John F. Kennedy wasn’t on the national stage all that long.
His presidency lasted about 1,000 days. He had served in the U.S. Senate a short time before that. He didn’t exactly inspire the nation with a lengthy legislative record. His time in the House was even less inspiring. Yes, he did serve heroically during World War II.
Even though his death — which the nation commemorated on Friday — took him from us much too soon, he did manage to leave behind quite a legacy of inspiration.
My favorite is attached here.
The president challenged a nation from within at a time when it was being challenged from beyond our borders. We were locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, which would become known during the Ronald Reagan years as the Evil Empire. The Soviets were our chief geopolitical adversary then, far more than they are now — no matter what one-time Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney might have said a year ago.
We sparred with the Soviets for supremacy on the world stage. We sought to beat them in a race into space. We won that race.
But the remarks JFK gave regarding that challenge — that we do these “not because they are easy, but because they are hard” — spoke far beyond a “mere” race to the moon. He sought to challenge his constituents to accept any challenge.
As we look back on JFK’s limited but still-inspiring legacy, it gives us pause to wonder whether we’re up to that challenge again.
I keep hoping that one day — I cannot predict when — we can set aside the deep partisan differences in government and set our sights on something grander.
It might be that we need a foe we can identify, someone or something with a face, a name, a clearly defined ideology.
Absent that, we need leadership that can take us above the bickering that has stalled the machinery of our government. John F. Kennedy knew how to tap into our innate spirit of challenge.
I believe it’s still there, waiting to tapped once again.