The Pow­er of Cit­i­zen­ship: Why John F. Kennedy Mat­ters to a New Generation

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

And so, my fel­low Amer­i­cans: ask not what your coun­try can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

We all know these words from John F. Kennedy’s inau­gur­al address in 1960, but what do they real­ly mean?.  How are they rel­e­vant to us in 2014, more than fifty years after Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s assassination?

The Pow­er of Cit­i­zen­ship: Why John F. Kennedy Mat­ters to a New Gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans by Scott D. Reich exam­ines these ques­tions, argu­ing that not only are these famous words still direct­ly rel­e­vant, but they are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to those of us who are not old enough to have heard them first­hand — the new gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans who must car­ry out the Kennedy legacy.

Reich ana­lyzes Kennedy’s upbring­ing, his call to pub­lic ser­vice, and his pres­i­den­cy through the lens of what he describes as the Kennedy brand of cit­i­zen­ship. All of Kennedy’s great­est accom­plish­ments, actions, and deci­sions can be traced back to this ethos of cit­i­zen­ship — the notion that being Amer­i­can should be a source of pride and a badge of hon­or that comes with great respon­si­bil­i­ty; the idea that doing what is right is about more than just the law. The Kennedy brand of cit­i­zen­ship is a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry one that rec­og­nizes all con­tri­bu­tions, no mat­ter how large or small. At its core, rather than a spe­cif­ic action, it requires a shift in mind­set away from the me first” men­tal­i­ty, toward pri­or­i­tiz­ing the needs of others.

Reich chal­lenges us to look inward and to ask our­selves what we can do to make our coun­try a bet­ter, more per­fect place. Instead of being con­tent just to set these lofty goals, though, The Pow­er of Cit­i­zen­ship also helps read­ers trans­late them into action, pro­vid­ing con­crete steps for where and how to begin. The book guides read­ers through how to choose a cause, get involved, and become an advocate.

What makes us unique­ly Amer­i­can, Reich writes, is our abil­i­ty to go above and beyond what is required of us. This brand of cit­i­zen­ship is not unlike the priv­i­lege and respon­si­bil­i­ty that come with being mem­bers of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. As Jews, we are encour­aged to give back, to stand up for jus­tice, and to love our neigh­bors as we would our­selves. We are all capa­ble of act­ing, whether by plant­i­ng a tree, deliv­er­ing Mishloach Man­ot on Purim, or car­ing for the elder­ly. We can all make the world around us a lit­tle bit bet­ter and do not have to be in a posi­tion of pow­er to do so.

In a time when the coun­try feels polar­ized, Reich’s book is an inspir­ing and empow­er­ing reminder that we have much to be opti­mistic about, and that Kennedy’s ide­al is not out of reach. Each of us has the abil­i­ty to ful­fill his call to action.

Relat­ed Content:

Rachel Weisel lives in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and works at APCO World­wide, a glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm, spe­cial­iz­ing in dig­i­tal and social media strat­e­gy. She earned a Master’s Degree in Media and Pub­lic Affairs from The George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty and is also a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, with degrees in Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Pub­lic Ser­vice and in Polit­i­cal Science.

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