Wednesday, March 23, 2005

John F. Kennedy: Where Democrats Should Go From Here.



As you may have guessed by now, I collect old magazines. When I visit old and used bookstores I sometimes feel I am on a mission to find the truth, and more and more I find some real gems hidden in the past.

In 1956 the Democrats got their clocks cleaned, not unlike the election of 2004, although the circumstances at the time were obviously a bit different. Bush is no Ike and Kerry was no Kennedy, but the advice Kennedy gives about the defeat and how to move forward is perhaps just as applicable, if not more applicable, to the situation facing democrats today. What follows are excerpts and bits and pieces from the article appearing in the March 11, 1957 edition of Life Magazine by John F. Kennedy.


John F. Kennedy on Where Democrats Should Go From Here:
These are sobering problems and prospects, which hopeless pessimism will not eradicate nor blind optimism conceal. They call for a penetrating reappraisal of our party and its course. Personally, I am confident of our party's future. We have an impressive array of able leaders and a host of potential issues. But there are dangers that lurk ahead, dangers that arise largely because of our recent defeats and crumbling coalition. Our chief task, it thus seems to me, is to recognize these dangers, to make certain we do escape the fate of becoming a permanent minority and eventually disintegrating...

Fortunately for us, other parties in earlier times have also stood at this crossroads-particularly the Federalists in 1800 and the Whigs in 1852. Both adopted courses that now tempt the Democratic party, which can plan its own future by recalling their fate. Both frittered away an inheritance of respected leadership and accomplishment. Both died.

The Federalists in 1800 could rightfully lay claim to a historic- record of achievement and leadership: a major role in the writing of the Constitution, and later responsibility for the government's organization and philosophy, the nurturing of the infant nation...

It was, moreover, rapidly becoming a wholly New England party, narrowly sectional in its views and leadership, winning elections only on a local level -still powerful enough in Massachusetts to strip the rebellious young John Quincy Adams of his Senate seat in 1808 but never again able to capture the White House.

Besides losing its national influence, the party began rotting at the core. Its decisions and nominations were dictated from on high. Its energies were exhausted in personal feuds which mattered little to the rank and file... It became a party of spleen and suspicion, prejudice and malice, capable of passing the shameful alien and sedition laws but incapable of building an effective party organization at the grass roots level.

The Federalist party's last futile years of life, marked by tirades against its foes and internal bickering, completed the sorry end of a once resplendent and honored ruler.

What lessons does this hold for the Democratic party?

...We take comfort in repeating sonorously our traditional slogans-"The party of all the people," "The party of progress," "The party with a heart"-but we dare not measure their validity in concrete terms for fear of admitting some glaring weakness or alienating some entrenched
supporter.

Moreover, the same curse of sectionalism that felled the Federalists threatens the Democrats, if in slightly different fashion. In both North and South the pressures to put local popularity ahead of party unity grow greater every day. Unfounded but bitter assertions that go beyond the expression of sectional differences are heard on every side-assertions that the Democratic party is the "captive of the A.D.A." or the "victim of Confederate vengeance," or would do well to cleanse itself of certain elements...

...Finally, the top echelon of the Democratic party will be hard put to avoid the same excesses of personal and partisan strife that separated the Federalist leaders from the electorate. The first reaction to last fall's disaster was to search for old scapegoats instead of new leadership...

Nor are voters attracted by Democratic factions and personalities struggling in Washington for control of the Congress or the national committee, for public attention or private vengeance. Reckless and unfounded assaults upon the Administration, or cries for a cabinet member's resignation, produce far more headlines in Washington than votes back in the precincts. To be sure, we should not permit the Republicans to take the credit for Stalin's death, but neither should we hold them responsible for how quickly the flooding snows melt in New England.


...On all the great issues of the day-the extension of slavery westward, the fugitive slave law, even on its own compromise of 1850-the Whig campaign was deliberately ambiguous or silent. The Whig party soon stood for nothing that some other party did not stand for better and the nation, particularly in the critical hour of threatened civil war, could place no confidence in it.

A lesson from the Whigs

TODAY the Democratic party must take special care not to go the way of the Whigs. The very nature of our history as a coalition has led to the same kind of special appeals-to the farm vote, the Negro vote, the veterans' vote and all the rest. There is something in our platform or legislative record for everyone (no doubt, if we could, we would devise some inducement for the "suburban vote"-subsidized commuters' cars or tax-exempt lawn mowers).

We plot presidential campaigns the same way, not in terms of national issues and trends but in terms of so many Southern electoral votes, so many farm states, so many labor areas, and so on and on. (The temptation to gain power by wooing or misleading each supposed bloc of voters is very great indeed. Example: the secret of one well-known governor's success, I was recently told, is that "the poor think he is a friend of the poor-and the rich know he is not.")

