Hindsight has shown Kennedy the president to be human, too, as we all are. His dalliances were well-documented. His decision-making with the Bay of Pigs invasion proved faulty. The storyline that everything the youthful man from Massachusetts touched turned to gold during his brief time in the White House isn’t true. He had his struggles, political and personal.
But Kennedy, man and myth, was indeed different. He was the perfect president for an imperfect nation at a time when the turbulent 1960s were in their infancy and the civil rights movement was gaining steam.
Politics aside, JFK was the anti-Roosevelt, anti-Eisenhower president — youthful, vigorous, handsome, Catholic, a beauty-queen first lady on his arm. Kennedy, man and myth, gave Americans, particularly young Americans, the dream of a nation truly for all people, not just white, middle-class, older men whose authority was the figurative law of the land.
Today’s incessant discussions about Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, and possible conspiracies are tiring. We’ll leave those talks for people with a sturdy stomach for it. Instead, this weekend we’d rather remember the man the world lost on Nov. 22, 1963.
JFK, in the words of his nephew, Ted Kennedy Jr., “stood for fairness and giving back” and “was able to inspire Americans to fight for fairness and to serve others rather than themselves.”
In an op-ed printed this week in the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, Ted Kennedy Jr. wrote eloquently about how his uncle was affected by the mental health of his sister, Rosemary, and how her lifetime of struggles likely fueled his political fights for equality.
Kennedy Jr. wrote, “I ask people not to focus on President Kennedy’s death. Instead, focus on his life. Focus on what he was able to accomplish. Remember what he did and what he imagined. Think about his compassion for others and resolve to be more compassionate yourself. Consider his call to service and find the time and space in your life to give back to our country and your community. Try to honor President Kennedy’s life by striving to be compassionate, fair and generous in your own life.”
Fifty years have given Americans ample time to dissect the politics of Kennedy, his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his handling of the racial tensions in the South among them. Like any president, even the popular ones, Kennedy has his staunch critics. Was he slow in his reactions to tensions in the South? Was he weak in his early dealings with Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev? Was his reliance on his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, too obvious, if not nepotistic? Was Kennedy’s plan for Southeast Asia deeply flawed?
Yes to all or some, JFK’s critics may say.
What isn’t debatable is that John F. Kennedy left the United States, if not the world, a better place when he died 50 years ago today. His vision of the world is still one Americans should embrace, a vision of a colorblind society in which neighbors help neighbors, diplomacy is preferred over force, and fairness in all areas is guaranteed. May that vision never fade.