I was born a decade after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. My knowledge and understanding of Kennedy’s life of course then comes through the prism of his death, more than his life.
That is largely how the mythos around Kennedy exists to this day: a liberal icon, whose life in ‘Camelot’ was the ideal that all politicians live up to.
We, of course, know this not to be the case today, if we are students of history. Camelot was largely a post-mortem creation of the Kennedy inner circle, expanded and inflated to greater than life in his death.
His family life was far from perfect. His political beliefs were scattered, and liberals forget that Kennedy supported what in today’s day and age would be steadfast conservative principles such as low taxes, low federal spending, and a strong worldwide U.S. military presence.
I think some conservatives take it too far; Kennedy was no conservative, but he would not easily find a home in the present Democrat Party either. I mean, truly, what Democrat today would feel comfortable saying this out loud:
“The federal government’s most useful role is … to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures. … [I]t is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”
He would be run out of every progressive group known today.
We also today forget that it was Kennedy that started the Vietnam War. There has been decades of debate on whether Kennedy would have expanded the war as Lyndon B. Johnson did. Robert F. Kennedy seemed to think so. RFK himself stated before his death that JFK had no intention of pulling out of Vietnam.
But all of these political realities, including ones we have not spoken of (Bay of Pigs, Cold War, Civil Rights) pales in comparison to Kennedy’s death.
Kennedy ultimately died at the hands of an extreme leftist progressive communist, something that we tend to forget today. Some liberals today want to blame the right-wing of that day, which is plain silly and easily dismissed.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a devout left-wing extremist, who converted to communism, even going so far as defecting to the Soviet Union. In April 1963, Oswald attempted to shoot Edwin Walker, a retired U.S. Army general, as he sat at a desk in his dining room. Walker was a leading member of the John Birch Society, a right-wing group. That is not the actions of a right-winger; it is the actions of just the opposite.
Maybe it is most fair to say that Kennedy was just another victim of the Cold War. Of course, that reality didn’t suit the liberal intelligentsia of the time. As James Piereson writes in his brilliant book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution, many of the liberal icons of the era chose to purposefully distort history, and make JFK’s death about civil rights, and not the Cold war.
Of course, the confusion of who actually was resonsible for Kennedy’s death, the murder of Oswald himself, the Warren Commission and the innumerable conspiracy theories that have been created and continue to arise to this day just muddy the waters of the reality of the historical moment even more.
This will continue to be debated forever. The death of a leader does that to a nation. But on a societal note, I somewhat understand the profound effect that the JFK assassination had on that generation. I thought I understood it to some effect by seeing what I thought were life changing events such as the Challenger disaster, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. But 9/11 was transformative in a way that none of those were, and most likely 38 years from now will have more impact on our lives than the JFK death has for us today. I wonder if my children will view 9/11 as some distant historical footnote, as in many ways I view Kennedy’s assassination.
But, past the historical and political spin, this was a life of an American war veteran and hero, a man who valiantly served his country, and was taken from the American people in a horrible manner. Whatever else you think of Kennedy, we should embrace the portions of his life that added to the American nation, and value them for what they were.