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50 years later, Kennedy charisma still stands out

Published: Sun, November 17, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.





  JFK Remembered

Longtime Mhoning Valley political icon Harry Meshel recalls the 35th President of the United States.

Longtime Mhoning Valley political icon Harry Meshel recalls the 35th President of the United States.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a charismatic, youthful leader who presented himself effectively on the emerging medium of television.The unprecedented continuous live, multi-day coverage of his assassination 50 years ago represented a coming of age for that medium.

“He had a military background. He was recognized as a war hero,” for his World War II Navy service, noted Fred Owens, communications professor at Youngstown State University.

“He had a great smile. ... He was able to exude a charm that reached through the television and touched people,” Owens said. “He loved to use self-deprecating, almost ad-lib humor, and that reaches through a television screen.”

The Kennedy charisma is being remembered this week as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.

“He was glib. He loved to conduct news conferences where he would engage reporters in tete-a-tete and engage them in multiple questions, and he was able to put together a family that almost seemed to be the Camelot family,” Owens recalled.

“He had a wordsmith in Ted Sorenson [his speechwriter], in Pierre Salinger [his press secretary], and in the other advisers that he had, who were able to capture spirit,” the professor said. “He was able to very succinctly inspire by his phrases, by his metaphors, and by his figures of speech.”

As an example, Owe ns recited the immortal line from JFK’s Jan. 20, 1961, inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

In his use of the media to address an audience that included many who had lived through World War II and the Korean War, JFK “was able to connect with those aspirations that people had, those expectations that things would be better, that there was an unlimited future before us, and that our economy would prevail,” Owens observed.

“JFK was singularly confident of his abilities and leadership qualities,” recalled Harry Meshel, who was chairman of the Mahoning County Chapter of Citizens for Kennedy in 1960.

“You could see it in him. He was confident when he spoke, when he was around you. I wasn’t around him that frequently, but, the few times that I was, he knew what he wanted to say, and he said it with confidence,” said Meshel, who attended JFK’s inauguration. “He was knowledgeable.”

At the same time, Meshel said Kennedy “appeared to be someone who came out of your own backyard, out of your own neighborhood. That’s the way the Kennedys always impressed me, even though they came out of affluence.”

John F. Kennedy, who was the youngest-ever and first Roman Catholic president, had a special allure, many recalled.

“He was damned good looking and he was articulate. The women loved him,” said Robert Casey, of Boardman.

“He was a politician and also a diplomat,” said Thomas Carney, a former state representative and Mahoning County commissioner. “Most everybody liked him, whether they were Democrats or Republicans,” Carney observed.

“He was so dynamic, and he was young like we were. We could all identify with this young man, who was bringing a whole new appearance to politics that we, as young parents, could identify with,” said ClaranneLyden McCloud of Boardman.

“He spoke intelligently. He spoke of a new hope for our nation,” she said. His words “gave us great hope for the future.”

“He had a young family. He tried to use humor to get his point across,” said Robert Casey’s wife, Jackie.

“I never really was interested in politics before. He just got the young people interested in politics,” she said. “His being young just made you feel closer to him.”

“I thought he was charismatic. He was young, good-looking and a very good speaker, and people were attracted to that,” observed Dick Coughlin, of Boardman.

In the 1960 presidential debates, Kennedy prevailed over Richard Nixon because he was well prepared, Owens said. “One thing that was hidden was how carefully he prepared” for the debates and for news conferences, Owens said of JFK.

“He was suntanned, so he had a very robust appearance,” in the debates on black and white TV, Owens added.

In contrast, during the debates, Nixon “was visibly calculating the arguments, almost reading from the inside of his forehead the arguments that he was going to bring forward, and so he tended not to smile. He tended not to engage the audience,” or the news reporters, who were present, the professor said.

Nixon also perspired heavily under the TV lights and once appeared for a debate while suffering from a high fever and dehydration, Owens noted.

JFK’s short tenure as president was characterized by the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, the maturing of the American civil rights movement, his challenge to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade, and his agenda to bring justice and prosperity to Third World countries.

“When you hear someone, on behalf of everyone, commit us to a big, juicy goal, those are the kinds of goals that move men’s souls,” Owens said of the moon landing goal, which was achieved in July 1969.

“He said forthrightly what he wanted to do, what we should be doing, why we should be doing it, and he was confident that we could get it done,” Meshel said. “He was a good political speechmaker because he knew what subjects to talk about.”

“Outside of President Lincoln, he had probably the most challenging presidency” in U.S. history, said David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, equating the significance of the Cuban missile crisis with that of the Civil War in determining the future of the United States.

The outcome of the missile crisis, which ended with the Soviet Union withdrawing its missiles from Cuba, could have been decisive as to whether the United States would survive or the world would have been destroyed by nuclear war, Betras said.

“The Cuban missile crisis defined his leadership and his statesmanship,” Betras said.

Had JFK survived and continued his presidency, he “would have turned society a little more inward to think about the people within the nation as well as worrying about our position in the world,” Meshel said.

“He would have worried about, not only the soul of people, but their well-being and what they would like to see this country do,” Meshel added.

During the Kennedy presidency, “There was a contact and a recognition of people and a contact with people that is very rare that very few presidents have ever had,” Meshel observed. “The only one that came close to it was Harry Truman.”

After the tearful CBS-TV news anchor Walter Cronkite told the nation of the president’s death on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, Americans were focused on their TV sets through the weekend.

Millions watched Jack Ruby fatally shoot the assassination suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, on live national TV on Nov. 24, 1963, as Dallas police detectives were preparing to transport Oswald from the police station basement to county jail.

The nation’s attention to live television continued on the next day, which had been declared a national day of mourning, as Americans watched the funeral and saw the iconic image of 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket during the funeral procession.

