Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John F. Kennedy

John F. KennedyUntil September 11, 2001, November 22, 1963, probably held the dubious distinction of being the saddest day in American history. December 7, 1941, has its own infamy, and the assassination of another President on Good Friday 1865 holds greater historical significance in the sense that Abraham Lincoln's death all but doomed Reconstruction to failure. But the death of John F. Kennedy stands out as a watershed moment in its own right.

Kennedy today is arguably more legend than reality. He served roughly a thousand days as President (which is also the measure of a full-time stint in law school). As this forum has noted, he was a Cold Warrior par excellence. His Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson, reaped both the fruits (the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts) and the thistles (Vietnam) of the Kennedy administration. Americans old enough to remember Kennedy invariably remember where they were when they learned this news:
Having been born in 1966, I have no recollection of Kennedy. I do prefer to think of him as he was nearly three years before November 22, 1963, when he and the country he governed were full of life and promise. Kennedy's inaugural address, delivered on January 20, 1961, is perhaps best known for the exhortation, "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." But the preceding paragraph, I believe, has enduring power and carries special relevance at this very moment for the United States and the global community to which it belongs:
Kennedy inauguralIn the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11/22/2006 5:24 AM  
Anonymous Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I was seven years old when President Kennedy was assassinated, and I remember that day very well, for I attended a Catholic school in Irving, Texas (at that time, a small but quickly growing city just outside of Dallas proper). All the nuns and lay faculty were visibly distraught when the news hit our school. What is more, my family was solidly Democratic (I remember hearing stories of my activist grandmother campaigning for Adlai Stevenson), and my young parents were much enchanted by the charisma, intelligence, and humor of Kennedy (my parents' views were not representative of our neighbors').

Thanks for the post, as it helped me recall bits of my childhood as well as memories of the political commitments and values of my parents, many of which have had a deep impact on me, however much I eventually moved more to the Left of Mirabeau's Geography of the Assembly. Whatever Kennedy's political shortcomings, he had at least an intuitive sense of the nature and significance of leadership (a classic study of which remains James MacGregor Burns' _Leadership_, 1978).

And have a delightful Thanksgiving holiday Jim!

11/22/2006 9:48 AM  

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