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Friday, October 28, 2016

WASHINGTON — Whenever we reflect on the horror of Nov. 22, 1963, we mourn not only the murder of a graceful and inspiring leader but also a steady ebbing in the years thereafter of our faith in what we could achieve through public life and common endeavor.

It tells us a great deal about the meaning of John F. Kennedy in our history that liberals and conservatives alike are so eager to pronounce him as one of their own.

The evidence points to a man who began his political career as something of a conservative and ended it as more of a liberal — cautious, skeptical and pragmatic, but a liberal nonetheless. His important speeches late in his presidency about civil rights and nuclear disarmament remain lodestars for American progressives, and the philosophical trajectories of his brothers Robert and Ted no doubt further shape assessments of Kennedy’s legacy.

But more important than settling the question of who has a fair claim on JFK is the reason why all sides want to get right with him: He has come to represent a time of widespread national confidence in our country’s possibilities. The year 1963 dawned, as Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center has noted, with 82 percent of the country believing that the power of the United States would increase.

Kennedy, for all his cool, ironic detachment, showed a genuine passion for public service and, yes, for politics itself. It is a passion we have never again experienced in quite the same way.

His 1960 campaign was premised on impatience with the quiet satisfactions of the Dwight Eisenhower years. Kennedy’s emphasis on the “vigor” of a new generation ready for responsibility set the tone for social upheavals and generational conflicts later in the decade that would probably have surprised him. For all his emphasis on change and new departures, Kennedy was speaking for a deep consensus in the country (Ike was part of it) about the meaning of our triumph in World War II and our success in overcoming the damage done by the Great Depression.

As Robert Reich has written, these were large social undertakings in which all Americans felt they had a stake. As a result, “society was not seen as composed of us and them; it was the realm of we.” A nation inspired by this capacious understanding of “we” could not escape its rendezvous with civil rights and social justice. After Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson harnessed his formidable political skills to a tide that was with him.

Back then, we were, as always, critical of politicians, but we were at least open to the idea that politics could be ennobling. Compare the hardheaded vision of politics in the Mark Halperin and John Heilemann volumes Game Change and Double Down with Theodore H. White’s heroic account of Kennedy’s election in The Making of the President 1960. Perhaps White was a bit starry-eyed, but the popularity of his book suggested that many shared his sense of romance.

  • TZToronto

    Many of the regular National Memo readers and commentators are old enough to remember both Kennedy’s presidency and his death. Many others undoubtedly weren’t around to experience the charisma of the man, the fear that accompanied the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the sorrow of November 22, 1963, and the days that followed.

  • stevenearlsalmony
  • JohnRNC

    Before we completely canonize President Kennedy, let’s not forget that his life in politics and eventual election as President was virtually a pre-arranged marriage by his wealthy and politically powerful father. While he distinguished himself as a leader and orator, he was reviled amongst his political opposition, particularly in the South and particularly in Texas. This period in our history marks both a high point in our optimism about the future and a rapid deterioration in the way we resolve our political differences. 3 major political figures were murdered in the US during the 1960s. I wish I could say that our values have improved but we continue to encourage the extremes and shun the middle ground of compromise and consensus. If we wish to honor JFK (and Bobby & Dr King) I suggest we stop encouraging visceral hatred and elevate those with the character and intelligence to engage in civil discourse and move us forward as a nation.

    • MrStoneheep

      I’m curious to know if you have someone in mind that has the ability to cause
      what your closing statement suggests. I see no one on the horizon today, from EITHER party, that is even remotely capable of pulling it off. I do wish
      for the same.

      • JohnRNC

        No. I don’t see much in the way of real leadership on the horizon. Obama had potential but he allowed his opposition to control the debate and the dissemination of information and thus weakened his ability to lead. There are moderates in both houses of Congress but they are not [financially] supported as well or as consistently as their more extreme counterparts. So, they tend to keep their heads down making “moderate” synonymous with “coward”.

        I just hope the visceral hatred we promote as a culture does not result in more assassinations. We are walking a very fine line these days.

