Note: In light of last evening's video release, I'm republishing this 2009 piece in full. It seems very timely.
Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column today [August 28, 2009] reminds readers of a graceful tribute to John F. Kennedy delivered by President Reagan in 1985.
Here’s an extract:
And when he died, when that comet disappeared over the continent, a whole nation grieved and would not forget. A tailor in New York put a sign on the door: ‘Closed due to a death in the family.’ The sadness was not confined to us. ‘They cried the rain down that night,’ said a journalist in Europe. They put his picture up in huts in Brazil and tents in the Congo, in offices in Dublin and Danzig. That was one of the things he did for his country, for when they honored him they were honoring someone essentially, quintessentially, completely American.
Many men are great, but few capture the imagination and the spirit of the times. The ones who do are unforgettable. Four administrations have passed since John Kennedy’s death, five presidents have occupied the Oval Office, and I feel sure that each of them thought of John Kennedy now and then, and his thousand days in the White House.
And sometimes I want to say to those who are still in school, and who sometimes think that history is a dry thing that lives in a book, that nothing is ever lost in that house. Some music plays on. I have been told that late at night when the clouds are still and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by. You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, ‘And another thing, Eleanor.’ Turn down a hall and you hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, ‘Bully! Absolutely ripping!’ Walk softly now and you’re drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room, where a crowd surrounds a bright young president who is full of hope and laughter.
Lovely, right? And lovely in part because one of the hands that worked on that speech was Peggy’s – and Peggy, though of course a conservative Republican, is a proud Irish Catholic who witnessed and remembered the election of an Irish Catholic to the White House. She may have agreed with President Kennedy on very little, but a quarter century after his election, he still claimed some portion of her heart.
Now here’s the thing to remember, as the nation pays tribute to Jack Kennedy’s last brother: There are boys and girls who will feel into the 2080s about President Obama the same way that Peggy Noonan still feels about President Kennedy. Some of those boys and girls – I trust many – will develop the wisdom to grow into Republicans and conservatives, as so many Irish Democrats did after 1960. Maybe someday one of those boys or girls will write the speech that a future Republican president will deliver in memory of former President Obama. Maybe they will come to see all that is wrong with the Obama agenda and worldview. But they will never forget how they felt in November 2008. As we struggle to defeat that Obama agenda, let’s never forget that we are also playing to capture his supporters – and let’s try to refrain from doing things for short-term gain that will impede that larger long-term project.