Eventually, however, the public relations fog lifts. There are few or no people left with a personal stake in promoting or condemning ex-presidents; this may be the first point of historical clarity. Few JFK aides remain alive. We can separate fact from fiction and reality from myth. We can assess the true impact of a short presidency that has had a sharp silhouette.
The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy
Has it really been fifty years? Many presidents who stayed four or even eight years in the White House have been largely forgotten. Yet JFK regularly ranks as one of the best in surveys of the public, and his words are employed more often than those of all but a handful of other statesmen by officeholders and candidates today.
Was it singular style, exceptional substance, or a special mix of the two that has made his short presidency such a touchstone for other politicians, academics, everyday Americans, and people around the world? For Democrats, he is in the permanent pantheon of party saints, the man who restored unto them the White House after an eight-year period of GOP control and whose popularity continued them in power even after his death.
A political party borrows only the brightest stars from the other party's firmament, so this establishes the standard: The legacy of John F. This book will explain how and why. A look at the highlights of his abbreviated term in office follows. And then the moment no one will ever forget; the tragedy in Dallas, which has become an ongoing murder mystery and a fascinating Rorschach test about one's view of life, politics, and the nation's path since I will offer some new perspectives on a fifty-year-old puzzle and take a balanced look at the charges and countercharges in the crime of the century.
The notion of Camelot, invented shortly after the assassination by JFK's widow, Jacqueline, took hold immediately. Practically the entire JFK agenda, which had been stalled in Congress, was passed as a tribute to the late president. Americans had a positive view of JFK throughout his White House years, and the assassination solidified, elevated, and made inviolable the power of his name.
The Kennedy Half Century
For the first time ever, extensive polling and focus groups have been employed in the course of the research for this volume to study how adult Americans of all ages remember a U. I believe the methods used for this book will become the standard for judging presidents' long-term influence. Conducted by the renowned polling firm of Hart Research Associates, and supervised by the firm's chairman, Peter D. Hart, and president, Geoff Garin, the study is the most extensive ever done to assess a long-ago White House.
The sample was representative of the overall u. The respondents younger than fifty-five perceive JFK in secondhand ways, from school textbooks, the media, older friends, and family members. The quantitative survey was supplemented with six more qualitative, videotaped "focus groups" of fifteen to twenty people in each of three cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, and Richmond, Virginia.
Focus group discussions can add depth to the bare-bones data yielded by a poll. This study of John F. This study of John F. I believe it reveals a great deal about our country, and about what matters to us as a nation as we cope with the enormous problems confronting us. Leaders want to create a positive legacy, and citizens should encourage them to travel that path. At the end of the book, I identify some useful lessons that can be learned by presidents, and the rest of us, from the Kennedy example.
Political power is created in many ways, such as winning an election, facing down an enemy, or skillfully riding the waves of popular opinion.
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But lasting power is accorded to only a handful of presidents, especially after their death. There is no doubt that John Kennedy is one of the few. How did it happen? Why does his influence persist, and will it continue? What are the effects? These questions and more are answered in the pages of this book. But Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?
Kennedy—she was still nervous about the trip to Dallas. The full-page ad she had just seen in the Dallas Morning News accused the president of supporting Communists and using the Justice Department to silence his critics. Were such extreme political views common in the city? If so, then perhaps they should cancel the final leg of the trip. She had even asked her primary Secret Service agent about it, but he replied that Dallas was probably no more dangerous than anyplace else. Plus, she knew that Jack would never agree to a last-minute change of plans.
Moreover, the president himself knew that he needed to cut his losses in Dallas, which had voted Republican in and When John Connally was elected governor of Texas in November , Kennedy called him to chew over the election results.
Still, he did not want to cede the city to the GOP without a fight. The rain clouds that had hung in the sky earlier were gone, replaced by a warm southern sun that raised the temperature to a comfortable 63 degrees. With the change in the weather, the president and First Lady would be able to ride through downtown Dallas without the Plexiglas bubbletop attachment on their Lincoln Continental convertible. JFK was delighted. He wanted the locals to get a good look at Jackie.
This was her first trip with her husband since the death of their premature son, Patrick, in August. Her public appearances energized voters and gave newspaper reporters something positive to write about—important considerations for a president facing a reelection campaign. The president made sure that the cameras caught Mrs. Kennedy stepping off the plane first.
She wore a pink Chanel suit with navy trim and a matching pillbox hat. Ward Warren, a fifteen-year-old high school student, recorded the event with his 8-millimeter camera. Jackie looks stunning in her iconic outfit, and JFK appears tan, rested, and supremely confident. We want a time tunnel to so we can shout, Get back on Air Force One! The grief and tears will just have to flow. The Kennedys shook hands with the official welcoming party waiting at the bottom of the stairs. JFK knew that his bodyguards wanted him to proceed directly to his car, but the soon-to-be candidate could not resist the adoring crowd on the other side of the fence.
People were shouting, Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Over here! Look over here!
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He moved toward the fence. The spectators surged forward, desperate to clasp his outstretched hands. Jackie soon joined her husband, generating additional excitement. It was a dangerous moment, and a live TV announcer noted that the unscheduled, wide-open contact seemed to cause unease among the Secret Service agents. The Secret Service crew did all they could to keep the Kennedys safe. They watched every hand as it was held out, ready to jump if they saw so much as a flicker of metal or a grasp that held on a second too long.
Nothing had happened in a hundred similar situations over the past three years. The agents were relieved when the Kennedys finally climbed into the backseat of their convertible, even though the bubbletop was down and they were still exposed from the shoulders up. At the time, Lehrer was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald and had been assigned to cover the story at Love Field.
Texas governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, sat in the jump seat right in front of the Kennedys, while two Secret Service agents, Bill Greer the driver and Roy Kellerman, rode up front. Most of the other agents piled into the follow car. One agent put an AR assault rifle on the floor of the automobile.
The Kennedy half-century : : the presidency, assassination,
The president was scheduled to deliver a luncheon speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, a sprawling business complex that had opened its doors only five years earlier. But the upcoming political campaign mandated that the average citizens of Dallas—those who toiled on construction sites and in office buildings, flower shops, newsstands, restaurants, and dozens of other small businesses—see Kennedy first, on the theory that one is a little less likely to vote against a president one has seen up close and personal.
Despite having a Texan on the ticket, Kennedy had won the state by only 46, votes in ; this was not a battleground that could be taken for granted in We had a little meeting in the cabinet room, Dungan told us.