"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
"… we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960's—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils— a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats."
— John F. Kennedy, Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States, July 15, 1960
Often simply referred to by his initials of JFK, John Fitzgerald Kennedy
(May 29, 1917 — November 22, 1963) was President of the United States from 1961–63
, after Dwight D. Eisenhower
and before Lyndon Johnson
, whose assassination in office gave rise to a million Government Conspiracy
theories. He was known for his particularly inspirational turns-of-phrases in his speeches and overseeing an era of American history rife with social and political turmoil.
Kennedy, the second son of Ambassador to the UK
turned-political patriarch Joseph Kennedy, rose to prominence during the Second World War
when, as commander of the torpedo boat USS PT-109, he heroically rescued several members of his crew when the boat was sunk by the Japanese, which after the war led into a career in the House and Senate, before his successful run for the presidency in 1960. Before his political career, however, he gained a reputation for being a master of written word, famously winning the Pulitzer Prize with his memoir Profiles in Courage
, penned as a record for posterity of his service aboard PT-109. Throughout his political career, his mastery of language both written and spoken was repeatedly showcased with great aplomb. Reporters came to dread
his skill at being a Deadpan Snarker
. He would often demonstrate his lightning-quick wit in his weekly press-conferences, verbally sparring with reporters who dared to raise their hand to ask him a question. Many credit (at least partially) his defeat of Richard Nixon
in the 1960 election to the first televised presidential debate; the new medium favoured the young, handsome and media-savvy Kennedy over the nervous and less camera-friendly Nixon (in fact, polls showed that most people who listened to the debate on the radio felt that Nixon was the victor). Kennedy was also the first Irish Roman Catholic president, in an era where people still openly wondered if a Catholic could ever put his country over Rome.
1960 was actually a very
close election indeed, with the popular vote margin (at 0.1 percentage points) being the closest of the 20th century, the Electoral College skewing things somewhat in JFK's favor. More specifically:
- Kennedy won 11 states by three percentage points or less, with Nixon winning five by the same margin.note
- California went from Kennedy to Nixon on absentee ballots.note
- A Southern Rights candidate, Harry Byrd, picked up fourteen Electoral College votes off unpledged Democrats (all eight electors from Mississippi and six of the eleven from Alabama) and one "faithless" Nixon elector from Oklahoma. Byrd was a segregationist, actually closing some of Virginia's public schools to avoid desegregating them, in one case (Prince Edward County) for five years.
- A very strange Alabama election: Delegates were selected individually, and a candidate's statewide vote total was recorded as the greatest number of votes cast for an elector pledged to that candidate. Nixon could have won the popular vote there, we'll never know. Of the 11 electors appointed from that state, 6 were unpledged Democratic electors who voted for Byrd/Thurmond. It's still debated whether votes for those electors should be considered Kennedy votes.
- Illinois coming down to Cook County (the Chicago area) with allegations of widespread fraud — namely the dead voting for Kennedy, and the Democratic mayor withholding election results until the morning after the election. Texas (home state of Kennedy's running mate Lyndon Johnson) also had allegations of fraud ("Kennedy won Texas with the help of live Catholics and dead Protestants"). Nixon publicly refused to back a recount, but privately went for one. Legal challenges carried on until summer 1961, with the only impact being Hawaii switching from Nixon to Kennedy after a Democratic challenge.
- Missouri and New Jersey were also struck with fraud allegations, in particular the extremely high turnout and Kennedy vote in heavily Catholic precincts.
- The contest was filled with controversy over civil rights and over Kennedy's Catholicism.
- Historians have even leveled criticism at John F. Kennedy's father having Mafia connections and using those connections to rig some of the votes in Kennedy's favor in exchange for the promise of favors from the future President. If this is true then there is a great deal of irony in the fact that John and his younger brother Robertnote were very anti-Mafia and made many laws that cracked down on such criminal organizations.
Kennedy was arguably our third
handicapped president (FDR
being the second, and Teddy Roosevelt, who was asthmatic in childhood, being the first) given that he had type two Autoimmune Polyendocrine Syndrome which was what caused his ulcerative colitis, and worse, Addison's Disease, and some have argued that if he weren't wearing his back brace in Dallas
, he might have been able to duck and avoid the gunfire
, but many physicians today maintain that his APS 2 would have killed him by election day in '64 even if he hadn't been shot in '63, because medically speaking, he had already lived far
longer than even the most
optimistic of his doctors believed he would survive.
