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THE DECADE of DECISION


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#1 Greg Burnham

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Posted 07 November 2016 - 06:45 PM

[From the LONDON AMERICAN, October 27/November 2, 1960, pp. 10 and 11]

THE DECADE of DECISION

    (By Senator John F. Kennedy)        

 

     A decade of decision lies ahead of the American people, and of the free world. Forces of man and nature will conjoin to make the sixties one of the most fateful 10 years in the last century and a half. 
     Trends in science and society at work since the thirties are converging like tributaries to a flood, and only those will cope with the challenge they make who have the vision to read its portent and the courage and means to deal with it. Compressed in these years and acting upon each other will come series of changes, swift and profound, unparalleled in human experience. 
     Science already strides into the future with giant steps. No previous century has matched the scientific creativity of the last 20 years which has opened up the nucleus of the atom and the galaxies of the firmament to man's discovery, with promise of changes in the quality and manner of life itself that can still only be dimly apprehended. 
     Technology in industry has created automation which can transform the machine into a cornucopia of abundance. The conquest of disease once thought to be hopeless, the reclamation of waste lands by massive projects of water resources control and development, the transformation of sea water into fresh, projects to farm and mine the rich organic and mineral resources of the very oceans - all these prodigies of scientific knowledge and effort are already in train or in immediate prospect. 
     The revolutions of science are not less consequential for mankind than the challenges of change in world society. The end of colonialism in Asia and Africa has brought into being new nations, conceived in liberty, as Abraham Lincoln once said of the American Nation, and vigorously dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 
     But it is not merely the number of new states that increases. The population of the world is growing so rapidly that of all the people in the history of the world, most are alive today. The gigantic task of providing the necessities of life for this vast new population is almost as great as though the globe had been suddenly colonized from another planet, and had yet to organize its resources to provide for the new arrivals. In this great flux of political and demographic changes, mankind gropes for new forms of association, such as will permit nations to live side by side in peace and plenty. 
     Reason and decency are the indispensable qualities that must animate our decisions in the many urgencies that lie immediately before us. The most ominous threat, however, to the orderly unfolding of the better world that the future promises is the peril of nuclear incineration which the rocket diplomacy of the Soviet Union risks today, and Chinese Communist imperialism forebodes tomorrow. 
     Western approaches to nuclear control and disarmament work toward the mitigation of this peril, and the effort to secure acceptance of them must enlist the unremitting energies of the leaders of the free nations. 
     Talks to this end can never be abandoned, however depressing the provocations of insult, obstruction, arrogance, and bad faith in the Communist camp may be. But as Henry VIII is made to say in Shakespeare's play: "*  *  * 'tis a kind of good deed to say well; And yet words are not deeds." The earnest words of the free nations will be heeded only if there are deeds of strength, trust, and mutual co-operation in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United Nations. 
     The times demand strong and wise leadership in America as well as in other lands to guide the peoples of the world across the next decade. The tradition of the Democratic Party, which has nominated me to carry its standard, is a tradition of strong presidential leadership, and I should not be faithful to its trust if I should fail to provide such leadership with all the vigor at my command. It is the party of Woodrow Wilson whose domestic programs curbed business excesses which had flourished under Republican administrations. 
     In international affairs, it was Woodrow Wilson who launched the League of Nations, and it was the Republican Party that defeated it in America. The party I am honored to lead is the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who completed the work of domestic reform begun by Wilson, and who brought Woodrow Wilson's dream of an international parliament to reality in the United Nations. 
     The Democratic Party is the party of Harry Truman whose policies helped to restore and rehabilitate the countries of Europe after the Second World War and stopped the colonial march of communism in Korea. This is a record of strong and wise leadership, and it is my pledge to the party and to the American people to carry it forward into the sixties. 
     As the times demand vigorous leadership, so the issue in this presidential campaign is, "Which party and its candidate can better supply that leadership?" 
     The Republican Party has shown that it is incapacitated by its policy and tradition from exercising it. In the last 7½ years the setbacks of the free world in its mortal engagement with the regressive forces of communism have been represented as victories. Those who have urged the need to maintain and to increase the economic growth rate in America were accused by the Republican Vice President of playing a "parlor game." Those who support realistic programs for the rehabilitation of the depressed areas, he called "unpatriotic." All is said to be well, when all is not well. 
     Weak Presidential leadership is the tradition of the Republican Party, and in the last 7½ years it has fully respected its tradition. Content to maintain the status quo, it has shown no sign that it understands that the American people stand at the tide which proverbially must be taken at its flood or else, "Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries." For almost 8 years, as the poet, Archibald MacLeish has put it, the American people have enjoyed a "sluggish, sun-oiled sleep," and the tranquillizers of the administration have served to prolong their slumber. 
     Leadership is the issue, but leadership is more than rejoinders to Khrushchev that Americans have color television. Leadership is a mix of men and circumstances and in American national politics, it consists of at least three elements; those with respect to whom the leadership is to be exercised; the program to be effected; and the qualities of the men to lead. 
