The Speech John F Kennedy Was About to Give on the Day He Died
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
– John F. Kennedy
I grew up in a little dirtbag town with adoptive violent and evangelical parents. In that environment, I remember watching JFK get elected and introduce a form of optimism and eloquence, unlike any president since. In my childhood, the most significant impact of Television was to see our President and his wife demonstrate that while civility and eloquence were not in my home, it was alive and well in our country. I was too young to fully understand politics and the global challenges he wrestled with. But, I was mesmerized with the beauty of that family and his poetic speeches. Perhaps it was the music in his voice that connected with me at the deepest level. I wanted to be part of whatever he was selling.
I remember the day it all came to an end. I was in first or second grade when our principal came into my schoolroom and announced that someone had just murdered the President. My father pulled up in his new Pontiac Bonneville. As my sister and I approached it, the door locks popped up. We got into the car. Everyone was wordless. When we walked into the living room our mother was sitting in front of the TV sobbing.
For the next decade, optimism took a back seat to cynicism and contempt. Baby boomers engaged or revolted in a pointless war. After Watergate, they traded in their protests for credit cards.
But, we lost far more. John F. Kennedy was the last President before our political system was taken over by focus groups. Instead, he told us to take action. Kennedy inspired us to take responsibility for our lives, to give and contribute to the less fortunate. Here was a President that told Americans how to build upon our postwar optimism. Whether they liked him or not, American people joined hands in making the world a better place. He brought poetry into our politics by using words that soared. He spoke with such credibility that we listened.
Today, politicians promise they are going to fix things. They promise to give us jobs, cut taxes, put more in our pockets, save us from climate change or bring back coal and cashiers in malls. But, they never tell us we are responsible for how things have turned out.
Today, we can recite, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” But how many of us are living the words?
This Friday will mark the 56th year since his passing.
The motorcade carrying the President and his wife, the Governor of Texas, and his wife was on its way to the Dallas Trade Mart. The transcript of the speech he never delivered portrays ideals, and a way of being our country would do well to remember.
“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.”
“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 the 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.”
When we embrace his message, We are not a Democrat or Republican.
John F Kennedy’s presidency didn’t happen because of what he was going to do for us.
It happened because of what he would ask of us.
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