As I write this, the Democratic National Convention is getting underway in Denver. It will be an intense week of speeches, workshops and symposia about the issues facing American today, among them our energy and climate security.
While climate change is arguably the most complex problem the community of nations has faced, it isn’t the first time an American president has grappled with issues of global and moral consequence. John Kennedy led at a time the world seemed only a few minutes away from nuclear annihilation, and when Russia threatened to dominate space. Bobby Kennedy opposed the Vietnam War and confronted the issue of civil rights around the world.
What might they say if they were addressing the Democratic National Convention today? The following is compiled from their speeches decades ago. (All are from JFK except where designated):
Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life. We would like to live as we once lived, but history will not permit it.
Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man…no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.
I am an idealist without illusions. The United States has to move very fast to even stand still. The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer; but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.
A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough, compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough. But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect is character; we cannot alter its inevitability. (RFK, speech to U.S. Senate May 9, 1966)
I look forward to a great future for America — a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet. But let us begin.
— Bill B.