     Whom does the President lead? The country, of course, since the President is the center of government and of opinion. He has access to the whole people that Members of the Congress do not ordinarily enjoy, and a rostrum from which to address them that provides high and clear visibility. 
     But a President who presumes to lead the people without regard for the chosen representatives of the people embarks upon a dangerous adventure into caesarism. It is the supreme quality of the leader in a free society that he does his political business with, through, and occasionally, on, the legislature. In American politics, the successful President is one who leads the Congress in a fruitful partnership of coordinate powers. 
     What are the prospects for Presidential leadership in the next Congress? It should be kept in mind that the Republicans have had a majority of the Congress only twice in the last 15 congressional elections. Mr. Eisenhower's party failed to carry the Congress in 1956 when he scored his highest popular vote, and the defeat for the Republicans in the congressional elections of 1958 was disastrous for them. Even the Republicans concede that they cannot carry the Senate in 1960, and few others think that they will carry the House of Representatives. 
     It is highly likely, then, that the next Congress will be dominated by Democrats in both Houses. We have suffered from divided government for 6 years. A Republican President in 1960, lacking the personality of Eisenhower, would seriously split and therefore weaken the public authority when it will most need to be united and strong. 
     The second element of leadership relates to the program to be effected. The programs of the Democratic Party are programs of liberal progress and innovation, while those of the Republican Party are unprogressive. 
     A comparison of the platforms of the two parties makes it quickly and abundantly clear which is the party of drift and complacency, and which is the party of forward movement in domestic affairs. It is literally true that the Republican leadership has not come up with a single new idea for social legislation since Herbert Hoover. 
     Instead, a majority of the Republicans in Congress have voted against every major social gain since the beginning of the New Deal of President Roosevelt. With respect to social legislation, the Republican Party can offer no leadership because it has nothing to offer. 
     In international affairs, the Democratic Party program will work for peace through international cooperation based solidly on the strength of the free world. It eschews the policy of deliberate brinkmanship, for the risks of war increase when the tongues of those charged with foreign affairs are stronger than their arms. 
     While the administration has made promises it could not possibly keep - like the liberation of captive countries behind the Iron Curtain and the recovery of the Chinese mainland by "unleashing" Chiang Kai-shek - it has failed to develop to a sufficient degree the deterrent forces that will support our diplomacy most effectively. It was the Democrats in Congress who forced the administration to broaden the Polaris submarine missile program which will make the security of the free world less dependent on overseas bases, and the speedier development of the Samos reconnaissance satellite which will lessen dependence on reconnaissance overflights by conventional aircraft. 
     These two Democratic actions will contribute to a lessening of the tensions that exacerbate and make more difficult the orderly conduct of international affairs. 
     The record of the administration in international matters is not one of bold and imaginative leadership, or even of understanding of the nature of the forces that cruelly divide the world and keep it in fear. The recovery of vigor in the conduct of foreign affairs requires the election of a Democratic President. 
     The third element of leadership is the quality of the man who will occupy the White House. His experience is doubtless relevant. The experience of a U.S. States Senator and a Vice President are not the same, however, inasmuch as a Vice President is without any responsibility for the Nation's policy, while a Senator is responsible for such a policy. Despite his title, a Vice President is not an executive officer at all, but a legislative officer. He holds the gavel when he is in the Senate and votes only to break a tie. 
     As a working U.S. Senator since 1953, I have studied and made public commitments by my votes on issues of national policy more than 800 times. In that time, the Vice President has had to make similar commitments a half dozen times at the most, on one of which he prevented the passage of a bill that would have advanced the development of public education. Ceremonial state visits abroad are no substitute for work, study, and travel abroad. 
     My responsibilities as chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, my residence, work, and study in England, and study and travel in Indo-China, India, Latin America, and the Soviet Union, have been important to an understanding of America's problems and responsibilities abroad, and of the needs of the people in many lands: But even "experience" is not the decisively necessary condition for the White House. Abraham Lincoln had only one term in the lower House of Congress before he became America's greatest President. 
     What is an essential personal quality in the Office of President is vision, and the courage to speak its meaning. These qualities the Democratic Presidents of this century have had. The model Republican Presidents have been Taft, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Eisenhower - all estimable persons but alike in their conception of the Office of President as an agency for enforcing the laws, not an institution for the leadership of the whole people. Their vision has been narrow. None of them has seen in the Office a place and an opportunity to call forth the greatness of spirit and thought that lies in the American people, waiting only the summons, and asking only to perform. 
     The history of the last 8 years is, in Bacon's phrase, a "chronicle of wasted time." There are new frontiers of challenge and opportunity to be crossed, but we have been laggard on the journey. We have tarried in the places of rest and pleasure when we should have been on our way. It is time we moved ahead. The decade of decision will not await our convenience. 
  
  
  
 


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Greg Burnham
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"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." -- JFK

"It is difficult to abolish prejudice in those bereft of ideas. The more hatred is superficial, the more it runs deep."  -- Farewell America (1968) 

“The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence."  -- JFK

"A wise man can act a fool, but a foolish man can never act wise."  -- Unknown

 

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