Happy Birthday, Jack
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
June 12, 1963
Had he survived, today would have been the ninetieth birthday of John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States. Of course, even if his motorcade had not passed under the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository on that horrible autumn day in 1963, he would have died a long time ago. Jack Kennedy was never destined to live a long life on this planet. So precarious was the state of his health from the day he was born on May 29, 1917, he would be given the last rights of the Catholic Church three times during his all-too-brief life.
He was far from being the perfect man so many of his generation idealized him to be in the months and years following his death. While "Camelot" might have been a tidy and convenient myth for the writer Theodore White, it never really existed. Revisionist biographers have shown us that he suffered from the human frailties all too common to most of us. His motives (particularly with respect to some areas of foreign policy) were not always pure. And yet even with the benefit of 20/20 historical hindsight, it doesn't take away from the hurt felt by most Americans who are old enough to remember November 22, 1963. It was a grief that was felt on a deep and personal level. Nobody who was alive at the time has ever forgotten where they where and what they were doing when they got the news. I had turned five years old three months earlier and I still remember what my father was wearing when he told me, "The President's been shot". Jack Kennedy's murder on the streets of Dallas, Texas all those years ago was a national trauma that America never really recovered from. Who knows if it ever will?
Listening to a recording of his address to the graduating class of 1963 on the campus of American University, one can't help but feel a sense of real sadness - almost despair - at how far we have fallen as a nation in the ensuing forty-four years. It is almost as if, after wandering through the desert for all those decades, we emerged to find out that the shining city on the hill has turned out to be nothing more than a mirage - a cheap and cynical political huckster's vision of a government of the privileged, by the privileged, for the privileged. When JFK took the oath of office on January 20, 1961, America's future was bright and boundless. Today our only glory is in our past. The damage that has been done to the country he loved so well - the country he almost died defending in World War II - will be with us for generations. What would he have thought of the America of 2007?
While he may have, indeed, been a flawed man, the private historical record has documented, more times than can be adequately counted, that he believed in the promise of America as articulated through the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. He really wanted to be a competent and effective president of all the people: rich and poor; black and white.
"Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike: that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today - at home and around the world".
January 20, 1961
It was never empty rhetoric with President Kennedy; he meant every word of it. A lot of the man's persona was based on style, no question about it. But it's also an undeniable fact that there was an abundance of substance within him. (As opposed to....well, you know who I'm talking about). Looking at films of him today, how can one not make a comparison to what we've got sitting in the White House at present? How did we manage to fall to the depths to which we have fallen? In our parent's generation, the half-witted son of a failed ex-president would never have been taken seriously. As beloved as Franklin D. Roosevelt was, the reason his four sons never went far in politics is because of the fact that they were four extremely shallow human beings, utterly lacking in vision and ability. That the elections of 2000 and 2004 were stolen is not an excuse. Elections are only easy to steal if the margin of victory is razor thin. Had someone with the intellectual capacity of a George W. Bush sought the Republican nomination in the 1960 primaries, he would not have even have won the state of Texas. In that year, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was a legendary Texas congressman named Sam Rayburn. Even the voters of that state had standards in 1960.
Tonight, I'll spend the evening listening to the recorded voice of Jack Kennedy (One of the perks of being Irish Catholic, is our right to refer to the late president as, "Jack"). I'll have a glass of wine, sit back and pine for his vision and prose - his ultimate faith in the destiny of our once-great nation - and I'll ponder what might have been....what might have been....
"I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty; which will protect the beauty of our natural environment...I look forward to an America which will award achievement in the arts as we award achievement in business and statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity, but also for personal distinction".
Dedication of the Robert Frost Library
October 26, 1963
God blessed America.
Here is a You Tube link to Part One of President Kennedy's commencement address at American University quoted at the top of this piece:
Happy birthday, Jack!
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