How JFK’s assassination changed American politics

Instead of turning against communists, many American leaders turned against America, and this had a transformative effect on American politics. New York Times columnist James Reston, the dean of American journalism, said Kennedy’s assassination was a symptom of a sick society. The distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide in the Kennedy White House, said that Kennedy’s death was evidence that America was an overly violent society.

Almost every American of a certain age remembers where he was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

The nation stopped and mourned. In their grief, few Americans wondered how the tragedy would affect domestic politics, and in the short run relatively little changed. “Let us continue,” President Lyndon Johnson said when he addressed Congress after the funeral.

In the longer run, the effect on partisan politics, on the people and press and parties, was profound. And those effects continue to reverberate today.

Unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt, who were taken from the stage just as they completed historic undertakings — the Civil War, World War II — Kennedy was murdered when he and his administration were in the middle of things. The tax cuts he had proposed in February 1963 and the civil rights bill he had endorsed that year had been long delayed in Congress. But, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, they were well on their way to passage when he died.

Relations with the Soviet Union were stable after resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The United States was already sending more troops to Vietnam, and Kennedy’s approval of the Nov. 1 coup against the Diem government committed the United States to continuing responsibility there.


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