A murder in Dallas
There was a magic about Kennedy which was very rare for a politician. He never had to worry about who he was
Mohan Guruswamy Delhi
Fifty years ago on November 22, at 12.30 pm CST on a crisp and clear Texas morning, three shots cracked from a mail order purchased Mannlicher-Carcano .30 rifle in Dallas’ downtown Dealey Plaza and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA was mortally wounded, and as the presidential motorcade raced to downtown Parkland Hospital, his life ebbed away. He was just forty-six years old. With it ended the hopes of an early thaw of the frigid Cold War that constantly threatened the world with Armageddon and one of the world’s most enduring legends began. Kennedy held office for just a thousand days but the luminescence is still there after half a century. It owes as much to his personality as the promise of hope and idealism he brought with him.
JFK was well educated, he went to Harvard and LSE, was a war hero with a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for bravery, and had won the Pulitzer Prize for his book ‘Profiles in Courage’. He was extremely bright and well read, witty and with an infectious sense of humor. When a young lady reporter asked him what he did to get the medal, he replied: “it was entirely involuntary, they cut my boat into two!” He was born into great wealth, handsome and with a beautiful wife. In short he was a very classy guy. JFK served a term in the US House of Representatives, before he entered the Senate in 1952 defeating a prominent Boston Brahmin, Henry Cabot Lodge.
He parlayed this background into a victory to the world’s most powerful office by the thinnest of margins. By just 200,000 more votes delivered in a Chicago controlled by the Democratic Party boss, William Daley, gave him the mandate. Once in office he transformed this slimmest of all mandates into popular adulation whose magic is still felt even today. It is still believed that Kennedy won the election in the US’s first televised debate by Presidential candidates. While his opponent Richard Nixon appeared sweaty, gruff and uncomfortable under the glare of TV lights, JFK came out as cool and a comfortable winner in post TV debate polls. Interestingly enough radio listeners of the debate polled for Nixon, suggesting that looks did matter.
Bill Clinton and John F Kerry harked on the Kennedy legacy when they ran for President. Barack Obama’s outsider run for the Democratic nomination became a serious one once JFK’s lone surviving brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, endorsed him over Hillary Clinton. Caroline has just been named US Ambassador to Japan.
What made Kennedy so unique? The late John Kenneth Galbraith, a Kennedy confidant and his Ambassador to India explained “there was a magic about Kennedy which was very rare for a politician. He never had to worry about who he was.” And that it was because of this quality, so rare among politicians now, that Kennedy brought a sense of purpose and excitement to government.
Thus, when he demanded of his fellow citizens to “ask not what America can do for you, but what you can do for America” they listened to him. When he promised that “we will bear any burden, and pay any price in the defence of freedom and liberty”, America’s friends abroad believed him. And when he warned that he would “never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear” his adversaries paid heed to him.