    • Allan Richardson

      Funny you should mention “canonizing” Kennedy. Before the recent trend of Popes “fast tracking” their predecessors and recently deceased popular heroes such as Mother Teresa, Canon law in the Catholic Church required waiting for 50 years after death before beginning the canonization process. So technically (not realistically, partly because he was a political leader, not a priest), TODAY John F. Kennedy would become eligible for consideration for sainthood. Of course, under the NEW rules, he and both of his brothers would already be eligible.

      Again, I am not referring to character or spiritual qualities in any way, only to the provisions of Catholic law, in which any Catholic not excommunicated before dying is eligible to be CONSIDERED for sainthood if a Pope desires to start the process, and traditionally it was considered improper, no matter how virtuous the person was, before the 50th anniversary of his or her death.

  • vippy

    Oswald was the patsy, carefully selected. JFK was shot by the powers, just like Bobby where the FBI removed the door frames due to the many different bullets in door frames. That is why we still don t have access to the evidence.

    • Mark Forsyth

      Oswald never made a statement more true than when he said “I am a patsy”.The possibility has been revealed that Oswald was a low level CIA operative who was expendable and was set up.
      Many people in many places work to discredit the investigative work of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura who has uncovered a great deal of information previously unknown about the assassination.One very interesting tidbit are the spent gun shells found where Oswald was alleged to have shot a Dallas policeman.Oswald was carrying a revolver.Revolvers do not eject spent shells as the gun is fired.Also,only one man gave a physical description of the assassin to the Dallas police that was broadcast to the officers.Though the man was on the street at the time of the shooting and never saw Oswald at street level,he never the less claimed that the “shooter” was a specific height.That does not add up.

      • vippy

        I believe this. It was said that the policeman Tibbit walked behind Oswald going towards the movie theater and Tibbit was shot in the back because he would have known the whereabouts of Oswald. In the book Bound for Honor by Joe Bonannon he claimed that JFK was shot from the grassy knoll, and his ride got spooked and left and the shooter then had to get in a taxi whereby upon exit he shot the driver.
        That should be on record. LBJ was in the pocket of the Mafia since his college days and Bush, CIA and then of course, remember when one of the Hunt’s Bros. son’s claimed that his father was involved?

        • Mark Forsyth

          Allegedly,Tibbit is supposed to have been driving his patrol car when he encountered Oswald walking a short distance away from his rooming house and was supposedly shot by Oswald when he got out of the car.This is where the spent shells were found.Photographic evidence reveals that the “three hoboes” who were accosted behind the grassy knoll were much too well dressed to have been hoboes and that the one wearing the hat was indeed Howard Hunt as claimed by his son.Howard Hunt is said to have revealed many secrets regarding CIA involvement in the JFK killing on his deathbed.His son revealed the particulars but I don’t know what they are as I have not found an account in print or otherwise.
          It also has been revealed that Oswalds shooting ability while in service only qualified him for the lowest designation,that of rifleman. Demonstrations of the cheap $12 dollar Mannlicher rifle that Oswald is “supposed” to have used to kill Kenedy with,reveal that the bolt action operation is so sticky and unsmooth that even skilled marksmen are unable to get off three shots in less than slightly more than seven seconds.Oswald is supposed to have fired the three shots at Kenedy in no more than six seconds.
          These unpublicized and possibly suppressed bits of evidence hardly add up to a ringing indictment of Oswald.

  • Mark Forsyth

    Most people who were alive at the time,remember where they were and what they were doing the day that JFK was killed.How curious that George H.W.Bush has always claimed that he cannot remember where he was that day.

    • Allan Richardson

      Probably because the news was not that important or as shocking to him as it was to the rest of us. Or because he was in the middle of a week long Skull and Bones retreat and only heard the news after it was over. If we were talking about Junior, he may have been wasted that day.

      But why would the news not be shocking to him? Perhaps because he had expected it?

