When I was a young teenager, I became fascinated with President Kennedy. I read a bunch of stuff about his life and times, and formed an opinion that my generation (and those that followed) had been deprived of knowing greatness. Or at least, as much greatness as can be found in a man. I’ve said before that we might see him differently had he lived; he might have suffered the same fate as so many other politicians who somehow manage to self-destruct and lose their credibility along the way. Or it might just be that slogging through an entire re-election campaign would have shone a bright light on his failings, which might have turned the tide against him, and maybe I wouldn’t feel like my generation had missed out on anything.
But that’s the whole point of the last fifty years, isn’t is? We just don’t know what might have been.
But I do know that my readings back in the day painted a picture of a man who was growing into his position, a man who wasn’t afraid to learn something new and perhaps change his course of action as a result. Most important, he seemed to be a man who could inspire change. We’ve never lived in a Utopia, so there have always been (and will always be) things that need changing, so it seems that a leader who can convince the populous to go out and make a difference would be a leader worth having.
I’ve been listening to the pundits this past week, as the media has ramped up to this 50th anniversary of tragedy, and a recurring theme has been how much the country changed after Kennedy’s death, how there was an innocence lost. And more than anything, I think maybe that’s what my generation was cheated out of. That lost America they speak of—when institutions were trusted and people wanted to follow their leaders—that’s an America I’ve never known. In my lifetime, it’s somehow been in vogue to question the establishment, to criticize our leaders, even though we’re the ones who put them in office. And as that mentality has continued through the years, we’ve become more and more divided, less and less confident in the institutions that are supposed to serve us, and seem to have little true faith that the man in the Oval Office (whoever it may be) has our best interests at heart. I definitely think we got short-changed in that department.
But while the nation may always wonder “what if?”, and I will likely always believe that I missed out on the opportunity to grow up with someone truly admirable as president, I haven’t totally given up for all the future generations. I mean, even if Kennedy’s legacy is glossier than it might have been, what if we use that as a template? What if we all decide that we are only going to vote for people who really do have our best interests at heart? What if we send the message that we want leaders who inspire, who aren’t afraid to try to make a difference? Leaders who grow into their positions and understand that they have the opportunity to do good for the world instead of just doing good for themselves or their party? What could we accomplish then?
I hope that’s not just another question that will never have an answer.