I’m in Boston for meetings, and last night I went to an event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I had a chance to walk through the exhibits, which included photographs, letters, television footage, a recreation of the Oval Office as it was in the Kennedy White House, shown above, and a gigantic American flag high above the reception area, shown below. Of course, the exhibits end with the tragic events of November 22, 1963 and an effort to capture JFK’s legacy.
JFK’s presidency has always been a huge historical “what if” — Steven King wrote an entire novel exploring that premise — and a story of unfulfilled promise. Viewed from the standpoint of the modern era of PACs, attack ads, internet memes, and rancorous “debates,” though, it seems like a golden era, where politics was less bitter, less nasty, and less divisive. For all of the heightened feelings about the Bay of Pigs, the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, and the fighting in Southeast Asia, Americans somehow managed to avoid the bleak corrosiveness that now seems so pervasive in our politics.
I’ve never bought into the depiction of the Kennedy presidency as Camelot, but I don’t think you can walk through the exhibits at the JFK Library and Museum and compare what you see to the present day without thinking our system has taken a wrong turn somewhere.