Kennedy’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in the last election sets the stage for an ambitious agenda, particularly after the sharp turn in public opinion prompted by an aborted attempt to assassinate the President in Dallas the year before.
Veteran political observers see JFK moving with confidence to the left, both domestically and in foreign affairs, as a result of the change in national mood following the November 1963 national shock that changed political dynamics in Texas and other Southern states when would-be assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired at the President and missed, just as he did in an attempt on the life of extreme right-wing Gen. Edwin A. Walker earlier that year.
Such an accident of fate only underscores the direction in which the Kennedy White House was moving in his first term—-toward misgivings about the domino theory in Vietnam, the American University outreach to the Russians on nuclear arms control followed by his June 1963 speech to the nation about civil rights as “a moral issue.”
In a pre-Inaugural interview, President Kennedy expressed wry fascination over an assassination attempt that went wrong only because the shooter’s cheap mail-order rifle narrowly missed its target on the first shot, allowing the motorcade to speed ahead to safety. “The fate of great nations,” JFK said, “can hinge on such trivialities, no matter how much we limited human beings believe we control events.
“Think of how different our nation and the world might be if that attempt had succeeded.”
Republicans, looking ahead to the next presidential year, are talking about finding a new Eisenhower, another moderate in his image, in their effort to retake the White House in 1968. The long-term outlook for right-wing GOP aspirants is not promising.
To regain national strength, Republicans will have to turn away from extremists like Goldwater to moderates like Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania who lost out to him for the nomination last year.
Certainly the GOP in the future won’t be considering retreads like the former Vice-President, who lost a 1962 gubernatorial bid in California and told the press they wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
How could a major political party possibly go in that direction?