Not since JFK

Posted on January 17, 2009
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            I am a pre-boomer, born in 1942. I was 18, married and about to become a father when John Fitzgerald Kennedy delivered his inauguration address on January 20, 1961. I can still recite paragraphs of it. JFK spoke not just to his party, and his country, but to the world.

             “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

            Canadians and, we have since learned, youth behind the Iron Curtain, heard and thrilled to that call to action.

            Besides being eloquent, inclusive and inspirational, JFK’s words read and scanned almost like poetry making the compelling message easy to memorize.

            It is hard to forget “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

            “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

            It is difficult to stop citing exerpts. You can read, and hear, the entire address at:

            Events exacted a painful toll on the idealism of my generation. One after another our international heroes were assassinated. JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., RFK, and Malcolm X, all men who inspired youth to better themselves and the world, were cut down just as they were gaining momentum.

            All of this is preamble to explain my excited anticipation of U.S. President elect Barak Obama’s inauguration address on this coming Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

            Not since  John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in 1961, almost half a century ago, has an incoming president inspired so much almost desperate hope.

            JFK followed a president, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, who represented and had led the greatest and victorious generation of the new world but also symbolized an era of depression and war that citizens were eager to leave behind.

            Now an eloquent, perceptive, sensitive and inclusive mixed-race leader is about to become commander in chief of the United States of America at a time when the nation is not fresh from historic victory and is deep into a world economic crisis centred in the U.S.

            Barak Obama already has done a lot to gain the empathetic attention of the world. His having an African father inspires minorities all over the world seeing what is possible in a democratic super power. He has experience and identification with the minorities of the U.S. World citizens, especially the downtrodden, hope this means he may be able to hear and empathize with them.

            Although it is hard to credit now, JFK had much of the same cachet. At the time, his election sent a warming message to the hundreds of millions of Catholics around the world who had spent most of their lives in a world where they knew a Catholic could not lead the U.S.

            The JFK milestone, like the Obama milestone, was frightening and disturbing to many Americans. For most, though, the sight of an attractive young family in the White House was soon charming and exciting.

            Caroline Kennedy, now in the running to succeed Hilary Clinton as the junior senator for the State of New York, for my generation, always will be the impish little girl who shuffled into the view of television cameras in the White House in her father’s shoes. No matter that he was the leader of the free world in serious times. Little girls tease their fathers.

            Such humanizing examples of our leaders are encouraging to the people.

            From 911 to the sub prime mortgage financial collapse, the most powerful nation in the world has been bloodied and battered and has slighted many erstwhile friends and allies over the past eight years.

            The world is, I think, looking forward to President Barak Obama’s first term with hope and bated breath. His inauguration address will be at least as significant to world citizens as to US citizens.

            Here’s hoping his administration is the most successful ever.



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