On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, conservatives should give Kennedy acolytes their day in the sun. There was nothing in the stirring address Kennedy delivered on that day with which most conservatives would disagree. Kennedy spoke at a time when there was a national consensus as to which side of the Cold War was the aggressor, and what civilized nations under the protection of the umbrella should do to meet an increasing Soviet threat.
But, as we observe the 50th anniversaries of subsequent events that took place during Kennedy’s administration, I hope conservatives will note that JFK’s performance did not always conform to the promise of his inaugural address’s mission statement. For instance, this month marks the anniversary of JFK’s admission that there had, in fact, been no “missile gap.” The charge, which Kennedy knew to be false when he made it, contributed significantly to his narrow win over Richard Nixon and to the arms race that followed. April will bring the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Kennedy’s sentencing the Cuban people to a half-century of slavery; the fall, the building of the Berlin Wall. And then there’s that unpleasantness otherwise known as the “non-war” in Vietnam. The list goes on.
January 20 also marks the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, when he spoke some stirring words of his own:
We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. . . . We have every right to dream heroic dreams.
What wouldn’t I give to hear a president tell us that again, and to act upon those sentiments? Someone should put Reagan’s inaugural address on Barack Obama’s reading list. (He appears to have absorbed some of what Lou Cannon had to say about the Gipper.)
Next month, according to law, the nation will observe the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth. I look forward to the media’s awarding the occasion as much airtime and space as they have devoted to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s delivery of his glorious speech.
— Alvin S. Felzenberg is the author of The Leaders We Deserve and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game. He is currently at work on a book about NR founder William F. Buckley Jr.