I think the biggest tragedy that the JFK assassination had on the Democratic Party is that Jack Kennedy was that last bridge between the Center-Left Liberal and Progressive Democrats and the New-Left that came of age in the Democratic Party in the mid 1960s up to the early 1970s or so. People who were much further left than the Liberals and Progressives in the party and had more social democratic and even communist leanings. Who were anti-American establishment, anti-military, anti-war, anti-law enforcement, anti-government use of force in general, who wanted to bring down the American federal form of government and replace it with a social democratic and even communist government in some cases.
Jack Kennedy was a Liberal Democrat who wanted to use government to carry out many liberal, progressive and even social democratic goals as it has to do with the economy. And creating an economy where more Americans could benefit. But didn’t have a big centralized government solution for every problem. He didn’t want to make Americans dependent on government, but use government to empower struggling Americans of all races to become dependent on themselves and be able to live in freedom. JFK is killed in 1963 and less than a year later the so-called Great Society is created by President Lyndon Johnson, with all sorts of new progressive, or social democratic federal programs to take care of millions of Americans. JFK would be what we would call a New Democrat today. A Center-Left Liberal who believed government could help people help themselves instead. And not leave them dependent on government.
JFK was a Cold Warrior, anti-communist, pro-freedom and freedom for all Americans, not just European-Americans and he did come out for what would be called the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1963. Who wanted to create an American economy where all Americans could benefit and live in freedom. With strong investments in education and job training, aid to struggling communities so they could educate their kids as well, job training for struggling Americans who were working, but not able to make enough money to live well, because they lacked skills. In many ways he was the last great Center-Left Liberal Democrat of his generation that came to power and became President of the United States. We didn’t have another Democrat with similar politics become President who had a successful presidency until Bill Clinton in 1993. And I would argue Barack Obama as well and not just because I’m a big fan of both President’s Clinton and Obama.
You could write all sorts of pieces about the JFK presidency and his impact on the Democratic Party and country as a whole. But to cover everything you would have to write at least one great book. With this piece I’m more interested in his impact on the Democratic Party and American politics. And post JFK the Democratic Party moved very Left if not Far-Left, especially when it came to foreign policy and national security, but criminal justice and law enforcement, where by 1980 or so the Democratic Party was no longer trusted on these issues. And it wasn’t until mid 1990s or so when under President Clinton that the Democratic Party was once again trusted to govern and defend the country. The JFK assassination was horrible for the country, but it really hurt the Democratic Party as well. Because again he was that bridge between the Center-Left and Far-Left of the party.
David Von Pein: JFK With Peter Jennings- 1983