A youthful, glamorous and invigorating figure, along with his attractive wife Jacqueline Bouvier and his young family Kennedy was seen as introducing a new and liberating era to American political and cultural life after the stifling and stuffy days of The Fifties
, and his time in office was dubbed "Camelot" soon after his death. Despite this, his short term was filled with crises and political upheaval, such as the CIA-directed 'Bay of Pigs' invasion of Communist Cuba, which went belly-up when Kennedy — pissed at being left ignorant of some details of the invasion, which was a hold-over from the previous administration
— refused to give the invading Cuban exiles air support. Publicly, Kennedy took sole responsibility for the resulting failure, which dented his popularity, but privately he blamed the CIA and took measures to limit their power and influence — something which, following the events of 1963, many conspiracy theorists would take note of.
This failed invasion soured relations with Cuba (never that strong to begin with) and eventually led in 1962 to the Cuban Missile Crisis
— in response to this invasion attempt, the Soviet Union began supplying nuclear arms to Cuba, leading to a U.S.-led blockade of Cuba. Tensions rose drastically, and it seemed very likely that World War III
was going to be declared any minute; fortunately for the human race, cooler heads on both sides prevailed, and the Russians withdrew (following secret negotiations during which Kennedy promised to remove missiles from Turkey).
Kennedy created the Peace Corps, intended to strengthen America's soft power and diplomatic ties around the world through youth activism. It's interesting that he also created the Navy Seals
, a elite Badass Crew
still operating today. See the trope for more information.
Despite this international business, the Civil Rights Movement
caught him off guard as activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders really started to challenge racism throughout the South. Unfortunately, the South was such an integral part of the Democratic Party's power base that Kennedy was very nervous about alienating the southern states until they started getting so brutish on TV, frantically trying to preserve White power, that the White House had to respond. Like Abraham Lincoln
before him, Kennedy had to be careful when it came to dealing with these kinds of things - if he didn't wait until the right moment, then it was sure to lose the vote in Congress.
One thing Kennedy is still credited for championing is the American space program. When he issued a challenge to the nation, to put a man on the moon and bring him back to earth alive
before the end of the decade, people called him crazy. How crazy? Ask Buzz Aldrin and you'll get an answer. Just remember to duck
, or you might end up like this guy.
On November 22, 1963, Kennedy visited Dallas, Texas as part of campaigning for his upcoming run for re-election. As his motorcade passed the Texas Book Depository at Dealey Plaza, shots were fired; Kennedy was hit in the head and torso, and rushed to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Although a single gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, was later arrested and identified as the main suspect of the assassination, numerous irregularities in the record — along with Oswald's own assassination
, by a mob-connected nightclub owner named Jack Ruby — soon gave rise to numerous conspiracy theories about who had really killed Kennedy
, involving conspirators as wide-spread as The Mafia
, the Soviet Union
, Cubans both pro- and anti-Castro (anti-Castro types being pissed about Kennedy's failure to support the Bay of Pigs, widely believed to be the reason the invasion failed; pro-Castro types being pissed about the invasion to begin with, not to mention the President and CIA's ongoing "let's try to kill Castro as often as humanly possible" policy), the CIA
, and Kennedy's Vice President Lyndon Johnson
, who succeeded him as President note
. A commission headed by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren later identified Oswald as a "lone gunman". In 1979, the House Assassinations Committee concluded that Kennedy was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy, contradicting the Warren Commission's results, on the basis of a single piece of evidence (a dictabelt recording); this evidence was re-examined in 1983 and subsequently discarded.
For the record
, the "Single Bullet" theory is still the official and most complete version of events, as far as current evidence is concerned. Despite questions raised on this subject, there is not enough solid evidence to conclude otherwise. The History Channel conducted a reconstruction a few years ago, using a man in a bucket truck at the height of the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, shooting at a convertible at the correct distance from him, moving at the correct speed, with dummies made of ballistic gel and inserts similar to human bone. The result was the bullet almost, but did not quite match the exact trip of the original bullet, but did go through both bodies (Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally) at a close measure, slightly deflecting because the bullet in the recreation was off by a fraction of an inch from the travel of the original bullet and struck a different bone in one of the dummies. Please don't start an edit war over this.
