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The Kennedy family and its impact on American politics

  • CHRIS COLLINS

Published: 11/22/2019 11:23:45 AM
Modified: 11/22/2019 11:23:33 AM

The course of American history changed in a very profound way 56 years ago today.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone who lived then remembers where they were and what they were doing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I’m not part of that club. In fact, I wasn’t even “in utero” when those fateful shots rang out in Dealey Plaza, but the impact of those four days and their aftermath played a big role in creating the hardcore political junkie whose thoughts appear in this space each week.

I don’t like to throw around the word “obsession” lightly, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been pretty much obsessed with the Kennedy family and its impact on American politics for most of my life. And the roots of that interest were planted firmly by the events of that crisp, fall day in 1963.

My parents certainly played a role. Both were natives of Brookline, JFK’s birthplace, and my mom was a Kennedy Democrat in the very purest sense. But the person who had the biggest hand in fueling my Kennedy obsession was a neighbor who lived next door to our family when we lived on Greenfield’s Smith Street back in the early 1970s.

Mrs. Sadlowski was a nice retired lady who took a shine to me, so much so that I would to her house for regular visits. She was like a second grandmother to me, and one day, she pulled out an album which contained a whole bunch of data about the Kennedy Assassination. Not only were there tons of clippings of that weekend’s coverage — which only served to fuel an already budding interest in the news business — but there were a number of original 8X10 photos taken on the street that day.

I don’t know where she got those pictures, but they really put the hook in me. From that day forward, I looked at every book I could find on the assassination. I think my mother was a little unsettled by my new hobby, which I’m pretty sure she found a bit ghoulish. My father didn’t seem to mind as much, and used to tell me about watching the coverage as Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred through the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters.

“I remember saying ‘someone should shoot that son of . . . and that’s when Ruby shot him,” he said. I just sat back in the chair and couldn’t believe it.”

As I got older, my interest in the Kennedys grew beyond the assassination. That entire period of history became a source of fascination, especially the attempts by some historians to weave an official legend of those years, some of which didn’t seem to jibe with what actually occurred.

Putting aside the theory that Oswald acted alone, which I’ve always found fishy, I’ve often been intrigued by the effort to create the myth that Kennedy was a great president — which, if you look at the record, doesn’t exactly pass the smell test.

From a legislative standpoint, Kennedy was pretty ineffective. He had good ideas, but didn’t have the ability to get Congress to go along with a lot of them despite being wildly popular. In fact, most of Kennedy’s biggest legislative accomplishments, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, were pushed through by Lyndon Johnson, who was much better at getting Congress to bend to his will than JFK ever was.

On the foreign policy side, there was the Bay of Pigs, not to mention the start of the quagmire of Vietnam. And even today, each October, people pause and reflect on the way Kennedy kept his calm in steering the nation through the Cuban Missile Crisis, while conveniently forgetting that it was Kennedy’s perceived inexperience that led Nikita Khrushchev to gamble on putting offensive nuclear missiles into Cuba in the first place.

Then there were the other women, alleged ties to organized crime, which may have led to his election. The stuff he got away with no contemporary politician could today, yet none of that seems to matter, because of what he and that era represented.

Kennedy remains a hero to a lot of people, myself included, I think because he reminds us of a time when people trusted government and believed it to be an instrument of good — which is certainly a far cry from what see in today’s political discourse.

Hopefully, we can get there again as a nation. Until then, we will always have Camelot.

Chris Collins is a Greenfield native who has been covering local and regional politics on various platforms for over two decades. He can be reached at sourcechris.collins@gmail.com.



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