John F. Kennedy - Presidency

Presidency

See also: Timeline of the presidency of John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President at noon on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, famously saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." He asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself". He added: "All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin." In closing, he expanded on his desire for greater internationalism: "Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."

The address reflected Kennedy's confidence that his administration would chart a historically significant course in both domestic policy and foreign affairs. The contrast between this optimistic vision and the pressures of managing daily political realities at home and abroad would be one of the main tensions running through the early years of his administration.

Kennedy brought to the White House a stark contrast in organization compared to the decision making structure of the former general, Eisenhower; and he wasted no time in dismantling Eisenhower's methods. Kennedy preferred the organizational structure of a wheel, with all the spokes leading to the president. He was ready and willing to make the increased number of quick decisions required in such an environment. He selected a mixture of experienced and inexperienced people to serve in his cabinet. "We can learn our jobs together", he stated. There were a couple instances where the president got ahead of himself, as when he announced in a cabinet meeting, without prior notice, that Edward Lansdale would be Ambassador to South Vietnam, a decision which Secretary of State Rusk later had Kennedy alter. There was also the case of Harris Wofford, who was summoned to the White House for swearing in without knowing which position he was to assume.

Much to the chagrin of his economic advisors, who wanted him to reduce taxes, he quickly agreed to a balanced budget pledge. This was needed in exchange for votes to expand the membership of the House Rules Committee in order to give the Democrats a majority in setting the legislative agenda. The president focused on immediate and specific issues facing the administration, and quickly voiced his impatience with ponderings of deeper meanings. Deputy national security advisor Walt Whitman Rostow once began a diatribe about the growth of communism, and Kennedy abruptly cut him off, asking, "What do you want me to do about that today?"

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Famous quotes containing the word presidency:

    ... how often the Presidency has simply meant that a man shall be abused, distrusted, and worked to death while he is filling the great office, and that he should drop into unmerited oblivion when he has left the White House ...
    M. E. W. Sherwood (1826–1903)

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    Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908–1973)

    Some of the offers that have come to me would never have come if I had not been President. That means these people are trying to hire not Calvin Coolidge, but a former President of the United States. I can’t make that kind of use of the office.... I can’t do anything that might take away from the Presidency any of its dignity, or any of the faith people have in it.
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