Before there was cool Barack Obama, there was cool John F Kennedy. Before there was cool Michelle Obama, there was cool Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Before Barack Obama was elected as President at the age of 47, JFK was elected the youngest President at the age of 43. I was just a babe but I grew up with the legend of the US version of Camelot, the Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the First Lady with a style of her own, a soft voice and shoulders that carried a nation after his assassination.
May 29th marked what would have been the 100th birthday of John F Kennedy. His daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, her daughters & son and the JFK Library produced a short video giving thoughts & reflections on this milestone: https://youtu.be/Hlz355SxDOE.
Would it surprise you to know that JFK planned to be a writer or teacher? I think most of us can’t imagine that. I certainly can only see him as the President that he became. He had so much to give in that role. He was instrumental in our journey to outer space and our journey to civil rights. His assassination left much of the civil rights activities to be completed by President Lyndon Johnson but he advanced its beginning. But, how many of you knew that he was behind the effort to get the Washington Redskins NFL team to finally integrate. The Washington Post published a brief but insightful article on his legacy that included this tidbit: http://wapo.st/2qMIZhw?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.e936528c9c19.
A new collection of essays was published at the beginning of May in honor of the centennial birthday of President Kennedy, JFK: A Vision for America. It is authored by his nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith and Douglas Brinkley. One of the things that is interesting about this compilation is that it includes speeches from his time as a Senator. The book has received excellent reviews and is noted to have “thought-provoking, inspiring and eloquent insights.” It includes speeches and essays from today’s leaders on JFK’s life that relate how his life and legacy is still relevant today. As I reflect on the eight years of President Obama and all that he did, I can also look back on the short three years of President Kennedy and see what real leadership looked like. Particularly as we have endured these four months of bad leadership. At least we know what a good President looked like. I am putting JFK: A Vision for America on my summer reading list, consider it for yours.
The book includes a 1960 campaign speech on religious tolerance. That certainly is relevant today given the current occupant of the oval office and his hateful executive order banning Muslim and Syrian immigrants. During his campaign, many tried to make an issue out of his religion, particularly Republicans. But, he implored the nation to see him not as the first Catholic President but a President who happened to be Catholic. We need that same understanding in 2017. It was JFK and Catholicism in 1960. It has been Trump and Muslims in 2016 and 2017. It will be something else in another year if we don’t understand tolerance is needed for all. If they come for your neighbor in the morning and you are silent, you need to worry if they will be back for you in the night.
The current occupant has had a theme of “America First”. The new book reminds us of JFK’s belief in diplomacy, which interestingly is quite similar to President Obama, and how he had a vision of an internationalist America where our country clearly had a role in the world to advance peace, cooperation and avoid militarism. Interesting similarities to today’s times indeed.
JFK had a broad respect for the press and was known for his embrace of reporters. He was amused by them, befriended them. He showed coolness, used wit and had a willingness to hold regular news conferences that actually cultivated friendly relationships (some say he “charmed” the press to the point that they overlooked his womanizing transgressions). His news conferences were televised and with the early use of television in 1960, he grabbed this new medium as an effective direct communication. He did not shy away from being accessible. Another stark contrast from today’s current occupant of the oval office who hides behind the medium of Twitter.
An article in the Washington Post (http://wapo.st/2pOyDKU?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.9c43db50888a) that contrasts the current presidency with JFK’s, notes that a large reason for JFK’s success is that he came across as being believable. From the beginning lie about the inauguration crowd size, the current occupant of the oval office has been the absolute opposite of believable. He has no credibility because he lies every day.
I didn’t know until recently that JFK was actually a journalist himself at the age of 28 for Hearst newspaper. He learned the business and thought journalists were “well-informed, even intellectual.” Ben Bradlee, who was publisher of the Washington Post said, “Kennedy himself genuinely like reporters.” “JFK understood the crucial role of a vigorous free press in a democracy and liked to point out the absence of journalistic freedom in the Soviet Union.” Such a significant difference from what we are experiencing but a lesson we can learn about real leadership.
“The stories of past courage…can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”
“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
<!– [if lt IE 7]>/common/js/jq-png-min.js<![endif]–> “Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world; we cannot insure its domestic tranquility, or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But joined with other free nations, we can do all this and more. We can assist the developing nations to throw off the yoke of poverty. We can balance our worldwide trade and payments at the highest possible level of growth. We can mount a deterrent powerful enough to deter any aggression. And ultimately we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion.”