Newspaper Editorials Discuss Kennedy’s Inauguration
When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated as the nation’s 35th president on Jan. 20, 1961, he delivered a stirring inaugural address brimming with confidence, while at the same time acknowledging the dangerous tensions in a world dominated by the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. On the day of his inauguration the Seattle Daily Times’ editorial page reflected these themes, as shown in the following three editorials. The first admiringly responds to Kennedy’s strength and confidence, the second points out the many serious challenges facing his administration, and the third ignores the festive pomp of the inauguration to argue that in a nuclear age, such ceremonies—and our entire method of transitioning our government from one administration to the next—is dangerous and needs to be changed.
These three copyrighted editorials were published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on Jan. 20, 1961:
Upon the Change of Command: Well Said, Mr. Kennedy
In accepting the Democratic presidential nomination half a year ago in Los Angeles, John F. Kennedy told the American people his “new frontier” offers “the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”
“Are we up to the task?” Mr. Kennedy asked on that July evening. “Are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the Russian sacrifice of the present for the future—or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the present?”
Today, in the first official words to follow his investiture in the awesome powers of the presidency, Mr. Kennedy returned to this theme of struggle and fortitude.
In words that should echo like drum beats around the globe, the new leader of the free world pledged solemnly:
“Let every nation know, whether it wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
These are stirring words for all Americans—given by the man to whom they must first and foremost apply.
It will be President Kennedy who must make the hardest decisions, who must be able to reject when it is more popular to agree, who must resist the pressures and the temptations to seek temporarily easy solutions.
The tone of Mr. Kennedy’s inaugural address demonstrated that he is fully aware of the hard and lonely path of leadership that he must tread.
Many of Mr. Kennedy’s listeners throughout the world will be intrigued by his description of the generation of Americans that now assumes responsibility.
This generation, he said, is “tempered by war, disciplined by a cold and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.”
The first phrase is historical fact; the third will be little doubted. But many observers in many lands must wonder if this new generation of Americans is truly “disciplined by a cold and bitter peace.”
There are some who will say that in fact the United States is a nation of self-centered and short-sighted pressure groups, too little disciplined by, and too ignorant of, the realities of the cold war and the swift winds of change that are blowing around the globe.
Evidence to support such thoughts is easily found, and yet—in our view—too shallowly come by. We agree with Mr. Kennedy’s proud description of his generation.
Beneath what often appears to be the frivolous surface of American life lies an eagerness to know the dangers and to overcome them.
The new President correctly gauges the mood of the nation; it shares his buoyant acceptance of responsibility.
A healthy new generation looks upon the threatening state of the world in terms of opportunity, not of morbid resignation. Such is the view of Mr. Kennedy’s generation.
“In the long history of the world,” said the new leader, “only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”
Well said, Mr. President.
Ingredients of a National Purpose:
Zest, Tough Confidence Mark Kennedy’s Approach to Job
—By Roscoe Drummond
Copyright, 1961, New York Herald Tribune, Inc.
Washington—The Kennedy administration takes office in a coolly exuberant mood somewhat chastened as it came nearer to its awesome responsibilities.
Both these states of mind are useful to any new administration about to face what lies ahead.
Exuberance, zest, and tough-minded confidence are the hallmarks of Mr. Kennedy’s approach to the presidency—and to politics. They were manifest in the hard-fought campaigns which carried him to the White House. They are visible in his notably competent cabinet. These qualities will be needed, not as a substitute for sound action, but as the ingredients of a national purpose which the President hopes to shape.
Fortunately, Mr. Kennedy used the transition to widen the base of his popular support after an election which so deeply divided the country that he could have found it impossible to function effectively.
But the agenda of critical matters is so great that few would wish to see him immobilized. Mr. Nixon, for one, did not want it so. He contributed much to the nation’s good-spirited acceptance of the result. The Eisenhower administration put itself unreservedly at the disposal of the new President and his representatives. The character of the Kennedy cabinet has won almost uniform praise.
The appointment of such able and nonpartisan men as Dean Rusk at State, Douglas Dillon at the Treasury, and Robert S. McNamara at Defense has assured the country that Mr. Kennedy wants to be President of all the people.
More of an Activist than Ideologist
The evidence thus far is that Mr. Kennedy is more of an activist than an ideologist. Some may be anxious lest he be impetuous. He has not surrounded himself with impetuous men. What is plain is that he is determined not to stand still.
Here are some of the more forbidding problems before him when he sits for the first time at his White House desk, and they are reason enough why no President of the United States can stand still:
The United States today is spending more money abroad than we are earning abroad by some four and a half billion dollars a year. This was defensible, even prudent, when Western Europe and Japan were prostrated as a result of the war, when there was a vast dollar gap and when we were a creditor nation.
