Vacation’s over. It finally imploded on itself early yesterday morning, a family microcosm version of the cold civil war taking place across the country. It wasn’t pretty. It was never going to be. Perhaps I was fooling myself that I had enough tools in the box to help keep the problem contained for a few days. I should pat myself on the back for making it that long; I won’t do that again either. This was a wake-up call, on the family level as much as on the political front as a whole. When I consider where we may end up after the mid-term elections… no matter who wins, we will all lose somehow. At least, that’s how it’ll appear in the short term.
I’m choosing to look at things objectively… in the long term, big picture view. There’s always hope, if we want it badly enough to work for it, if we’re willing to recognize it when we see it, and if we’re willing to support it wherever we find it so it can grow stronger. As much as tyranny is growing like a cancer in this nation (and showing itself more and more often with the Confederate battle flag as one of its identifying markers – makes it easier to spot!), as much as intolerance is thriving, I also see the pushback from citizens and corporations alike. It’s beautiful. Let the hate burn itself up in conflagration. It will be scary as hell, but the fertile soil it leaves behind will create such wonder. No matter how it plays out, literally or metaphorically, we’ll all be doing a lot of soul searching in the days and years to come. I hold true to that which I’ve said all along: the quest for civil rights is the only issue in all of history that wins the moral high ground. Those on the wrong side of it will be duly painted as monsters, as will those who act on the right side of it in the wrong way.
If we can ever get a grip on our divisive identity politics and start focusing on the universal rights we claim to hold as self-evident, imagine the power for positive change we could manifest.
We have a lot of truly great rhetoric in our nation’s history, delivered by people who could never live up to it in the hopes that we could all strive towards it together. Consider these words, not in context of the man who gave them, the party he represented, nor when they were spoken, but from where you are right now, today:
Our task is not merely one of itemizing Republican failures. Nor is that wholly necessary. For the families forced from the farm will know how to vote without our telling them. The unemployed miners and textile workers will know how to vote. The old people without medical care–the families without a decent home–the parents of children without adequate food or schools–they all know that it’s time for a change.
But I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high–to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future.
Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.
Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons–new and uncertain nations–new pressures of population and deprivation. One-third of the world, it has been said, may be free–but one-third is the victim of cruel repression–and the other one- third is rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.
Here at home, the changing face of the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal and the Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations–but this is a new generation.
A technological revolution on the farm has led to an output explosion–but we have not yet learned to harness that explosion usefully, while protecting our farmers’ right to full parity income.
An urban population explosion has overcrowded our schools, cluttered up our suburbs, and increased the squalor of our slums.
A peaceful revolution for human rights–demanding an end to racial discrimination in all parts of our community life–has strained at the leashes imposed by timid executive leadership.
A medical revolution has extended the life of our elder citizens without providing the dignity and security those later years deserve. And a revolution of automation finds machines replacing men in the mines and mills of America, without replacing their incomes or their training or their needs to pay the family doctor, grocer and landlord.
There has also been a change–a slippage–in our intellectual and moral strength. Seven lean years of drouth and famine have withered a field of ideas. Blight has descended on our regulatory agencies–and a dry rot, beginning in Washington, is seeping into every corner of America–in the payola mentality, the expense account way of life, the confusion between what is legal and what is right. Too many Americans have lost their way, their will and their sense of historic purpose.
It is a time, in short, for a new generation of leadership–new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities.
All over the world, particularly in the newer nations, young men are coming to power–men who are not bound by the traditions of the past–men who are not blinded by the old fears and hates and rivalries–young men who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions.
For I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags. Their motto was not “every man for himself” –but “all for the common cause.” They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and within.
Today some would say that those struggles are all over–that all the horizons have been explored–that all the battles have been won– that there is no longer an American frontier.
But I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won–and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier–the frontier of [today]–a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils– a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises–it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook–it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.
But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric–and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party.
But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age–to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”
For courage–not complacency–is our need today–leadership–not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. A tired nation, said David Lloyd George, is a Tory nation–and the United States today cannot afford to be either tired or Tory.
There may be those who wish to hear more–more promises to this group or that–more harsh rhetoric about the men in the Kremlin–more assurances of a golden future, where taxes are always low and subsidies ever high. But my promises are in the platform you have adopted–our ends will not be won by rhetoric and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves.
For the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a turning-point in history. We must prove all over again whether this nation–or any nation so conceived–can long endure–whether our society–with its freedom of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range of alternatives–can compete with the single-minded advance of the Communist system.
Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction–but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space and the inside of men’s minds?
Are we up to the task–are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the Russian sacrifice of the present for the future–or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the present?
That is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our nation must make–a choice that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the public interest and private comfort–between national greatness and national decline–between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of “normalcy”–between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity.
All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.
It has been a long road from that first snowy day in New Hampshire to this crowded convention city. Now begins another long journey, taking me into your cities and homes all over America. Give me your help, your hand, your voice, your vote. Recall with me the words of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary.”
As we face the coming challenge, we too, shall wait upon the Lord, and ask that he renew our strength. Then shall we be equal to the test. Then we shall not be weary. And then we shall prevail.
–From the Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States – Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960
It’s a shame we keep assassinating our would-be peacemakers. It would be much harder to do that if we all stood up to be counted in that number, working towards the message itself, instead of giving in to our individualized hatreds.
This post is brought to you by coffee. I return you now to your Monday. Like every other day, it’s yours to change how you see fit.