By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
This week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. President for less than three years, Kennedy still fascinates and inspires us even after more than fifty years since his assassination in Dallas.
Born into a family of wealth and privilege, nonetheless John Kennedy was instructed that “to those who much is given, much is expected” and that public service was a high calling.
What is it about the JFK legacy that still kindles a flame within us?
I suspect that part of it was the manner in which he left us so young with so much unfulfilled promise. I also suspect that part of the Kennedy mystique is attributed to the turbulent years that were the 1960s. It was a time of hope and change and also triumph and tragedy.
Kennedy embodied all of that.
His wit and humor even in adversity captivated us. His youthful energy and leadership motivated us to want to improve the human condition.
His unmatched eloquence and steely determination to oppose American foes abroad and later American racism at home gave us courage to stand up for our ideals.
He faced down Khrushchev and his own American generals over the missiles in Cuba and through his unflinching skill avoided a nuclear confrontation with Russia while removing the looming missile threat without resorting to military force.
His elevation of the arts and letters, and also science and technology widened our horizons and ultimately led to American space exploration and the moon landing.
President Kennedy inspired a generation of young people to pursue a career of public service, myself included, with noble aspirations that through an enlightened government, life could be made better for all people.
He often said in speeches across the country that “if we cannot help the many who are poor we will not save the few who are rich.”
In the decades since his death the world has become a different place than what Kennedy hoped it might be. There is global insecurity and instability, and more civil strife and separation within our boarders.
One is left to wonder what actions he might have instigated to alter the trajectory of world events if the bullets had missed their mark on November 22, 1963. Who knows?
But this much we surely do know, our nation needs more leaders with the vision, compassion and introspection that Kennedy possessed. We need more selfless leaders who are willing to challenge us as Kennedy did, to ask what you can do for your country.
“So let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessings and his help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
Those words spoken by President Kennedy on January 20, 1961 resonate through the ages and speaks clearly to us even now.