Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JFK: How Quickly We Forget

"[when each elected official] presses its own ends...which generally results in no action at all...they devote more time to the prosecution of their own purposes than to the consideration of the general welfare...and so, as each separately entertains the same illusion, the common cause imperceptibly decays."

Greek historian Thucydides, on the main flaw of his nation's ruling counsel. A favorite quote of John F. Kennedy.

When I pulled up Google News this evening, I was horrified to find nothing on the front page about what I thought would be the top story: today marks the 48th anniversary of the fateful, despicable murder of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald.

What could I have gleaned from the news aggregation service? That the Denver Broncos released quarterback Kyle Orton. That HP sold a few of its TouchPad tablets before discontinuing the model. And, lest I go a moment bereft on star-crossed teen vampire news, that many viewers are seeing the new Twilight movie twice.

Let me restate: this is the anniversary of the day that a President of the United States died.

And yet, we concern ourselves with trivial morsels that can neither satisfy nor advance us. None of them evil or inherently wrong, yet all sideshows, distractions from the history we ought to be immersing ourselves in on this day, of all days.

The top story, thankfully, was a little more substantive - an overview of the Republican debate on foreign policy.  Yet, as I digested it, I was reminded of how we're cultivating the politics of division, of how feuding and finger-pointing has taken the place of positive policy-making, and how paralyzing partisanship has derailed the budgetary not-so-super committee, stalemated the Senate and which will likely cloud all political coverage until November 2012.

This, in turn, prompted the recall of the quote at the top of this page, which I borrowed from page 331 of William Manchester's informative, moving, and fantastically detailed tome on JFK's demise, The Death of a President (review to follow soon). Now, Kennedy was certainly a divisive figure - his mere Catholicism was almost enough to prevent his election, his rich background bothered many and his appointment of fellow Irish Catholics irked outsiders. And he certainly had personal flaws - don't we all!

Yet, he was, too, a man with the courage to own up to his folly in the Bay of Pigs debacle, the strength to stare down the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fortitude to take on the violent ignorance of white supremacists over civil rights, even at the risk of alienating the southern Democrats. As I recently wrote, he also had a keen mind, as evidenced by his Pulitzer Prize-winning literary work. When he spoke of change in his inspiring inauguration speech, he had the policies to back up the sentiment, and the determination necessary to force them through.

How very different to certain political "leaders" of today, on both sides of the aisle. They talk a big game in the locker room, but have neither the intellectual chops nor the gumption needed to win when they get on the field. They spend too much time slinging dirt and focusing on what their opponents haven't done, rather than convincing us of what they themselves can do. With their teenager-like egos and insecurities, they worriedly watch the opinion polls and are blown this way and that by the fickle winds of public opinion. This is no way to inspire, to lead, or to govern. What we need is someone who is principled enough to form new ideas, articulate enough to explain them, and determined enough to implement them when they reach office.

Then, and only then, can the pretenders of today live up to the legacy of Kennedy, Reagan and Lincoln, for the good of what Thucydides called the "common cause." Assuming of course, that our politicians know their history, and aren't too busy reading the drivel that makes it onto the front pages these days.

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