Obama Remembers Kennedy on 50th Anniversary

President Barack Obama delivered a speech today in commemmoration of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

The speech was given at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C.

Watch John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address on January 20, 1961:

Full text of President Obama’s speech.

Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. To Caroline and the Kennedy family, to all the members of Congress and distinguished guests here tonight, it is an extraordinary pleasure to join you to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. (Applause.) And I can’t think of a better place to do it than here, in a living memorial that reflects not only his love of the arts, but also his recognition of how the arts can help sustain our national strength. (Applause.)

Now, we mark this anniversary with a measure of sadness, as we remember the extraordinary life of Sargent Shriver –(applause) — a man who embodied the spirit of the New Frontier as well as anybody. When a person passes away, there’s often an urge to define their legacy, and find a way in which it will endure. In the case of Sarge, that is not hard to do. His legacy is written in the villages around the world that have clean water or a new school through the Peace Corps. It’s written into the lives of all the children in our own country whose fortunes have been lifted through Head Start. And it will endure in the work of his children who are living out his legacy of service, and our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight.

One of the remarkable aspects in commemorating the JFK inauguration, in remembering those who were part of his team, like Sargent Shriver, who would help bring Kennedy’s soaring vision to life, is that none of it feels dated. Even now, one half century later, there is something about that day -– January 20, 1961 -– that feels immediate, feels new and urgent and exciting, despite the graininess of the 16-millimeter news reels that recorded it for posterity.

There he is, the handsome Bostonian, summoning a generation to service and a nation to greatness, in a speech that would become part of the American canon. And there’s the crowd, bundled up for the cold, making their way through streets white with snow, full of expectation. A nation, feeling young again, its mood brightened by the promise of a new decade.

Now, I confess, I don’t have my own memories of that day. (Laughter.) I wasn’t born until later that year. (Laughter.) What I know of that day and the 1,000 days that followed -– what I know of President Kennedy –- came from a mother and grandparents who adored him; from books I read and classes I took; from growing up in a country still mourning its beloved leader, whose name was spoken with reverence. And I know him through the legacy of his children and his brother Teddy who became extraordinarily dear friends of mine.

But I know him, John F. Kennedy, less as a man than as an icon, as a larger-than-life figure who graced this Earth for one brief and shining moment. But part of the function of this event, on this day, we must remember him as he was — as a father who loved his children, as a friend who lived life fully, as a noble public servant who wanted to make a difference.

A quick wit with a light touch, he was dealt, in many ways, a fortunate hand at birth. Attending one event, early in his career, where every speaker before him pompously claimed humble roots — things haven’t changed that much — (laughter) — John Kennedy confessed, when he took the podium, that he was –- and I quote -– “the only fellow here who didn’t come up the hard way.” (Laughter.)

And yet, it cannot be said that John F. Kennedy lived an easy life. He lost an older brother in the war; a sister shortly thereafter. He nearly lost his own life, too, when a Japanese gunship cut his PT boat in half, casting him into the water, from which he swam a crewmate to safety. Another sister struggled with a severe mental handicap. His own health was so poor that priests pronounced his last rites on several different occasions. And he endured the personal prejudice and political poison of anti-Catholic fervor.

And there is surely a possibility, under such circumstances, that a person will retreat from the world; that a person, particularly one born to wealth, will seek a life of luxury and ease; that a person, confronted by the coldness of chance, will become bitter or cynical or small. It has happened to others.

But that is not the life that John F. Kennedy chose. As he famously said at a press conference, “life is unfair.” We can’t choose the lots we are given in life, but we can choose how to live that life. John F. Kennedy chose a life in the arena, full of confidence that our country could surmount any obstacle, as he’d seen it do himself. He chose a life of leadership, fired not by naïve optimism, but committed realism; “idealism,” as his wife Jackie put it, “without illusions.” That is the idealism -– soaring but sober –- that inspired the country and the world one half century ago.

I can only imagine how he must have felt, entering the Oval Office in turbulent times. (Laughter and applause.) The Soviet Premier, Khrushchev, had threatened to “bury” America just a few years before. Wars of Liberation, as they were called, were being waged around the globe -– from Laos and Vietnam to Congo and Cuba, just 90 miles from our shore. At home, a young preacher’s cause was gaining traction across a segregated land.

