We know JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-63) was no saint, though he is one now. He was mythologized all along, but nowhere near as much as he’s been since someone killed him. We hear some bad surprises, like trying to order assassinations, and some good ones, like actually defusing the nuclear countdown with Cuba by secretly agreeing to back down on missiles in Turkey; a retroactively instructive example of when smart is strong. We remember youthfulness, bravery, and style, which set a tone that would be more ideal than practice for generations to come, and thus, like the irreversibly young James Dean, safe from compromise and disappointment. We remember tradeoffs and personal failings, but we subscribe to the paralyzing logic that, if he hadn’t been ready to change things profoundly, there would have been no point in killing him — a black-magic bullet that cleaved through several decades of American willingness to hope and readiness to risk, at least until enough people who’d been born since JFK died decided to vote for a young man of color whose opponents show up to his appearances heavily armed (and whose purpose turned out to be to manage hope, not channel it). So, though he’s the only sainted president in the memory of anyone who’s alive, Kennedy isn’t the most influential person of his century and ours. That would be the one (or ones) who killed him, whom we don’t know — and who clearly have no use for glamour.
READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).