Circumstances Change Radically
Circumstances are now radically different. The principal industrial nations have achieved prosperous, expanding economies and are earning dollars in large volume. But we continue to carry a disproportionate share of the economic and military burdens of the free world. Our adverse balance of payments cannot be allowed to continue.
In the United States, this could generate a demand for a reckless cut-back of our defense and economic-aid programs and might well bring on political and economic isolationism.
In the midst of great prosperity, the highest employment and the largest gross national product ever, we are experiencing the highest unemployment in 20 years. Mr. Kennedy has projected spending programs which rest on the premise of a faster rate of economic growth. If this growth is not forthcoming, the new administration faces deficit spending which it said could be avoided.
Defense, Space Programs Press
While Mr. Kennedy does not have to redeem every campaign promise at once, he can hardly delay his planned strengthening of the nation’s defense in missiles and in limited-war capability and in speeding up our exploration of outer space.
These are just a few of the reasons Mr. Kennedy’s close election should not prevent strong presidential leadership—though they should deter him from strong partisanship.
Not Suitable for a Nuclear Age:
Inauguration Is Festive Time, but It Points Up Grave Risks
—By David Lawrence
Copyright, 1961, New York Herald Tribune, Inc.
Washington, Jan. 20.—The flavor is Hollywood. Noted theatrical stars perform, as the money for tickets helps pay political expenses, but there is surprisingly little interest in just how these were incurred.
Despite the weather, the watching crowds and the parades along historic thoroughfares are festive as in a Roman holiday. The inaugural ceremony itself is reminiscent of the coronation of a King.
Two minutes before noon one man is clothed with the power to defend the nation against surprise attack. Two minutes later a new President assumes that fateful responsibility.
What a moment on some Inauguration Day for an unscrupulous enemy to choose!
Assembled in an area of a few hundred square feet on the Capitol Plaza is the entire government—the President and his cabinet, other key men in the executive departments and agencies, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the members of Congress—along with the military chiefs and subchiefs, the diplomatic corps, the governors of several states and their staffs, heads of corporations and labor unions, and a sizable number of the nation’s leaders in all fields!
Continuity in government is purely theoretical. Transition is being described as “smooth,” but this is mostly because it is accomplished without personal rancor or ill feeling and in a spirit of cooperation and helpfulness.
Time of Confusion
“Continuity,” moreover, is an ironic word. The transition in government really means confusion as there is a changeover of 90 top executives and subexecutives. Take away at one time even 25 such personnel from a corporation as big as General Motors, and the wheels inside inevitably stop though outwardly everything looks the same.
And the national government’s budget is many times that of any single American company. Most of the officials in the new administration here will not be familiar with the background of their jobs for months to come.
Victors Are Gay
Apart from the desires of the politically victorious to celebrate—and they are happy and gay today in their triumph—the fact remains that the way the United States changes Presidents is not suitable for a nuclear age.
Confusion and a kind of irresponsible drifting take the place of an efficient operation.
The alibi is offered that below the 90 top executives is an army of civil servants who stay on from administration to administration. But if the career employees can carry on the affairs of government so well, one wonders why the 90 executives are hired in the first place.
The truth is the 90 executives do have the power to form policy and to make decisions while the subordinates usually take no risks but pass only on matters of routine.
The military chiefs, of course, stay on; but there has been so much hue and cry about civilian supremacy being needed at the Pentagon that one wonders whether these military men would venture to make decisions on their own unless the emergency were of a truly alarming nature.
Thus the Air Force maintains a partial airborne alert around the clock and has facilities for detecting, if not intercepting, oncoming planes and missiles. It isn’t known exactly how much advance warning of an attack we can be sure of.
But it is a matter of minutes.
America, of course, is supposed to take the “first blow” and do what it can afterward with what missiles or weapons are left.
When Functions Stop
Altogether, the inaugural ceremony, brief as it is and followed by a three-hour parade, should emphasize the risks incurred nowadays when government stops functioning even for a little while.
The whole setup is one that developed in times when America was protected by two oceans and when hostile warships had to spend many days approaching our shores.
As for the general operations of government, nobody appraises the damage to the citizens resulting from inefficiency or neglect of the public interest during the transition period.
Better System Needed
Concentration of power in our own government as related to executive functions is essential, but the situation cries out for a better system of transition and a more gradual rotation of personnel so that everything doesn’t have to be done within a few days.
Mr. Eisenhower has suggested that the inauguration be held in the autumn soon after the election and at least 80 days before Congress is convened in January.
This might help on the weather side and reduce somewhat the confusion of the present method of transition, but the flaws in the system are more basic.
The need is for fixed terms that do not expire at the same time in all important administrative offices below the cabinet level. It may take a disaster some day to awaken public opinion to the dangers of the present slipshod system of “transition.”
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