We still have a chance to do something good for our country

Published 9:52 am Saturday, January 22, 2011

By Tony Clark

Thursday marked 50 years since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States.

It was horribly cold that day in Washington, D.C. The 22-degree air felt only like a wind-chilled 7, and 8 inches of snow had fallen in Washington the night before.

Kennedy would assume office that day without a sweeping mandate. After a tightly contested presidential campaign, he narrowly defeated opponent Richard Nixon. The margin of victory in the popular vote was the slimmest in history. Kennedy was inaugurated that day as the youngest man ever elected to the nation’s highest office.

The storm the preceding evening nearly caused the cancellation of the inaugural parade, which was only salvaged because the Army Corps of Engineers worked through the night to remove snow from the parade route.

Former President Herbert Hoover missed the ceremony because the weather kept his flight from landing in Washington. The glare of the noonday sun reflecting off the snowy ground made it impossible for poet Robert Frost to read a poem he had written especially for the occasion, instead causing him to recite one from memory.

The road to the White House for Kennedy had been a difficult one. His first day on the job was shaping up to be a challenge as well.

Yet on that bone-chilling day, the new president rose to the podium. And without a topcoat or any way of knowing how enduring his words or legacy would become, he delivered one of the most memorable passages in the history of the American presidency.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

In that moment, Kennedy’s speech reflected the very heart of American values and ideals, and it was a turning point in American history. It was a call to action for all Americans — a moment when we were asked to reject fear and uncertainty and united push forward towards continued success and prosperity.

It was a moment when Americans were reminded that it was they who were personally responsibility for the future course of this great nation, a moment when we were reminded to put the politics of party aside and to strive toward common greatness. It was a moment that reminded us all of who we were and what we could become.

It has now been 50 years since John Fitzgerald Kennedy rose to the podium and made his famous plea. Yet today, just as when the newly elected president gave his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, our country faces many of the same challenges it did in that moment.

Our nation is involved in an escalating conflict with an enemy most Americans know or understand little about. We are engaged in political and social debate on issues that divide our nation. We are shrouded with uncertainty about the future.

Yet the opportunity to thrive and prosper and create a better world still exists today, just as it did when Kennedy first gave his call to action 50 years ago. In that defining moment, Americans answered the call. In this, our generation’s defining moment, will we?

TONY CLARK is a marketing consultant and director of special projects at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.