November 22, 2005

Something immeasurable and almost indescribable

From The New Yorker, November 30, 1963, by E.B. White:
When we think of him, he is without a hat, standing in the wind and weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the cold and the wind of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger. He died of exposure, but in a way that he would have settled for -- in the line of duty, and with his friends and enemies all around, supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people."
From a letter to Robert Kennedy from E.B. White, recipient of the Presidential Measure of Freedom, December 1963: "The accomplishments of presidents in office are usually measured in rather exact terms, but your brother gave the country something immeasurable and almost indescribable, for which we all will be forever grateful."

From Death of a President by William Manchester:
In his notes to himself [an unnamed Cabinet member] observed that Lyndon "does not have this sense of the time and the age and the forces which John F. Kennedy had to such an unusual degree." The cachet was gone. It had been odd: "Jack Kennedy was never really outgoing in a sense with people that you felt close to him, but yet he had that peculiar quality that so endeared him and commanded such loyalty and devotion...that quality was there until I could almost say that you love that man [despite] his somewhat taciturn New England attitudes."
Excerpts from John F. Kennedy's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960:
... We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: "If we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future."

Today our concerns must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

All over the world, particularly in the newer nations, young men are coming to power -- men who are not bound by the traditions of the past -- men who are not blinded by the old fears and rivalries -- young men who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions. ...

For I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch 3,000 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.

Today 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.

But I trust that no one in this 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 ... a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils -- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. ...

... I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are uncharted ares of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. ...

For 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. ...

Can 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?

Are we up to the task? Are we equal to the challenge? ...

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