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I was born around 10 years after John F. Kennedy was shot. I was never caught up in the emotional torrent that still surrounds him today. The type of emotional torrent that often leads to people being placed on high pedestals. I believe this is the case with Kennedy.

Every year, surveys are conducted to determine who people believe are the 10 most influential presidents. Every year, Kennedy shows up on the list. After doing some research into the subject, I can't figure out why. Kennedy was definitely an energetic and charismatic leader that captured the minds of the American public at the time. He had a beautiful wife and cute kids. If you look at it from that perspective, he probably personified the All-American father at the time. But, in the political arena, he had few high points. Here is what I can determine that those high points were:

The Cuban Missile Crisis - I do have to give him some of the credit for this one, but you have to remember, quite a bit of the success from that could be credited to all of the smart people he surrounded himself with during that time.

The 24th Amendment - This amendment made the use of poll taxes illegal. This opened up voting for a huge number of poor and minority voters that were previously unable to. Once again, while Kennedy championed this cause, he cannot be completely credited for actually getting it ratified.

The Peace Corps - Kennedy challenged the younger generation of America to go to poorer sections of the world to assist in any way they could. While this is commendable, the ranks of the Peace Corps did not really appear to swell until after Kennedy was assassinated. He became the rallying cry. Over time, the interest in the Peace Corps has waned significantly; currently, there are less than 7,000 volunteers and trainers.

The Space Program - Kennedy challenged the American public to put a man on the moon. The government created NASA and poured billions of dollars into it. Once again, Kennedy became a symbol for putting a man on the moon after he was assassinated and five years later, it happened.

The Housing Act of 1961 - The Housing Act of 1961 provided funds to build low income housing in urban America. While well intentioned, in many cases, this led to the creation large slum areas.

Sure, there were some successes. There were also some great failures:

Civil Rights - Kennedy was never able to gather enough support to get any sort of real civil rights legislation passed. Even Kennedy realized that he had failed in this regard.

Taxes - Taxes were at record highs for the time and Kennedy was not able to spearhead any sort of legislation to lower them.

The Bay of Pigs - This was, quite possibly, one of the more embarrassing failures of Kennedy's presidency.

One also must remember that Kennedy wrote and re-wrote the book on marital infidelity during his time in office. But then again, what guy doesn't give him a little slack for Marilyn Monroe.

I am not saying that Kennedy was a bad president. He managed to accomplish some things and provided a good face for the leadership during some dark times in American history. With this being the day before the 40th anniversary of his death, I am not looking forward to all of the people that are going to come out of the woodwork over the next few days extolling the virtues of John F. Kennedy and placing him on such a high pedestal.

I believe that, as the baby boomers age, you will see that Kennedy's rank within the top 10 influential presidents will fall as the emotion surrounding him is replaced by an actual logical look at what was accomplished.

"All the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway." - Harry S Truman (1884 - 1972), Letter to his sister, Nov. 14, 1947


Hmmm, I agree and disagree on some statements. I agree with the fundamental ideas you bring forth... he was a womanizer, a son of a northeastern bourgeoisie family, and supposedly a drug user. While they may have swept all of this under the carpet back in the day, today he would have been crucified by the press and his opponents on the hill. People say he was very charismatic and he was still fairly young and had a big future ahead of him...who doesn't say that about a president for the first few years, or the first term???

I disagree that he'll start dropping from memory. There are people our age that would still say, sure, he was the most influential, because they see it all on TV. Maybe in our children's age they will begin to forget, but there will always be some expose, or someone finding "new" evidence, it's all about sensationalism and what is more attention grabbing than some poor guy getting his brains blown out on TV?

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