With the recent observance of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, the history of our country and the Kennedy presidency has been top-ofmind for many of us. And while I was not alive in 1963 when John Kennedy died, his legacy remains palpable today as a generation of Baby Boomers recall his impact on them as teenagers when he mesmerized them with his idea of the torch being passed to a new generation of leaders.
Kennedy was a big thinker, a dreamer, a president who liked to drench his speeches in memorable rhetoric that, in many cases, endures to this day. We recall many of his orations — from his inaugural address to his remarks at the Berlin Wall to his charge to a nation that we would reach the moon — as much for their imagination and delivery as their content and confidence.
Fifty-plus years later, we all continue to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Well, at least we should be asking that.
Anniversaries are a time of reflection, and this one was very special to our country and our history. It was special not only because it seems impossible that 50 years have passed since that horrible day in Dallas, but more incredible that half our nation’s population was not alive when Kennedy was president and thus, their memories are only from what they have read, seen in video and pictures, or learned from family and friends. This milestone gave many a close-up glimpse of Kennedy the man and Kennedy the president.
I admit, I have been obsessed with Kennedy since I was a boy. Maybe it was my mother’s stories of hearing the tragic news after school on that fateful Friday afternoon and spending the following days watching the images on her small black and white TV while she cried herself to sleep.
Maybe it was the worn book in our family room produced in 1964 by the Associated Press that chronicled the Kennedy presidency, up through the funeral, aptly titled The Torch Has Been Passed. Or, maybe it was my inability to understand how a young, vibrant, handsome man, who was the leader of the free world, could be gunned down by a lone assassin’s bullet in broad daylight in a celebratory motorcade. It just did not compute. It still doesn’t.
My obsession with Kennedy, along with my passion for Lincoln, has led to an ongoing love affair with the U.S. presidency since I was a boy of 7 or 8. Now, I am onto devouring Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest tome on Teddy Roosevelt (TR) and William Howard Taft and their battle of 1912. Add to this A. Scott Berg’s biography of Woodrow Wilson and Jon Meacham’s definitive work on Jefferson…well, you get the idea. I am in presidential heaven and the hits keep on coming.
I had the good fortune to see Doris Kearns Goodwin at the Miami Book Fair International in November. She was as advertised. She talked about her longstanding relationships with all these dead presidents (she has chronicled Lincoln, TR, Taft, FDR, Kennedy and LBJ during her career) and how they often inhabit her life for the time she is researching and writing about them.
I was fascinated by her ability to recall even the most minor of details and much of the first-person narrative taken directly from letters and personal correspondence that may, in the very near future, be obsolete. Maybe we will have email missives, in lieu.
Finally, congratulations to Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books and Miami Dade College on the 30th anniversary of our beloved Book Fair. Few events of this nature and stature endure three decades — and rarely do they get better with age. Our book fair is the true exception and that is our great fortune! If you missed it, well, they will do it again in November 2014. And in the meantime, visit their flagship store in the Gables and feed your passion for history or travel or art or whatever strikes your fancy, just like I have.