John F. Kennedy on Technology



1956: National recognition for brief VP race on TV

JFK stepped up to the podium, and said the few necessary words ("I hope this convention will make Estes Kefauver's nomination unanimous.")

"And then he was gone, the underdog candidate who had intrigued and captivated the hearts and minds of millions of Americans," as one historian put it. "The dramatic race," which "had glued millions to their television sets," was "his great moment--he registered on the nation's memory," wrote another.

Kennedy realized that. About a year later Kennedy [remarked to a colleague], "Do you know who the 2nd most well-known senator is? I am," Kennedy said [referring to the V.P. nominee Sen. Kefauver as 1st]. "And do you know why? It was the half hour on national television when I ran against Kefauver for the vice presidency."

While in hindsight, the transformation that television was to make in American politics seems obvious, at the time few politicians recognized this new reality as Kennedy did. [He seized] every opportunity to be on-screen.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 50 , May 1, 2012

1960: Understood the relatively new media of television

Kennedy understood the need to use the relatively new medium of television to reach a wide audience. For example, in September 1960, during the campaign for the presidency, Kennedy debated with Republican candidate and vice president Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debate in US history. Radio listeners thought that Nixon had won, but the huge television audience considered Kennedy the winner because he was seen to be more relaxed and more comfortable with the occasion than his rival. He was also better-looking, something that shouldn't matter of course but invariably does. The debates are now regarded as the point at which the medium of television began to play a dominant role in U.S. national politics.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.148 , Mar 3, 2010

Established TV as central element of electoral process

Ever since John Kennedy hypnotized us with his good looks & eloquence, television has been the central element in our electoral process. In the media age, politics was something that happened on television. The venues of our politics have been televised debates, media advertising, sound bites, news coverage, tarmac press conferences at airports throughout the nation, and Sunday morning interview shows. The effect has been anaesthetizing, numbing voters and reducing them to passive onlookers.

JFK convinced us that he was young and Nixon was old during their television debates. But television news itself has always been manipulated by the elite print media that set its agenda. Life in the White House during the media age revolved around attempts t manage the dialogue with the media. It wasn't Congress or the courts that dominated the decision process--but speculation on how the press and television would react that consumed the majority of the waking hours of the White House staff and consultants.

Source: Condi vs. Hillary, by Dick Morris, p.188-191 , Oct 11, 2005

1962: We choose to go to the moon because doing it is hard

Kennedy's speech at Rice University on 12 September 1962: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things--not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our abilities and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win." Many of Kennedy's speeches are littered with stirring calls to action and challenges, all with a lasting and profound impact. Bold, audacious goals set at the right time and in the right way undeniably cause excitement, enthusiasm and fire the imagination.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.147 , Sep 12, 1962

Cooperate with USSR on weather satellites & exploring space

This Administration intends to explore promptly all possible areas of cooperation with the Soviet Union and other nations "to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors." Specifically, I now invite all nations--including the Soviet Union--to join with us in developing a weather prediction program, in a new communications satellite program and in preparation for probing the distant planets of Mars and Venus, probes which may someday unlock the deepest secrets of the universe.

Today this country is ahead in the science and technology of space, while the Soviet Union is ahead in the capacity to lift large vehicles into orbit. Both nations would help themselves as well as other nations by moving these endeavors from the bitter and wasteful competition of the Cold War. The United States would be willing to join with the Soviet Union and the scientists of all nations in a greater effort to make the fruits of this new knowledge available to all.

Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 30, 1961

USSR is ahead in space; focus more on new science

NIXON: [US prestige is hurt when] Sen. Kennedy states over and over again that the US is second in space and the fact of the matter is that the space score today is 28 to 8--we've had 28 successful shots, they've had 8.

KENNEDY: What I downgrade, Mr. Nixon, is the leadership the country is getting, not the country. I believe the Soviet Union is first in outer space. We may have made more shots but the size of their rocket thrust and all the rest--you yourself said to Khrushchev, "You may be ahead of us in rocket thrust but we're ahead of you in color television" in your famous discussion in the kitchen. I think that color television is not as important as rocket thrust. The Soviet Union made a breakthrough in outer space; the head of your Information Service has said that that made the people of the world begin to wonder whether we were first in science. We're first in other areas of science but in space, which is the new science, we're not first.

Source: The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 21, 1960

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Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022