John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

in general, contain the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the American people: courage and caution, lightness and darkness, self-confidence and self- doubt, compassion and selfishness, integrity and occasional escapism. He was what we want to be and what we fear we sometimes are. He was both the product of his times, and he made them different. He encouraged us to believe we could make a difference.

As others have pointed out, a thousand days were too short. It was as if Lincoln had died a few months after Gettysburg, or Franklin Roosevelt at the end of 1935, or Truman before the Marshall Plan. Despite his flaws and mistakes, Kennedy served to liberate and empower people to ask tough questions and dream of a better America. He had the effect of forcing people to rethink their values and develop new approaches. He had an impact on the bureaucracies of Washington--encouraging people to a higher level of imagination and to set higher standards of excellence than the standard operating procedure.

If Kennedy were here today, he would remind us again that we can do better, that the nation needs to get moving, that good people need to get involved. He would reiterate that the task of the progressives is to represent the common man, that it is the glory and the greatness of our Jeffersonian and Rooseveltian tradition to speak for those who have no voice and to remember those who are forgotten and left behind. Our challenge is to respond to the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life, in a better land, in a better world.

On the basis of his experience, Kennedy would urge us to be involved with the fights for economic growth, for social justice, and for arms control as well as for an effective defense. Progress and justice come about because people and groups and movements organize, demand, push, and fight for their values, he would remind us. A president is constrained and restricted--hemmed in by the checks and balances and most especially by the well-financed and well-organized privileged interests in the nation. The privileged interests, the political action groups, and the forces that strive to keep things as they are, need a counterweight, and he would urge us to play that role. Above all, he would urge people to take politics seriously and to understand that the nation needs not just a few quality people in high office, but thousands of leaders in both the public and the private sector to make our system work. In short, he would say, "Understand how much depends on you!"


NOTES
1.
William Manchester, One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy ( Boston: Little, Brown, 1983), pp. 276-277.
2.
John F. Kennedy, address at Amherst College, October 26, 1963.
3.
Hugh Sidey, John F. Kennedy, President ( New York: Atheneum, 1964), p. 11.
4.
Kennedy, Amherst speech.
5.
Lawrence O'Brien, No Final Victories ( New York: Ballantine Books, 1974), p. 2.

-19-

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