The JFK Contrast
Many eyes must have been rolling while listening to Obama attempt to disassociate himself from scandalous behavior that had occurred during his five-plus years as president. And his stab at soaring rhetoric fell far short of the mark set by President John F. Kennedy when he gave possibly his greatest speech at American University on June 10, 1963, declaring:"What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time."
Kennedy recognized that his appeal for this serious pursuit of peace would be dismissed by the cynics and the warmongers as unrealistic and even dangerous. The Cold War was near its peak when Kennedy spoke. But he was determined to change the frame of the foreign policy debate, away from the endless bravado of militarism:"I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. ...
"Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."
And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said..."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 futures. And we are all mortal."
In his day, Kennedy also faced powerful war hawks who sought to constrain his vision of an international system that recognized the legitimate interests of other nations and their peoples. But Kennedy still deployed his rhetoric bravely to smash the narrow framework of Cold War reductionism.
By contrast, Obama accepted the tiny frame as shaped by Official Washington's still powerful neocons; he simply tried to maneuver for a little more elbow room.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).