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November 21st, 2013 6:05 pm
A JFK of One’s Own
Posted by Print

A quick thought regarding the avalanche of remembrances of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which happened 50 years ago tomorrow.

As we all know, citing where you were when Kennedy was killed is a generational touchstone for a wide swath of Americans. That’s sort of a broader metaphor for this macabre exercise in nostalgia. Watching the coverage, it’s remarkable (though, alas, not unusual) how much certain Baby Boomers are making it about themselves. Much of the noise surrounding the anniversary has much less to do with Kennedy himself than it does with their nostalgia. The Me Generation may be going gray, but they still haven’t lost that ethos.

One other note: It strikes me as perfectly fair game to try and figure out Kennedy ideologically. You’re hearing a lot of people on the right now point out that he was a tax-cutter, a staunch anti-communist, and someone who embraced America’s global leadership role. All true, and all fair points.

We’re putting more weight on Kennedy’s legacy than it can bear, however, when we indulge in counterfactuals that imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t been killed. To hear certain pundits tell it, JFK would have ended the war in Vietnam before it really started; or he would have eventually become a Republican. It’s basically a “choose your own adventure” book where JFK miraculously always turns out to be exactly who you wanted him to be.

It’s a testimony to how iconic a figure Kennedy was that he invites this kind of speculation a half-century after his death. Let’s remember, however, that it’s all just that: speculation. We have enough contemporary political battles to fight without trying to baptize a dead president into our present-day ideologies.

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