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Essay/Term paper: President john f. kennedy

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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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 crème de la crème 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. WORKS CITED Kennedy, John F.

"American University Speech".

Http://users.southeast.net/~cheryl/auspeech.html, June 10,

1963. Kilpatrick, Caroll. "The Kennedy Style and

Congress." John F. Kennedy and The New Frontier. Ed.

Aïda DiPace Donald. New York:Hill and Wang, 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. Kennedy and The New Frontier. Ed.

Aïda DiPace Donald. New York:Hill and Wang, 1966.

Sorensen, Theodore C. "Epilogue." John F. Kennedy and

The New Frontier. Ed. Aïda DiPace Donald. New

York:Hill and Wang, 1966.  

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