Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks for President Kennedy

For anyone over 50, tomorrow will be not only Thanksgiving but the day JFK died 44 years ago. He has been gone now for almost as long as he lived and, in these days of White House infamy, not nearly as much in the national mind as his antagonist, Richard Nixon, whose all-time low approval ratings have just been eclipsed by George W. Bush.

A few years after the assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy wistfully told me that her husband was being remembered too much for how he died rather than what he had lived for. She was right. It was too soon then for Americans to appreciate what they had lost.

In 1960, I had made an unintentional contribution to Kennedy’s election. After my magazine ran a piece by Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Advice to the Next First Lady,” the producers of the “Tonight” show called me to ask Mrs. Roosevelt if she would appear with Jack Paar. To my surprise, she agreed.

On the way to the studio, I asked Mrs. Roosevelt, who had supported Adlai Stevenson during the convention and been visibly cool to JFK, what made her decide to take part in a talk show. “I want to help elect Senator Kennedy,” she said.

On the “Tonight” show, she did just that, comparing Kennedy to FDR during his first campaign in 1932, inspiring voters and responding to their enthusiasm, and predicted he would make a fine President. In Kennedy’s hairline victory, her testimonial may well have been significant, and he didn't disappoint her.

John F. Kennedy was the last president in memory who was still learning while in office. He admitted mistakes and profited from them.

Despite misgivings, he went ahead with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba after being told Americans would be greeted as liberators and withdrew when he realized he had been misled, accepting “sole responsibility” for the fiasco.

As the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he put that lesson to use by overruling “experts” who wanted to bomb or invade Cubs and trusting his own instincts to avoid disaster.

After November 22, 1963 I wrote an editorial attempting to define the deep grief over his shocking death-—that beyond his attractiveness and intelligence, there was the loss of a leader “who was still growing—-in understanding, in skill, in compassion, in commitment."

Today's leading contenders for the Presidency are, for the most part, as cool and rational as Kennedy was when he was running for the office. For all our sakes, we can only hope that whoever wins can attain the stature he did in the thousand days he spent in the White House.


The Heretik said...

Very nice.
The Heretik

Anonymous said...

Being somewhat younger than 50 (23, to be exact) but certainly appreciative of President Kennedy's role in history, I would like to say thank you for being the only entity of compassion and intelligence who even bothered to remark on the significance of this day.

-- nathan