JFK's Pro-Voting PSA, Shot Days After the Cuban Missile Crisis Ended

The president's case for citizens to go to the polls remains potent 50 years later.

The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas recently unearthed this fantastic, rarely seen public service announcement taped by President John F. Kennedy on October 31, 1962. It was a tense time: The Cuban Missile Crisis had officially ended just three days earlier, and the nation was still on edge about the prospect of nuclear apocalypse. In that atmosphere, Kennedy filmed this ad.

As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and with Election Day falling on the same date (November 6) this year, it's worth heeding Kennedy's words again. In less than a minute, he pulls off an impressive rhetorical feat, echoing his famous inaugural address calling on citizens do what they can for the country, and using repetition to make an emotional appeal that skirts jingoism and is marred only by its male-centered approach. Here's a transcript:

In these tense and anxious weeks, I know that every American citizen wants to know what we can do for his country. Not everyone can serve in our armed forces or serve our government, but there is one thing you can do. There is one way you can indicate your devotion to freedom. There is one way in which we can show how strongly we believe in our democracy. Next Tuesday, November 6, is Election Day. I hope every American will turn out and vote -- every American, every member of his family -- and show the world how strongly we believe in freedom, how strongly we believe in our country, how strongly we believe in democracy.

Kennedy could make the plea with some confidence -- his Democratic Party lost ground in the House in the midterm elections, but maintained majorities in both chambers. But that doesn't detract from the eloquence of his explanation for the importance of voting.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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