He wanted so much for America, that John F. Kennedy: A strong military. Space exploration. Environmental Protection. A good education for all. World peace. The "American Dream" for all families. And he wanted us all to do it together. He said it in his Inaugural Address in 1960...he wanted it all:
"Ask not what your country can do for you," he stated. "Ask what you can do for your country!"
That was such a tall order in 1960. After the Eisenhower Era, which was marked, and marketed, as a time of "peace," "complacency," "suburbanization," a call to a greater, unified mission for each and every American was positively revolutionary.
"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are going to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities."
As someone who was barely a sparkle in her parents' eyes at the time, who couldn't possibly have grasped the bigger picture of an assassination or its implications for the world, we learned about the legacy of John F. Kennedy through the eyes of my parents. Both were idealists and equal rights advocates. They, like JFK, saw the humanity in everyone. They saw the commonalities we all shared. And they gave President Kennedy and his values to the three of us, through the quotes I share here.
“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
My late Dad and JFK had two common traits: the love of "Camelot" and the virtue of egalitarianism. All mankind, they believed, deserved a chance.
“All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”
That's what I loved about President Kennedy. He dealt in the universality of the human experience, concentrating on what bound us together, rather than what separated us.
Perhaps it was that youthful idealism, the energetic, charismatic presence of JFK, that my parents embraced his idealism and sought to live out his ideals on earth. John F. Kennedy, just four years older than my Dad, was the youngest president this country had ever known up to that time (Bill Clinton beat him by a few months). They were youthful, and vigorous, and passionate about all things humanitarian. And for over two generations, they have defined what a 'liberal' is:
“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”
But anyone, regardless of party affiliation, can be liberal. All we have to do is give of ourselves. President Kennedy gave us the tools to help each other. He gave us the Peace Corps, Vista, the Voice of America, space exploration (NASA already existed), and integration in greater measure.
Most importantly, he gave us passion to embrace the better instincts of our nature. He gave us a reason to believe in each other. That's why the Kennedy legacy will never die. "Camelot" may end its run, but not so, good people who share this vision.
"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world"