On the bulletin board above my desk at home I have a faded photograph taken in 1960. It’s me on my dad’s shoulders, welcoming John F. Kennedy to a campaign stop in Queens, holding a sign that says “Kennedy is the remedy.” My dad’s lovely wit, an abridged version of the rush of emotion so many people were feeling about the young Kennedy. Sure, he made mistakes, and in retrospect did things that today would likely have gotten him in big trouble. But there’s no doubt he was an amazing, maybe unique, figure: an optimist’s optimist, a patriot’s patriot, an American hero, the stuff of myth and dreams and desires. That he listened to “Camelot” in the Oval Office says a lot about what was going on in this town in those early days of a decade whose massive social changes are now remembered simply as “the 60’s.” What changes? Oh, little things like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Elementary And Secondary Education Act, the beginning of desegregation (in the north as well as the south), not to mention the Beatles and Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and…I could go on.
Our colleague who directs the GW Graduate School of Political Management, Mark Kennedy (no relation as far as I know), an accomplished politician in his own right and a distinguished teacher and statesman, wrote an extremely moving reminiscence of JFK and the assassination. It brought back all kinds of memories (I was in 6th grade).
And I couldn’t agree more with Mark’s assessment: if I may paraphrase, we need to hit the pause button in these frenzied times and figure out how to restore some respect for government and some civility of discourse even (especially) among people who disagree about the details but who share a basic love of what our country was and can still be. Maybe that’s the best way to remember JFK.
November 21, 2013