(as mentioned in medical facts above, it's a moot-point anyway due to his medical prognosis long
prior to that fateful day in Dallas)
Kennedy's legacy is somewhat controversial; many view him as an idealistic liberal icon who would have averted many of the controversies and social strife that bedevilled Johnson in the mid- to late sixties (including The Vietnam War
and social unrest over Civil Rights), whilst others claim that he was an average president who, had he survived, would have been just as tarnished by these controversies. The idealistic viewpoint also tends to overlook that Kennedy was a serial womanizer whose affairs were the stuff of legend and whose conquests reportedly included Marilyn Monroe
at one point (some American feminists still blame JFK for Monroe's suicide). Some people think that makes a bad president, as if his sex life really makes any difference
to running the nation — although given that some of the ladies he was reputedly connected to also
had connections to organized crime figures, unfriendly governments, prostitution and other similarly unsavoury links, it's not entirely
prudishness that governs this viewpoint; Jack Kennedy could be slightly … irresponsible when it came to this part of his life, which could have led to trouble down the track. Nevertheless, many fictional portrayals of him tend to lean to the idealistic side
. Still others, twice mentioned above, think that his Addison's disease might well have killed him in office anyway, given the state of medicine at the time (Kennedy had been the first Addisonian to successfully survive major surgery). With regard to the lengths he, his family, and his administration went to hide the extent of his medical problems, which was done due in large
part to the social stigma many disabilities carry with them, knowing in hindsight what medical issues he was struggling with could now debatably be said to prove that he was more
heroic than if he had been truthful about his medical situation.
And concerning the quote above, for proof that you will never be as badass and pimpsational as Kennedy, go ahead and try that "Hey baby, let's go have a serious discussion" line on any girl and then come back and tell us how much sex you didn't have.
Apocryphal stories abound on Kennedy's promiscuity; allegedly he once told reporters
"I'm not done with a woman until I've had her three ways."
Despite his numerous affairs, Kennedy very much was in love with his family and especially his wife, the very elegant and very popular Jacqueline. Jackie Kennedy remains just as much an icon of the time as her husband, famous for her iconic fashion and for her intelligence. While First Lady, she organized funding to arts and social causes and helped renovate the White House, giving a famous live television tour of the presidential mansion in 1962. That same year, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, she never left John's side when many other officials and their families fled. She gave birth to Kennedy's fourth child, Patrick, on August 7, 1963. He died two days later, and the public sympathy for the Kennedy family was enormous. She was sitting next to her husband when he was shot. (Her Heroic BSOD
gravitas just after the assassination◊ and during◊ the funeral◊
.) Jacqueline is still
one of the most admired First Ladies for the grace she displayed during those tumultuous few years of her life. Five years later, she married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate with whom she was having an affair for a while, and remained married until he died in 1975. In the interest of fairness, it is worth mentioning that Jacqueline Kennedy was also unfaithful to her husband, in some cases in retaliation
for his numerous affairs. It's also fair to bear in mind that since history has largely tended to forgive JFK for not being perfect, Jackie should be given the same courtesy.
John placed his brother Robert F. Kennedy
, with whom he was very close, into the office of Attorney General. Although younger than John, Bobby was known for being much more ruthless and extremely strategic (he actually ran JFK's presidential campaign). Some historians have even argued that Bobby was a better politician than John, and The Man Behind the Man
during his administration, credited with finding a way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After John died, Bobby became a Senator and then ran for the Democratic ticket in the 1968 presidential election. Like his brother, he was assassinated. Also like his brother, his death has resulted in numerous conspiracy theories.
Kennedy was, and to an extent still is, near worshiped in Ireland. Though not the first president of Irish descent (Andrew Jackson
was the son of Scots-Irish immigrants), he was the first of recent Irish Catholic
descent. His Catholicism and interest in Ireland won great affection in that country, especially after his state visit in 1963. His sister Jean would later serve as ambassador to Ireland. Democrat Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected Presidentnote
, was only one of two fully Irish-American presidents, the other
being Republican Ronald Reagan
, the oldest man elected to the same office.
The Kennedy family has remained in the public eye for decades and is considered by some to be a Big Screwed-Up Family
. Members of the family are well-known for their charm, exuberance and continual misfortune, mostly in the form of untimely deaths for them and their associates; this is referred to as "the Kennedy curse." While the aforementioned Jean still draws breath, JFK's final living brother, long-time Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, passed away on 25 August 2009, which may mark the end of the Kennedys' public prominence as there does not seem to be anyone in the family who is poised to step into the national spotlight … at least, no one bearing the Kennedy surname; the extended family includes a number of notable figures, including Arnold Schwarzenegger
who was connected by marriage. (This has changed as of 2013, when JFK's daughter, Caroline, became US's ambassador to Japan.)
Due to his iconic status, still liable to be invoked by fanboys and wannabes, who thereby tend to make themselves very much liable to the Wannabe Diss
. His popular success as President and his assassination also largely killed American prejudice against at least lay Roman Catholics as a minority group.
