Nov. 15, 2004
#4: Political Message Analysis
I chose to speak on an inaugural address. My thesis and summary of it are as follows: On January 20, 1961, a new, untried president, in the midst of the Cold War, presented both a vision and a challenge to the nation, to the world… to a new generation. John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, spoke with words that would inspire people young and old. He formatted his speech to be clear, concise and free of partisan rhetoric. In content, JFK focused on foreign policy and the belief in a future that would be better if people worked together rather than struggle against one another.
The political circumstances of the time were complex, especially with regard to the USSR. The ideological conflict, the Cold War, was well underway. The Soviets and the U.S. were in the arms race, and the USSR was attempting to establish communist states in many countries around the world.
Other than that, however, Kennedy was “signing on” at a time of prosperity. World War II had ended some 15 years ago, the Korean War was seven years gone, and Vietnam was still a quite minor situation. The 1950s marked the zenith of prosperity in the U.S., in part because the people returned home from World War II—thankful for what they had, and dedicated to working hard within the democracy they’d fought to preserve. And the civil-rights movement was now in its infancy. 1961 was still a time of prosperity.
Goals/Main Ideas/Hidden Agenda?
In a way, almost everything a president says has a political purpose by nature, but Kennedy wasn’t expressing a narrow, partisan agenda. He was a man with a vision. On the steps of Capitol Hill, he made his goals clear. “We are the heirs of that first revolution,” he said, “the same one for which our forebears fought.” That revolution was to help the people of the world achieve what Kennedy felt was the God-given right of every man to be equal, to be free and to have the opportunity to lead a happy, prosperous life.
Kennedy addressed many, including free countries, people in need and people in South and Central America. He extended his hand and pledged to help them, to support them, simply “because it is right.”
Another goal of JFK’s was to discourage enemies from attempting to harm us. He also addressed the USSR, knowing full well the threat it posed. He spoke both diplomatically and firmly, asking to be peaceful allies “before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.”
But he also warned that the U.S. would not be weak; never bow to an adversary or be controlled by fear. He said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. […] This peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers.”
Kennedy delivered few words but a powerful message. He didn’t have a narrow, partisan political agenda; his message was meant to transcend political party lines and unify the nation. In different parts of his speech he addressed different particular groups. But the speech en bloc was directed to both the nation and the world as a whole. He aimed to advance peace, to inspire people to work together to fight poverty, injustice, tyranny and oppression at home and abroad. He waged war on war itself.
Finally, he said that the task at hand wouldn’t be completed in his administration’s first hundred days, or even its first thousand. Not “perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.” But he announced, “Let us begin.” Everyone knows the line to ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” But he extended it: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Within that same year, Kennedy had started the Peace Corps; VISTA, its domestic counterpart, came just three years later. He inspired a generation of people… to sacrifice. Not everyone necessarily liked JFK or agreed with some of his policies. But instead of spouting hollow promises and political-agenda jargon, he founded his goals on his belief that “here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”