The build-up to the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination has produced renewed interest in the 35th president. PBS showed an interesting two-part series on him last week, and John Kerry believes that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone.
I’ll confess that I’ve never thought much of Kennedy as president, which, according to a recent poll, seems to put me out of step with many Americans. Unfortunately, this NYT poll doesn’t include a link to the entire poll results, but I wasn’t surprised by the results.* Kennedy placed fourth in the poll, behind Reagan, Lincoln, and Clinton. Kennedy has historically fared well in these polls of the general American public, which probably surprises no one.
Kennedy’s assassination cast an air of mystique around his image that resonates today. Many Americans who remember where they were when he was killed remain enamored of him, and they seem to have passed down their admiration to my generation. With no Kennedy attracting much attention nowadays, I wonder if we are starting to see a more realistic evaluation of JFK.
In case you are interested, here’s how scholars have ranked Kennedy.
You can find a number of other poll results on Wikipedia. Of those listed, the lowest ranking recorded for Kennedy is 18th (Wall Street Journal, 2000). I still think he’s been rated too highly, but at least I’ve admitted my bias.
* Kennedy’s ranking is inexplicable, but so are Clinton’s and Reagan’s, neither of whom belong in the top four.