Baker remembers JFK

What would he think of our current state of affairs?

What follows is the prepared text of Gov. Charlie Baker’s speech on Wednesday in the House chamber to honor the centennial of former president John F. Kennedy’s birthday.

I STILL REMEMBER the first time I heard the words, “President John F. Kennedy.”  It was November 22, 1963.  I had just turned 7 two weeks earlier.  And there was my mom, sitting on the stairs in our basement, head in her hands, watching the news on our black-and-white TV.

I remember it was a Friday, because I came home from school excited for the weekend.  Back then, we were allowed to walk to and from school – even when we were in second grade! The basement was our playroom, so there wasn’t any furniture down there, just toys and our first TV, which is why my mom was sitting on the stairs.

“They shot the President.”  That was all she said – but I could tell by the way she said it that it was a very big deal. I sat down in front of her on the stairs.  And she grabbed me.  I think it was supposed to be a hug, but it was much more intense than that.

Our house – like so many across the country – was a very quiet, solemn place for the next few months.  For us kids, it was simply a time to be present, and be quiet.  Something very big – and very bad – had happened.  And we were expected to respect that.

It was one of the few times I can recall from my earliest days as a child in which the outside world descended with a bang on our house, and into our lives.

As I stand here today, in this hallowed chamber, and think back on those dark days and all that’s happened in between, I am left with three impressions.

First – the 60’s – and all the cultural, economic, and societal upheaval that came with them – arrived with the election of John F. Kennedy.  His election as president was a big surprise.  He was just over 40 – our youngest president ever – and the first Catholic to hold the office. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pig, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Peace Corps, the Space Race, the Berlin Wall, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Trade Expansion Act all happened during that very short 3-year period.

Who knew it was just the beginning?

Second, Kennedy’s message, despite the enormity of the breaking waves around him, was about possibility.  His manner, his speeches, his words, and his deeds were all about the future – and everything it could be.

His press conferences – even during his most difficult days – were full of wisecracks, self-deprecation, and playful observations.

When asked by the press if he would support legislation imposing term limits on Congress and the US Senate – similar to the term limits applied to the presidency, his answer was vintage JFK.  “That’s an interesting idea.  Maybe I’ll take it up after I’m through being president.”

He talked about not seeking the Republican or Democratic answer – but the right answer.  And urged his colleagues not to fix blame for the past – but instead – to accept “our own responsibility for the future.”

Third, he professed a public humility that was endearing and disarming.  When he and the First Lady visited Paris for the first time after the inauguration, the crowds were nice to the president, but went wild over Jackie Kennedy.  Upon returning to the states and being asked about the trip, the president replied, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.  And I enjoyed it.”

And when asked about how he was finding the job of president shortly after his term began, he said, simply, “The pay is good and I can walk to work.”

Finally, I cannot help but wonder what our former president would think of our current state of affairs if he were still alive today. I am sure he would marvel at the impact the investments he championed in science and technology have had on this country and the rest of the world.

He would note the growth of the global economy – and all the positives and negatives that have come with worldwide competition.

But I suspect the coarseness of modern-day politics would disappoint him.  And I think he would remind us that in his day, he asked us to focus not on what our country could do for each of us, but instead, on what we could do for our country.

Meet the Author
I call those words to live by, now more than ever.  Happy Birthday Mr. President!

Charlie Baker is the governor of Massachusetts.