The assassin’s bullets which took the life of President John F. Kennedy also gouged a gaping wound in the nation’s side and left America’s millions and the country’s friends around the world struggling with a mixture of emotions — a deep sense of grief and loss giving way at times understandably, to indignation and anger.
Certainly the assassination of the President, struck down at the age of 46, is one of the most shocking blows that the nation might be called upon to bear when disturbing crises seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Yet at this time of sadness we must remember that our government is a continuing government and it goes on automatically. The baton of leadership is not dropped and left to gather dust; it automatically passes to the keeping of those prepared for emergencies.
Mr. Kennedy, as President, deserved the honors and the respect that were accorded him because of his exalted position. However, he was part of a government which was established after the Revolutionary War and was so designed to last because it is a people’s government regardless of the comings and goings of individuals who from year to year are selected to handle its responsibilities. But he was mortal.
Government by Ballot
The government of the United States is controlled by ballots, not bullets. Authority changes hands at the bidding of the nation’s voters and not by military coups. It is still strong and it will remain strong. Actually it can be said, truthfully, nothing could so unify the people of the United States as the tragedy which has marred the lives of the family in the White House and has brought sorrow to the free world.
Americans high and low, rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans and those of no party share the grief of the President’s family and the anger that stirs their souls at this imbecilic blow at decent government and a God-fearing man entrusted with a burden which only the most courageous could seek to assume. This is true because the President of the United States shares with all Americans a relationship which exists nowhere else in the world. The people of the United States are Americans first and party members next.
It is the prerogative of the American people to disagree with the President if they so wish, and many have, but an assassin’s bullet is an attack on our system of government. What can be done to stop such crimes? Mr. Kennedy is the fourth president of the United States to die at the hand of an assassin. In all, efforts have been made to kill seven presidents.
He Understood Power
Whether John Fitzgerald Kennedy would have become a great president is a question that will remain unanswered. In his short term in office he developed many pluses, many problems and considerable opposition. However, as Robert J. Donovan wrote in Parade last April: “If the President has learned the limitations on his powers, he has also come to grasp their magnitude. Mr. Kennedy has become a President who understands power and who is willing to use it. This applies to political power in many forms. It applies to military power. It applies to the power of money. It applies to the power of family. It applies to brain power. It applies to the power of expression and communication, to the power to propagandize and exploit Mr. Kennedy’s remarkable personality. All of this has made him, in spite of troubles and mistakes a formidable president.”
Mr. Kennedy was wise, indeed, in the ways of government. He was also young, in comparison to most of the men who have lived in the White House and he had the advantages of a humorous disposition and the people liked this because it was a natural part of his makeup.
Maturity Comes Quickly
Troubles and mistakes may befall any man in the White House and Mr. Kennedy had his share. Maturity was thrust upon him in a hurry when his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese craft near Georgia Island in 1943. He and his crew were rescued after spending hours in the water and five days on a tiny South Pacific island. After the war he plunged into politics largely at the behest of his father who long had dreamed of a son as the President. He won his way into Congress and then made the Senate. The 1956 Democratic convention was the launching pad for his presidential nomination. He met the religious issue — he was Roman Catholic — head on and this, fortunately, has been disposed of.
Mr. Kennedy espoused liberalism from the very beginning of his presidential tenure but because of the narrowness of his victory over Richard M. Nixon, he moderated the tone of his New Frontier legislative program for a while.
Foreign policy and the domestic economy were Mr. Kennedy’s great problems at the beginning. In many ways, both were to be overshadowed later by the Negro “revolution” which confronted the nation with one of its gravest domestic crisis since the Civil War. Overseas, there were the ever-present threat posed by the Soviet Union, the troubles in Southeast Asia and — over and over again — Cuba. He had barely unpacked his bags at the White House when his image was tarnished by the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Mr. Kennedy accepted full responsibility, as his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, did for the fate of the U2 “spy” plane brought down in Russia. But if the Bay of Pigs was a fiasco, October of 1962 brought a notable triumph when he set up a blockade of Cuba to meet the Soviet missile crisis.
Victories and Defeats
The Soviet backdown in the case of the Yale professor, Frederick Barghoorn, was clearly a personal victory for Kennedy. The President said: “We want Mr. Barghoorn released!” And he was.
Mr. Kennedy’s career in the White House might well be called one of frustration — if it had belonged to anyone else with less of the vigor of which he spoke so often. It can’t be said that he lacked the courage of his convictions. His tax bill, his efforts to meet the civil rights crisis, his plan to provide medical care for the elderly have been controversial pieces of legislation which have made little headway. Yet he worked out a test ban with Soviet Russia and this can be regarded as a step in the general direction of world peace. This has been the American objective since World War II and the unexpected surge of Communism. Mr. Kennedy gave an amazing amount of time and energy toward efforts to stem the Red tide. His countrymen have applauded and supported his courage and firmness against the Russians when the need arose.
In this age, the problems of the president of the United States — and by common consent spokesman and defender of the free world — are problems of unrelenting pressure. Mr. Kennedy’s policies may be criticized but he can’t be accused of shirking his responsibilities.