(Providence, Rhode Island) – It was a sad week in the world of politics as we commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. There was other news, too, so let’s get to it.
“Where Were You?” – It’s a weird generational question, because over half of the American population was not alive 50 years ago. So this week’s anniversary was a big deal to many people, not so much for others. I was four and a half years old and living in Milwaukee, but I remember it so well. It was my first recollection of ever seeing adults cry – including my mom. It was so jarring. And the news was on all day long. Now that is the norm, but back then the news was only on for a half-hour each day. So, if it was on longer, it meant something really big had happened, and usually that meant something bad.
“A Nation in Mourning” - I remember my Irish-Catholic parents (who had voted for Richard Nixon in 1960) going to a special Mass at our church. As the first Catholic President, Kennedy was a big deal, regardless of party affiliation. A dear family friend, Belle Powell, came to our house to take care me and my five siblings. She kept vacuuming our family room, while watching the news coverage on TV. Tears streamed down her face. I was puzzled since the noise of the vacuum simply drowned out Walter Cronkite. Years later I got it. She couldn’t turn away from the news coverage, yet she couldn’t bear to listen. She was stunned, scared and heartbroken, as was the vast majority of the nation.
“The Rhode Island Connection” – While Kennedy was a Senator from neighboring Massachusetts, there were long and deep ties to Rhode Island. He and Jackie were married in Newport and held a reception of epic proportion at Hammersmith Farm, which was owned by Jackie’s stepfather. In 1960, then-Senator Kennedy’s final campaign speech took place on the steps of Providence City Hall, overlooking the city’s huge mass transit hub. Thousands came out, and Kennedy was elected President the next day. Six months after his assassination, the transit area was renamed Kennedy Plaza, the name it bears to this day.
“The Grassy Knoll” – I have been in Dallas on business a number of times, but never got to the site of the assassination until the March 2008 Presidential Primary, when my daughter accompanied me. We had a few hours free, so we went to Dealey Plaza on Elm Street and stood under the School Book Depository. It was eerie! I looked out over the area and felt as if I were standing in Abraham Zapruder’s famous film of the assassination. I got chills. It was creepy. There are even three white Xs on the road, marking where the President’s car was when each shot rang out. I will never forget it. I felt I was frozen in that moment in time (Photo above).
“Truth versus Fiction” – There is a difficult aspect to understanding history. Sometimes people become larger in death than they were in life, as people choose to remember only the good. Kennedy had a boatload of problems as President. People want to be nostalgic and long for what they feel was a better time, but it wasn’t all roses back then. There were the “Bay of Pigs,” the Cuban Missile crisis, the ramping up of Vietnam, and the battle over civil rights - all kinds of struggles and challenges! So, Kennedy - like many others who have sat in the Oval Office - had a tough Presidency in difficult times. People want to hang on to “Camelot” – including lots of people who weren’t even alive then. It’s more myth than reality, and I don’t say that out of any disrespect. There’s plenty to admire about President Kennedy, but I don’t think we should hold blind loyalty and ignore some of the realities of that time. The movie “Lincoln” is a good example of how history from a similarly tragic time was portrayed pretty accurately, warts and all.
“It’s a Small World” – I am currently the Chief Political Reporter for WLNE-TV ABC6 in Providence, Rhode Island. Our Chief Political Analyst is former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy” Cianci, Jr. So what are the odds that we were both in the same city the day President Kennedy was assassinated? We were. I was a preschooler in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Buddy was a law student in Milwaukee at Marquette University. Needless to say we have talked about that day a lot.
“Nuclear Option” – There was other big political news this week. Senate Democrats voted to use the so-called “nuclear option” in blowing up longstanding Senate rules. The filibuster – and the 60 votes necessary to end it - will no longer be an option used by the minority party when considering most nominations. That means people nominated for cabinet posts and lower level judgeships will need only 51 votes, instead of 60, to be confirmed by the Senate. Presidents of both parties have long been frustrated by having their nominees blocked by the Senate. But the filibuster has been one of the few effective weapons the minority party has had in the Senate to block nominees or force compromise on legislation. Yes, it was a nightmare at times, but it was also a storied tradition. If Democrats lose their majority next year – a very real possibility – I wonder how they will feel when they have no tools with which to fight. As we remember the Kennedys this week, I wonder how Senators John, Bobby and Teddy Kennedy – all steeped in Senate traditions - would have felt about this change.
What do you think? What are your memories of November 22, 1963? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
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