Last night (November 11, 2013), after the American Experience show about JFK (which continues tonight at 8:00 on PBS), there was an hour show titled Kennedy Half Century, which is a book written by Larry Sabato, and is about how the JFK presidency and assassination has influenced every presidency since 1963. I was amazed by it, and it is scheduled to be rerun Friday morning at 2:00 a.m. I plan to tape it, and if PBS makes it available, will eventually buy the tape/DVD. I also want to read the book.
What I learned from it is that LBJ simply served out JFK’s full term (he would have won a re-election), which was stated in those terms; that LBJ’s presidency was bookended by two Kennedy assassinations (JFK and Bobby), that Nixon, who was defeated by John Kennedy in 1960, pretty much served most of his term as he would have, though Watergate might not have happened; it was Nixon’s good things of fighting back against the USSR and opening the doors to China; Nixon was also president when JFK’s dream of putting a man on the moon came true; Ford was influenced by the Kennedys, Carter’s whole term was spent in fighting against Kennedys; GHWB was influenced by Kennedys; Clinton had met John Kennedy back when he was in college and had shaken his hand, and was very much influenced by Kennedys; GWB was influenced by Kennedys; Obama was endorsed by Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, who said that Obama was the person to carry forward JFK’s dream.
This year is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, and I have realized that much of my political life has played out against the backdrop of the assassination of John Kennedy which happened when I was 22, just before I turned 23. I remember the upheaval in America following the event, and how I pretty much fell right in with the craziness of the 60s because of the assassination (and yes, we pretty much lost our innocence), the music, and Vietnam. LBJ said when he heated up Vietnam, he believed he was following Kennedy’s intents. It was controversial then, and I still think it is controversial.
I see pictures of huge numbers of people visiting Jack Kennedy’s grave, with the eternal flame, and being taught about his life and death, and the things he dreamed about. The writer Larry Sabato said John Kennedy lived his life as if he knew he was not going to live very long. I had no idea of Kennedy’s medical problems as are now known. He and the family managed to keep quiet his having Addison’s Disease, and while his back surgery was well-known at the time, I think it is probable that had there been social media, the World Wide Web, and television everywhere, John Kennedy might not have been elected. It is often said that had television been around when FDR was in office, he might not have served as long as he did because of his polio and wheelchair. Kennedy refused to be seen in a wheelchair. Watching his face and his smiling all the time, how could I have known he was in constant, debilitating pain.
So Kennedys have influenced this America over the past half century in a great way. I wonder if there were still Kennedy’s holding primary offices if the tea party would have evolved. When Ted died, perhaps the dream finally died, and this year of the 50th anniversary of the assassination may bring about the end of the dream for my generation. That many of us still live, and will continue to live after this year, may keep the memory alive. I do think, though, that 50 will be a magic number, and by the time of the 53rd year, the Kennedy influence will be gone finally.
I am somewhat haunted by these years of my life, and about decisions and choices that might never have come about for many of us if John Kennedy had lived out his life, if Bobby had been alive through much of it, and whether Vietnam and the succeeding years of strife would have been as influential on my life and many others.