People will have different perspectives on the type of president Kennedy was. Some will argue he was a progressive-liberal. Others will say he was more conservative than some people give him credit for being. However, what many will recall about Kennedy — regardless of party affiliation or ideology — is that he was a president who looked toward tomorrow.
To remember him as a president, many will watch his 1961 inaugural address, considered one of, if not the most memorable in U.S. history, which will forever be remembered for generations to come. Americans will listen to his commitment to allies, his willingness to stand up against our enemies, a stance against poverty, a promise to land on the Moon, and a dedication to look ahead for the betterment of the country.
What many may not recall and a speech that is not often taught in schools is a speech given by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963. A nation still shaken by the loss of their president now looked to a new leader to get them through this tragedy. In some ways, his words reflected the approach Kennedy had to leadership:
“All of us have lived through 7 days that none of us will ever forget. We are not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be, what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts. A great leader is dead; a great Nation must move on. Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose. I am resolved that we shall win the tomorrows before us. So I ask you to join me in that resolve, determined that from this midnight of tragedy, we shall move toward a new American greatness.”
It was a promise that we would move forward. It was a promise that America would continue to pursue greatness.
There are some similarities between the events of the early 60s and what is going on in the US today — a war weary country, a young and charismatic president, new technology now commonly available to the public that connects people more to the ongoing problems in the world around them, a young, politically engaged generation, and more. The question we must ask ourselves as we look back is, are we moving to win tomorrow or lose it?
Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton/The White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/Reuters/File