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How JFK Mobilized the U.S. for Recovery
by Marsha Freeman
January 13, 2006
Vol. 33 No. 2
How JFK Mobilized the
by Marsha Freeman
The leading faction of the Democratic Party is now poised not only to rid the United States of the Cheney/Bush Administration political dictatorship, but to overthrow 40 years of failed and self-destructive policies that have turned the U.S. economy into a heap of rust. In this effort, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others have invoked the Apollo program of President John F. Kennedy as the model which should be followed.
But most Americans dont really understand what Kennedys program was about. Although the Apollo mission was put forward in response to the worlds first manned space flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, it became the centerpiece of Kennedys more comprehensive plan to move into the decade of the 1960s with a vision of the future based on a economic policy of growth.
Many of President Kennedys initiatives were not implemented. Although he stated his policies in numerous speeches before the American people, many were not enacted into law by the Congress. Nearly his entire cabinet, including science advisor Jerome Weisner, opposed the Apollo program, which went forward only because both Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were personally committed to it.
However one might evaluate the final outcome of President Kennedys less than three years in office, in terms of foreign and defense policy, and overall domestic programs, this nation lived off the technological science driver of Kennedys Apollo program investment for more than 20 years.
Since John F. Kennedy, no President has understood that budget deficits are only remedied through economic expansion and growth, and not by cutbacks in Federal spending, tax increases, austerity, or selling off government assets to the private sector. Most Presidents since the early 1960s have insisted that this country could not have a strong defense and at the same time make the necessary infrastructure investments for economic growth.
Taken to its extreme, as early as President Kennedys second year in office, RAND Corporation policymaker James Rodney Schlesinger wrote that national security and economic growth had actually become decoupled, and that it did not matter whether the U.S. economy produced anything.
For the Democratic Party to invoke the policies of President Kennedy today requires not only a reference to his program to land a man on the Moon, but also to his broader program of scientific and technological investment, and the economic expansion his policies embraced. For Kennedy, the economic and social problems of the nation were formidable, as they are today.
The Question of Leadership
When President Kennedy took office in January 1961, this nation faced domestic, foreign policy, economic, and military crises. In his State of the Union Message, delivered on Jan. 29, 1961, Kennedy summarized the situation:
The present state of our economy is disturbing. We take office in the wake of seven months of recession, three and one-half years of slack, seven years of diminished economic growth, and nine years of falling farm income.
Business bankruptcies have reached their highest level since the Great Depression. Since 1951 farm income has been squeezed down by 25 percent. Save for a brief period in 1958, insured unemployment is at the highest peak in our history. Of some five and one-half million Americans who are without jobs, more than one million have been searching for work for more than four months. And during each month, some 150,000 workers are exhausting their already meager jobless benefit rights....
Our cities are being engulfed in squalor.... We still have 25 million Americans living in substandard homes.... Our classrooms contain two million more children than they can properly have room for, taught by ninety thousand teachers not properly qualified to teach. One third of our most promising high school graduates are financially unable to continue the development of their talents.... We lack the scientists, the engineers, and the teachers our world obligations require. We have neglected oceanography, saline water conversion, and the basic research that lies at the root of all progress....
Medical research has achieved new wonders, but these wonders are too often beyond the reach of too many people, owing to a lack of income (particularly among the aged), a lack of hospital beds, a lack of nursing homes and a lack of doctors and dentists....
The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race, at the ballot box and elsewhere, disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage.
Kennedy continued: To meet this array of challenges, to fulfill the role we cannot avoid on the world scene, we must re-examine and revise our whole arsenal of tools: military, economic, and political.
This arsenal included an array of specific proposals and legislative initiatives, the most important and long-lasting of which was the space program. But without the investment tax credit program, tax cuts to encourage investment and savings, the upgrading of education, the investment in water and energy infrastructure and medical care, and programs to integrate minorities into the mainstream of economic opportunity, this program would not have had the impact it did, or be cited today as the policy precedent for the Democratic Party.
Landing a Man on the Moon ...
