November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas. Fifty- two years ago. I was a Junior in high school, in the HGP field house, planning for a dance. Someone was listening to a car radio, “The President has been shot.” Within the hour, we were in the Cornwells chapel, community prayer, disbelief, speechless. President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.
November 22, 2015, I read through the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times. I don’t see one article related to that day in Dallas. I see no mention of John Kennedy. Like Pearl Harbor, September 11, those “of age” in November, 1963 will never forget.
My first real exposure to Kennedy was a rally at the Levittown Shopping Center. Andy Romano and I rode our bikes up through Tullytown to the crowded shopping center. A motorcade arrived on Route 13; Kennedy addressed the crowd. I don’t remember what he said; I remember the excitement of hearing him. I was committed. Andy and I were already collecting buttons and bumper stickers. I remember a campaign headquarters in a storefront at Otter and Bath Streets in Bristol.
Kennedy was young. He was Catholic. He was educated. He had class. He had, we learned a new word, charisma. He was our candidate and would be our President.
For the past few weeks, I have been watching The Presidents series, PBS American Experience. I started with Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson, and last night was finishing up John Kennedy. Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt are also part of the series.
The programs are all over 2 hours. Some close to 4. It’s interesting how time puts A Presidents legacy in a historical perspective. Reagan was more than the smooth talking, conservative, B grade actor, I remember. Johnson was more than the evil architect of the Vietnam Nam war. Nixon (hard to admit) more than the paranoid, sneaky, father of Watergate. Carter more than the fumbling, well meaning failure. Bush more than the aristocratic friend of wealth and big business. My recollections, based on my experiences and biases are limited.
And then there is the current Presidential campaign. It’s not too hard to see a President Hillary Clinton, first woman, typical political background, experience in government. That not to discount those that have a very strong dislike for her. Bernie Sanders may do well with liberals who haven’t had a champion in recent years but it’s hard to see him winning nationally. And then there are the Republicans (should I refrain from saying circus). Bush, Rubio, even Christie seem normal political types. But then we have the far right wing and the outsiders. It’s hard to see any of the in a future segment of American Experience, Presidents.
Despite his mistakes. Despite his hawkish approach to Vietnam and his foot dragging on Civil RIghts. And despite his limited time in office, Kennedy remains my favorite President. Someone in the American Experience documentary said, Kennedy realized the power of words. “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ” how many inaugural speeches can you quote. “Let us never negotiate out of fear . . . ” And quoting Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and say why . . .” If you don’t automatically finish these quotes, take some time and look them up.
Kennedy offered hope to a young generation that wanted to believe they could change the world. He offered the promise of a new dynamic American culture. Obama’s offered a similar flag of hope and renewal but was consistently blocked by his opposition. Kennedy took command and his message was heard. It’s almost ironic that he inspired many who would fight for Civil Rights and an end the Vietnam war.
He left a legacy of we can.