Learning from JFK

“Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past – let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

– John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy was not yet president when he spoke those words at Loyola College in 1958.

He would win election to his second term in the United States Senate later that year and then begin his quest for the presidency in earnest shortly thereafter.

What is interesting is that this junior senator from Massachusetts was urging bipartisanship to solve the country’s biggest problems. Yes, there was a Republican president (Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1958, but Democrats had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress.

Today’s clamor would be, “Who needs bipartisanship when you’ve got a veto-proof Congress?”

Kennedy’s quotes – which are readily available on the Internet at his library’s website, – constantly strike the theme that progress only endures when it is achieved with broad support. JFK believed that because control of government was cyclical, it was important to achieve consensus.

“It’s only when they join together in a forward movement that this country moves ahead.” (Los Banos, Calif., 1963)

Since 2014 is an election year, there probably will not be a move toward bipartisanship. But we wish more politicians – in both parties – would reread some of Kennedy’s words.

Yes, he was a progressive. But he tried to win over – and negotiate with – his conservative critics. He used kinder, gentler words to remind stubborn partisans of a certain truism:

“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” (Visit to Germany, 1963)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.