In this volatile America, this tinderbox of a world, President Kennedy led with a steadying hand, defusing the most perilous crisis of the Cold War without firing a single shot. Enforcing the rights of young black men and women to attend the university of their choice. Launching a corps of volunteers as ambassadors for peace in distant centers of the globe. Setting America’s sights on the moon, unwilling to lose the Space Race in the wake of Sputnik.

We know the moon-shot story. It’s a familiar one, often invoked to make the case for an ambitious idea. But it’s easy to lose sight of just how improbable it seemed in May of 1961. When President Kennedy proposed going to the moon, America had just 15 minutes of manned flight experience in space. NASA had neither a plan nor a shuttle for making a lunar voyage. (Laughter.) Its own engineers had taken out the slide rules, and they were deeply skeptical of the mission. (Laughter.)

The science just wasn’t there. President Kennedy understood that. But he also knew something else. He knew that we, as a people, can do big things. We can reach great heights. We can rise to any challenge, so long as we’re willing to ask what we can do for our country; so long as we’re willing to take America’s destiny into our own hands. What President Kennedy understood was the character of the people he led: our resilience, our fearlessness, our distinctly American ability, revealed time and again throughout history, to defy the odds, to fashion our future, to make the world anew.

The world is very different now than it was in 1961. We face new trials and new uncertainties, from our economy to our security. We have a politics that can often seem too small for the hardships at hand. So meeting these tests won’t be easy. But we cannot forget, we are the heirs of this President, who showed us what is possible. Because of his vision, more people prospered; more people served; our union was made more perfect. Because of that vision, I can stand here tonight as President of the United States. (Applause.)

So John F. Kennedy captured that American spirit that not only put a man on the moon, but saved a continent from tyranny and overcame a Great Depression; that forged, from 13 colonies, the last best hope on Earth. And if we can hold onto that spirit today, I know that our generation will answer its call as ably as earlier ones did before us.

In December 1962, President Kennedy was asked by the Saturday Evening Post to submit his favorite quotation. A student not only of history, but also of literature, he chose a passage written by the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., father of the Supreme Court justice. Mr. Holmes wrote:

“I find the great things in this world — is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it -– but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

That, I think, captures well the daring, graceful spirit of the unfinished life we celebrate today; a life that inspires us and lights our way, as we sail on to the new frontiers of our own time. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless this country that we love. Thank you. (Applause.)

Senator Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama For President

Senator Edward Kennedy has endorsed Barack Obama for this year’s presidential election.

The senior senator from Massachusetts, and the sole surviving brother of John and Robert Kennedy, was accompanied by JFK’s daughter, Caroline, who endorsed Obama in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on the weekend.

Kennedy paid tribute to Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards but said his choice was based on “the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country’s best days are still to come”.

This is the text and video of Senator Kennedy’s address:

Thank you, Caroline. Thank you for that wonderful introduction and for your courage and bold vision, for your insight and understanding, and for the power and reach of your words. Like you, we too “want a president who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again.” Thank you, Caroline. Your mother and father would be so proud today. Thank you, Patrick, for your leadership in Congress and for being here to celebrate and support a leader who truly has the power to inspire and make America good again, “from sea to shining sea.”

Thank you, American University.

I feel change in the air.

Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic Primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country’s best days are still to come.

I’ve found that candidate. And it looks to me like you have too.

But first, let me say how much I respect the strength, the work and dedication of two other Democrats still in the race, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. They are my friends; they have been my colleagues in the Senate. John Edwards has been a powerful advocate for economic and social justice. And Hillary Clinton has been in the forefront on issues ranging from health care to the rights of women around the world. Whoever is our nominee will have my enthusiastic support.

Let there be no doubt: We are all committed to seeing a Democratic President in 2008.

But I believe there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history.

He understands what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now.”

He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view.

He is tough-minded, but he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”

I am proud to stand here today and offer my help, my voice, my energy and my commitment to make Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

Like most of the nation, I was moved four years ago as he told us a profound truth—that we are not, we must not be, just red states and blue states, but one United States. And since that time I have marveled at his grit and his grace as he traveled this country and inspired record turnouts of people of all ages, of all races, of all genders, of all parties and faiths to get “fired up” and “ready to go.”

I’ve seen him connect with people from every walk of life and with Senators on both sides of the aisle. With every person he meets, every crowd he inspires, and everyone he touches, he generates new hope that our greatest days as a nation are still ahead, and this generation of Americans, like others before us, can unite to meet our own rendezvous with destiny.

We know the true record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.

