This Saturday, July 15, is the 57th anniversary of John Kennedy’s speech at the convention in Los Angeles accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president. That must seem like ancient history, but one paragraph still points the way to the future both for our nation, and for Share Our Strength, given our bedrock belief that people want to be challenged to give of themselves.
The paragraph is worth recalling because of how courageously different it is from virtually any other political leader who has followed. Four months before his Inauguration Day call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, candidate Kennedy foreshadowed that message with this passage: “The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises–it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook–it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”
Most political consultants working today, Democrat or Republican, would consider that heresy bordering on political malpractice. Campaign speeches promise tax cuts, entitlement programs, small business incentives, more benefits for the middle class. “The promise of more sacrifice.”? Have you ever heard such a thing?
More than half a century later, it takes a nearly cosmic leap of imagination to envision such sentiment in our political culture. But this belief in the capacity of our neighbors and fellow citizens to give of themselves remains alive in the DNA of Share Our Strength and goes to the heart of what’s made us successful – challenging people to share their strength, and as we’ve seen most recently via Chefs Cycle, the greater the challenge the better.
Deep down most of us know that what Kennedy said was right and necessary then, and now. There are no easy answers. No solutions that can succeed without more from us. Whatever you believe about the size and role of government, citizen engagement, in a democracy like ours, is essential to make it work.
You can read JFK’s words at the link above, or watch and listen here. They need no further interpretation from me. But I do have an accompanying plea: that you incorporate the spirit of asking more of yourself, each other, and all to whom we reach out, of setting the bar higher, into all that we do.