Tom Wicker On JFK’s Undelivered Final Speech

John F. Kennedy

After news came of the death of journalism great Tom Wicker, Huffington Post posted a link to his same-day coverage of the JFK assassination. It is well worth a read.

The accuracy of the coverage is startling, given Wicker’s proximity to the event and the speed with which he would have had to report and write about the killing. But the most striking thing for me, from this vantage point, comes at the article’s close.

At that point in the article, Wicker shifts away from the unplanned events of that day to what had been planned–a speech that Kennedy was to have given at the Merchandise Mart in Dallas.

The parallels are not exact. Our debt is not “steadily being reduced.” But the voices “being heard in the land” in November 1963 have grown from a chorus to din. Historical particulars aside, JFK could as easily have been speaking today as on Nov. 22, 1963.

From Wicker’s NYT report of the assassination:

The speech Mr. Kennedy never delivered at the Merchandise Mart luncheon contained a passage commenting on a recent preoccupation of his, and a subject of much interest in this city, where right-wing conservatism is the rule rather than the exception.

Voices are being heard in the land, he [would have] said, “voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality…”

“… At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”

In a way, we all live in Dallas now. But we can still hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.

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1 Comments

  1. Thanks, Kevin! I’m an opinion columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald (onlineathens.com), the daily newspaper here in Athens, GA. My column in today’s (Dec. 18) edition is about Tom Wicker. I hope you’ll read it and also check out my website, http://www.edtant.com. Back in the early ’70s I had the honor of meeting and talking to Mr. Wicker when he spoke at a prison reform rally in Atlanta. Just a few days after he died I went to a local book sale and bought a reproduction of The New York Times with his story about JFK’s murder. I’m 64 now and will never forget that awful event. Have a good day in Minnesota, home of my favorite writer, Sinclair Lewis.

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