”I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”–John F. Kennedy, 12 September 1961
Fifty-one years ago to the date of the GOP Presidential Debate, John F. Kennedy spoke these words before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It’s hard to believe these words were spoken half a century ago. With the current climate in the GOP, John F. Kennedy looks like a candidate from the future. What Kennedy was pushing, and what many have forgotten, is a human connection that extends beyond religious affiliation and party alignment.
John F. Kennedy would be ashamed of our country. When people yell, “Yeah!” to whether or not uninsured people should be left to die. Not only do we look like the crotchety old man next door, but we siphon off a bit more of our character. John F. Kennedy would most likely look at our country right now, put his hand through his hair, and in his distinct New England accent say, “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
Our concern as a nation should not be for the lack of moral conscience displayed Monday evening, but the lack of any steps toward progress. Not only does the GOP sound like a party of regression, but they also lack the understanding of common humanity. Before a person is a Democrat or Republican, s/he is a human – one, which the Declaration of Independence declares is worthy of the “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The history lesson for Tea Party crazies and ignorant audience members alike is that when calls for liberty are issued, that means liberty for all people. In this Republic, we must not pass legislation that benefits the few and bastardizes the rest. This is not because of a “liberal agenda.” Rather, we care for all people because this country believes that everyone should have the chance to succeed. Far be it for a Texas Governor, a Minnesota Representative, or a Storming Mormon stand in the way of that.
Nothing should stand in the way of progress – even religious affiliation. Our country has seemingly forgotten this point, but at one time getting elected as a Catholic was difficult – hence, Kennedy. Kennedy gave this speech not to win votes necessarily, but to demonstrate that being a Catholic will not hinder his leadership ability. We made a societal decision to make Catholicism a hindrance to Presidential office – Kennedy challenged that.
Kennedy closed his speech in Houston saying, “But if, on the other hand, I should win this election…without reservation, I can, “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution — so help me God.”
The GOP had demonstrated a failure to be able to competently say these words. Rhetoric and mindless words will shrivel before the history and power of the Presidential Oath. More than words, it is an oath to the American people conveying protection and value of the human condition – not political or religious affiliation.
John F. Kennedy would make the GOP look like Charlie Sheen on a primetime interview. John F. Kennedy would say that it’s not always about politics, but about humanity. When we lose sight of the human bodies that constitute this nation, we will lose sight of progress – a hallmark of America.
Before we sing about how America is beautiful, or how great this country is, let us reflect upon whether or not we actually care about every person living here. As far as I can tell, and I think John F. Kennedy is with me on this one, we’re acting pretty ugly toward each other and demonstrating small-minded leadership.
Irony, then, is not lost on me when, the day after September 11th, cheers and applause meet a question about whether or not a patient without insurance would be left to die.