The Way We Were


Senator Robert F. Kennedy shortly before his assassination

In sorting through personal files today, I came across an original program of the Mass for Courage and Reconciliation on the 25th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s death on June 6, 1968. It belonged to my wife’s aunt who attended the service. What I found most notable were the quotes from speeches he delivered that captured his patriotic view and vision for America.

The poignancy of RFK’s remarks is striking because the country we inhabit today is split asunder and growing forces — either ignorant or contemptuous of our Constitution, our fundamental freedoms, and our cherished national ideals — pose an imminent threat to our democracy and our future as a beacon of hope.

Read the following beliefs Kennedy held about America’s destiny to understand the dire straits in which we now find ourselves. As a martyr to democracy, his words were hopeful and prescriptive.

Leadership’s Responsibility to Promote the Common Good

“…the task of leadership…is not to condemn or castigate or deplore — it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.”

I wonder: Is that what we’re experiencing today from a significant number of elected officials in Congress and in the states?


“…We can end the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, between blacks and whites, between the poor and affluent…We can work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country.”

I wonder: Is that still true? Doesn’t seem more as if we have devolved into the Divided States of America with lack of tolerance for differences of opinion?


“…That which unites us is, must be, stronger than that which divides us. We can concentrate on what unites us, and secure the future for all of our children; or we can concentrate on what divides us, and fail our duty through argument and resentment and waste.”

I wonder: Division, distrust, disrespect characterize our society today. Is this the future we want for our children?

Responsive Government

“Everything that makes a person’s life worthwhile — family, work, education… depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore the essential humanity of all people can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy; not just to those of a particular religion or a particular race; but to all its people. And even government by the consent of the governed…must be limited in its power to act against its people; so that there may be…no arbitrary imposition of pains and penalties by officials high or low…”

I wonder: Are we willing to settle for a fascist government to settle our differences for us by defying our Constitution and suspending our Bill of Rights?


“…I come to ask you to help in the task of national reconciliation: to place your energies and your time and your strength in the first work of America; the building of a nation…in the enduring faith that we are to be free…that the natural condition of humanity is not degradation but dignity. This is the faith that binds us together as Americans. It is the faith that shaped this nation; it is this faith that shall preserve us. From it we will find the best within ourselves and the best within our fellow citizens; and we shall win, at the end of our labors, a new America.”

I wonder: Have we lost all faith in decency, fairness, and the American Dream that will destroy the very fabric of our society for all time?

The stakes couldn’t be higher. All American patriots, therefore, have a responsibility to ponder these words of Robert Kennedy in light of where we find ourselves today as a country and as a society. Our future as a democracy depends on it.

JFK’s Prophetic Final Speech (Undelivered)


Pres. John F. Kennedy & bouquet-carrying wife Jackie (fore) arriving at Love Field, on campaign tour w. VP Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson (C rear) et al in tow, on day of his assassination.


On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John Kennedy was scheduled to deliver remarks to an audience gathered at the Dallas, Texas Trade Mart. Tragically, Kennedy was assassinated minutes before he was to make that speech. As a result, the document has been consigned to the dustbins of history, despite its visionary insights. The text includes startling portents of what is actually transpiring in contemporary American politics.

JFK’s dire warnings require solemn contemplation by all American patriots regardless of party loyalty or ideology, especially now when our country is politically polarized, when much of our electorate is abysmally uninformed about vital national issues and readily susceptible to the alluring but treacherous promises of cynical demagogues.

Time is our paramount adversary, for our fundamental rights – indeed our very survival as a free society — is in imminent jeopardy both from our foreign foes as well as from a host of pernicious domestic enemies.

Ponder the chilling excerpts below from President Kennedy’s undelivered speech that foretold the inevitable demise of a society in which rampant gullibility, apathy, cynicism, intolerance, recklessness, and self-indulgence prevail. We are there. The ultimate question we must resolve before it is too late is, “Whither the future, America?”

           “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.

“… other voices are heard in the land–voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality…doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice…that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. 

“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.

“… the status of our strength and our security…clearly calls for the most responsible qualities of leadership and the most enlightened products of scholarship. For this Nation’s strength and security are not easily or cheaply obtained, nor are they quickly and simply explained. 

“Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.

“… in today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. The success of our leadership is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world…on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.

“Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live.

“We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

On the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination


A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy

JFK White House Portrait

I was eleven years old when JFK was brutally taken from us so unexpectedly that his death shattered us emotionally as individuals and as a nation. For me, the pain has never completely abated; the psychic wound has never completely healed. All these decades later, the tears still swell whenever I view footage of the President, most especially that poignant moment, when about to depart Ireland, he bid farewell to the land of his ancestors by reciting haunting lines from a poem, concluding with the words, “Well, I’m going to come back to see Old Shannon’s face again.” Dreadful destiny, beyond the poor power of man to halt, as we are reminded in the Greek tragedies of old, robbed the President of fulfilling his fond wish.

In the intervening years, JFK’s words and deeds have lived on in my memory and in my soul. As a father, I have repeatedly shared with my children the enduring power of his eloquence and his lofty ideals. From his stirring Inaugural Address to his sobering response to the Cuban Missile Crisis; from his inspiring speech about America’s bold commitment to explore the wonders of space, to his urgent moral call for action on civil rights; and from his  clarion call on behalf of freedom at the Berlin wall to his hopeful speech at American University that reminded humanity of our “most common basic link…that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

As a journalist, I have quoted President Kennedy’s words frequently. As a teacher, I have sought to instill in my students the idealism embodied by the President: the quest for excellence in all endeavors, regardless of the difficulties; the necessity of dedicating ourselves to causes bigger than ourselves; the imperative of sacrificing for the common good of our country. 

John F. Kennedy will forever be a beacon of hope for peoples of all nations who aspire to the amelioration of suffering, the relentless pursuit of world peace, and the noble cultivation of what is the very best of the human spirit.

That, I believe, is JFK’s enduring legacy. As Ted Sorenson so aptly concluded in his book Kennedy, “All of us are better for having lived in the days of Kennedy.”

This was originally posted on November 22, 2013