John F. Kennedy, May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963
“So, let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
For those of us who have grown up never having heard a great contemporary political speech, here is the remarkable speech given by President John F Kennedy at American University on June 10, 1963.
Kennedy was assassinated on this day in 1963, fifty-two years ago.
Powerful words, but does Kennedy’s analysis still hold true in the Age of Jihad – when we are preoccupied with ISIS and Al Qaeda rather than the Soviet Union, and when our enemies eagerly embrace death and have no thought at all for their children, let alone their own earthly future?
Imagine David Cameron giving a speech like this about the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, or Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. Imagine David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt, Andy Burnham, Tim Farron or Nicola Sturgeon giving this speech. Try picturing it without laughing out loud.
The challenges today are different to those faced by Kennedy and our political leaders half a century ago. But rarely have our political leaders seemed so helpless, so inadequate to the tasks at hand. At best, our current prime minister might be described as a reasonably competent Comptroller of Public Services. And it is far from certain that he even aspires to be anything more.
They say that we get the politicians and leaders we deserve. If so, the time has come for us all to engage in some serious introspection.
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