Referring to Mr. Kennedy as the “fledgling President,” Time (June 2) remarked that the Kennedy credo was becoming increasingly apparent: when in doubt, talk. There is considerable truth in this unkind cut. Mr. Kennedy is assuredly no Coolidge. He does, however, have a talent which the taciturn and colorless Cal lacked: an instinct for the spectacular which might have taken the President a long way in Hollywood, had not his destiny led him to Washington. Mr. Kennedy tends to combine these two qualities when he is in trouble; this was the basis of his second State of the Union address. But it turned out to be a dud. Congressmen will not, as a rule, fall tooth and nail on a President’s proposals when they have a patriotic flavor, and Kennedy was dutifully applauded when he called for American leadership in the space race and for making freedom ring all over the world. Later, the Democrats praised his proposals in guarded phrases, while most of the Republicans, likewise carefully, voiced their doubts. But in one respect the partisans agreed–nobody wanted to appropriate the additional money. Some of it Mr. Kennedy will no doubt get, but it will be like squeezing blood from a stone which has already been squeezed.
Where has all the money gone that was already appropriated for the Army and Marine Corps, that they need $100 million and $60 million, respectively, to beef themselves up! Could it be that if they–and the Navy and the Air Force–read the reiterated strictures of the General Accounting Office, an agency of Congress, and spent their funds wisely, they might be able to get along on Eisenhower-size budgets?
Then of course there is the gigantic boondoggle of civil defense, which is to be rewarded for past ineffectuality with a threefold increase–from $104 million to over $312 million. But, comparatively speaking, this is all chicken feed, amounting to scarcely more than a billion. Where the real spending is to take place, in this and succeeding fiscal years, is in the race to the moon, and it was in this part of the speech that Mr. Kennedy gambled most heavily on stuntsmanship and seemed to have gained the greatest success. Yet, even here, sober second thoughts have prevailed and Mr. Kennedy may be in for a disappointment when he returns from London, Paris and Vienna.
The cost of sending three men to the moon is estimated at $40 billion. Such estimates are always low, but $40 billion is the asking price, which in this case will be found to be lower than the selling price. On this basis, Mr. Gallup conducted a poll, asking, “Would you like to see the amount spent for this purpose, or not?” The results were a landslide–and not in the direction one would expect: only 32 percent said yes, 9 percent were undecided, and 58 percent said no.
Mr. Kennedy has the most difficult job in the world. The most excruciating anguish is in the foreign field. Some of it is irremediable, some of our own making. Mr. Kennedy would be well advised to give long, silent consideration to American foreign policy and seek public support for a drastic correction of its course and iniquities. After the initial consternation has died away, he might find himself on the road to the place in history for which he yearns. Stuntsmanship is taking him in quite another direction.