There is something about John F. Kennedy. Could it be his charisma and charm that still entrances America? Maybe it is his elevated status as a pop culture icon that bedazzles most American citizens. It might be the martyr status he attained through his tragic assassination that makes American culture revere him as a President. Whatever the reason is that defines John F.
Kennedy as probably one of the most beloved Presidents in American History; one assumption by many is that it has nothing to do with his political legacy.Many respected historians will tell you that he has an insubstantial political legacy. Using the body of legislation that was passed during his short time in office as evidence, historians say that significant legislation was lacking.More than likely they will remark about his emphasis on rhetoric and his deficient action. On the other hand, many historians and writers contend his political legacy reverberates to this very day. They claim that through his mastery of that novel medium of his day, Television, his inclusion of culture into the office of President, and most of all his idealism, echoes in today’s political atmosphere.
In total, the latter argument is actually stronger. Although JFK does lack substantial legislation that would bolster a claim to a significant political legacy, in other ways John F. Kennedy has such an intense political legacy that to this very day the Presidency of the United States cannot escape it. In respect to truly monumental legislation, John F.
Kennedy does lack and therefore the people who say he does not have a true political legacy have a point. These critics believe a true political legacy is in what the President has accomplished legislatively in the White House. With Kennedy, they state he was more talk than action. They do concede it was not truly do to his lack of initiative. He did have many proposals, but because he was dealing with a Congress that was very strong and composed of a Southern Democrats/Republican majority, he had a hard time.
(Kilpatrick, 51) So proposals like federal aid to education, the creation of a Department of Urban Affairs, and Medicare were shot down. (Kilpatrick, 53). To drum up support for them, Kennedy had to convince the public and gain their support. That’s where Kennedy’s famous rhetoric comes in.
The talk may have later led the American public to support the mentioned proposals in the Johnson years, but in JFK’s years they did nothing but make his critics say he was a lot of talk and no action.Yet John F. Kennedy did have some significant legislation passed through Congress, and even got accomplishments done around Congress’ back.
One achievement is when John F. Kennedy formed the Peace Corps. (Sorensen, 256) Another was the giving of federal support to the arts, which was done through executive orders. (Kilpatrick, 54) Economically, his tax cut resonates in the policy of former President Reagan. In fact, when tallying the recommendations Kennedy sent to the 87th Congress, of the 107 he sent 73 were enacted into law, with measures dealing with water pollution, mental health care, hospital construction, mental retardation, drug safety and medical schools. (Manchester, 227) In total, his biggest achievement was not in what was accomplished, but what was proposed.
The critics might believe that passed legislation is the only indicator of political legacy, but in reality what is proposed can have profound effects. His proposals on Medicare and programs like it might have lead to nothing in his term, but they did come to fruition in later Presidencies. Truthfully, one cannot say a man does not have a political legacy if he had proposed ideas, but they had not been passed, since those proposals can deeply influence later Congresses and Presidents through their ideas and insight into problems.
One way President Kennedy has a true political legacy is in his use of Television in his campaign for in the Presidential Election of 1960. Back when Kennedy ran, it was an underutilized tool. Kennedy brought out its potential. Through television, he was able to present himself to vast audiences that he could never have reached. Kennedy exploited the television debate, first used in that election.
Kennedy had poise, while also looking tanned and well rested, while his opponent, Richard Nixon, was sick and looked dreadful. Afterwards, during his presidency Kennedy effectively utilized the new medium to his advantage. He was the “contemporary man”, as he was called by Adlai Stevenson after Kennedy’s death. This was portrayed through TV in his vitality and youth.
(Schlesinger, 12) It was said by William Manchester, “Newspapermen and television commentators reported the progress of the new administration almost breathlessly. The televised news conferences were immensely popular. Remembering his first debate with Nixon, Jack became the first President to recognize and exploit the possibilities of TV.” (Manchester, 135) His family became a center of public interest. Everyone wanted to know the name of his daughter’s horse or his son’s latest escapade. The television turned the presidential family into a mini soap opera, changing the way the Presidency would be looked at after it. (Manchester, 250) This usage of television is seen today, from round the clock coverage of the president on television, to the media firestorm that surrounded President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal.
President Clinton is a byproduct of this usage of TV. He is a telegenic person who has used his mastery of the medium effectively to convince voters to vote for him. He also says that his idol President is John F.
Kennedy.Throughout most of America’s history, the President had to appeal to the commoner to be elected. That usually meant appearing commoner then the ordinary person. However, John. F.
Kennedy did not hide his love of the high-life. He broke the mold and invited the crme de la crme to the White House, and entertained them with artists, poets, scientists, musicians, and scholars. The guests would eat gourmet food, and then maybe see a ballet troupe perform, or perhaps they saw a Shakespeare company stage a play. Whatever it was, JFK broke new political ground, changing the perception of a President from a commoner to an intellectual. (Manchester, 156).John F.
Kennedy was a man of idealism, and his idealism changed the political landscape. He held that problems are man-made, and can be therefore solved by man. (Kennedy, 2) He was man who believed things of excellence could be achieved, no matter how hard they are to attain. (Sorenson, 256) Kennedy believed that it was the role of the President to ignite hope – for decency, equality, reason and peace.
(Sorenson, 257) In a speech at American University in 1963, President Kennedy said:What kind a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on he world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of a slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.(Kennedy, 1) This kind of idealistic world vision that Kennedy was known for inspired millions, with him growing a loyal following of the younger generation of the time. He told his fellow Americans to reexamine their attitudes towards peace and freedom.
(Kennedy, 6) In fact, he was the one who inspired the youth of the 1960’s to actually participate in the government and the world. He gave them an outlet, the Peace Corps, and gave them inspiration to change the world for the better, and therefore gained their votes. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
said, “He voiced the disquietude of the postwar generation . . .” (Schlesinger, 13). By using the youth to his political advantage, he ignited a chain of events that reverberates to this day. It was the first generation that had grown up in an age when American innocence had died. (Schlesinger, 12) This volatile mixture of loss of innocence, youth and idealism lead to the SDS, Black Panthers, The Weatherman, Flower Power and other organizations or beliefs that had idealistic views.
This is a true political legacy, because by him inciting the youth of the 60’s to do better and “ . . . Ask what you can do for your country.” Led this country down the path of the turbulent 60’s, changing the dynamics of the country’s youth culture irreparably.
However valid the point of JFK’s critics in reference to Kennedy’s flimsy legislation record, Kennedy does have a political legacy that is irrefutable. The idealism he gave to the youth of America, his mastery of the media, and his infusion of culture into the White House have left its mark politically in such a way that Presidents, Senators and congressmen can in no way escape it. John F. Kennedy does have a political legacy, and it is one that politicians must embrace or they will not be taken seriously by Americans.Bibliography:WORKS CITEDKennedy, John F. “American University Speech”.
html, June 10, 1963.Kilpatrick, Caroll. “The Kennedy Style and Congress.” John F. Kennedyand The New Frontier. Ed.
Ada DiPace Donald. New York:Hill andWang, 1966.Manchester, William. One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy. Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 1983.Schlesinger Jr.
, Arthur M. “Kennedy on the Eve.” John F.
Kennedyand The New Frontier. Ed. Ada DiPace Donald. New York:Hill andWang, 1966.Sorensen, Theodore C. “Epilogue.
” John F. Kennedy and The New Frontier. Ed. Ada DiPace Donald. New York:Hill and Wang, 1966.