Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
On this day, invariably, there's a spate of Kennedy memory. In the first years after
the assassination enormous feelings came up; it's almost embarrassing to admit such a thing. The power of the event was comparable to the assassination of Caesar. And one has to
remember that just 40 years after the death of Caesar came the birth of Christ. Those two
events signal more change than all the change in gadgetry that we believe is blinding change in our own time.
Looking back at Kennedy, despite his weaknesses, I think he was a great leader lost at a crucial moment in time. It was such a huge, public event for one thing. The actual killing is on film which makes it even more incredible and unreal but then, realer than real. The violence and horror of it is worse as the years go by.
Kennedy often spoke the inspired truth, especially as he appealed to the young to
keep to their better selves; nourish the good in themselves. He was a great leader because
he had the opportunity to live out both the highest ideals and yet, as well, the realpoltic. He was not a profound thinker but he had a creative and innovative mind; something lacking in this period of time among the political class.
Of course, a nation shouldn't become fixated to a moment in time.
In youth I discovered high idealism and was astonished to see how some of Kennedy's
phrases matched exactly with that feeling of idealism. That America is where dreams live
and die hard. That our power must be tempered with beauty and poetry. That was Kennedy.
It's amazing how far one's thought can range. There was a period of time in my youth where nothing would have pleased me more than to see the wholesale change in this country; profound change of far-ranging consequences. The sad fact is that thought does not progress through politics. Description and rhetoric are not growth. Understanding leads to a precipice or a solid wall that can be very depressing.
The two distinct memories I have of that day, besides hearing the news of his death on a little transistor radio, was running down the driveway around 4 o'clock to get the paper and look at the headline with its huge, black letters and photographs. I also remember fantasies I had at night in which I "saved" Kennedy by finding out about the plot and getting to Dallas just in the nick of time. I forget how long this fantasy lasted. It was simply the most painful thing to me that Kennedy was dead.
One's own grief, if isolated, was quick and short. I can not remember, but there were moments during that week-end when I was not thinking about the death of Kennedy. I would walk away from a TV set and return to a more normal state of mind. The night Oswald was shot I had shut the whole thing down. I didn't want it anymore. I did not experience mature grief and didn't really know what it was because I didn't know what death was. That was the year I wanted to read The Grapes of Wrath for a book report but the teacher told me that it was over my head; which humiliated and infuriated me.
When I think about it, the actual death of Kennedy passed quickly in my consciousness. Within a few weeks the shock was gone. When his picture appeared on a magazine or name appeared in the paper there would be a clutch at the heart, almost a fear. I can remember feeling irritated when the whole process of grief seemed to linger on and on. By '64-'65 conspiracy theories had developed.
Over the years, I've grown to love the memory of the man.
Kennedy had advantages. There's no reason to be jealous of advantage unless it treats you like dirt.
The one great advantage Kennedy had was that he was born near power. This closeness to power gave him these brilliant political instincts that knew how to use people. He was not "alienated" from power so he could afford to be a realist. And once in power he could become idealistic. But the attitude, the overreaching vision out of the realistic instinct, was extraordinary and healthy; a boon for society.
One tires quickly of power, thinking on it. I saw its corruption in an instant of time and became too obsessed about it. Power is corrupt; complex power provides the veils to protect corruption.
Is American politics corrupt? Yes. How exactly is hard to say. There is little real vision of "national interest" which transcends self or group interest.
It's best to understand politics or power as forms rather than as separate elements working in separate ways to produce something.
Understand it as forms that are perceiving and expanding toward the future.
Posted November 22, 2003