Soon, the airwaves will be filled with images of Dallas, Texas, from November 22nd, 1963 as this year marks 50 solar revolutions since that fateful day. Americans love to re-visit events annually, but decades, semi-centennials and centennials make us agog with retrospectives. The Kennedy Assassination will perfectly fill the bill for melancholy remembrance in units of ten.
I was 6 years old when John F Kennedy was assassinated, and like most of my generation, it was indelibly etched into my memory. The event didn’t take away the innocence of my youth, as I’ve heard some describe that seminal moment for themselves, but it informed my sub-conscious that I should begin to keep a record of my life; it arrested me into consciousness.
I had been aware of our president before Dallas because he was the guy who turned up a lot on our black and white Philco television and had an accent that I didn’t understand, but I was, after all, not even 4 when he was sworn in, and so he was in the background of my life, at best. He was a guy, who went to work in a tie, just like my Dad, and he had a young family that resembled my own and I liked him. I heard my mother use the word “charisma” to describe President Kennedy and I instantly knew what it meant.
His tragic death triggered a youthful obsession to know everything about him in the way that young people can become overly enthusiastic about teams and athletes, musicians, or science. Coffee table books about his life, presidency and the assassination itself, were everywhere and gave me all I needed to pore over and create a portrait of a great man who was cut down in his prime. He became a hero to me as much for what he could have done as for what he had actually accomplished.
I drew his picture everywhere. I even became (and am to this day) a decent portrait artist from penciling images of our 35th President. John Kennedy became the man, in my mind, that every man should look like and I looked for similarities in my father. I played my parents Vaughn Meader records and perfected the Bostonian accent. I even built a model of PT 109 and sawed it in two so that I could re-create Kennedy’s heroism at sea, in my bathtub.
As I grew older and studied history, at first because of the requirements of school, but later out of personal interest, I realized that Kennedy’s presidency wasn’t a complete success. It was, in fact, a work in progress and a process of learning that never realized its potential. The Bay of Pigs revealed Kennedy’s lack of experience in foreign affairs, but the Cuban Missile Crisis showed the world how much political savvy he had acquired in a very short time. More enduring is what his successor, Lyndon Johnson, passed as Kennedy’s civil rights legislation, as well as Kennedy’s tax reforms.
As I learned about Kennedy’s indiscretions and about his father’s manipulation of the stock market (as well as his mistresses) a more complex and troubling portrait emerged of the Kennedy legacy, but I’ve never wavered from my foundational belief that John Kennedy was a good man with a compassionate heart and could have set America on a better path than what followed. Regardless of Joe Kennedy’s less than ethical rise to wealth and power, he instilled in his children civic duty along with respect for education and to advance the tenets of a free and democratic Republic.
Politics did not become my calling, but I keep them close. I write about government policy and I actively attempt to be part of the informed electorate, engaging in the debates that can move us forward. It was Kennedy who inspired me to be involved and that it is the responsibility of the citizens of a free Republic to engage and to defend the principles of equality. Kennedy’s story also illustrates that we may stumble along the way, but when our aim is true, we can do great things together to move our planet toward a more cooperative and peaceful existence. His legacy, flaws and all, inspired a lot of people to serve our country and to uphold the humanitarian principles of a great and free society.