Kennedy's New Frontier was a package of programs to help Americans that included funding for education, housing, medical care for the elderly, and more. However, he had a tough time getting many of his domestic programs through Congress because of the narrowness of his victory margin. He was able to get an increase in the minimum wage passed, along with better Social Security benefits and an urban renewal package. He also created the Peace Corp.
Kennedy was an iconic figure and an excellent speaker who set forth ambitious goals. Probably his most ambitious goal was when he set the agenda that America was to get to the moon by the end of the 1960s. His goal found overwhelming support and NASA was created to come up with a means to the moon before the end of 1969.
In the beginning of Kennedy's presidency, he was not willing to openly challenge Southern Democrats concerning the treatment of blacks in the South and the burgeoning civil rights movement. However, as the peaceful demonstrations espoused by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. revealed daily the true nature of how blacks were treated in the South, public opinion began to change. Images of the atrocities committed against those involved in nonviolent protests and reports of civil rights activists being killed led Kennedy to use executive orders and personal appeals to help aid the movement. He proposed legislative programs to help, including civil rights bills, although they would not pass until after his death.
Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1961, Kennedy had a huge failure with the Bay of Pigs debacle. A small group of Cuban exiles were backed by the United States as they tried to lead a revolt in Cuba against the Soviet-backed Fidel Castro, but they were captured instead. The reputation of the United States was harmed around the world.
Khrushchev, the leader of the USSR, began building nuclear missile bases in Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Their purpose was to protect Cuba from further planned attacks by the United States. In response, Kennedy ordered a “quarantine” of Cuba. He warned the USSR that any attack on the United States from Cuba would be seen as an act of war by the Soviet Union. This standoff was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis and led to the dismantling of the missile silos in exchange for promises that the United States would not invade Cuba.
Communist North Vietnam was sending troops through the country of Laos to fight in South Vietnam. Diem, the leader of South Vietnam, was ineffective at leading a defense of his country. To help out, Kennedy increased the number of military advisers that Eisenhower had sent in from 2,000 to 16,000. This would presage events that would unfold under Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, concerning American escalation in Vietnam.