Fifty years ago this week, we saw one President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, leave office after eight years, and deliver the best, most dramatic Farewell Address since George Washington gave the first one in 1796, and only coming close to being matched by President Jimmy Carter when he left office thirty years ago and warned of nuclear proliferation and the dangers to our environment that must be dealt with long term.
We also saw the incoming President, John F. Kennedy, give, arguably, the third best Inaugural Address in American history, before or since, trailing only behind Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865 and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address in 1933.
Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the Military-Industrial complex, an issue that President Barack Obama must deal with in his Presidency, as we talk about cutting the budget, and have a bloated defense budget that does not fit the world we live in, which is no longer a Cold War world, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican appointee of George W. Bush kept on by President Obama, well recognizes as he calls for budget cuts.
Kennedy spoke to our better nature in his Inaugural Address just a few days later, fifty years ago, and asked us to work for our nation’s success, rather than ask what our country can do for us alone. He appealed to us to stop being selfish and self centered, a point well taken as we look to the future, and the thought of sacrifice, including paying more taxes if we are fortunate enough to be successful, and recognizing that we are all in the economic and social crisis we face together. We must refuse to allow those who wish to divide us to continue to enrich themselves as they poison our radio, television and cable waves with their divisive rhetoric and propaganda, really the promotion of the Big Lie technique, that the more one says something as fact, the more people who are gullible and lacking in knowledge, will believe it.
We were fortunate to have these two Presidents shape an historical moment fifty years ago, and we need to learn from what they said in their oratory, and pledge ourselves to the transformation of the nation, so that it is indeed a “government of, by, and for the people”, not just the wealthy and privileged elite who have no concern but their own aggrandizement!