, WASHINGTON, Jan 21 – President Barack Obama hailed the soaring, sober idealism of John F. Kennedy, seeking inspiration for his crisis-tested nation exactly 50 years after the slain president\’s inauguration.
Obama, who was often compared to the 35th US president when he inspired youthful Americans to his cause in the 2008 elections, said Kennedy\’s lessons endured today for a people facing their own problems at home and abroad.
"We cannot forget, we are the heirs of this president, who showed us what is possible. Because of his vision, more people prospered, more people served, our union was made more perfect," Obama said.
"Because of that vision, I can stand here tonight as president of the United States," the first African American president added, referring to Kennedy\’s support for civil rights legislation.
Obama\’s remarks at the marble-clad Kennedy Center performing arts complex in Washington were a culmination of ceremonies marking the Kennedy inauguration on January 20, 1961, still remembered as a heady, rare moment of promise and patriotism.
Kennedy himself, the first president born in the 20th century, said in an landmark inaugural speech that the torch of leadership had passed to a "new generation of Americans."
Obama, who was not born until later in 1961, said his memories of Kennedy came from his mother and grandparents who adored their slain leader.
But he conjured up the moment of national expectation that greeted the arrival of Kennedy and his young family to the White House.
"None of it feels dated, even now, one half of a century later, there is something about that day, January 20, 1961 that feels immediate, that feels new, urgent and exciting," Obama said.
"A nation feeling young again, its mood brightened by the promise of a new decade," added the president, who would become a close friend of JFK\’s younger brother Edward Kennedy, a liberal lion in the Senate who died in 2009.
He lauded the "idealism, soaring but sober, that inspired the country and the world one half century ago," marveling at Kennedy\’s steady leadership in a volatile America and a "tinderbox" of a world at the height of the Cold War.
Obama, who took office exactly two years ago with the threat of a second Great Depression staring down Americans, also dryly drew comparisons between his presidency and that of his Democratic predecessor.
"I can only imagine how he felt, entering the Oval Office in turbulent times," Obama said, causing ripples of laughter in the audience.
And, in an echo of his campaign speeches, Obama drew inspiration from the flaming idealism of Kennedy and his championing the Moon landing program, as he tackles the steep challenges of today.
"What President Kennedy understood, was the character of the people he led, our resilience, our fearlessness, our distinctly American ability, revealed time and again throughout history, to defy the odds, to fashion our future, to make the world anew," Obama said.
"We can reach great heights, we can rise to any challenge — so long as we are willing to ask what we can do for our country," Obama added, invoking a famous passage of Kennedy\’s inaugural address.
"The world is very different now than it was in 1961… but if we can hold onto that spirit today, I know that our generation will answer its call as ably as earlier ones did before us."
Kennedy\’s inauguration is still remembered for his electrifying address that announced, as he put it, "that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."
It set the tone for an activist presidency that was cut short by Kennedy\’s assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.
At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected president, and the second youngest to be president after Theodore Roosevelt, who took office after the assassination of William McKinley.
Earlier on Capitol Hill, veteran lawmakers and Vice President Joe Biden remembered Kennedy. Several of them had attended that famous inauguration 50 years ago as young, idealistic Americans.
Even the Google search engine got in on the act, producing a special logo for its homepage made up of words from the inaugural speech with a portrait of Kennedy taking up the space occupied by the second letter "g" in Google\’s name.