We all lost something that November afternoon in Dallas; a President, a promise and hope.

November 21, 2013

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  Where were you when JFK was shot?  Kennedy was young, handsome, rich and the closest thing the Americans ever had that could be called royalty.  With that perfectly groomed Boston accent, his speeches were poetry.  They went straight to the heart and made you want to cry and/or cheer…  “ask not what your country can do for you…” 

President Kennedy speaking the masses of people in Berlin where he made the now famous  statement: Ich Bin Ein Berliner.

Jack Kennedy was a progressive democrat, who, despite his family’s wealth, promoted America’s post-war movement for income equity through progressive taxation, a pillar of his party and its previous two president before him. 

Ich Bin Ein BerlinerHe believed in other kinds of equality as well.  He began the emerging battle for the civil rights of Afro-Americans and started the fight for medicare to protect senior Americans.  Kennedy drove the initiative to land a man on the moon; got drawn into that sad conflict in Vietnam; and nearly started WWIII.  His marital infidelity is well known and his obsession with communism blinded him from rational policy in Cuba and Vietnam, battles America would never win.   Khrushchev treated him like a kid because of his age and lack of experience, but JFK came of age in the Cuban missile crisis. 

Presidential limousine racing the hospital with a mortally wounded President.

Barely a thousand days in office, Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullet, or several assassin’s, or whatever the latest conspiracy theory suggests took his life and zapped the optimism of an entire generation of Americans.   He has been called the greatest President by people of both parties, even in that partisan and divided place called America.  His call to youth was answered in the Peace Corps, and by young Americans everywhere inspired by this fresh new leader – one they could call their own.  Leadership is about vision and nobody made Americans dream bigger than Kennedy.

When Pierre Elliot Trudeau came on the scene some three and a half years after the tragedy in Dallas, we Canadians embraced our own Kennedy-like PM.  He too was a visionary, if nothing else.  Calling it the ‘Just Society’ he brought our criminal code into the modern age; enacted the Canada Health Act to secure universal care; brought the Canadian constitution home; raised our standard of living with regional economic development; protected national interests from foreign takeover; and kept Quebec in Canada by introducing bilingualism, multiculturalism, and eliminating the FLQ.

Trudeau, unlike Kennedy, lived to implement his vision.  After serving the equivalent of four US presidential terms in office Canadians had developed a pretty good impression of the man and his evolution through the Trudeau-mania and fuddle-duddle moments.

We knew him as John John, the President’s son playing in the Oval Office of the White House.

Yes there were large deficits, a contentious energy program, a partially implemented metric system and some other grievances.   But like many, I came to appreciate him even more after he had left office.  I often think about where we would be today, as a nation and a society, without his thumb print on our political history.  I wrote a book to that effect.

One day Trudeau took a walk in the snow, reflected on his record and retired.  He had accomplished much of what he had come to office to achieve.  And to his credit he continued fighting the separatists until the end.  

JFK never got the chance to implement his dreams and was unable to go peacefully into the sunset.  And whether it truly was the family curse or just coincidence and bad luck, neither did the other Kennedy’s.  In the end, Trudeau will be remembered for the things he did, Kennedy celebrated for the things he might have done.  It was fifty years ago, but sometimes it seems like only yesterday.

Ray’s column will not appear next week.  Besides being an author Rivers takes to the stage as well and will be performing in Modern Times – Almost a musical  which will be presented at The Pearl, 16 Stevens Street in Hamilton.  Thursday to Saturday: 28, 29, 30.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.


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4 comments to We all lost something that November afternoon in Dallas; a President, a promise and hope.

  • Bob Zarichansky

    Sadly, the Warren Commission (that reviewed the John Kennedy assassination), was not designed to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It passed over or ignored many unresolved issues and sealed its records for 75 years because its real purpose was to make Americans feel that everything was under control. Sadly the press failed to do their job and the public was too timid to demand answers. There would be consequences.
    When the 2001 New York City assault occurred, King Bush II and his court figured that the Warren trick (their Kennedy memory) could work again. They were right. The 9/11 Commission Report was scotch-taped together to soothe the American public and get them to support the War in Iraq, which of course had nothing to do with the New York assault. Is it any wonder that the press sang the “weapons of mass destruction” song and got “embedded” in the military choir?
    Fifty years later we are still asking who killed Kennedy. Fifty years ago, a competent, and impartial, inquiry in an open forum with FBI & CIA co-operation could have resolved the issue. Now, it is too late; we will never know.

