01/14/2011 09:24 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

JFK 50 Years Later: Great Goals for a Great Nation

Who is John Hofmeister and what does he have to do with John F. Kennedy's inaugural address 50 years ago?

Will America rally behind the call of General Eric Shinseki to end all homelessness among American veterans within 5 years?

Can our country move beyond the trite insults and vindictive attacks that saturate our airwaves and pollute our politics, and instead define and achieve great goals and bold ambitions for the nation?

When I was a younger man, sitting at an outdoor cafe and chatting with an elderly woman while wearing a John Kennedy sweatshirt I had purchased from the Kennedy Library, she said "you must meet my husband who will be here in an hour."

I waited for him. Wow was it worth the wait! This genteman had been a business contractor to NASA in the early 1960's, and he told me about the day he was sitting in his office and and a breathless secretary came in and almost shouted: "you've gotta come right now and listen to this, it is unbelievabe".

This man and his colleagues gathered in a conference room wondering what urgent news had brought them to this room.

There was no cable or satellite TV in those days, no internet, no email, no personal computers or cellphones or even push button landline phones to be bought in America's great shops.

And so, on that day, a group of the leading engineers and scientists in America gathered before one of the great technological marvels of their time, a brand new, high tech, black and white television, to hear the president of the United States say that an American would walk on the moon within one decade -- not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

And as this elderly man who once contracted for NASA told the younger man wearing a Kennedy sweatshirt at an outdoor cafe in Washington, D.C., the ancient rotary phone in the dusty conference room rang with a summons to an urgent meeting with the leaders of NASA. Still in shock, the engineers and scientists were summoned to discuss this unbelievable and absurd vision of the young American president who remains, to this day, the most admired president since World War II, and who challenged us, again and again, to aspire to great deeds not because they were easy, but because they were hard.

It is not enough to pay verbal tribute to the transcendent inaugural address made by President Kennedy and then return to the normalcy of insults hurled across the aisles, and venom puked across the airwaves, and pundits peddling bromides not about how we can be great, but about who will profit from our failures.

It is not enough to quote John F. Kennedy with our words, and then insult the memory of John F. Kennedy with second rate deeds, from second rate minds, reading second rate words, written by second rate hacks, in a nation where people hunger to be called again to great and noble deeds not because they are easy, because they are hard.

America is hard work. America is a place where there is nothing we cannot do if we set our sights high, our spirits strong, our plans bold, and our goals large. America is also a place where we will never accomplish anything if we are led by our leaders and force fed by our media into small minded ways from those who treat us as though we are inferior to generations of Americans who came before.

It is time we do not merely quote John F. Kennedy, but start acting like him.

I end today where I began. John Hofmeister is the former President of Shell Oil who says we must finally, belatedly, but boldly write a new Declaration of American Independence where we avoid the curse of gasoline that costs $5 a gallon and tap the opportunities of new energy and energy savings that will empower America to lead the world, by helping the world.

General Eric Shinseki is the head of the Veterans Administration who challenges us to end all homelessness of American veterans within 5 years. This cause will be supported by many tens of millions of men and women of all faiths, and many tens of millions of men and women who have worn the uniform of our country, and their families, and their neighbors.

This cause should be a beachhead and rally cry to end all homelessness that plagues any American, anywhere in our nation, in our decade. Not because it is easy but because it is hard, because it is right, and because it is a cause worthy of us Americans.

So let's honor President Kennedy as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of his inaugural address but honor him not with our words, but with our deeds. Not with our talk but with our actions. Not with big platitudes but with great aspirations. Not with shallow talk of things that are easy, but with the can-do American spirit of achieving great goals that are hard.