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Optimism of JFK era can't be grasped by younger folks

November 25, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
One last series of thoughts on JFK.

As I watched the various shows, clips, real-time assassination day news coverage and listened to commentary it struck me that I can never really get the whole sense of loss. I wonder if anyone of my age group and those who came after really can.

Oh, as an American, I get the loss of a president, the loss of a dynamic leader, the whole public spectacle of the death and funeral and tragic turn of events. I get the sense that the Kennedys were star-crossed and the loss of RFK just five years later added to the mystique.

But I was a baby when John F. Kennedy was killed. And as such, I have no real lens, other than the ones I see from the past, with which to view his loss. I don't get the optimism, the sheer joy that seems to have been aimed JFK's way. It was as if the hopes of all the people "born in this century" to quote his inaugural, were faithfully on his shoulders.

I was not old enough during the 1950s, which are often described variously as "stifling" and "boring" to understand what the big switch to the younger, more attuned to the times Kennedy as leader meant after a decade of Truman and Eisenhower.

I cannot remember a time when there was such optimism about the government, the nation, the economy, people, cities, civil rights and science.

The coming of age era of my life included the Vietnam War and Watergate, Iran Contra and the specter of Monica Lewinsky, and, pretty much was wrapped up with Sept. 11, 2001, and slammed shut by everything that has followed. The government lies, is inept, bumbles, but it does not cause optimism and it does not make me look to the sky.

All of that may be the reason I hold the space program's lunar landings in such high esteem, because, in my lifetime, they're the only thing I can think of that showed a government program could do the highest-caliber job possible, and, of course, it is inextricably linked to John F. Kennedy. And even the space program was proven to be just another bureaucratic government mess in the wake of the explosion of the Challenger and the loss of the Columbia.

Optimism is the thing farthest from my mind when I think of government nowadays. I think dysfunction. Corruption. Stupidity. Bloated bureaucracy. To me, the last president who was a dignified gentleman may have been George H.W. Bush. And that's not a political commentary, but a societal tone about the regal air the office should confer on the man.

Kennedy seems to have had that air, and still be the people's king, all at the same time.

But I'll never fully understand it, no matter what I read.

I was a baby then, maybe like the whole nation was.


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