John F. Kennedy, the father of the Reagan Democrats, would have been 95 this week.
May 29th of this week marked John F. Kennedy’s 95th birthday.
Had he never gone to Dallas, had he the blessings of long years like his 105 year old mother Rose, the man immutably fixed in the American memory as a vigorous 40-something surely would be seen in an entirely different light.
If JFK were alive today?
Presuming his 1964 re-election, we would know for a fact what he did in Vietnam. We would know for a fact what a second-term Kennedy domestic program produced. And yes, yes, all those torrent of womanizing tales that finally gushed into headlines in the post-Watergate era (and still keep coming, the tale of White House intern Mimi Alford recently added to the long list) would surely have had a more scathing effect on his historical reputation had he been alive to answer them.
But he wasn’t.
As the world knows, those fateful few seconds in Dallas on November 22, 1963 not only transformed American and world history. They transformed JFK himself into an iconic American martyr, forever young, handsome and idealistic. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination—and in spite of all the womanizing tales, in spite of the passage of now almost half a century—John F. Kennedy is still repeatedly ranked by Americans as among the country’s greatest presidents. In the American imagination, JFK is historically invincible
All of this comes to mind not simply as JFK’s 95th birthday came and went this week with remarkably little fanfare.
As readers of The American Spectator are well familiar, TAS founder and Editor-in-chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. has a new book out in which he details The Death of Liberalism.
Once upon a time — in 1950 — Bob Tyrrell notes that the liberal intellectual Lionel Trilling could honestly open his book The Liberal Imagination with this sentence:
In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.
It was true in 1950 — and it was still true on the day John F. Kennedy’s motorcade began to make its way through the streets of Dallas.
It was still true a year later, when Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson swamped the GOP’s conservative nominee Barry Goldwater.
But something had happened by 1964. Something Big. And it’s fair to wonder on the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s 95th birthday if in fact that Something Big would ever have happened at all if Kennedy had not been in Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun sight that sunny November day almost 49 years ago.
In short, one wonders. Did the bullets that killed JFK hit another target — liberalism itself? Unlike JFK, not killing liberalism instantly but inflicting something else infinitely more damaging than sudden death? Or, as Tyrrell puts it, inflicting “a slow, but steady decline of which the Liberals have been steadfastly oblivious.”
While LBJ would ride herd on American liberalism for another year, in fact the dominant status of liberalism in both politics and culture that Trilling had observed in 1950 had, after JFK’s murder, curiously begun to simply fade. Not unlike Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat, leaving nothing behind but a grin. Writes Tyrrell:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?