Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

2
The Crisis Rhetoric of President John F. Kennedy The First Two Years

John F. Kennedy's presidency was a crisis presidency. If one reads Theodore Sorensen's or Arthur Schlesinger's accounts of the Kennedy administration, one will soon learn about the Laos crisis, the crisis in the Congo, the balance-of-payments crisis, the steel crisis, the Cuban missiles crisis, the civil rights crisis, and so on and on. In fact, Sorensen lists no fewer than fifteen crises the Kennedy administration faced in the first eight months it was in office.1

In his first State of the Union address Kennedy warned Congress that the nation was entering a period of persistent crises, especially in international relations: "Each day the crises multiply. Each day their solution grows more difficult. Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as weapons spread and hostile forces grow stronger."2 Crisis--both in domestic and foreign affairs--was the theme of the Kennedy administration and set the tone for his leadership. Beyond that, Kennedy's insistence on crises helped establish the political atmosphere for the entire decade.

This is an examination of the crisis rhetoric of President John F. Kennedy. Central to its thrust is the belief that the "crises" in the postwar period seldom were actual events, but rather that they were descriptions of events that the president had chosen--from a multitude of possible events or actions--to accentuate for Congress and the public as critical. Furthermore, these "crises" were often more a threat to a president's political leadership or his policies than they were to the nation as a whole. Thus, recognizing the rhetorical

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