President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, delivered 50 years ago, is often remembered for just one phrase: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
The signature phrase is often lifted out of context, used by modern liberals to mean that Americans must serve their government rather than expect the government to serve them. But the Kennedy inaugural is so much more, a symphony in celebration of American greatness and exceptionalism that no Democrat, not the least the current occupant of the White House, would dare utter today.
“And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
A modern Democrat would shrink in horror at the mention of the word “God” or that he had anything to do with the “rights of man.” That last phrase itself would have been denounced as being sexist, by the way.
“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, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Aside from Joe Lieberman, now retiring, no Democrat in our times, or indeed for a long time, would say such a thing in public or private. The Democratic Party these days does not care much for the success of liberty in their own country, not to mention around the world. One can only imagine what the man who uttered those words would have thought about the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. He would see members of his own party, in effect, shirk any responsibility, place any blame, betray any friend, and appease any foe to avoid defending liberty.
Kennedy extended the hand of peace to America’s enemies, but he did so not as a suppliant, but rather from strength. “We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” Having fought in World War II, JFK knew what happened when one shows a tyrant weakness.
Kennedy, in his inaugural, always spoke with the unspoken assumption that America was the leader of the free world, not just one nation among many, as the current President seems to think.
“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,’ a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?”
There is so much there that a modern liberal would hate, especially in the post-Tucson fetish against any rhetoric that uses martial language. “Long twilight struggle?” Doesn’t he know that kind of talking can only lead to trouble? And what is this talk of “enemies?” Kennedy might as well be painting a crosshair or something.
And this, after the “ask not” line: “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.”
Who is he to tell other countries what to do? Does he think America runs the world or something?
Democrats were certainly made of sterner stuff 50 years ago. The only people who talk like that (Reagan and Bush the Younger come to mind) are vilified as war mongers and worse. In whatever part of Purgatory Kennedy is now in, he must be shaking his head in bemused sadness.
Source John F. Kennedy Inuagural Address, American Rhetoric, January 20th, 1961