And let no one deny that truth.

There is the great intelligence of someone who could have had a glittering career in corporate law, but chose instead to serve his community and then enter public life.

There is the tireless skill of a Senator who was there in the early mornings to help us hammer out a needed compromise on immigration reform— who always saw a way to protect both national security and the dignity of people who do not have a vote. For them, he was a voice for justice.

And there is the clear effectiveness of Barack Obama in fashioning legislation to put high quality teachers in our classrooms—and in pushing and prodding the Senate to pass the most far-reaching ethics reform in its history.

Now, with Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign—a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us. A campaign about the country we will become, if we can rise above the old politics that parses us into separate groups and puts us at odds with one another.

I remember another such time, in the 1960s, when I came to the Senate at the age of 30. We had a new president who inspired the nation, especially the young, to seek a new frontier. Those inspired young people marched, sat in at lunch counters, protested the war in Vietnam and served honorably in that war even when they opposed it.

They realized that when they asked what they could do for their country, they could change the world.

It was the young who led the first Earth Day and issued a clarion call to protect the environment; the young who enlisted in the cause of civil rights and equality for women; the young who joined the Peace Corps and showed the world the hopeful face of America.

At the fifth anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps, I asked one of those young Americans why they had volunteered.

And I will never forget the answer: “It was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country.”

This is another such time.

I sense the same kind of yearning today, the same kind of hunger to move on and move America forward. I see it not just in young people, but in all our people.

And in Barack Obama, I see not just the audacity, but the possibility of hope for the America that is yet to be.

What counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington, but the reach of our vision, the strength of our beliefs, and that rare quality of mind and spirit that can call forth the best in our country and our people.

With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.

With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay.

With Barack Obama, we will close the door on the old economics that has written off the poor and left the middle class poorer and less secure.

He offers a strategy for prosperity—so that America will once again lead the world in better standards of life.

With Barack Obama, we will break the old gridlock and finally make health care what it should be in America—a fundamental right for all, not just an expensive privilege for the few.

We will make the United States the great leader and not the great roadblock in the fateful fight against global warming.

And with Barack Obama, we will end a war in Iraq that he has always stood against, that has cost us the lives of thousands of our sons and daughters, and that America never should have fought.

I have seen him in the Senate. He will keep us strong and defend the nation against real threats of terrorism and proliferation.

So let us reject the counsels of doubt and calculation.

Let us remember that when Franklin Roosevelt envisioned Social Security, he didn’t decide—no, it was too ambitious, too big a dream, too hard.

When John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn’t say no, it was too far, maybe we couldn’t get there and shouldn’t even try.

I am convinced we can reach our goals only if we are “not petty when our cause is so great”– only if we find a way past the stale ideas and stalemate of our times – only if we replace the politics of fear with the politics of hope – and only if we have the courage to choose change.

Barack Obama is the one person running for President who can bring us that change.

Barack Obama is the one person running for President who can be that change.

I love this country. I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility. I always have, even in the darkest hours. I know what America can achieve. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it—and with Barack Obama, we can do it again.

I know that he’s ready to be President on day one. And when he raises his hand on Inauguration Day, at that very moment, we will lift the spirits of our nation and begin to restore America’s standing in the world.

There was another time, when another young candidate was running for President and challenging America to cross a New Frontier. He faced public criticism from the preceding Democratic President, who was widely respected in the party. Harry Truman said we needed “someone with greater experience”—and added: “May I urge you to be patient.” And John Kennedy replied: “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.”

So it is with Barack Obama. He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now.

I believe that a wave of change is moving across America. If we do not turn aside, if we dare to set our course for the shores of hope, we together will go beyond the divisions of the past and find our place to build the America of the future.

My friends, I ask you to join in this historic journey — to have the courage to choose change.

It is time again for a new generation of leadership.

It is time now for Barack Obama.

The Speech President Kennedy Never Made

This is the text of the speech President Kennedy was due to deliver on the afternoon of November 22, 1963.

I am honored to have this invitation to address the annual meeting of the Dallas Citizens Council, joined by the members of the Dallas Assembly–and pleased to have this opportunity to salute the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest.

The Detroit Free Press reports the assassination of President Kennedy

Detroit Free Press reports the assassination

It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city–and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership’s hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities–from MIT to Cal Tech–tend to attract the new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.

This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.

There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.

But today other voices are heard in the land–voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies. [Read more…]