US President Barak Obama will deliver his inaugural address on Sunday, January 20, 2013. What can Obama learn about leadership from a previous present – John F. Kennedy – in the aftermath of Newtown, Connecticut? A lot. How might JFK have responded to the challenge of gun violence? We might wonder if he would say, “We choose to end it?”
That’s right, it’s time to make another Kennedy/Obama comparison. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I question the validity of comparison. The Kennedy/Obama parallel has long been refuted by stronger arguments than we need to revisit, Besides, this isn’t a comparison so much as it is a lesson.
One of the last major US gun control initiatives was in 1968. It was propelled by Kennedy’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson – who Obama could learn a thing to two about getting bills passed by the US Congress and Senate – signed it into law. Interestingly, this omnibus crime bill included a ban on mail order guns. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald with a mail order gun.
America can choose to end it’s gun control crisis. After all, if you believe, they put a man on the moon.
Canadian writer and Director Stephen Hall, shared these thoughts about JFK, America and choice.
Whenever I hear politicians, or their designates, describe problems as “complicated” — as Jay Carney did earlier today when asked about the WH response to the Sandy Hook shootings — I am reminded of JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon…” speech. I consider it a lesson in how to approach solving ANY problem — whether it is complicated or not.
First, JFK said “we choose to go the moon in this decade and do other things…”
He didn’t say “we’ll TRY to go to the moon”. He said “we CHOOSE to go to the moon”. So, the first part of the lesson is that solution to a problem — even a really complicated one — actually starts with something that is quite simple: a choice.
A choice isn’t an aspiration. It isn’t a goal. It isn’t even a target. It’s a selection between options. And, in this case, like so many other supposedly “complicated” problems, it was a binary choice: go to the moon or don’t go to the moon. Which one is it?
Solve the gun problem or don’t solve the gun problem. Which one is it?
After stating that they had chosen to go to the moon and to “do other things”, JFK said, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.
“Because they are hard”. I love that line.
JFK had no allusions about how difficult it would be to achieve the choice of going to the moon, but he was boldly confident that it was an achievable choice, and the work that was required to realize that choice was something that Americans enjoyed doing. At that time in history, choosing to do big complicated things was a trait that defined Americans.
But now things are different. They’re “complicated”.
If America is to reclaim its role as a country that happily chooses to do big complicated things BECAUSE they are hard, and because they have the mettle, tenacity and intellect to be able to choose to do them, then it must stop whining about the problems being “complicated”.
It must simply choose to do the things that need to be done.
And then do them.
– Stephen Hall, Canadian director and writer