A lot of people born after the events of that day, or more than a decade after, never lived through the spirit of the times or the immediate aftermath, when the psychic pain was still sharp.
Well, he was only one man, you might say, and he was a philanderer, among other things, but that was Jackie's problem. He was a good President, a man who did take responsibility after the Bay of Pigs disaster, a mission he had inherited from the Eisenhower Administration but he still gave it the green light despite misgivings. When it all hit the fan he said it was his fault. His approval rating skyrocketed. Can you imagine the current occupant of the White House admitting he was wrong? About anything?
JFK inspired a generation of young and old to enter public service. Can you think of a politician today who could do that?
He gave us a sense of excitement and the feeling that we could do anything we set our minds to, best exemplified by the space program and the Peace Corps. He made us feel proud to be Americans. The early ‘60s was a very different time. It had its cons (blacks were still struggling for civil rights, women were second-class, gays dared not speak of their love at all) and pros (optimism, excitement, a can-do spirit).
JFK was the symbol of the times. He was well-loved by many, and intensely hated by the right wing On the day of his murder, the Dallas Morning News published an ad showing him in profile and full face as if he was a criminal being booked. He was accused of treason for mediating with the Soviets.
He was the first Irish Catholic President, not far removed from the days of ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs and openly hostile anti-Catholic bias. He received the benefit of the press' 'gentlemen's agreement' in which they kept his serial adultery out of the newspapers. He was no Boy Scout, but he was skeptical of military and CIA experts after the Bay of Pigs and because of his World War II service (the brass didn't always know what was right) and was probably a good choice to be in the office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I shudder to think what might have happened if our current Prez had been in office during those tense days!
People believed in their Government pretty much back then, and gave the office of the Presidency respect. One of the most dramatic images of those years that I've seen was a photo of JFK on Cape Cod, sitting in an open-air convertible and talking to some people on the side of the road. He was not behind a bulletproof pane of glass or completely surrounded by Secret Service men. Some might say that openness helped get him killed.
I'd say it showed an innocence/openness of the times that we can never get back.
Whatever the case, nearly 70% of the American people today believe he was killed by a conspiracy. Lee Harvey Oswald was either a strategic genius, an incredible sharpshooter, or the luckiest SOB on the planet that day in Dallas, because he allegedly used a World War II Italians Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that even the Italians thought was a piece of crap.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, a man with Mafia ties, calmly walked into the crowded basement of the Dallas Police Department, surrounded by FBI and Dallas cops, and walked right up to Oswald and shot him.
Most people wanted to believe their Government. They bought the Warren Report when it was released on September 27, 1964. They were given magic bullets and a lone gunman who plotted and brought down the President of the United States, who had defected to Russia in the late ‘50s and returned to the U.S. in the early ‘60s after a suicide attempt with a Russian wife and a baby. How many people did the Cold War U.S. accept back from the heart of Soviet Russia in those days? And Oswald couldn’t hold a job, was involved in one fringe political scheme after another, and declared he was a patsy when arrested on November 22, 1963. His interrogation was not recorded, nor were any notes taken or were not produced.
The autopsy notes of JFK’s body were destroyed or hidden away.
It’s a cliché by now to say that everything changed on November 22, 1963, but the Government had a lot of good will and faith stored up after the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War. People began to think, what if they’re lying? The tortured twisting and turning of the Warren Report sowed the seeds of doubt. The bloody execution of a President on an American street had deeply shocked the nation, and in a tribalistic sense, the chief and leader had been slain. The symbolism was cold and stark.
The Government clamped down on all film, stills, and other evidence. The infamous Zapruder film was not shown to the American public until 1975, with only a few still photos ever published before that and grainy bootleg copies circulating among college campuses in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Today the Zapruder film would have been on YouTube within 24 hours.
Back then, people were fed what the Government chose to give them.
The cracks in the foundation began to appear.
Then there was Vietnam.
The murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The murder of Bobby Kennedy.
And now, we’re as cynical as we can get.