As a student at Choate in the early 1930s, young Jack Kennedy heard headmaster George St. John recite a favorite maxim: "The youth who loves his alma mater will always ask not 'What can she do for me?' but 'What can I do for her?'"
When the time came to call on his country to meet the challenges of the Cold War, those words stuck. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." It was a call to duty.
It was a very personal invitation to each and every one of his fellow citizens. He wasn't going to do this alone. The New Frontier was not going to be a solo act. We were going to meet it together and Jack Kennedy was simply going to be our leader.
He would create the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress, boosting the space program, calling up troops to meet the Berlin crisis, calling for civil rights for all Americans.
His presidency was not going to be a spectator sport, something to sit back, watch and judge. This is what the Obama presidency still needs: the sense of being called to join. It is felt most of all by those who voted for him with such enthusiasm, cried on election night, got swept up in his Inaugural fever.
There are certain basics to becoming a leader. The first is asking people to follow. Kennedy asked. Obama needs to.
As a friend of mine who served with me in the Peace Corps in the late '60s put it, "People don't mind being used. They mind being discarded."
The American people who elected Barack Hussein Obama have been on the verge of feeling discarded. Too many feel they were used for that purpose: to give him the job and then fade back into the obscurity from which they cheered him, saw him as their deliverance.
It's something he has to fix, and can. He needs to find inspirational ways to include us in the work of rebuilding America. He needs to start "asking."
To purchase Chris Matthews' book, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," click here.