History repeats itself

In reviewing a book about the Kennedy years, a collection of New York Times articles about the 1,000 days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, I came upon this excerpt from Tom Wicker's report of the day of the assassination.

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He quoted from the speech JFK was to deliver that day, had he lived, before the Merchandise Mart in Dallas at its luncheon. Thinking about George Santayana's quote that people who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, my jaw dropped as I read these excerpts from Kennedy's planned speech, comments on the right-wing conservatism generating vituperation and violence in Dallas:

This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country's security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America's leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason -- or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.

There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.

But today other voices are heard in the land -- voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they that debt as the single greatest threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies ...

Kennedy concluded, warning in words that echo today (in Texas surely, and in Congress as well), "We cannot expect that everyone ... will talk sense to the American people. But we can hope that fewer people will listen to the nonsense. And that the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”

Half a century later, America can heed the late president’s undelivered but still timely words.