What made John F. Kennedy so popular?
October 4, 2013
What does John F. Kennedy have in common with Presidents Ronald Reagan, Washington, Lincoln, and FDR? For over forty years these five Presidents have consistently polled as the greatest (Reagan in later years). Some may find it curious that a U.S. President would be so highly regarded when all of his major initiatives were still pending in Congress when he died. A major tax cut, federal aid to education at all levels, healthcare for the aged and indigent, and a civil rights bill were all left to the Johnson administration.
Foreign affairs were no better. The Bay of Pigs, a failed attempt to murder Castro, a poor showing in Vienna with Khruschev and the enduring legacy of Viet Nam.
Finally, his compulsive womanizing was legendary. How then, does he so consistently rank in the top five?
Robert Dallek and Terry Golway, authors of Let Every Nation Know cover these points and ask these questions in the preface. They also offer their explanation of Kennedy’s long term popularity. War time heroics, diplomacy in the face of crisis (Cuban missiles) and inspiring rhetoric make the forty-six year old President forever young in our memories and a sentimental favorite. As they explain, the term sound bite had not been invented and Kennedy spoke in “literate paragraphs, and his speeches were filled with references to history and literature that have all but disappeared from American political discourse.”
Even Kennedy’s “inspirational rhetoric” wasn’t immune from criticism. Theodore Sorensen, the man JFK called his “intellectual blood bank” was a gifted writer and adviser. Sorensen wrote much of the book for which Kennedy was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and many of the famous lines from the most memorable speeches. Still, when listening to the CD included with Let Every Nation Know, it’s easy to forgive and forget.
The enthusiasm and sincerity come through loud and clear, charming and convincing listeners that what they are hearing is greatness itself. The CD evokes a range of emotions from the heat of the campaign, humor with supporters and Dubliners, a firm resolve directed to adversaries (Kruschev) and, finally, sadness hearing his brothers after “That Day”.
An audio CD containing thirty-four tracks accompanies the book which is divided into four parts. First comes the pre-presidential speeches, then a section for each of the three years he served. The book supports the CD with summaries of each part and commentaries on the speeches. January 20, 2011, was the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration. Listening to him now makes it easy to slip into a sixties reverie and speculate on how different the world might be had he lived.