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Frankness From Fulbright

The Newsday editorial board wrote,

The Newsday editorial board wrote, "There is a growing feeling that he has not really enlisted the nation in the fight for national survival," in an editorial reflecting on President Kennedy's first 100 days in office. Click here to read the full editorial. Photo Credit: Newsday Archive

This originally appeared in Newsday on May 2, 1961.

The Kennedy “honeymoon” seems to have ended with his first 100 days in office. While everybody recognized that the President inherited a whole armful of problems, all of them bound together by a red ribbon labeled “communism,” there is a growing feeling that he has not really enlisted the nation in the fight for national survival.

To be sure, there have been plenty of speeches calling on us all to make sacrifices – but no specifics as to what sacrifices we should make. There have been appeals to the press to avoid divulging secrets that might affect the national security – but nothing specific about what constitutes a secret and how the harried newspaper editor can identify it on sight. We have had our attention repeatedly called to the menacing moves of the Soviet Union and its Chinese counterpart – but we don’t know how the President proposes to counter them, and what our part in this delicate operation may be.

The one occasion on which the president acted, to wit, Cuba, was a botch because either he should have moved more forcefully or not at all. The nation fell with a thud between two stools, and national prestige fell with it. What’s more important, the reputation of the United States for smartness and decisiveness also took a bad tumble.

This has left the country filled with misgivings, a fact bluntly stated over the week end by Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), one of the most thoughtful of America’s experts on foreign affairs. As Fulbright puts it, the President has been busy as a bee attempting to clear up domestic problems, but in facing the menace of communism “I don’t think he has followed through as he should.” Fulbright wants the people to be told plainly where they are and what they have to do. He feels the way to do this is through a series of TV “Fireside talks,” rather than through the jumpy, mixed-up medium of televised press conferences.

The President has the thoughtfulness and the prescience to comprehend the vastness and imminence of the Communist menace. Now it is up to him to show that he has the leadership to deal with it, and to enlist the country behind him. If he fails, which would be disastrous, the honeymoon of the first 100 days is likely to be followed by a separation during the second 100.