Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination has unleashed a torrent of commentaries and re-runs. His looks and demeanor receive movie star appraisal.  Jackie Kennedy has become an icon of almost "Roman" gravitas and the President's oratory skills share the same playing field with the words of  Elizabeth I at Tilbury.  Mistakes are glossed-over (the Bay of Pigs, the Vienna Summit with Nikita Khrushchev) and his more Lord Rochester-like private inclinations remain unattended.  Thomas Mann's words ("the conflict between the inclinations of the soul and the capabilities of the flesh") lurk in the background.

President Kennedy is often considered a transformational personality.  I suggest he was more transitional, a product of Cold War instinct, anglophile elitism (offset by the First Lady's francophilia) and an often reckless temperament. His court of "the best and the brightest" and his choice of envoys are proof of a man who felt closer to the Upstairs than to the Downstairs. His vice-president hardly received consideration, which left the future President Lyndon Johnson vindictive and traumatized.

Nevertheless, despite Kennedy's "spotty" record, the man continues to fascinate. His term in office was too short for major achievements which were left to his successor to finalize, but his tragic demise gave him the part of a Shakespearean persona who was robbed of the accomplishments he put in motion. He promised the moon but it so happened that others reached it. He launched the civil rights agenda but it was President Johnson who came forward with the "Great Society." 

JFK was like a "comet" in the often dour, provincial American political landscape. He made Americans proud while at the same time most of them were alienated from the White House's glamour. They remained set in a middle class way of life wherein style finds little appreciation. The American dream has become anything but lofty. Today, in America's mid-life crisis, Camelot looks very old fashioned, almost contrived.

The new political reality has overtaken the mythology. Kennedy's words no longer fit in the current world which is slipping over the edge.  Here and elsewhere, bureaucrats are taking over. World leaders are no longer surrounded by luminaries or thinkers who were not overly dependent upon lobbies and other PACs, as is the case today.  One should not cover-up yesterday's misdemeanors, neither should one abstain from comparing what is with what was. In doing so one passes judgement. The outcome is clear since "closure" still looks and feels out of reach, as it did 50 years ago, and remains unattainable for the foreseeable future.

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