John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, would have been 90 years old today.
The strength and dynamism of Kennedy’s presence – and his promise – are evident more than four decades after his death – demonstrated by the fascination and yearning that his memory still evokes. President Kennedy’s flaws – and his strengths – are well-known at this point, documented by many biographies including An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 -1963 by Robert Dallek, which I am currently reading.
One of his strengths was his eloquence, which – simply put – was his extraordinary ability to communicate and to persuade.
To see what presidential eloquence looks and sounds like, one can do no better than to view the following – his speech to the people of Berlin on June 26, 1963.
John F. Kennedy never became an elder statesman. He was assassinated less than five months after the Berlin speech. While it is in some ways difficult to imagine John Kennedy living to old age, one can get a sense of how this country would have reacted had Kennedy died in 2003 rather than 1963. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the former Prime Minister of Canada, was similar to Kennedy in many ways in his charisma, dynamism, and eloquence. When Trudeau died in 2000 at the age of 80, Canada experienced an enormous outpouring of grief – much more than this country experienced with the deaths of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Ford. While we will never know, I think that this country – and the world – would have experienced something similar had John F. Kennedy died old rather than young.
Several years ago, Congress created an Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to coordinate the commemoration of the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009. In the next few years, Congress should consider creating a John F. Kennedy Centennial Commission in advance of Kennedy’s centennial in 2017.