Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama, Kennedy and the New Frontier

Sen. Barack Obama has made history by becoming the first African-American nominated by a major party to become president of the U.S.

Despite his many skills, he needs to chart a course forward that goes beyond soaring rhetoric and would do well to echo the words of John F. Kennedy in his 1960 acceptance speech in the LA Coliseum.

Kennedy evoked the image of a "New Frontier" during the height of the cold war. Like Obama, the relatively inexperienced, handsome and charismatic senator needed to promise more than hope. He had to deliver a message that he would be tough, wise and fair in dealing with the complexities of being the executive of a superpower.

Kennedy deftly alluded to the emigrant experience and pushed the boundaries of the American Dream:

For I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world strong and free -- an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without.

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 would agree with that sentiment; 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, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.

As with Obama's candidacy, we should not be "the captive of our own doubts." Americans need conviction in Obama's ability to lead in difficult times.

Foreshadowing his call for action in his inaugural, Kennedy asks Americans to join him to forge this new frontier.

But I believe that the times require imagination and courage and perseverance. I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age--to the stout in spirit, regardless of Party, to all who respond to the scriptural call: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be [thou] dismayed. For courage , not complacency, is our need today; leadership, not salesmanship.

Kennedy challenges his audience to take up his cause in creating the New Frontier. Obama must do the same as he presses for national health care, an economic revival and ending wars in two different countries.

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?

That 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 dedication of mediocrity.

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we shall do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try.

Public interest and private comfort! What a powerful phrase that describes America today. The Age of Froth -- cheap money, home-appreciation bonanzas, Wall Street dreams and a Las Vegas economy -- is over. The Bush years will be remembered as a time when the ultra-wealthy and well-connected got the lion's share of America's bounty and the middle class fell behind. McCain would continue this agenda, as Joe Biden reminded us last night. Public interest is the mantra of the progressives: Help as many people who truly need it.

Kennedy closes with a biblical passage, presaging the turbulent decade before him: The civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, the 1968 Chicago convention riots, the Viet Nam war, the assasination of himself, his brother and Dr. King.

Recall with me the words of Isaiah that, "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."

As we face the coming great 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.

Then we shall prevail.

What is Obama's New Frontier? He needs to translate the "Audacity of Hope" (his second book and highly recommended) into the veracity of leadership.

Words can convey images, promises and aspirations. They must also lead to conviction.

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