Kennedy in Camelot
What kind of things do you see advertised through the media? Sneakers? Stereos? Sodas? How about the president? Yes, the President. It was through television that America fell in love with John F. Kennedy. His debates with Richard Nixon were the first ones ever televised. For the first time, the American public was easily able to see how a candidate walked and talked, how he wore his clothes, and how attractive he was. John F. Kennedy had it all: he was funny and intelligent, and calm even during the debates. Above all, he was strikingly handsome. Kennedy was young and in great shape with a healthy tan and thick hair. Women adored him. Children looked up to him. Men wanted to be him.
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After winning the 1960 election, people continued to love Kennedy. His life seemed perfect. In the White House, he appeared to balance the presidency, his beautiful wife and two cute children, sailing and swimming. At night he entertained musicians, Hollywood stars, and heads of state.
But behind the charm of Kennedy's television image, what was his presidency all about? We remember John F. Kennedy as a great leader, but we don't often stop to think about why. A glimpse behind the image reveals that although Kennedy did some good things for our country, he did some poor things as well. We owe it to history to look at the man as a whole.
Kennedy came from a rich, powerful Boston family, and was expected to live up to the demands of his father. Unfortunately, Addison's disease, a serious illness that weakened his immune system, often got in the way. Kennedy was so concerned about his image that he hid his disease from the public, but he often took strong medications to deal with the daily pain. He wanted to present a strong masculine front.
Kennedy's personal life stayed out of the spotlight because of everything happening in the 1960s. The decade was both silly and serious, and a time of national change. While soldiers marched off to burn down villages in Vietnam, war protesters at home burned draft cards. The Civil Rights movement drew national attention through a daily struggle in schools, buses and lunch counters around the south. The threat of Communism made the country shudder, man landed on the moon, and the Peace Corps sent its first volunteers off on a new type of national service.
It was a changing time, marked by extreme viewpoints and dramatic behavior, and the decade's first president sported a character to match the madness. How did Kennedy handle all of the change going on during his presidency? Well, in both good ways and bad.
His push for civil rights was very useful, but his support for Black rights came only when public opinion absolutely demanded it. Some people think Kennedy's Civil Rights work was simply a reaction to the public rather than a real decision. Kennedy's fear of communism created several international problems. Although he avoided disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he brought the world frighteningly close to nuclear war. With his anti-communist beliefs, Kennedy sped up war in Vietnam. And then there was the Space Race. While Kennedy believed that it was important for the US to beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon, many Americans felt that this need to outdo the Russians was a poor use of government funds and energy. Kennedy did initiate a bill to create a federally sponsored opportunity to volunteer in foreign countries, which he proposed as the Peace Corps. This amazing organization is perhaps Kennedy's best legacy.
No matter what we've learned about Kennedy since his death, Americans continue to love him. His gravesite is one of the most visited destinations in Washington D.C. An eternal flame burns constantly behind his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. We know about his secrets and his bad decisions. We know that he was not all the goodness that we had hoped him to be, and still our country loves him.
Image may not be everything, but it counts for a heck of a lot in America. JFK has become an icon for us - beautiful, young, and sadly dead before his time. Just like Elvis, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, we see Kennedy as an icon in his glory days and we forget about the faults that were also a big part of him.
The history isn't accurate though, if we don't remember it all.
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