Among the questions that swirl around John F. Kennedy’s presidency is the speculative “what if?”
Would the current face of America be different if Kennedy had finished his term and possibly a second? Would the war in Vietnam have lasted as long? Would Cold War tensions have increased? Would today’s climate in Congress lean more toward compromise?
Few presidents, save Abraham Lincoln with slavery or Franklin Roosevelt with Social Security, singularly changed the nation’s sensibility on an issue. No, Kennedy never accomplished such master strokes.
Maybe we value the image of a Camelot presidency that his years promised — the ‘what if’ scenario. Maybe he was going to be the transition between Dwight Eisenhower and harsher realities that seemed to be coming. Maybe his 1960 campaign saved us from another scary presence. Or as Kennedy once joked, “Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I’m the only person standing between Nixon and the White House.”
But Camelot was never in the picture for America. The remaining turbulence of the 1960s would have quickly erased that comparison.
Instead, those of us alive during his assassination — 50 years ago to this day — typically think of the shock in learning of the news from Dallas. It was a routine day, as was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, or April 4, 1968, maybe even April 15, 1865.
Today is remembered for the shattering of a national psyche, a sudden disruption in the commonality of a American day. For ensuing days, a nation wept and gathered collectively to gain momentum and move on. Yet, a national consciousness grew that urged all Americans to tackle their dreams early.
Kennedy might have been embarking on an amazing presidential journey. But it became a “what if” that still leads to speculation today, and always will for this nation.
In summary The 'what if' scenario around John F. Kennedy's presidency will always be with Americans.