An Idealist Without Illusions

JFK OfficialEvery third Monday of February, Americans celebrate Presidents’ Day-a holiday in which we honor past and current presidents. Personally, this day allows me to create events, post on social media, and talk about my favorite man out of the 44 more than usual J Of the dashing 44 men, the 35th President has captured my interest the most. From owning autobiographies to posters, ornaments, and documentaries, I have come to truly admire John F. Kennedy from all aspects of his life. Whether it be his political accomplishments or failures, his controversial private life, or his enduring legacy, JFK has proved to be one of the most popular, admired, and romanticized presidents in U.S history.

In a Gallup poll that asked Americans to assess the last nine presidents from Kennedy forward, Kennedy received an 85 percent approval rating. Americans tend to place Kennedy in the same category as Washington, Lincoln, and FDR- some of the nation’s greatest and most accomplished presidents. But for a president who didn’t yield many historic achievements as the others, and whose domestic agenda wasn’t enacted until after his death, Kennedy has a surprisingly strong hold on the public’s imagination. And it was this very exact mystery that sparked my initial interest in John F. Kennedy.

Jack Kennedy was born into one of America’s richest and most famous families. Sometimes referred to as “America’s Royal Family,” the Kennedys were one of the most established political families in U.S history, having produced a President, three senators, and multiple other representatives. Jack’s father, Joseph, was a prominent American businessman and political figure. Jack’s privileged life, however, was plagued with severe medical problems, a competitive relationship with his older brother, a struggle to win the approval of his parents, and uncommonly high parental expectations. Joseph constantly stressed the importance of living up to the “Kennedy standards,” and being the best of the best. The family’s political and presidential hopes were originally set on Joseph’s favorite and eldest son, Joe Jr. That all changed, however, when Joe Jr. was killed in service during WWII in 1944. The task now fell upon Jack.

Jack became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area in 1947, and advanced to the Senate in 1953. In the presidential election of 1960, Kennedy defeated Republican candidate Richard Nixon, becoming the youngest man elected President and the first Roman Catholic. Kennedy’s inaugural address stands as one of the most memorable speeches of the twentieth century, with its inspirational language, eloquent delivery, and call to civic duty. Encouraging the nation to bear the burden of struggle against tyranny, poverty, disease and war, Kennedy challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”Kennedy was concerned with problems of war and peace, of economic and social justice, and the willingness of Americans to commit themselves to these noble ends. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier,” Kennedy announced. “A frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. Can a nation…such as ours endure? Have we the nerve and will? All mankind waits upon our decision.”

The Kennedy presidency was plagued by the Cold War, a nuclear arms race, the threat of communism, a stagnant economy and racial injustices. One of Kennedy’s major achievements was preventing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union over the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and negotiating a Limited Test Ban Treaty. In regards to Vietnam, Kennedy wanted to limit U.S involvement. The administration’s biggest failure comes from the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, after which Kennedy walked around for several days asking, “How could I have been so stupid?”

In examining Kennedy’s presidential career, I realized that his enduring legacy doesn’t necessarily come from his life as a politician, but rather from his personal attributes and image- he was young, intelligent, witty, charming and charismatic. He was a writer, scholar, thinker and a man of public service. His rhetoric was remarkably inspirational and had the power to inspire hopes for peace and set an optimistic tone for a nation that desperately needed it. Americans viewed Kennedy as a beacon of hope, as he passionately pursued space exploration and committed himself to the ideals of the free world. Kennedy’s life reminds us that as human beings, we have an obligation to serve not only our country, but to serve the world. His sudden, unexpected death left the country with a serious of tantalizing “what if’s.” Kennedy is forever frozen in our minds at the age of forty-six, with his timeless charm and style, always hopeful of a better future.

Harleen Dhaliwal
Miss San Joaquin County