Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Few events and people have had more words written about them than that day and that man. But, and I have to be honest here, I don’t get it. In fact, I’ve never gotten it.
Yes, losing a president to an assassin’s bullet is a traumatic national event, something we’ve fortunately not been through again since – although there have been some close calls. And it’s the one event where everyone over the age of 55 seems to recall exactly where they were when they heard the news. But I get that part. My generation has 9/11, which is a similar common memory for everyone who lived through it. What I don’t get is how the Kennedy assassination seems to have affected those who were alive for it more than the events of that awful September day.
The life of JFK is, perhaps, the most documented life ever lived. People alive in his time, whether they voted for him or not, or even whether they were old enough to vote for him or not, have a romanticized vision of him and his life that simply doesn’t comport with the reality of objective observation and knowledge gained over time.
Not everyone, certainly, shares this view, but it cuts a wide swath through all demographics and has the stamina of 50 years behind it.
This is where you lose me.
President Kennedy remains popular with journalists and historians, but was not a popular president with the American people at the time. His re-election in 1964 was not certain. It was, in fact, a long shot at the time of his murder.
His presidency was, for the most part, a non-event. The Bay of Pigs was a fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war, cost us missiles in Turkey and doomed Cuba to the underside of the Fidel Castro’s boot to this day.
On civil rights, something for which President Kennedy receives much credit and praise, he did little more than pay lip service to the concept. My friend and a host of the C4 Show on WBAL right before my show, Clarence Mitchell IV, whose grandfather was Clarence Mitchell Jr., the chief lobbyist for the NAACP during the Kennedy years, tells me, “My grandfather always said President Kennedy, at the insistence of his brother Bobby, was not a champion of civil rights, that he was actually an obstacle. He kept things slow because he wanted the support of southern Democrats. It wasn’t about right and wrong with them, it was about what would get them the most votes.”