The Corner

JFK and Father Abraham

In the third segment of the Uncommon Knowledge interview with James Piereson, two fallen presidents, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.  

When Kennedy was assassinated, Piereson explains, he was immediately compared with Lincoln.  The Kennedy family encouraged the association, modeling the funeral of thirty-fifth president on that of the sixteenth.  The black catafalque, the riderless horse, the lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda—all were drawn from the obsequies for Lincoln.  Yet the comparison obscured JFK’s own legacy.

Though Lincoln was the founder of the Republican Party, to liberals and advocates of civil rights Lincoln was in that pantheon along with FDR as one of the heroes of liberalism and American democracy.  So there was definitely an attempt to place Kennedy in the Lincoln tradition.  That added confusion to the event because all the facts surrounding Kennedy’s assassination suggest he was killed for reasons linked to foreign policy and the Cold War, not to civil rights.

Even before JFK was laid to rest, contends the author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution:  How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, liberals had begun to misunderstand the reason for President Kennedy’s death—and to forget the tough, knowing, self-confident patriotism that had animated his life.

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