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November 20, 2013

KITCHELL: Nov. 22, 1963: When a nation gasped

(Continued)

Although we lost his mind in a moment, we kept his conscience for a generation. When his wicker rocking chair left the White House, there was something about that piece of furniture that told Americans of all parties and beliefs that it could have been a piece of furniture from just about any home in the country. To that end, he was like all of us, even if he went to Harvard and was born into the privilege of old Boston families.

His Roman Catholic faith tested the prejudice of voters who questioned, even in a presidential debate, if he would obey the Pope in making decisions about the country’s direction. He hurdled that barrier and appeared headed to a second term, even with a burgeoning war in Vietnam and turbulence in the Old South.

These were the 1960s, and this was the Kennedy legacy.

Yet it was incomplete, and it is that vacuum at the end of his first term and what might have been a second term that evokes thoughts from those who remember the time about what direction the country might have gone had he been spared. Would we have been out of Vietnam sooner? Would the civil strife manifested in Resurrection City riots at the Lincoln Memorial ever happened? Would Martin Luther King Jr. have had to march on Alabama highways and spend time in jail for a race’s civil disobedience?

Perhaps most poignant from that time is the thought of how he could have furthered the country to greater expectations and goals had he lived another five years.

Some presidents have almost been forgotten because they were mere administrators — presiders who ran the country, but never possessed the depth to lift it above war, poverty, indifference or prejudice. Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Kennedy did.

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