If Kennedy lived one more day
There are so many opinions about John F. Kennedy. My adoptive parents were staunch Republicans. So, it is hard for me to accept that falling in love with his message was a partisan issue. I was just six years old.
“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”
All of us know those words. To a youngster they were so bold, clear and visionary that I heard them, bought them and knew that I wanted to be part of a solution rather than a problem.
I remember the ashen-faced principal of our evangelical school walking into class and telling us he had just been shot dead.
I remember my father pulling up in his brand new white Pontiac Bonneville and the power door locks clicking as my sister and I got in.
I remember him wordlessly driving home and our mother crying in front of the TV.
For me, John F. Kennedy was all about an opportunity, of galvanizing the human resources of a new superpower and focusing our nation on vision, on abundance and living out the “pay-it-forward” philosophy that underpinned the actions of an entire dynasty.
With his abrupt departure, America entered a decade of shocking dissension and a strikingly escapist era of anger, sexuality and drugs. With the absence of vision from the top, we got out our credit cards and forgot a moment in time where putting people on the moon seemed like a good idea, where sending our best to impoverished nations was the least we could do and where education could and would set anyone free.
Next month, countless new books, documentaries and presentations will be hitting the market about the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Many will be surmising what would have happened had he lived. A few years ago, I wondered what he was going to say in the two speeches scheduled in Texas on the day of his passing as well as the following day in Austin. It seems like a good time to bring portions of these speeches back to our readers.
Kennedy’s words disclose some of the seeds behind the current state of our federal government and perhaps will also remind us of a time when being devoted to something bigger than ourselves was a given:
“This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason – – or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with the seeming swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”
On Dysfunctional Partisanship
“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.
But today other voices are heard in the land – – voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.
We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”
On the Nation’s Future
“Almost everywhere we look, the story is the same. In Latin America, in Asia, in the councils of the world and in the jungles of far-off nations, there is now renewed confidence in our country and our convictions.
For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed…to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.
So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause – – united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future – – and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”
Had he lived another day, those are some of the words he was committed to telling us.
When I hear them, I am not a Democrat or Republican.
I am the six year old boy who believed every word.
All the best