One month after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth, and days after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, President Kennedy gave a Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs. On May 25, 1961, five months after his State of the Union message, Kennedy stated:
The President also proposed additional funds for unmanned planetary exploration, to accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket to go beyond the Moon, to accelerate the use of satellites for worldwide communications, and the development of a satellite system for worldwide weather observation. He said:
At the time this speech was made, more than half of the American public was opposed to a lunar landing effort, according to polls, and in the White House, only Vice President Johnson was an enthusiastic supporter. But Kennedy believed that under his leadership, the nation could be mobilized to support the goals he outlined.
A Cultural Paradigm Shift
Very quickly, in response to the space initiative, the national outlook of this country shifted. In a book published in 1964, author Tom Alexander wrote: [A] curious breed of individual seems to be making a place for himself in this ordeal of emerging from the pupal state into the space age. This is the man who, technically speaking, appears to be willing or able to think more than ten years ahead. A few years ago, people of his type were called crackpots....
Terraforming planets is a topic of discussion among the less inhibited Washington space policy men nowadays, Alexander reported.
Kennedy knew that his direct attention to the progress of the Apollo program would be required to keep the effort on schedule, and not-hamstrung financially by the Congress.
Kennedys second major space policy address was at Rice University on Sept. 12, 1962. There he stated:
The economic impact of the five-year gear-up of the Apollo program is well documented. More than 400,000 highly skilled jobs were created in industry. Most of the engineers and doctors of science who graduated in the 1960s were directly or indirectly supported by NASA. The technologies transferred from space to the national economy were largely responsible for whatever increases in productivity there were in industry, commerce, and the home, for over 20 years. And developing nations saw that their lives could be dramatically improved through the use of satellites for communications, Earth remote sensing, health, and education.
But Kennedy knew that the results of years of economic decay and stagnation, had also to be addressed, in parallel with the gear-up of the space program.
American System Economics
Less than three weeks after his inauguration, Kennedy gave a Message to the Congress on Economic Recovery and Growth. In it he stated:
In early 1961, the President presented a Special Message on Natural Resources to the Congress, outlining his programs in water and electric power development, stressing the research, development, and application of emerging technologies:
It was clear that Kennedys programs could not go forward without an upgrading of education, and that the driver to make those improvements would be, in particular, the goals he had set for the nation in space.
The Human Requirements
In a Special Message to the Congress on Education, delivered on Feb. 20, 1961, Kennedy stated:
To Kennedy, it was important that long-term, affordable health care be available to the infirm and elderly of the nation, and that there be a vigorous immunization effort to protect the young from childhhod diseases. In a Special Message to the Congress on Health and Hospital Care, on Feb. 9, 1961, Kennedy referred back to FDRs policies and stated:
Twenty-six years ago this nation adopted the principle that every member of the labor force and his family should be insured against the haunting fear of loss of income caused by retirement, death, or unemployment. To that we have added insurance against the economic loss caused by disability.
But there remains a significant gap that denies to all but those with the highest incomes a full measure of security: the high cost of ill health in old age. One out of five aged couples drawing Social Security benefits must go to the hospital each year. Half of those going to hospitals incur bills in excess of $7,000 a year. This is over one-third of the total annual income of a typical couple, more than a modest food budget for an entire year. Many simply do not obtain and cannot afford the care they need.
In addition to outlining guaranteed health care for hospitalization, skilled nursing home services, and hospital outpatient clinic diagnostic services, Kennedy recommended Federal scholarships for medical and dental students and cost-of-education grants to the schools they attend; matching grants for construction, expansion or restoration of medical and dental schools to increase their capacities; funds for construction of nursing homes and the improvement of nursing home and home-nursing services; increased funds for medical research and construction grants for medical research facilities and experimental or demonstration hospitals; establishment of a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and, increased appropriations for the Maternal and Child Health, Crippled Children, and Child Welfare programs of the Childrens Bureau.
When President Kennedy was assassinated, the United States was mobilized to put a man on the Moon, and reorganize a significant part of the U.S. economy to accomplish it. By the time Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon in July 1969, the optimism of the early 1960s, and the Presidency of Kennedys successor, Lyndon Johnson, had been destroyed.
Today Lyndon Johnson is often identified with the disastrous Vietnam War and the failed Great Society programs. But less well known is the fact that the existence of a civilian space program in the United States since 1958 is in large part the result of Johnsons efforts.
