Sunday, April 27, 2014

(No.261) The public fascination with John F. Kennedy

"The public fascination with the myth as well as the reality
of President John F. Kennedy"

by Alastair Rickard

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the death of the 35th U.S. President John F. Kennedy. As one of countless thousands who can remember where he was when news of his assassination was announced I suppose my peer group and their memories and interest are a leading reason why 140 books on Kennedy and his murder were published last year coming on top of an estimated 40,000 books [sic].

A Gallup Poll late in 2013 found that 74% of Americans rate Kennedy an outstanding or above-average president even after all these years of revelations about his shortcomings both personal ( e.g., his serial infidelities) and his political stumbles with an agenda completed for him by Lyndon Johnson.

In popular opinion -- although certainly not among historians -- Kennedy ranks well ahead of all his modern peers: Ronald Reagan at 61%, Bill Clinton (55%), George W. Bush 21% and Barack Obama at 28% ref. the same polling criteria.

However it is true that young people today have no sense of how sainted the status John Kennedy held among their peer group before and especially in the decade plus after his assassination in 1963.

I recall a time during a brief interlude I spent as an Ontario high school teacher in the late 1960s when I was explaining to a very bright and politically aware class about the vital and challenging role played by Johnson in getting passed by the U.S. Congress a range of fundamentally important civil rights and social welfare legislation with which Kennedy had gone nowhere.

The negative reaction to what was a relatively mild assessment of Kennedy's presidency was as if I had somehow located and brought the Holy Grail into the class room and proceeded to smash it to bits.

Today many Americans are as negative about the reality of the actual assassination of Kennedy as about negative views of his standing as a president. After everything that has been done on the subject by many serious people of integrity, the conspiracy theorists are still carrying the day among Americans.

In the year of the anniversary of the event 71% refuse to accept that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Indeed, so absorbed still are many Americans with the shooting that each year more Americans visit the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas Texas each year than the Kennedy Library in Boston.

I suppose in a country in which reside a statistically measurable proportion of its citizens who believe that the American moon landing was actually faked in a Hollywood sound stage or that (an actual poll a few years ago revealed) 10%+ believed that Elvis Presley was still alive, this sort of thing is to be expected.



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