When portrayed in fiction, expect to hear a highly exaggerated version of his quite distinctive New England accent
. He was famous for his harnessing of mass media to rally support, and as a result, he remains somebody who can be recognized simply by the sound of his voice. To this day, many attempts at "Bawstin
" accents try to simply copy Kennedy's speaking patterns, even though many New Englanders will be among the first to tell you that the Kennedys are the only people who actually speak like that.
Note: Please only add examples where Kennedy appears as a character. If he is only shown in order to be assassinated, put the entry under Who Shot JFK?
Kennedy in fiction
- Actually, it isn't fiction, but the groundbreaking 1960 documentary Primary records the contest between Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary.
- Played by Martin Sheen in the TV miniseries Kennedy.
- Thirteen Days focuses on the Cuban Missile Crisis from the point of view of Kennedy and his senior advisors.
- Red Dwarf presents an unusual solution to the mystery of his assassination: Kennedy himself did it. From the Grassy Knoll. Or rather, Kennedy from an Alternate History in which he survived his assassination attempt and was later impeached due to his affair with the mistress of a mob boss, which led to the Soviets winning the Cold War.
- JFK's clone is the Jerk Jock and one of the main characters of Clone High. Foa suppah, he, er, uh, wants a pahty plattah.
- In Watchmen, JFK appears in a flashback, meeting Dr. Manhattan on the White House lawn.
- Another flashback in the opening montage shows the Comedian shooting JFK from the Grassy Knoll.
- A 2007 Teen Titans comic book written by Silver Age author Bob Haney and deliberately emulating that era's wacky hijinks has the team rescuing JFK from alien mods who kidnapped him, replaced him with one of their own, and made them their ruler to fight a tribe of savage space hippies. In the end, JFK and the Titans convince the two warring races to work through their differences, our young heroes return to Earth to find that the alien impostor had solved the Cuban Missile Crisis and been assassinated, and swear to keep JFK's true whereabouts a secret while the President leads the mods and hippies in a war against evil robots. Whew!
- In the episode "Profile in Silver" of the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone, a distant descendant of JFK who is a professor of history uses a time machine to travel from the 22nd century to 1963 to "witness" Kennedy's assassination. He prevents it instead, which in turn triggers World War III. At the end of the show the professor ends up taking Kennedy's place at Dealey Plaza and is assassinated, while Kennedy ends up in the 22nd century and teaches history.
- The Simpsons example. Abe Simpson beats up Kennedy after mistaking him for a Nazi ("Ich Bin Ein Berliner").
- In "Little Girl of the Big Ten," he appears in a fantasy sequence for Lisa.
- Uh, not to mention the fact that Mayor Quimby's character is based off of Kennedy, from accent to womanizing to mob ties, even "Ich bin ein Springfielder."
- More likely, Quimby is meant to be a parody of Ted Kennedy although one could argue that he is a Composite Character of all three Kennedy brothers.
- Forrest Gump meets him when he becomes a member of the All-American team. And tells him that he really has to pee.
- CSA: The Confederate States of America features JFK as the first Northerner elected since the American Civil War. He supports the abolition of slavery as well as giving women the vote. Ultimately, he gets shot in this timeline as well for those views, essentially killing any progress he made toward his goals.
- Somewhat interestingly in this alternate timeline, the major political party realignment in the 20th Centurynote never happens so in the 1960 election, Kennedy is the Republican candidate while Nixon is the Democrat.
- Alternate Kennedys, a 1992 anthology of 25 Alternate History stories revolving around the Kennedys; David Gerrold contributed "The Kennedy Enterprise", which has an alternate JFK as an actor who went on to portray the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
- In Assassin's Creed II, it's implied that JFK was part of the Assassins. And it is all but outright said that Lee Harvey Oswald was a Templar who shot him, apparently to recover a Piece of Eden, then used another one to make a hologram of the two guys on The Grassy Knoll.
- A MADtv skit showed him encouraging Bill Clinton to continue with his philandering.
- The Last Hurrah has a character named Kevin McCluskey, who runs against the incumbent mayor, Frank Skeffington. McCluskey is a telegenic but politically inexperienced candidate with a fancy education, a pretty wife, smiling kids, a respectable war record from his service in the Navy, and more good looks than brains. It should be noted that James Michael Curley, the alleged real-life basis for Skeffington, served briefly in the United States Congress, and the person who replaced him in his Congressional seat was a young but ambitious neophyte politician named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It should also be noted that the original novel was published in 1956, four years before Kennedy became President, making this a strange real-life case of Retroactive Recognition.
- Comedian Vaughn Meader made his name as a spot-on impersonator of JFK; his album of Kennedy skits The First Family was very successful, until Kennedy's assassination killed it, along with Meader's career.
- Though JFK himself once said in a press conference, "I've listened to Mr. Meader's record but I think it sounded more like Teddy than it did me."