When Sputnik made its debut on Oct. 4, 1957, Johnson was the majority leader of the Senate and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Preparedness. Johnson took the lead in investigating this satellite gap after the Eisenhower Administrations disappointing response to the Soviet challenge. In November 1957, Johnsons subcommittee began hearings on the Soviet threat and the U.S. militarys plans for space. No less than 2,376 pages of testimony were recorded, including statements by Drs. Edward Teller and Wernher von Braun. Teller advocated a trip to the Moon as a response to the Soviet lead in space, and von Braun expressed his support for developing the large rockets to take men there.
The subcommittee agreed without dissent that higher priority should be given to satellites, that they served both military and scientific purposes, and that there had to be greater emphasis on scientific and technological education. Johnson introduced Senate Resolution 256, creating the Special Committee on Space and Astronautics, and he was elected chairman of the committee as the major Congressional spokesman on space policy issues.
Johnson and Eisenhower agreed that the exploration of space should reside in a civilian agency, and on April 2, 1958, President Eisenhower made this proposal to the Congress. On April 14, Johnson and House majority leader John W. McCormack introduced the legislation that would create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Opening hearings before the Special Committee on the NASA bill on May 6, 1958, chairman Johnson stated:
President Eisenhower signed the bill creating NASA on July 29.
Senator Johnson appealed directly to young people, as well as to the nation as a whole, to support this grand project. As he told the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Wichita Falls, Tex., on Nov. 29, 1957:
The next month in a speech in Dallas, Johnson outlined a mobilization that would require the participation of workers, farmers, professors, technicians, and businessmen.... There is only one type of person we can do without, he concluded, And that is the man or woman who says: It cannot be done.
From the beginning of his administration, President Kennedy depended upon Vice President Johnson for guidance on space policy. The newly enacted NASA law was changed upon Kennedys request to allow the Vice President, instead of the President, to be head of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. Johnson was key in bringing experienced government manager James E. Webb to the NASA administrators post and encouraging Webb to lobby for significant increases in the NASA budget.
While the President was deciding how quickly to accelerate space programs, Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin made mans first venture into Earth orbit on April 12. A week later, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion added new urgency for a positive initiative from the Administration. In an April 20 memorandum requesting a survey of where we stand in space, Kennedy asked Johnson to assess Americas chances of beating the Soviets.
Johnson consulted space experts, as well as business, military, and civic leaders in an attempt to build a broad consensus for a lunar program. Upon Johnsons recommendation, President Kennedy announced the Apollo mission on May 25, 1961.
Apollo and Our Mission Today
Americas entrance into the Space Age demonstrated that the dramatic increase in the global potential population density from the Renaissance to Sputnik and beyond was based on successive revolutions in scientific discovery and technological applications in the economy, which, in turn, were based on the fact that the mind is not finite.
The Apollo Project changed this nation. It has been estimated that nearly half of the people on Earth knew about Americas Moon landing, as it was happening. For the 600 million people (about one fifth of the worlds population at that time), who watched Neil Armstrongs first small step on the Moon on television, it was the finest hour for America.
The crowd at Cape Canaveral on the morning of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, has been estimated at 1 million. In the grandstand was a crowd of 20,000 people, including 3,500 reporters and photographers, from 56 nations of the world.
But the nation had changed. Lyndon Johnson, Mr. Space, had left the White House in disgust just a few months earlier. He took no part in the celebrations. By July 1969, President Kennedys brother, Edward, had called for cuts in the already decimated NASA budget, so that more funds could be spent on Federal anti-poverty programs.
Today, three decades of precious time has been lost in the exploration of space. Four decades of destruction of the U.S. economy created the wreckage that exists today.
It is not difficult to invoke the name and memory of Franklin Roosevelt, or John F. Kennedy, as a shorthand to reference what needs to be done today. But to carry out that mission today requires understanding the breadth of the Apollo mission as Kennedy so eloquently defined it. With that understanding, the Democratic Party can claim itself to be the party of FDR and John F. Kennedy.
Several Recent Lyndon LaRouche Economic Articles:
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