We are in danger, too, of imitating the Whigs in their evasion of controversial issues. We tend, in too many of our party declarations, to offer what the cynics call "straight-from-the-shoulder" generalities or platitudes "without fear or favor" on civil rights, natural gas, clean elections and the treaty-making power. Obviously our consideration of these sensitive issues will divide Democrats and antagonize voters-but to ignore their existence or avoid their solution would, if 1852 is any kind of precedent, forfeit our claim to -national leadership... Our candidates must continue to have more than the colorful personality the Whigs thought to be sufficient.

...The only course for the Democratic party, if it is not to join the Whigs and Federalists in political limbo, is to move ahead responsibly, courageously, harmoniously. Under Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman our chief claim to the confidence of the nation, North and South, has been leadership.

[ Kennedy next outlines his guiding principles for the Democratic Party ]

1. The Democratic party must be increasingly willing to embrace new ideas, new policies and new faces, unafraid of controversial issues or candid criticism.

2. Democratic leaders must be increasingly willing to put the party's future ahead of sectional, factional and personal disputes and ambitions. By 1960-or even 1959-it will be too -late for a candidate to pull together the diverse elements that can win locally but are at odds nationally or to build a record against the incumbent administration. That task must be begun now.

3. Congressional Democrats must shape a responsible, progressive record with deeds that match our words... It is up to us in Congress, despite the restrictions imposed by the compromises necessary to keep our party intact, and despite the possibility of fighting losing battles, to push forward a progressive program any Democratic candidate in 1960 can run on with pride and hope.

4. Congressional Democrats must demonstrate leadership in the problems of prosperity as they have in the past on problems of poverty. We need not run against Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. For, New Republicanism or no, the differences in the fundamental approaches of' the two parties to the issues will become clearer as we move ahead-and real issues do exist, even in this age of abundance, automation and tranquility pills...

...We need another kind of local worker and leader in our party, men and women such as those I met last fall in all regions and particularly in the West-full of enthusiasm, full of new ideas, full of determination, asking nothing in return. Not many of them could buy tickets to the $100-a-plate dinners where few votes are changed, but they could all ring doorbells or hold neighborhood teas. Most of them were the younger members of our party, others were at least young in spirit. But all possessed vigor our party can use all over the country. The future of our party hinges upon this kind of new life and leadership, from the precinct level on up to the host of newly prominent young Democratic governors and senators...

...For "the success of a party means little," as Woodrow Wilson said in his first inaugural, "except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose.",The task of the Democratic party during the next four years is to define such a purpose for all the nation; and success, I have no doubt, will then be rightfully ours in 1960 and the years beyond."

[ Kennedy barely won the election against Nixon, and many believe it was in fact stolen from Nixon, yet by 1964 the Democrats made one of the biggest liberal sweeps in history. The irony is that history tends to repeat itself, and if the Democrats manage to pull their heads out of their backsides - maybe, just maybe, they can heed this distant voice in the past and have it provide some much needed vision. ]

3 Comments:

At Wednesday, March 23, 2005 7:15:00 PM, Blogger mquest said...

Collecting old mags? Sounds like a fun hobby. I have a may 8th 1939 time mag with James Joyce on the cover. I bought it because Joyce was on the cover. One day I read most of the mag and had a great time. I love the cigarettes ads. ā€œsmoke 6 packs and see why . . . ā€œ I always get frustrated when looking at old issues because the writer gets no mention. On more than one occasion I have wanted to see who reviewed a book and have been stymied. Somewhere there is a Finnegans Wake review that had way to much understanding of the book. Someday I will write in to the mag and see if they know who wrote it. Oh well.

 
At Wednesday, March 23, 2005 7:53:00 PM, Blogger MajQa' said...

The tobacco ads are GREAT! Everyone doing stuff, having fun, smoking. Those were the days.

I have this one ad where grandma is commenting (and smoking) how she LOVES smoking her Lucky Strikes, as the young couple (smoking, smiling) looks over at grandma in agreement. Even the kids are happy and smiling as mom and dad puff away playing cards.

Next to one of my Life articles circa 1962 on the race riots is an ad, with a white woman in her apron, commenting on how great her kitchen has become since "her husband" bought her a new Frigidaire. On one side of the page are people getting torn apart by dogs and cops, and on the other - an ad for a new refrigerator!

I love this stuff.

I think I might be addicted.

 
At Thursday, March 24, 2005 8:03:00 PM, Blogger mquest said...

I have read that people are tearing up the old mags and framing the ads. It turnes out that some people are actually making money of it.

 

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