- Superman met President Kennedy on several occasions in the Silver Age. For instance, there was a story where Kennedy impersonated Clark Kent to help Superman hide his Secret Identity. However, its publication was coincidentally right after Kennedy's assassination, which lead to the obvious unfortunate implication that Superman trusted the President knowing that he would soon be dead. This also include the classic tale "Superman's Mission For President Kennedy," which was originally to be published in late 1963 but was pulled after JFK's assassination. The story was finally published several months later, per the request of President Johnson and the Kennedy family. Thanks to comics' sliding-scale timeline, the above tale was rewritten in The Eighties as "Superboy's Mission For President Kennedy."
- Supergirl also met President and Mrs. Kennedy soon after her existence was revealed to the world in February 1962. Jack said "I know you'll use your super-powers not only to fight crime, but to preserve peace in our troubled world!" She said, "Thank you, Mr. President, I will," but what she was thinking was "The President's wife looks … gorgeous!"
- Parts of the JFK assassination was featured in the movie The House of Yes. One of the main characters modeled herself after Jackie O.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops, being set in the 1960s, naturally features JFK. In the regular story mode, Kennedy meets Alex Mason, the player character, and authorizes the assassination of the Big Bad. Later, it's revealed that Mason was brainwashed to kill Kennedy by the Big Bad, which he may have actually done. In The Stinger of story mode, Kennedy and Robert McNamara, along with Richard Nixon, interrogate Castro on the recent missile crisis. Then, zombies invade the Pentagon. And you get to kill them as Kennedy.
- The Kennedys, a 2011 miniseries looking at the Kennedy family's rise to public prominence and their Glory Days during the 1960s, focuses heavily on JFK. It received a certain amount of controversy because of allegations of historical inaccuracy and highlighting some of the negative aspects of the family, which was helped by the fact that several of the producers (including Joel Surnow) are outspoken conservatives).
- That being said, the series actually ended up portraying the family—and in particular Robert F. Kennedy, played by Barry Pepper in an Emmy-winning performance—rather sympathetically. Though JFK's philandering is obviously there and alluded to, the series doesn't actually include any sex scenes, and it makes it clear that he does love Jackie. (Which is ironic, as one of its early critics' main concerns was that it would be an overly sexed-up version of history.) It's also fairly accurate, compared to many other works of historical fiction.
- Kennedy appears in The Two Georges (which also features his old enemy Richard Nixon in a prominent role) as a newspaper publisher sympathetic to an extremist 'liberation' movement operating within a North America which, after a peaceful resolution to what would have become the American War of Independence, remains subject to a British hegemony. He tries his legendary charms on the main female character — who, notably (and apparently rarely) is actually discomforted and repelled by his advances, considering them borderline sexual harassment.
- Stephen King's novel 11/22/63 deals with a man traveling back in time to 1958 to stop the Kennedy assassination. It ends rather badly. The Vietnam War ends with Saigon being nuked, India and Pakistan have a limited nuclear exchange. Russia collapses, and Maine ends up becoming part of Canada. Also, due to terrorism, and the aforementioned nuclear exchange, most of the planet has to deal with terrible radiation poisoning. Even worse, due to the amount of times history has been changed by the protagonist, and others, going back in time, the entire universe is in danger of destroying itself. Luckily, he hits the Reset Button.
- In the Alternate Universe in Fringe, Kennedy is still alive (having served a full two terms as President) and is just preparing to resign as US Ambassador to the United Nations.
- In An American Carol a political comedy that uses the structure of A Christmas Carol, he shows up as a Jacob Marley Expy.
- Is played by James Marsden in Lee Daniels' The Butler
- Kennedy appears in the backstory of the alternate history novel Resurrection Day and is at the center of yet another conspiracy. Most of the world reviles Kennedy as the insane monster who started the Cuban War, who obliterated the Soviet Union, and who reduced the United States to a third world pariah reliant on British foreign aid. Most people believe Kennedy died when Washington was bombed, while a few more assume he's incarcerated by the ruling military government as a war criminal along with his surviving administration. A small minority of conspiracy theorist thinks Kennedy is innocent and that he's just hiding, waiting to come out and lead America back to greatness. Turns out the conspiracy theorists are only partially right. Kennedy did die during the bombing of Washington, but only because he refused to leave, working to the very last second to try to broker a cease fire with the Soviets and Cubans after one of his more hawkish generals went over his head and invaded Cuba.
- From Russia with Love was selected as the second James Bond film after Dr. No because Kennedy listed it in his top 10 favorite books. He saw it on November 20, 1963, the last film he'd ever see.