By Katherine Bielawa Stamper
President John F. Kennedy faced a decision of grave enormity fifty years ago. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flying over Cuba detected evidence of the installation of Soviet-made medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles. Cuba is ninety miles from Florida.
During those thirteen tense days in October 1962, we experienced the closest our nation has come to nuclear war. Several of Kennedy’s advisors urged aggressive military action. A veteran and student of history, the President exercised extreme caution, engaging Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a delicate, highly charged correspondence. A series of carefully worded communiques were exchanged between the leaders of the two superpowers. A bargain was struck. The Soviets agreed to remove the installations. The U.S. agreed to dismantle IRBMs deployed in Italy and Turkey. The threat of mutual annihilation passed.
As I write this, it’s the weekend before Election Day 2012. I’ve followed the news, listened to debates and read campaign literature. I staffed phones at my party’s campaign headquarters as part of a “get out the vote” effort.
My parents, naturalized U.S. citizens, honored and embraced their right to vote. They left a communist country where rigged elections and farcical exercises of political expression were the order of the day. Free and fair elections are a beautiful thing.
As a kid growing up in Massachusetts, my political views were influenced by my parents—blue collar, church-going, pro-union Democrats. Witnessing significant social crises in the 1970s, with interpretive help from Walter Cronkite, further crystallized my political identity. Protests associated with the Vietnam War, Boston’s busing fiasco—an ill-fated attempt to desegregate schools—and President Nixon’s televised resignation left me leaning left of center.
I volunteered for my first political campaign when I was ten. Organizers gave me a script and put me on the phones. I remember calling folks to ask them to turn up at the polls to support my candidate for mayor. Small bits of activism reinforced that politics really do matter in peoples’ lives.
I remain in awe of anyone who would want the job of President of the United States. There are perks—free flights on Air Force One and expenses-paid accommodations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That said, the U.S. is an enormous ship requiring constant vigilance to steer through politically choppy waters. A change in wind or hint of an iceberg must be heeded and may force shifts in unprecedented directions. This is not easy with a ship, much less a nation.
America’s president must be a leader to all the people: rich, middle class, poor, Republican, Democrat, fringe, etc. A sharp mind, a diplomatic manner, the ability to connect with America’s Everyman (or Everywoman) and the capacity to make and carry out thoughtful, deliberative decisions are crucial prerequisites for the job.
To the elected, winners in Tuesday’s election, I offer a personal wish list:
Re-think assumptions. Start with a clean slate. Forge alliances focused on building a stronger, economically healthy America that cares for its people in word and deed.
Recognize your roles as public servants. This should be modus operandi. All too often, politicians are seduced by the trappings of power.
End partisanship: Service to the American people—all the people—is job number one
Address the deficit in a fair and equitable manner. Long-term economic stability is at risk.
Honor the past. Repay our debt to seniors. “Social Security” should be an operative phrase.
Prepare for the future. Invest in our children to reap a healthy, capable and productive workforce. Too many kids in America experience the ravages of poverty.
Protect the most vulnerable. Care for and promote independence among those least able to care for themselves.
Protect the environment: it’s the “skin” we’re in.
Reduce waste first. Then, apportion taxes fairly.
Extend an olive branch. We may realize savings in defense spending.
Expand alternative energy options. It just makes sense.
Acknowledge science. Global warming is real.
Put people first, corporations second.
Solve the healthcare conundrum. To me, a healthy populace promotes “homeland security” in incalculable ways.
Ted Sorensen (1928-2010), President Kennedy’s speech writer and advisor said:
“I still believe that the mildest and most obscure of Americans can be rescued from oblivion by good luck, sudden changes in fortune and sudden encounters with heroes. I believe it because I lived it.”
I still believe in such an America. Do you?