John F. Kennedy on Government Reform



By 1963, all his major legislative proposals had stalled

For all John F. Kennedy's remarkable ability--his eloquence on the podium--and for all his triumphs in dealing with the rest of the world--the Peace Corps, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Cuban Missile Crisis--few of his domestic goals that required legislation had been turned into reality, and at the time of his death, every major Administration bill that was before Congress was stalled, even the two bills that in 1963 the young President had lumped as his "1st priority": a civil rights bill and a tax reduction bill.

The coalition blocking his bills--the southern Democrat-Republican conservative coalition, that had ruled Capitol Hill for a quarter of a century--in November, 1963, was ruling Capitol Hill still. The press had taken to calling it a "logjam"--both the bills were stalled, caught in a logjam that on the day John F. Kennedy died gave no signs of breaking up.

Lyndon Johnson not only broke the congressional logjam, he broke it up fast, and he broke it up on civil rights.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. xiii-xiv , May 1, 2012

Courage motivated by national interest over political gain

I am persuaded after long study of the record that the national interest, rather than private or political gain, furnished the basic motivation for the actions of those whose deeds are described [in this book]. This does not mean that many of them did not seek to wring advantage out of the difficult course they had adopted. For as politicians they were clearly justified in doing so.

Of course, the acts of courage described in this book would be more inspiring and would shine more with the traditional luster of hero-worship if we assumed that each man forgot wholly about himself in his dedication to higher principles. But it may be that President John Adams, surely as disinterested as well as wise a public servant as we ever had, came much nearer to the truth when he wrote in his "Defense of the Constitutions of the US": "It is not true, in fact, that any people ever existed who love the public better than themselves."

Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p.238 , Mar 18, 2003

1946: Missed filing deadline for running for Congress

To establish a voting residence, Kennedy used the Bellevue, a hotel and political hangout across from the Boston State House. But while he busied himself trudging through the working-class neighborhoods of the 11th Congressional District, Kennedy overlooked an impressive detail: He had missed the deadline for filing his petitions. The papers that should have been presented to the election board by close of business April 23 were instead sitting in a filing cabinet at the candidate's headquarters. It was 6:30pm. The statehouse closed at 5:00pm.

Joseph P. Kennedy's son refused to accept catastrophe. Some frantic phone calls located a well-placed accomplice. Entering the statehouse that night, Kennedy found his way to the appropriate office and deposited the all-important documents in their proper place.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 30 , Jun 3, 1996

Ask not what your country can do for you

Inaugural address, Jan. 20 1961: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

Kennedy's relative youth (and inexperience) meant that he was seen as someone who would be optimistic and able to make changes. When Kennedy spoke of patriotism, freedom and public service, which he frequently did, people listened.

Kennedy begins his inaugural with a dramatic and powerful opening which makes it very clear that he is a progressive: "We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world."

Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.146-147 , Jan 20, 1961

Government programs help people do what they can't do alone

Americans who on an average Social Security check of $78 a month, they're not able to sustain themselves individually, but they can through the social security system. I don't believe in big government, but I believe in effective governmental action. There is a national responsibility. A cotton farmer in Georgia or a dairy farmer in Wisconsin cannot protect himself against the forces of supply and demand; but working together in effective governmental programs he can. 17 million
Source: The First Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Sep 26, 1960

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Other past presidents on Government Reform: John F. Kennedy on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022