. And when you figure that we won the rules fight, which was the basic fight, in January ’61, even with 19 Republicans voting with us in the House, only by 5 votes, and we don’t get 19 Republicans any more, you can just see how closely divided the House and Senate is, even though the party labels give a different impression.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you do not expect then any political repercussions from Oxford either in the North or in the South?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it’s too early to tell about the political repercussions in November, I don’t know. I would hope not, but I wouldn’t predict on that. But I think beginning in January, I think the Members of the Congress will vote in accordance with their more traditional beliefs. I don’t think there’11 be that kind of reprisal because it really wouldn’t make any sense. I had no choice but to carry out my responsibilities.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Mr. President, these issues that you have just ticked off in your earlier answer: Medicare, taxes, aid to education, the minimum wage, are these the ones that people talk to you about as you travel about the country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there’s obviously a great interest in foreign policy, but I’ve attempted and I think this has been true of General Eisenhower in his campaign speeches, neither one of us have attempted to make any partisan issue particularly out of foreign policy. There may be some areas of difference, but I think that those should be discussed as much as possible in a nonpolitical way because they involve the security of our country—where we differ, where the Republicans and Democrats differ. But the points I am emphasizing are domestic and they’re very important because Khrushchev once said that the hinge of history and the great struggle between the free world and the Communist world would move when the Communist world out-produced us. And therefore the degree of economic growth, and the degree of productive strength goes, in my opinion, basically to our ability to maintain our commitments abroad. And I don’t think we can maintain our economic strength if we drift along on a .plateau. And I think a recession in ’58, a recession in ’60, and the difficulties we’ve had this year should be an alarm bell to all of us.

This is not an easy problem. No party or group of people or single person has an answer to it, but what I feel is that at least we’re aware of it and we’re trying to work out solutions. And I think it’s important that we have a Congress responsive to this need and I believe in this case that these Members of the House and Senate that I’m talking about are responsive to it and have demonstrated during the past 2 years.

Mr. Lawrence: Would you say then, Mr. President, that there are no foreign policy issues that are likely to affect a large number of votes in this campaign as between Democrats and Republicans?

THE PRESIDENT. There may well be, but at least I’m trying to emphasize it to the extent that’s possible the problems that we have here in the United States. I think they’re very important and I think they lend themselves to a very clear distinction between our two parties. Now, if anyone wants to discuss foreign policy or argue it I’ll be delighted to, but at least I want to emphasizea very important problem which I think is the rate of economic growth here in the United States.

Mr. Lawrence: Well now, some Republicans have been saying that Cuba is likely to be a big issue in this campaign. Have you had any reaction to this in your campaign travels?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I’m sure that the people are concerned about Cuba, and I am, too. I’m not sure it is a party issue. I think we’re all concerned about Cuba and, as you know, we’re taking a lot of steps to try to isolate Castro who we believe is going to eventually fall. But whether it’s a party matter, after all Castro came in 1958 and we have been unsuccessful in having Castro removed, but whether this is a matter of Republicans and Democrats rather than an American problem, I’m not so sure.

Mr. Lawrence: Would you say on the whole, Mr. President, whether the record of the 87th Congress was a definite campaign asset or liability to the Democrats?

THE PRESIDENT. INTO, definite asset. We failed on three or four very important measures, but this is always true of new bills. I hope we’re going to pass them in the next session, but on these matters of trade expansion, of economic social security, minimum wage, and good drug bill, and all the rest, as I pointed out last night, this Congress-all sorts of things that people don’t realize.

We passed in this Congress more bills setting up seashore parks in the United States, making this great national asset available to the public, than has ever been passed in all the Congresses in history. There’s only a fraction of the land along the Atlantic and Pacific and Gulf Stream that the people themselves can go to; the rest is owned privately. We’ve built three great seashore parks: Cape Cod; Point Reyes, north of San Francisco; and Padre Island, down off Texas. That’s more than were put together in all the Congresses in history.
We passed the strongest crime legislation that’s been passed in the history of the United States—seven bills which are comparatively unknown. Well, the record of this Congress is most unusual and I run on it with a good deal of satisfaction. But the difficulty is that every vote we either won or lost by 3 or 4 votes and if we suffer the usual midterm fate, which is the loss of 39 seats, you can see that we won’t pass any legislation in the next 2 years of the kind that I think is so important.

Mr. Lawrence: And you will be back, of course, with the next Congress with recommendations for Medicare and—

Mr. Lawrence: —Federal aid to education.

Mr. Lawrence: —and a stronger farm bill?

THE PRESIDENT. Correct, more effective one.

Mr. Lawrence: Mr. President, in considering the midterm elections and your part in them as President, I think you mentioned earlier that Presidents have not always been too effective in reversing the tide. Have you studied the attitudes of your predecessors as they approached such election tests?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I’ve seen, I’ve studied what they all did. Sometimes they did nothing and sometimes they did a lot. Fate usually didn’t seem to be affected by what they did. President Eisenhower campaigned very hard in ’58 and lost badly. President Roosevelt didn’t do very much in ’34 and won. He did a good deal in ’38 and lost. So there’s no magic—

Mr. Lawrence: I had heard a story that President Roosevelt took such a rigid public nonpartisan view that he in fact proposed that the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners that year be bipartisan.

THE PRESIDENT. That’s correct. He said that he voted for a lot of Republicans in his life. He was very nonpartisan in 1934 and he picked up nine seats.

Mr. Lawrence: He was the only president who did.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, then, he was very partisan in ’38 and he lost, what, 70 seats, I think?

Mr. Lawrence: That’s right, but that was after the purge, of course.

THE PRESIDENT. That was after the purge. So I, but on the other hand, I’ve never believed that precedents really mean anything in politics. From my own personal experience as well as for other reasons just because it happened this way in the past doesn’t mean anything. The question really is, can we interest enough people to understand how important the congressional election of 1962 is? And that is my function. They themselves will make a judgment finally, but at least I hope by November 6, 1962, as a result of General Eisenhower’s campaigning as well as my own, at least everyone’s going to know there is an important election on.

Mr. Lawrence: So you feel that General Eisenhower and you together are helping to get out a—

THE PRESIDENT. I think he’s very helpful. Some of his speeches may not be so helpful, but at least the fact that he’s working hard, I’m working hard, all this means that the people of the United States will realize how important the election of a Congress is.

I think when you read these shocking statistics of 30, 40, 50, 60 percent of people not voting, I think, well, then I think at least maybe we can move that up 5 or 10 percent. And if we do, it helps us.
Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Mr. President.

NOTE: The interview was video-taped in the President’s Office at the White House on October 11 for use October 14 on the American Broadcasting Company television program "Politics—’62."


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Chicago: John F. Kennedy, "459 Transcript of Interview With William Lawrence Recorded for the Program Politics— ’62," Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1962 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.913-915 778–780. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: Kennedy, John F. "459 Transcript of Interview With William Lawrence Recorded for the Program "Politics— ’62"." Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1962, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.913-915, pp. 778–780. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Kennedy, JF, '459 Transcript of Interview With William Lawrence Recorded for the Program "Politics— ’62"' in Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1962. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.913-915, pp.778–780. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from