Google “50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy assassination” and more than a half million hits show up.
The commemorations range from the no doubt beautiful and moving to the weird and nightmarish. Naturally, every off-the-wall conspiracy theory about who really killed the 35th president of the United States and why will emerge from the dark recesses of the monster closet for reviewing.
There are Facebook pages and Tweets galore. Debates already crowd the ether over whether Americans and residents of Dallas, in particular, where Kennedy was gunned down, really want to relive the assassination and its aftermath. A LinkedIn writers group is pondering whether the assassination “contributes to our romanticization of his life and presidency, inspiring a kind of apotheosis.”
And this: The BBC, Britain’s most popular broadcast network, will turn over three hours of its prime evening schedule to recreate the assassination in real time. Live it! And they say Americans are obsessed with the British royal family.
Speaking of royal families, for years, the Kennedys were America’s royal family, complete with its hereditary lineage. In some respects they still inhabit Camelot (which, of course, was Jack and Jackie’s favorite musical).
When JFK was running for president, he filled the old gym with cheering students at Marquette University, where I was a sophomore studying the now-antiquated discipline of journalism. He was to become “the first president to be born in the 20th century,” which doesn’t sound like much now, but which in 1959 and 1960 was a sea change of self- and national-perception.
We, students and young Americans, were caught up in the New Frontier, because it was that — a new frontier. In 1893, within the lifetimes of many Americans in the ’50s, the superintendent of the U.S. census pronounced the geographic frontier closed. Now came Kennedy, from our generation, pushing on to a frontier. He was to be our president. There was so much work to do, ending poverty, racial injustice and tyranny.
The wise observers of the time detected in us “the first involved generation,” which now seems like faint praise given the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation. Nonetheless, before the campus uproars of the late ’60s, the sexual revolution and the unhinged psychedelic age, we were on a roll.
How in character that Kennedy should declare: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade . . . ” Today’s generations may not comprehend the stunning impact of such a timeline. The moon was something we grew up looking at; none of us ever imagined man stepping on its surface, not just once but repeatedly. That we have abandoned that sense of awe says much of who we have become.
Perhaps you can imagine, then, the shock of his sudden absence. Some liberals were ready to issue a quick “told-ya-so” when he got shot in conservative Dallas. Until it turned out that a one-time defector to the Soviet Union did it. That should be a lesson today to keep an open mind when it comes to good and bad guys.
I was not initially a big fan of Kennedy, and I wasn’t surprised when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley was accused of stealing the Chicago vote, hence the Illinois vote, hence Kennedy’s election to the White House. Yet Kennedy’s elegance and eloquence were captivating. And soon, too, I was on board.
Looking back now, I see Kennedy as perhaps the first neoconservative, who, for example, viewed tax cuts as the way to economic prosperity and who pledged: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” In those days the threat was quite real that one brutal tyranny the Western democracies had defeated would be replaced by another.
Kennedy was an inspiring visionary and a champion of liberty here and abroad. Sadly, that could make him unelectable today. Today he might be called George W. Bush.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here