As an Irish Catholic Democrat (my ancestors were Haggerty, Finnegan, and Gainer), I have always been especially fascinated by John F. Kennedy. Sadly, he was assassinated 50 years ago today.
I have heard many stories from my parents' generation about where they were when they found out that President Kennedy had been shot. My dad has told me about how his entire student body at Charleston Catholic High School immediately gathered to pray. I have watched the movie JFK countless times. I even had the privilege of being taught criminal law at Notre Dame by Robert Blakey, who was the Chief Counsel to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations that investigated the death of President Kennedy. Perhaps, all of these things contributed to my fascination with someone who died more than a decade before I was born.
But, I think it was more than that. I think that the same things that caused so much of the American public to be enthralled with Camelot are the same things that drew me in. President Kennedy was a sharp thinker with a Harvard degree and Pulitzer Prize to show for it, yet he could play football as well. He could be found pondering serious issues with his brother, Bobby, the United States Attorney General, yet he had a wild side as well that would find him spending time with Marilyn Monroe. He was an eloquent speaker who wasn't afraid to take on important civil rights issues. He had a beautiful wife and children. He was a man who liked to be among the people.
Sadly, though, a new generation of Americans either have not heard, or if they have heard have not listened, or if they have listened have not cared about some of President Kennedy's greatest words --- Ask not what your country do for you, ask what you can do for your country. I see this every day as people try to get out of jury duty, or try to earn money doing side jobs under the table so they don't have to pay taxes, or complain about the manner in which our government provides many of the freedoms we enjoy every day. I believe that we live in the greatest country in the world. But, to stay great it takes everyone working together and believing that we all have a role to play.
Just like in any family or group, some do more than others and that's ok. Each of us are given different abilities, different levels of intelligence, and different resources with which to work. Our task --- no, our obligation --- is to use what each of us has been given the best that we can. It is time to stop worrying about whether the other guy is doing his share or whether he is getting more from our government than I am. It is time to say what can I do to contribute to making this nation great.
If we fail to do that, then President Kennedy's famous words from his inaugural address might as well fade into the sunset. I think we are better than that. I think that a new generation of Americans is capable of rising to the challenge and saying what can I do for my country. And then, surely, his legacy will go on.