“It was a horrible event for everyone, and it was the dashing of the hopes and the expectations for so many,” Owens said of the assassination, which generated TV coverage that was viewed by 70 percent of American households with television.

“It’s not like Lincoln sitting in a booth,” when he was assassinated in the presidential box at Ford’s Theater in 1865, Meshel observed.

“This was a president going through a main street in kind of an unfriendly state and sitting in an open vehicle,” Meshel said of the procession in Dallas.

“You hear this cracking of a rifle, and you see people slumping and she [Jacqueline Kennedy] dramatically climbing out of the back seat,” in a real-life event, he noted.

“Americans stopped doing what they were doing. ... It was pretty much wall-to-wall news coverage by a barely adult television industry,” Owens recalled.

“This was a different world of media,” he added. “When people were drawn to that screen and saw what was happening to the nation, they were able to participate in a way that nobody had been able to before.”


1bmanresident(607 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Those were the days when Youngstown was relevant. Now the unions have run every manufacturing job out of town, the democrats have taxed the remaining business out of the county, and the lack of real leadership keeps the crime rampant. We won't see another Youngstown like the one in the picture as long as the Democrats keep screwing it up

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2isaac45(401 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Only one comment of the two a right-wing rant?...a little surprising..that ratio will pick up over the course of the day, I'm confident.

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3tnmartin(508 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

I guess when we see oh-so-tolerant phrases like "rescumlican" and "right wing slant", we should automatically translate that to mean " reaction to an unpleasant truth". For that is most generally the case.
But let us return to the original article if we may.
A puff piece about a member of a remarkably corrupt family who was, unfortunately, murdered by a far-left fanatic. FIFTY years ago! Most of the readers here were probably not born yet, and of the few remaining, fewer still were of voting age. So on what basis, one asks, should we assess claims of remaining charisma? Name familiarity is about all that comes to mind. Fact is, JFK accomplished remarkably little of any value, and set in motion a number of things that have done serious damage to the nation ever since. This is something to celebrate? Really?

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4JoeFromHubbard(1742 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes, those were the days alright. Unfortunately Youngstown was a one trick pony with the mills whose death took the city with it.

There are numerous reasons for the demise of the mills, a few of which have been noted in the above comments. That topic has been researched and debated thoroughly but that will not return the "glory days."

Things change constantly producing winners and losers. You either adapt or die.

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5endthismess(461 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

I remember standing alongside of the entrance of the Liberty Plaza when Kennedy and his entourage were traveling north on Belmont on his way to the Voyager downtown to speak. It was a very warm sunny day. I did see him looking over & waving to all us kids...that to me was a once in a lifetime experience... given the fact no one knew what was to come. I was about 7 years old. My grandmother was elected to the Central Democratic Committee in (Trumbull Co.) and was a campaign worker for Kennedy. She did meet him when his was campaigning. After he was elected, all the committee workers received an autographed 8x10 picture from him. No idea what ever happened to that picture.

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6dontbeafool(1950 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

This just in, Rush said it is Obama's fault.

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7JoeFromHubbard(1742 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

A couple of corrections:

Kennedy would have had to go South on Belmont Ave. to get to the Voyager Inn.

Rush didn't just say that. We all knew it years ago.

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8DACOUNTRYBOY(1044 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

My Grandfather knew President John Kennedy and Obama is neither Catholic nor does he share the same mental abilites as the former President John Kennedy. President John Kennedy loved the people of Appalachia and Obama hates Rural America.

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9paulydel(1575 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Some real stupid comments about being the unions fault. I have been on both sides. If it wasn't for the unions the nonunion people would still be making lower scale wages. The biggest problem is our tax system causing businesses to leave the country and we need to take a long hard look at that. I was 12yrs old when Kennedy came to the area. I got the honor of shaking his hand as he was leaving the airport. Kennedy had a vision for the United States that gave us hope and put people back to work. We haven't seen much of that lately have we?

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10HSG(185 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

To: DACOUNTRYBOY Kennedy's presidential run was based on the advice from his brother Bob that the grits and rednecks in WVA would vote for him in the 1960 Dem primary, despite the fact that JFK was a Roman Catholic. If you think JFK 'loved' rural America, you need to ask to have your meds adjusted.

JFK was a major league-level ladies man. The most interesting question about JFK is where his children are located other than those he had with his wife.

JFK's presidency was an enormous failure. The bay o pigs fiasco, among other 'initiatives,' were demonstrative of the fact that he was addicted to pain killers and acquiring chicks. He was 'against' A. Phillip Randoph and King,. jr.'s March on Washington, petrified in fact by the possibility of Civil Rights becoming an important issue during his presidency. He DID, however, manage to engulf the US in Viet Nam, a situation from which the nation was extricated in the mid-70's.

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie--Bob Dylan

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11DACOUNTRYBOY(1044 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

TO HSG: If you think Obama loves rural America, then you need to ask to have your meds adjusted.

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12walter_sobchak(2634 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Let's put this article in some perspective because some of the respondents have poor memories or poor grasp of history. Betras' assertion that JFK had the second-most challenging presidency after Lincoln passes over FDR's terms with the Great Depression and World War II. This is not even close in comparison. As for Harry Meshel comments, while Harry Truman was an affable sort of man, he certainly was noted beloved by the entire nation since he barely won his 1948 campaign. But, Harry is a loyal democrat that forgets how loved Ike was after the war. And, as for having the contact with the people and personality, Ronald Reagan was the champ. He was able to go around Congress to the American people to have his agenda enacted.

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13HSG(185 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago


in addition, perhaps a remedial reading class.

My post, as such, makes no mention of President Obama, or whom he loves or does not love.

N'est-ce pas?

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