      • Mark Forsyth

        Hard to say and anything I might offer short of irrefutable proof would only be conjecture.I will offer a reminder though,that the Bush connection to the CIA even before his leadership of that bureau is well known and many knowledgeable people have stated that CIA security was noticeably sub-standard in Dallas that day.

  • dtgraham

    Had he lived, it is the course of the Vietnam conflict that would have changed in my view, and that would have been a very good thing to lose. When you listen to the June 10th 1963 American University speech and the outdoor Walter Cronkite interview and also read the final paragraphs of the Dallas Trade Mart speech that was never given—among other public statements and remarks at that time, it’s difficult to believe that the war would have been prosecuted and concluded in the same way. Especially so given his scepticism and distrust of the hawkish military leaders brought about by bad advice on Cuba, in regards to the Bay of Pigs and the October missile crisis.

    Civil rights and the great society were all in the works and were later pushed through by Johnson to his enormous credit. The brutality in Alabama led to Kennedy’s famous June 11th 1963 civil rights speech and was hastening his planned roll out of such legislation.

    In a Madison Square Garden speech he spoke at length on upcoming health care initiatives that he said had been compared to the British model. He was surely referring to Medicare and Medicaid although they weren’t mentioned by name as they may not have even had a planned name at that point. The speech can be seen by simply entering “imagine what Fox News would say” in your search engine.

    • Allan Richardson

      I have long believed that the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion could have had something to do with the career military officers, who planned the operation during the last year of the Eisenhower administration, and had EXPECTED to finish it under a Nixon administration. Being under oath to defend the Constitution, they could not openly disobey the President, but they may have acted “less enthusiastically” and “forgotten” to co-ordinate the air strikes, then blamed it on the President and SecDef, who politically took the rap, losing the support of the Cuban exile community for their party and making them long term Republicans (while other Hispanic groups have traditionally favored Democrats because so many Republicans had been anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic).

      Nevertheless, I do not consider the Cuban missile crisis a failure, but a success in avoiding both the appeasement of Khrushchev and nuclear war, as Odysseus threaded the needle between Scylla and Charibdis. A more hawkish leader might have provoked the war (as, later, voters feared Goldwater would do, which was exploited by LBJ in the famous “daisy” ad); a more accommodating President might have let the Russians keep the missiles in Cuba.

      Incidentally, the daisy ad only had one PAID airing, but it was replayed as part of so many opinion shows in order to comment on it, and later on the internet, that it SEEMS to have been aired many times.

      • dtgraham

        I didn’t mean that the Cuban missile crisis was a failure either. He sure did thread the needle. He ignored Curtis Lemay on bombing Soviet missile installations and instead chose to focus on enforcing the blockade, thus eventually unnerving Khruschchev. Had he followed General Lemay’s advice, who knows what may have happened. His Turkey missile trade off was a good compromise although it was hidden from the public for some time.

        Later, he gave directions to all of his staff to not rub Khruschchev’s nose in it. His June 10th, 1963 speech was a definite outreach to the Soviet Union and was warmly received in the Kremlin according to later reports, resulting in the very first missile reduction treaty between the two countries in September of that year.

  • Germansmith

    Yes, another leader with great inspiring speeches who was fortunate enough to exit before he had to deliver anything.
    Kennedy was the son of a bootlegger and a Hitler admirer. The boat he commanded was ran over by a Japanese Destroyer (not even in battle).
    He became President by a whiff, because he was better looking than Nixon. Almost got us in a nuclear war with Soviets because he lacked the balls to support Cuban patriots (as he had promised) a couple of years before to knock out Castro before he could do any damage and consolidated his power.
    He was a womanizer and adulterer having affairs with movie stars and Mafia dolls. He made Edwards and Clinton look like Mennonites by comparison.
    BUT, he got shoot in Dallas (probably planned by Johnson or the CIA) and now he is a legend and we are forced to watch all these documentaries about his assassination every year.

  • ThomasBonsell

    John Kennedy and his brothers’ greatest accomplishment may have been that none of them ever crafted legislation to directly benefit themselves, family or friends, unlike the deeds of Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes..