Posted by Alex Hodor-Lee
President John F. Kennedy was not a major policy innovator, he was more than that--he taught us that being American isn't a dirty thing.
My grandmother always tells me that about doing her "J-F-K's" in physical education classes as jumping jacks were named after the 35th President of the United States. She tells me exactly where she was when an announcement over her elementary school PA system reported: "the president has been shot."
It's been fifty years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy and he's still relevant (if not for his long lasting contributions, then at least for his appeal).
Though conservatives have monopolized the phrase "patriot" in recent years, he reminds me that I'm proud of my American culture (though I recognize its misgivings).
He asked us what we could do for our country, a simple question, but one many had never been asked. Years after her time in the Peace Corps, one advisor to the Clinton Administration admitted that she never had thought to get involved in her country, before Kennedy.
Kennedy certainly has his detractors. Skidmore History Professor Jennifer Delton observes, "after eight years of affable but old and heart-attack prone Eisenhower, Kennedy was young." However, Delton admits, "his actual policies didn't match that image, but the image endures because we want the world back, a world where we are eternally young and eternally, naturally, nobly, powerful."
While nostalgia has hit an all-time high (and yes, we have Instagram, which instantly gratifies our sensibilities, crystallizing our modern photos into the temporarily-immortal depths of faux-antiquity) Jack Kennedy seems to endure. His image does more than assuage millennial insecurities: he reminds us that politics was okay. He reminds us that it was okay to be a liberal.
Accepting the Liberal Party nomination in his 1960 Presidential campaign, Kennedy addressed conservative critics, saying, "if by 'Liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid-reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people...if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal,' then I'm proud to say I'm a 'Liberal.'"
Kennedy also delivered us two of the most influential speeches in American history: the 1960 Inaugural Address, a bellicose speech that confronted the USSR, and the American University "Peace" Speech, according to Government Professor Ron Seyb.
Both speeches expounded American ideals, and, when paired together, served as a barometer of growth during Kennedy's one thousand days as leader of the free world.
"There is little doubt that Kennedy grew in the office. His irenic American University Commencement Address-delivered only five months prior to his assassination-is often cited by his supporters as evidence of just how far Kennedy had traveled from his bellicose First Inaugural Address. And Kennedy did near the end of his life correct what many considered to be the more grievous moral failing of his first term, his failure to act aggressively to guarantee the civil and voting rights of African Americans, by presenting to Congress civil rights legislation that would end discrimination in public accommodations" said Professor Seyb.
Kennedy nailed down the narrative. He built America around the idea of capitalism versus communism, the United States of American against the Soviet Union, good versus evil. He foiled another nation against America, to create a greater sense of belief.
"In the election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half slave or half free. In the election of 1960 and with the world around us, the question is whether or not the world will exist half slave or half free?" he told us in the first televised Presidential debate.
He understood rhetoric and used it as well as any President in American History. He had a particular aptitude for the complexities of international relations and understood that sometimes nations have to go to war with other nations, but he never had the audacity to create a war within our own borders (i.e.: the war on drugs or the war on poverty).
He led us through the "maximum hour of danger" and promoted the America's height. And he killed just in time to not to disappoint us. His death eternalized that short, hopeful moment of time for which we will always yearn and strive.