American Idol

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - November 5, 2013 - 12:00am

On Nov. 22 this year, the world will mark the 50th death anniversary of an American idol President John F. Kennedy. There have been other American presidents before him who were assassinated while in office, but perhaps,  with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, no one has managed to captivate the affection, the admiration, the adulation, the interest of a generation as JFK has.

All we have to do is scan the Internet for books published on him and his family; and scour video stores for TV documentaries and movies about him. It is as if JFK were a product of fiction, and his story, bursting with all the elements that would keep you glued till curtain call. And curtain call hasn’t yet come for the saga of JFK — 50 years after he breathed his last.

A trove of new books (like the romance-laced These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie) and a couple of TV shows and movies (like Parkland starring Zac Efron, about the last few minutes JFK spent on earth  and their aftermath in Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas) have come out to mark the anniversary, a turning point and a watershed in modern history. Why, there is even a Facebook page dedicated to the commemoration of JFK’s 50th death anniversary!

All these provide 50 shades of JFK — and more.

The latest commemorative material (as of yesterday) is Australian detective Colin McLaren’s JFK: The Smoking Gun, seen to be “the most provocative and controversial declaration we’ll see this month as all of television marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.”

“It’s not a big spoiler to reveal McLaren’s conclusion: that Kennedy died from friendly fire,” says writer David Hinckley in the New York Daily News.

“One shot fired by Lee Harvey Oswald from the Texas School Book Depository did indeed hit Kennedy, says McLaren. He believes that was the famous, or infamous, “magic bullet” that passed through both Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally,” Hinckley writes.

According to Hinckley, McLaren is convinced that “what killed the President, however, was a shot fired from the Secret Service car directly behind the presidential limousine in the motorcade.”

My foot! I also remember the rounds made by a Photoshopped image showing the driver of the limousine Kennedy was in turning around and firing pointblank at him. This was preposterous and impossible.

Why can’t we have enough of JFK?  An article commemorating the assassination in Vanity Fair puts it succinctly: “It will never be enough. Readers will never be sated, because too many hidden dimensions and murky links remain, an atticful of unanswered (and unanswerable) questions, hints of the possible future of which we were robbed. History left us hanging. We will never know the full measure of what was taken from us that day in Dallas, whether JFK would have won a landslide against rock-jawed Barry Goldwater in 1964 that would have given him an F.D.R.-size mandate or if, as his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, did, he would have deepened US involvement in Vietnam and sunk hundreds of thousands of lives into the quagmire.”


I believe that despite the revelations that showed that this American Idol had feet of clay (there’s Marilyn and Mimi), he will endure. For another 50 years, for another 50 year times 50.

For he displayed courage when the world needed to see an unyielding warrior for democracy during the Cuban Missile crisis, when he was credited for saving the world from nuclear annihilation.  He dared to dream to go beyond the stars and reach the moon — which man did in his honor. He established the Peace Corps. And he spent barely a thousand days in office — just one term of a congressman in the Philippines.

Add to that the external reinforcement of his good looks and physique. You didn’t have to hire a movie star to play him — he looked like one who just happened to report to the Oval Office every day instead of to Universal Studios.

In the few interviews she gave after her husband’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy, said to be very much aware of  his alleged acts of infidelity, remained adoring of him. I read all of those interviews, and the adoration wasn’t just romantic — it was adoration for a man she admired as a leader and a human being.

In Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, a transcript of the seven interviews (running over eight hours) the former first lady gave historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. three months after JFK’s death, you will encounter a JFK that was brilliant, dedicated to his job, decisive, forgiving, compassionate with the less fortunate, doting to his children… gosh, how much more space do I have?

Who was it that said that womanizers are good, loving, gentlemanly creatures? The description seems apt for JFK, described many times by Jackie in the tapes as “so sweet.”

“And he never asked me to change,” she told Schlesinger, “…Everyone thought I was a snob from Newport, who had bouffant hair and had French clothes and hated politics.”

So she told him, “Oh, Jack, I’m sorry for you that I’m such a dud.”

“And he knew it wasn’t true and he didn’t want me to change, I mean, he knew I loved him and I did everything I could…” she continued.

She said that whether to a political foe or to her, he always made reconciliation easy, he would always leave the door open to a mending of ties. In her case, she recalled, she would just run to him and say “I’m sorry” and he would laugh their misunderstanding off and that was it. He hardly ever lost his temper, she said. The perfect diplomat, the ideal husband, especially when the wife was moody.

He was also a loyal brother. He enjoyed power but was not willing to discard his values and family ties for it. Jackie recalled to Schlesinger that she and her husband would discuss life after the presidency. Presuming he won his second term, he would only be 51 when he stepped down, definitely not an age for him to retire. Like John Quincy Adams, a former president who became a legislator after his term was over, going back to the Senate was an option for JFK. So Jackie and Bobby (Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy) talked about that option. But JFK’s old Senate seat was already held by his youngest brother Edward (“Teddy”). Bobby thus talked to Teddy about it and Teddy, who ended up the fourth longest serving senator in US history readily said that if JFK wanted his old seat back after his presidency in 1968, he would willingly give it. He would not run.

When Jackie told her husband this, instead of being relieved, JFK was a bit upset and told her he could never do that to his youngest brother.  He asked Jackie to tell Teddy that he would not derail the latter’s political career just to hold on to power. JFK did not live long enough to face that dilemma — what to do when he was out of power — but he had already shown to those he loved what he would never do when he was out of it.

JFK also was sensitive to the feelings of those who were not in power, or had just lost it. Once, he was shown the guest list to a dinner being held by the French embassy in his honor. He asked why the former US Ambassador to Paris was not invited. After all, the ex-ambassador had just stepped down and did much to help relations between the two countries. On the way home, Jackie recalled JFK was so affected because he believed it wasn’t fair to the former ambassador to be excluded from the party and he felt for the guy who was suddenly out of power and seemingly unappreciated. And to think JFK was at the height of his power and popularity at the time, and he already could empathize with those who had lost their clout.


My son Chino gave me one of the most recent books about the Kennedys, These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie. It is basically a love story about two stars in a telenovela. Jack and Jackie’s romance was never a straight line — there were peaks and valleys, and you will never know till the end if their love would endure.

In the book, full of quotes about Jack and Jackie’s feelings for each other, the author Chris Andersen concludes that yes, the couple were in a good place before the fairy tale ended.

“After a decade of tragedies, triumphs, betrayals, and reconciliation, the President and his wife were dealt the most devastating blow any couple could endure — the loss of a child. In that brief period of time between Patrick’s death and Dallas — not quite four months — Jackie and Jack grew closer together than they had ever been. Too late to make up for all the pain that had gone before? Perhaps. But not too late for Jack to fulfill the promise to Jackie he made…”

Read the book and you will know what Jack’s promise was, and if he truly kept it.

JFK kept the promises he made during his Inauguration. He died fighting for them.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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