Friday, November 22, 2013

In Memoriam: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917 - 1963

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated fifty years ago today. 
One can speculate how different the 1960s would have been had JFK not been killed, just as one can wonder if Reconstruction would have gone differently had Lincoln not been shot (maybe) or if the Cold War would have been avoided had Franklin Roosevelt lived longer (probably not). But I cannot help the thought that Kennedy's premature death robbed this country of much of its optimism.

I had not yet been born, yet today I feel very deeply a sense of mourning. I think the country was substantively traumatized by JFK's assassination, a wound which was re-opened and deepened by the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

For what it's worth, I firmly believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman.  As for the astonishment that a nobody like Oswald could cut down President Kennedy in the prime of life, I merely state: Look at history.  Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, John Schrank, Guiseppe Zangara, Sara Jane Moore, John Hinckley.  With the exception of John Wilkes Booth, who was a well-known actor, nearly all of America’s presidential assassins and attempted assassins were unexceptional persons.  None of the conspiracy theories, nearly all of which contradict each other, have been able to come up with the conclusive evidence (if you will, "the smoking gun") which would prove a conspiracy.

It's unfortunately true that JFK, like many people of note, had his foibles. But it's equally true that JFK possessed a rare wit, grace under pressure, and a cool headedness which got the country through perilous times. One shudders to think how Richard Nixon would have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I believe if JFK were, somehow, able to communicate with us today, he would say something along these lines:
It has been 50 years.  Why are so many people still fixating on conspiracy theories about who killed me and why?  I almost died during the war and after back surgery in 1954, so I'd already made peace with my Maker.  Have you?  I’m flattered by the attention.  But if you want to worry about murder, think of the 34 people who are murdered every DAY in this nation.  Why not do something about that?
I wanted America to look forward, not back.  What happened to the space program?  We should have a base on the Moon by now – we should be planning a manned mission to Mars.  Why did we pull back after going there a few times?  Do you think I wanted us to go there just to plant our flag and collect some rocks?  You know, when Martin and Bobby got here, they told me about this TV show, Star Trek, where all of Earth's races and even people from other planets worked together in solidarity to make the galaxy a better place. That’s the kind of future I wanted. 
Who are these people claiming I would be a Republican today?  Are you kidding me?  Sure, I was pro-business - if they behaved responsibly. But did you ever see the Press Conference when I ripped U. S. Steel a new one for raising the price of steel by $6 a ton?  Whose idea was it to repeal Glass-Steagall?  If I was President in 2008, those bankers who tanked the economy would have been thrown in jail.
What’s this Tea Party?  Sounds like a bunch of Birchers to me.  Why have they turned “moderation” and “compromise” into dirty words?  Compromise, moderation, and negotiating in good faith is how we beat the Soviets.  On behalf of Harry, Ike, Lyndon, Dick, Jerry, and Ronnie: You’re welcome.  Why didn’t you take advantage of the peace dividend and embark on a rebuilding and redevelopment program?  Oh, you decided to cut taxes instead.   I’m all for cutting taxes, but when I took office the top income tax rate was 90%, and I cut it down to 70%.  Now the top rate is half that and nothing can get done.  Nobody likes paying taxes, but there are things that need to be done in this country.  Our bridges and roads are in terrible disrepair.  C’mon people, let’s get moving.
I asked Americans to sacrifice for their country, not sequester themselves in 3,000 square foot McMansions where they don’t even talk to their neighbors.  How did we allow obesity to skyrocket?  Why are kids vegetating in front of the TV and video games when they should be going outside to play ball?  Heck, I played football with a bad back, and all the other medical problems I had - but let’s not talk about that now.
My point in a nutshell is: people are being passive when they should be getting off their butts, looking forward, and working toward a better future. America must pursue her grandest dreams, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because they will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.  
Jackie’s here with me.  She says to stop showing that film of me getting shot.  It’s disgusting.  Concentrate on what I was trying to do as President, not how I died.