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New Frontier

July 31, 2005

From the library this week, I picked up some audio books.  One of them was a collection of JFK’s speeches.  I’ve heard bits and pieces of his speeches before, but not like this.  His 1960 Democratic Convention Acceptance Speech intrigued me the most so far.  (Haven’t gotten to his inaugural address yet)

I’ll quote the last third of it cause it’s just that good:

     For I stand tonight facing
west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three
thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their
comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. They were
not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags.
Their motto was not "every man for himself"–but "all for the
common cause." They were determined to make that new world strong and
free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that
threatened from without and within.

some would say that those struggles are all over–that all the horizons have
been explored–that all the battles have been won– that there is no longer an
American frontier.

I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments.
For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won–and we
stand today on the edge of a New Frontier–the frontier of the 1960’s–a
frontier of unknown opportunities and perils– a frontier of unfulfilled hopes
and threats.

Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic
framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those
in need. But 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

I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that
frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of
peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered
questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that
frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good
intentions and high rhetoric–and those who prefer that course should not cast
their votes for me, regardless of party.

I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I
am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the
young in heart, regardless of age–to all who respond to the Scriptural call:
"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou

courage–not complacency–is our need today–leadership–not salesmanship. And
the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously.
A tired nation, said David Lloyd George, is a Tory nation–and the United
States today cannot afford to be either tired or Tory.

may be those who wish to hear more–more promises to this group or that–more
harsh rhetoric about the men in the Kremlin–more assurances of a golden
future, where taxes are always low and subsidies ever high. But my promises are
in the platform you have adopted–our ends will not be won by rhetoric and we
can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves.

the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a
turning-point in history. We must prove all over again whether this nation–or
any nation so conceived–can long endure–whether our society–with its freedom
of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range of alternatives–can compete
with the single-minded advance of the Communist system.

a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question.
Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will
witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction–but also a race
for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of
space and the inside of men’s minds?

we up to the task–are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the
Russian sacrifice of the present for the future–or must we sacrifice our
future in order to enjoy the present?

is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our nation must make–a
choice that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the
public interest and private comfort–between national greatness and national
decline–between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of
"normalcy"–between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity.

mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We
cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.

has been a long road from that first snowy day in New Hampshire to this crowded
convention city. Now begins another long journey, taking me into your cities
and homes all over America. Give me your help, your hand, your voice, your
vote. Recall with me the words of Isaiah: "They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they
shall run and not be weary."

we face the coming challenge, we too, shall wait upon the Lord, and ask that he
renew our strength. Then shall we be equal to the test. Then we shall not be
weary. And then we shall prevail.


Yeah, I’d like to see a 2008 candidate pull off something like that.  Don’t think so.  What happened to speeches like this?  I was thinking about it: I can’t remember a time in recent years when a politician or key figure in the American landscape gave a metaphorical speech.  Am I forgetting one?  Is there one that I missed?

Is the lack of the oratorical metaphor because the politicians have gotten practical or because the people have?  Do we now as a people look down on use of the metaphor?  Has it become the evil word "rhetoric" or perhaps too flowery?  Can the American people no longer follow a metaphorical speech?

Bring back the Dream, the Mountain Top, the only thing to Fear.  Heck, bring back Checkers.  Gimme something.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2005 8:01 am

    Reagan did that kind of thing, the whole shining city on a hill thing. But not really anybody since. I might have voted for W, but he can put me to sleep just the same. To say nothing of Kerry and his ilk. The cure for insomnia, I tell ya.

  2. August 2, 2005 9:10 am

    I’m not sure, but I think the birth of the internet and rise of the TV has lead to the death of orators like that. Before we could watch a 15-second commercial or a pop-up ad, every word and vocal inflection had to communicate everything a speaker wanted to say. Now, however, nonverbal communication has taken over. What tie W wears is as important as the words he chooses.

    I think JFK was probably the pivot point between verbal and non-verbal communication representing politics.

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