Who became president after JFK was murdered

JFK: The truth and the myth

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dallas. The light figure JFK shines to this day. But how successful was he as a politician? Was Kennedy a Good President? Or just a good presidential actor? A balance sheet

John F. Kennedy was not a martyr but a hero. America is a violent society - and in violent societies the venerated dead are seen not as people who go through sacrifice, but as fighters who die in their boots.

The United States emerged in a war of liberation and was shaped in a civil war. They fought in two world wars and many smaller conflicts, sometimes far beyond their borders. Those very frontiers were pushed back again and again by "pioneers" who, without hesitation, drove the Indians out with Colt and Winchester. In the immigrant quarters of New York and Chicago, on the plantations of the south, in the nests of gold diggers and knights of fortune from California to Alaska - the law of the fittest prevailed everywhere.

JFK was the brightest hero of them all

For many Americans, a president who is killed in office is like a soldier who is killed in action: a hero, not a martyr. This nation has lost several presidents to assassins. The most famous victim besides Kennedy was Abraham Lincoln, who was shot in 1865.

But John F. Kennedy was the most brilliant hero of them all. Young and charismatic; a fighter who commanded a speedboat in World War II and stood up to the USSR in the Cold War; a president, apparently at the zenith of power and creativity.

Not exactly the ideal historical figure for critical analysis. Because heroes symbolize the good of a certain era - and sometimes, as with Kennedy, even what is beyond time admirable. For many followers, he embodied the American model par excellence: radiant, gripping, optimistic. For a long time, the keen eye for details and the question of specific actions only bothered us - they would have shown how thin the foundation is on which the "Kennedy" memorial was erected.

Because what did John F. Kennedy actually accomplish? What are the results of his presidency? Has he transformed society? Revolutionized international politics?

Has JFK opened up new fields of action for power?

If you measure politics by treaty and law, then Kennedy was an average president at best. The baby boom society remained constrained in a corset of historically outdated traditions, constrained in openly discriminatory laws and not so openly displayed conventions.

The civil rights of blacks? Kennedy was reluctant to respond to their call for real political and economic equality during his presidency. He held out rather than taking the initiative. And the equality of women? Abolition of the Death Penalty? Lowering the voting age to 18 years? All not on his agenda.

The economic prosperity of the 1950s continued, but became more fragile. No fundamental reforms here, no radical changes in health and pension insurance towards a modern welfare state.

Only his successor Lyndon B. Johnson achieved several reforms of civil rights and the social system. Although he benefited from legislative initiatives that went back to his predecessor, it remains to be seen whether John F. Kennedy would have ever been able to enforce them given the difficult majority situation in the US Congress - or whether it would not have been the shocking death of the idol for a political turnaround led to the Senate and House of Representatives.

So what remains is speculation. Is the delightful play with the ultimately unanswerable question: "What if Kennedy had survived?" In any case, he has hardly opened up new policy areas.

Environmental protection, for example, was not yet an issue. The energy of the future should be provided by cheap oil and equally cheap nuclear power - one source of energy that has been indispensable at least since the early mass motorization of the 1920s, the other the great hope of the 1950s.

The flight of the middle class to the suburbs? The sluming of the city centers? Nobody in Washington could stop them. (Although Kennedy proposed a department for urban development, but failed on this issue at Congress.)

And the bold Apollo lunar flight program announced by John F. Kennedy in May 1961 was a borrowed vision: a mammoth technical project planned by scientists and the military long before his inauguration.

In foreign policy, his greatest passion, the president had a great moment as a level-headed and indomitable manager of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But he did not break up the rivalry between the superpowers, which threatened humanity, on the contrary: a duel between the giants, a duel between the USA and the Soviet Union for the military, political, ideological, economic and cultural dominance of the world, probably corresponded to the taste of John F, who was trained to be competitive Kennedy.

He had ideas such as the "Peace Corps", a kind of development aid army, for the states of Africa and Asia emerging from decolonization. But he didn't really find a new world order that would have integrated young nations other than as mere satellites of superpowers.

He never had diplomatic relations with Cuba. And Vietnam? His goals remained nebulous here, perhaps not entirely clear to him. In any case, the methods - sending alleged military advisers, initially promoting a dictator, then sacrificing him - were almost as dirty as those of his predecessors. Kennedy was not responsible for the traumatic disaster that the USA later experienced in Southeast Asia.

Kennedy has become a myth

During his tenure, however, decisions were made that contributed to the disaster. So all in all, to put it mildly, his foreign policy was not a success story either. Other US presidents of the 20th century have achieved greater things, most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, an East Coast Democrat like Kennedy and a political rival of JFK's father.

From 1933 onwards, Roosevelt fought the worst economic crisis in US history, created the first institutions of a modern welfare state in the midst of the fight against the Depression and finally fought against Adolf Hitler and the Japanese military in World War II.

An unfair comparison, for sure. Great crises can produce great politicians - and, apart from the two weeks of confrontation over nuclear missiles in Cuba, Kennedy never had to prove himself in existential need.

And yet John F. Kennedy has become a myth. The reason for this is as simple as it is difficult to describe: The political is not limited to laws, contracts and agreements - in the measurable, the written, the formal. Kennedy became famous not for the results of his presidency, but for the opportunities his presidency promised.

He was an outsider - a privileged one, without question, but an outsider: a young climber in a political class characterized by older notables. A Catholic in North America, which is heavily dominated by Protestants.

When John F. Kennedy took office in the summer of 1960, never before in the almost 200-year history of the USA had a politician with such a biography prevailed. But he succeeded, as the youngest directly elected president, as the first Catholic. And if he can do it, can't everyone do it?

There it is, the American dream of advancement, of the chance for everyone who dares. Even if Kennedy as president hardly promoted blacks and women not at all politically: the very fact that he himself had overcome discrimination was a sign of hope that other forms of discrimination would also fall.

The fact that this dream is easier to realize with inherited millions does not make it any less seductive. Because with dollars alone, but without charisma and vision, Kennedy would hardly have won the presidency (the offspring from much richer clans, such as the Rockefellers, did not make the leap into the White House).

Perhaps it is this promise - that everyone has a chance, everyone deserves a chance - that made Kennedy the voice of a generation.

JFK has been the benchmark for its successors ever since

He inspired millions of people for politics, not only demanded (in his most famous speech) that they should do something for their country, but at the same time made them understand that they would be perfectly capable of doing something like that - and that the country would be grateful to them for it.

And since his charisma also worked in the new medium of television, this promise even attracted those who could not vote for him, for example in Europe.

Kennedy's followers were united by the belief that a better world is possible, a modern utopia: a world in which the contradictions between West and East, between rich and poor will be overcome, and not in the distant future, but through the work of countless idealists in the Here and now.

Kennedy was a cynic in private, just think of his women’s stories - but not in politics, in the public arena. JFK was full of pathos, and so he succeeded in addressing the youthful idealism of a generation, not destroying it.

Smart, educated, ambitious, hardworking men and women were persuaded by him to work for their country: as development aid workers and teachers, lawyers and researchers, civil servants, advisors and ministers.

In that sense, Kennedy's presidency has had consequences - to this day. He has given many people the hope that a serious yet idealistic, a strong yet peaceful policy is possible. A hope that still exists, even if in his unfinished life he himself has largely failed to fulfill it through deeds.

Since then, John F. Kennedy has become the benchmark for his successors, in the United States as in other democracies. He showed what politics can be when it is passion and not just maintaining power.

More history on GEO.de

#Subjects