  • Navigator

    I have always thought that the only thing that you can trust to be better as age goes by is single malt scotch.

    Apparently, however, dead politicians start to assume legendary status once the gunsmoke has blown away or the cancer has done its job.

    Abraham Lincoln was a shrewd, calculating and divisive politician who waged the bloodiest conflict to ever engage America. He caused more Americans deaths than Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sn., George Bush Jr., and Obama. Now he is considered one of America’s greatest presidents.

    Jack Kennedy’s sexual habits would have driven him from public office if the media had not conspired to cover for him and his wife had chosen not to look away. Clinton, cut from the same cloth, was not so lucky, even though he managed to survive the challenge, mainly because his wife protected him, you know, the one who wants to be the president. Pierre Trudeau was a wife beater whose wife had a mental disorder that was obvious to the public, and he also got a pass on that one by a fawning media.

    Ted Kennedy followed the Kennedy tradition of casting his seed far and wide in many furrows, drinking himself half blind and killing a young woman in the process, and he was deemed the “lion of the Senate” on his passing.

    In this country, Rene Levesque drove a car without wearing his glasses and ran over a drunken homeless man, killing him. There was public suspicion regarding Levesque’s own alcohol intake, even more so when it was discovered that his young woman companion that night was not his wife. His wife promptly divorced him and he married the other woman. He was fined $25 for his misdeed. He eventually received a state funeral, had a street in Montreal renamed for him and a statue erected in Ottawa.

    Jack Layton, the late socialist leader also received a state funeral, has three bronze statues (take that Rene Levesque) and a Toronto Island ferry named after him. And “what were his career achievements” the one-handed man asked, ready to tick them off on his remaining three fingers? Why, uh, he boosted the federal NDP to official opposition status, and, um, oh yes, he loved his country and, of course, he was a fighter (all of these accolades were taken from official eulogies and there seemed to be little else to recommend him). Long forgotten, of course, or maybe it was long hidden, was the fact that Layton was caught naked in a police raid on a “rub and tug”.

    My own view is that it would have been more appropriate to name the Toronto Island Airport after him, but there is still the possibility it could become, equally appropriately, the Olivia Chow Airport, so all hope is not abandoned. In fact, I would recommend to the Toronto Port Authority that it consider renaming it thus the minute it looks like Chow might become Toronto’s new mayor. That way we can all look forward to the delightful spectacle of Chow working night and day to destroy her own airport.

    But I digress

    I mention these unsavoury things, not because I hold such people in contempt, far from it, I recognize their achievements and contributions and celebrate them the same as everybody else. However, it is when I read such hagiographies as this one (one, I might add, in a long parade of them concerning PET) that I would like to re-institute the Roman tradition during a Triumph of having a man ride on the back of the parading chariot holding a wreath over the celebrated General’s head constantly whispering in his ear, “Remember, you are just a man.”

    Who knows how the present will be regarded in the future? Generations from now there will some public survey regarding Canada’s greatest Prime Minister and Stephen Harper will be rated number one. Now that is something to consider.

    • Tony Pullin

      My observation is that the smokiness subsides and it becomes more palatable over time. Often there are hints of nutty overtones with a diminishing bitterness. It may possibly be over PET-ed but many people like it that way. It maintains its original properties if kept in a dark place. Once exposed to light, or uncorked, it can change drastically. Put the lid back on quickly for savouring or “hagiographying” (sp?) at a later date.

  • John Birch

    Remember that tragic day so vividly.

    The other night I watched Nova’s Cold Case: JFK

    Excellent documentary, using modern forensics and ballistics analysis of that tragic day 50 years ago.

    The enhanced digitalized Zapruder film is really hard to watch, and it is so emotionally crushing as one realizes in that palpable spilt second frame, a great man became unsavable.

    It shows conclusively, there was no second gun man.

    Sad and disturbing, it shows clearly how the ‘magic’ bullet did its deed and how for $21 the course of history was changed by a pipsqueak.