Kennedy’s assassination does not define his legacy

Christina Coleburn, Staff Columnist

On this Friday, Nov. 22, 50 years ago, Americans reeled in the wake of one of the darkest events in national history when President John F. Kennedy assassinated.

Celebrated for his soaring eloquence, invigorating idealism and Camelot dynamism, Kennedy enjoyed an average approval rating of 70.1 percent, the highest of any post-World War II president. Although his time in the Oval Office lasted just 1,000 days, most Americans felt an emotional connection with him. Half a century after the tragedy, Americans remain fascinated with the 35th president, engrossed in evaluating his legacy and speculating what the rest of his tenure would have entailed.

While some reflect on Kennedy’s leadership with a moderate dose of skepticism, historian David Runciman abrasively suggested that his assassination salvaged the remainder of his term from becoming a “joyless slog to nowhere in particular.” This assessment is largely unfair. Kennedy may not have lived to see the outcomes of his initiatives, but many of his policies and proposals had a revolutionary effect on the American landscape.

Kennedy wrestled with antagonism on both national and international fronts. His foreign policy was reflective of the heightened tensions of the Cold War, and his domestic agenda was indicative of congressional division.

Although the Bay of Pigs disaster initially tarnished the reputation of his administration, Kennedy’s skillful statesmanship in the Cuban Missile Crisis altered public opinion. Moreover, he secured the Limited Test Ban Treaty — demonstrating his success in engaging diplomatically with the Soviet Union.

Domestically, the Civil Rights Movement dominated the discussion. Kennedy originally strategized to submit a civil rights proposal to Congress during his second term. But ultimately, he sent a bill in late 1963 that became law after his death. He also did not live to see the success of the U.S. space program expansion or the growth of the Peace Corps.

Although his time in the Oval Office was cut short, these policies remain integral to American politics. Those who claim that his assassination elevated his legacy should recall two presidents before him who were fatally shot.

Neither James Garfield nor William McKinley captivated the nation like Kennedy did. The fact that Kennedy served fewer days than McKinley and maintained ratings nearly tantamount to those of Abraham Lincoln refutes his critics. Despite the brevity of his term, Kennedy should be revered as a champion of diplomacy, an advocate for public service and a leader who continually inspires.


Christina Coleburn is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected].