Editing Internet Texts/American Exceptionalism and National Myths in John F. Kennedy's Rhetoric/John F. Kennedy

John F. KennedyEdit

John F. Kennedy, 1961

Kennedy's Road to PresidencyEdit

In 1960, when Dwight Eisenhower's presidency was coming to an end, the Democratic party nominated Kennedy as a candidate for the office of President of the U.S. Kennedy's presidential campaign platform was named the "New Frontier", a which was derived from Kennedy's acceptance speech, in which he said that " (...) we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier -- the frontier of the 1960's, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats." (read the whole speech) It was used in reference to Kennedy's domestic programs, whose main objectives were to reduce unemployment, provide better medical care, enhance education of the young people, guarantee civil rights for all Americans, and send a man on the moon. The main slogans that JFK used were "Get America Moving Again" and "To Seek a New Frontier". During the campaign Kennedy's opponents faulted him for his young age, claiming that he is too inexperienced for the office, and his religion, since he was a Roman Catholic in a mostly Protestant country. It was believed that Kennedy would not be able to separate church and state, and he would not act in the best interest of the country.

Debates with NixonEdit

Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960

In 1960 a series of four television debates took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. They began a new era, in which a public image became a key of a successful presidential campaign. It was also the first debate of this kind, thus there were no established patterns to follow. Generally, Kennedy is believed to have benefited more form the debates. He presented himself as a decisive, charismatic and vigorous candidate; he looked straight into the camera after every question, which created a sense of confidence. Nixon, on the other hand, followed the style of a traditional debate and he answered to the questions turning to the journalists, which looked as if he avoided an eye-contact with the audience. Moreover, at that time he was recovering from a knee injury. He also refused to put the make-up on, he was wearing a light suit, which blended with the background. All this made him look very tired and pale. Later, Richard Nixon wrote in his memoir, Six Crises, "I should have remembered that a picture is worth a thousand words".[1]

To read more about the debates click here.

Kennedy's RhetoricEdit

On winning the presidential election of 1960, Kennedy had to deal with a number of crises such as the civil rights issue and racial segregation, the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, and Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. Kennedy's rhetoric was predominantly shaped by the Cold War. The most characteristic features of his speeches are:

  • short speeches and clauses
  • simplified constructions of sentences and paragraphs - in order to clearly illustrate the main point
  • very frequent use of allusions and antithesis
  • "we and they" dichotomy - Kennedy presented the world that is divided into two opposing parts: the totalitarian state and the democratic part in the West, which promises freedom, justice and equality.
  • the catastrophic vision of the world - he stated that the conflict with the Soviet Union would be hazardous and difficult, and portrayed it as a battle between good and evil. This was emphasized by the use of the apocalyptic language.
  • emphasising an exceptional role of the United States

To read more about JFK click here.


  1. Nixon, Richard M. (1962). Six Crises. New York: Doubleday.