Even 50 years after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Americans cannot reconcile with the idea that his murder could have been the work of one person. According to a recent survey, over 60 percent of Americans believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was part of a wider conspiracy.
But that’s far from the only mystery. Another is that Kennedy, who was in office a little less than three years, was the most successful president in U.S. post-war history, in the opinion of Americans. Better than say, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, who both spent eight years in the While House.
How is that possible? Simple: Precisely because Kennedy’s presidency was so short and, regarding many of his plans, the story was never told to the end, everyone can read into him what they want to see. Kennedy is a hero to Democrats, just as he is to Republicans.
For Democrats, it was he who abolished segregation, gave the country universal suffrage and established Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats are convinced that, with Kennedy, the U.S. wouldn’t have been in Vietnam.
For Republicans he’s a fiscal conservative who spent cautiously from state coffers and whose tax cut plan later inspired Ronald Reagan to a similar policy. Republicans are convinced that Kennedy was determined to defend American values by force and not to back down to the Soviets anywhere in the world.
One side and the other, simply everybody, simultaneously base their ideas on what Kennedy’s brief presidency implied. But ready-made conclusions about what Kennedy would have done are most of all guesses, into which everyone inserts their own wishes.
Not a single one of the aforementioned initiatives ever became law during Kennedy’s lifetime; everything was completed by his successor, Lyndon Johnson. According to some, the president was brave to propose a bill abolishing segregation in June 1963. According to others he took a very lukewarm stance toward the civil rights movement and had to be pressured into action. Whoever wants to can believe that JFK was getting ready to withdraw American military advisers from Vietnam, as his associates in the White House claimed after his death. Whoever wants to can believe the opposite from his brother, Robert, that JFK on no account considered a departure from Vietnam.
The dramatist Harold Pinter once wrote, “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.” Kennedy’s fate was tragic, but history has been merciful to him. Kennedy left his book with only the first few chapters written; everyone can finish it himself. In the case of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Americans imagine a presidency that never was at all, a past that never happened.
Edited by Anita Dixon