Credit: Public Domain

Reflecting on JFK's Leadership and Vision

May 15, 2017

At a time when the sitting U.S. President often reminds Americans that their government is broken, some have found that marking the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy and reflecting on his optimistic vision for America is profoundly moving — even tearful. 

Experts discussed this on a panel about a new book about the life and legacy of President Kennedy in Cambridge on Sunday.

"I cried as I read many of the [contributed] essays," said Kennedy's nephew, Stephen Kennedy Smith, who, with the help of historian Douglas Brinkley, has put together a new compendium of John F. Kennedy's speeches and photographs. The book, titled JFK: A Vision for America, also includes reflective essays from luminaries such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama and more.  

At the panel discussion, another essay contributor, journalist Ron Suskind, said of reading of some of Kennedy's speeches, "My eyes welled up. It was quite a thing to be reading these during this moment." 

Suskind had joined Stephen Kennedy Smith, Douglas Brinkley, former Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and Harvard historian Fredrik Logevall at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square to celebrate the book's release near the university where Kennedy began his career. They couldn't help but contrast Kennedy's confidence and regard for public service with what Brinkley called today's "pit bull politics" in Congress.

"What's interesting now is this question of vision," said Suskind, finding President Trump's leadership lacking when compared with how much Kennedy was able to accomplish in such a short time. "People are yearning for it....the great leaders are able to paint a picture of the future so vivid, seemingly so real, that they can almost guide people to step within it."     

Excerpts from the panel discussion are above. Visit WGBH's Forum Network now to watch the entire conversation.


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