If only we had done what JFK told us to do

Posted Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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greene I wasn’t old enough to vote in 1960 when John Kennedy was elected our 35th president.

Four years later, I was, and I proudly cast my first presidential ballot for Barry Goldwater instead of Texas’ favorite son, Lyndon Johnson.

I’ve had a perfect voting record since then, never missing an election and always voting for the conservative candidate — always a Republican.

With the daily focus on the approaching 50th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in our nation’s history, I began working on a column about Kennedy.

My intention was to join the significant body of work that has developed over the years of examining the conservative credentials of the slain president.

With all the convincing evidence that he was not anything like the liberal Democrats of today, I was going to speculate that, had I been of voting age, I might have joined that tiny majority of voters who elected him.

My beliefs on the role of the federal government were very much like his. As a college student emerging into self-reliant adulthood, I championed lower taxes, free markets, economic growth, a fearsome military and, most of all, the notion that we should not be asking the government to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves and our country.

Instead, my attention was drawn in another direction when the Star-Telegram delivered a commemorative collection of reproductions of newspapers dated Nov. 22–26, 1963.

The memories of those days rush back when the headlines and images remind us so graphically of those horrible hours that unimaginably unfolded before our eyes.

Along with the reports of the dramatic events of those days, there was other news in those pages that seemed somehow very familiar and very current.

First there was the story of why Kennedy was visiting Texas.

It was all about the need for the president to try to bring peace to a badly divided Democratic Party in the state that could decide the outcome of his bid for a second term.

Senior U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough was at odds with Gov. John Connally — a rift that also embroiled Vice President Johnson.

Star-Telegram writer Sam Kinch led his story like this: “President Kennedy’s ‘peace corps’ trip to Texas Democrats got a double dose of sabotage Thursday before it was well under way.”

The article described the name-calling between the warring Democrats, a refusal of the senator to ride in the same car with the vice president, and his discontent at being left off the invitation list for a reception honoring Texas politicos.

There seemed to be little hope for reconciliation, with Yarbrough describing Connally as “terribly uneducated governmentally.”

Not quite the rancor we have witnessed in Washington in recent weeks, but still a harsh political clash.

Then, a couple of pages over, this headline came into view: “Senate Sets New $315 Billion Debt Ceiling.” Now that, except for the paltry sum, looked like today’s paper.

The accompanying report told of a failed effort led by Republicans in the Senate to maintain the number at the “permanent” level of $300 billion. Even some Democrats warned that going beyond that amount would result in “planned deficits throughout the foreseeable future.”

In case you have the ability to relate to the insane amount currently being debated, it’s approaching $17 trillion and the Democrats insist that it is not nearly enough.

Fifty years later, among all the rest of our memories, we have a dramatic reminder of Kennedy’s admonition for us not to keep asking the government to do more and more.

If only we had acted on those inspired words instead of just admiring them as part of an awesome inaugural address from a charismatic new leader, today’s America would be very different.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com

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