JFK Is Still Teflon to Critics, 50 Years Later

As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy draws near, many Americans have been rethinking his once sterling reputation.

President John F. Kennedy speaking about the Cuban missile crisis. Credit: AP Images
President John F. Kennedy speaking about the Cuban missile crisis. Credit: AP Images

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John F. Kennedy is still beloved by the American people, even as critics—historians, textbook writers, and elites of all sort—increasingly line up to dismiss his legacy. Recent Gallup polls show that most Americans still rate Kennedy, along with Lincoln and the Roosevelts, as among our greatest presidents.

With the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination arriving on November 22, it’s amazing how powerful Kennedy’s legacy still is with Americans, even as it drops with historians. The Siena College Research Institute has asked 238 presidential scholars to rank presidents since 1982. It dropped JFK from the top ten in 2002 and hasn’t looked back.

Textbook writers have followed the historians’ lead. A 1968 school book described a leader who “revived the idea of America as a young, questing, progressive land, facing the future with confidence and hope.” By 1987, textbooks described the same man’s “rather meager legislative accomplishments.” A textbook from 2009 dismisses Kennedy’s performance during the Cuban missile crisis: “While it seemed like a victory at the time, it left a Communist government intact just miles from the U.S. coastline. The humiliation of giving in also prompted the Soviets to begin the largest peacetime military buildup in history.”

The drumbeat to reevaluate JFK has continued in the lead-up to the anniversary of the president’s death. Feminist author Naomi Wolf writes of how a “recent data show that women, especially, have been losing admiration for him as a leader,” but doesn’t cite what that data is. You can certainly make a good case that women shouldn’t lionize a philanderer like President Kennedy.

But that overlooks the reality of Americans’ enduring love for him. “Kennedy’s greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends,” historian Robert Dallek writes. There is no sign he’ll lose credit for that success any time soon.

Has your image of President Kennedy changed over the years? Tell us about it in the comments or in a blog post.

Abraxas Qlippoth November 21, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Dan Crabtree November 21, 2013 at 02:39 PM
well in fact he did take care of the women problems and concerns for a fact...made bill clinton look like minor as far as sexual issues goes in the white house...
Frank Werker November 21, 2013 at 03:32 PM
I was only 19 when President Kennedy was killed, so I do not know a lot about his programs and legacies (I did eventually go and fight his war in Viet Nam). I remember painfully, however, the patron saint of conservatives -- Ronald Reagan and how the reality I remember is so much different from the heroic epic the conservatives have made of the mess he left us.
Tim F November 21, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Obama is still teflon to logic.
David Vincent November 21, 2013 at 07:46 PM
I was 11 yrs old, called to the gym at Indianola High School, Indianola, MS. The Superintendent told us our President had been shot, and that we were to go home. I remember the kids yelling an ok; either to go home early, or JFK had been shot. I have spend the last 50 yrs in saddness when I think of his assasination. I moved to Dallas for over a yrs, and would often go to the Grassy Knoll, in question, or wanting absolution. It was erie being there during the cold nights of Dallas in 72'. Where our President had been shot. The effect always leaves a nasty taste, like we all knew who did it, but not really knowing. Being a youngster of a large Catholic family enlarged the effect. But just think, JFK, MLK, Medgar Evers and Robert Kennedy, all world leaders killed, right here in our own country. It glues in to others that made great waves during the 60's; along with Viet Nam, LBJ, Man on the moon, finally ending with Woodstock to the North to Hurricane Camille down south. Then, John Lennon to JFK, Jr. All great leaders, shot down by lone gunman. So, if you believe what you have been told or taught, it is probably for the best. It must be sad to being a lone gunmen!
sherry romano November 21, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Yankee Doodle November 21, 2013 at 11:13 PM
History still has not written the truth about how truly great a president JFK was. He went against those who want to see the demise of this country, and unfortunately for all Americans he lost the battle. Too many key on his flaws, all men are flawed, there is no exception.
Tim Hayes November 22, 2013 at 01:03 AM
Tim Hayes November 22, 2013 at 01:00 AM Although I was only 6 when he was killed I will always respect J.F.K. for push starting the space exploration program and landing a man on the moon. He is responsible for the greatest technological leap this world has ever seen.
Phil Collins November 22, 2013 at 06:44 AM
Actually never got credit for helping to bring about the Civil Right's Movement in America, he started the Bill but died before it passed and Johnson always took credit for it.
Davie November 22, 2013 at 10:41 AM
A rich man's son who had the Presidency bought for him, this was JFK.
Robert Johnson November 22, 2013 at 06:42 PM
The Kennedy mystique has always been an interesting part of American History. Kennedy was a womanizer with a prodigious conquest list, he also suffered from a debilitating back injury not from the PT 109 but from a football injury leading to his dependence on drugs/narcotics to dull the pain. He was a drug addict. To combat the effects of pain pills, Kennedy was a user of amphetamines/"speed" to give him energy. Kennedy also suffered from Addison's disease which, had he lived, would have killed him. His very loyal Harvard Mafia were the gatekeepers that insured little if any of this information was public information.
Robert Haight November 22, 2013 at 07:29 PM
Well, he had two issues that caused hundreds if not 1,00's to die. One, he authorized Bay Of Pigs. Those caught were shot or had trial and then shot. Two, AFTER 6 months, the Berlin Wall was built in retribution, 1,00's were killed trying to scale the walls. Then the dumbass authorized missils to be aimed at Russia from Turkish border. THEN, 6 months later missils were put on Cuban soil. Yeah right
Peter L November 22, 2013 at 07:45 PM
Sad JFK would not understand or recognize the democratic party of 2013
Andrew November 23, 2013 at 12:39 AM
So much mis-information even in these comments. Here are two: The civil rights act pushed by JFK was in fact a re-hash of one pushed by Eisenhower and voted down by Democrats including JFK in 1957. JFK had little to do with NASA and going to the moon other than pushing the date from the mid-70 back to 1969, and that was probably because it just sounded better to say "by the end of the decade" than sometime in the mid-1970s. NASA was founded by Eisenhower and put together by his VP Nixon. All the Mercury astronaunts were selected, the Mercury capsules built, Gemini on the way and the conceptional designs for Apollo were done before JFK was sworn in. It can all be verified through the NASA website. If any Democrat deserves credit for NASA it is LBJ who got the funding pushed through the senate. I don't hate JFK but his legacy has as much to do with reality as our current image of Santa Claus has to do with the real bishop was the actual Saint Nicolas.
Gregory Urbach November 24, 2013 at 03:53 AM
Critics have been trashing JFK's reputation for years, usually to show how important they are. Only someone who hasn't been paying attention would think any of this is new. Tearing down heroes has been a national sport for a long time.
speech November 24, 2013 at 09:47 AM
I consider JFK lucky he didn't experience the joke that is todays GOP
Peter L November 24, 2013 at 10:22 AM
pick up a book you might learn JFK was for smaller Government remember the ask not "speech" Speech It is widely accepted Nixon and JFK had very similar beliefs....only Nixon's 5 o clock shadow derailed his bid for the Presidency.. And somethings never change NIXON lost by the number of dead (now get this) voters from you guessed it Chicago. Your ignorance is dazzling
Steve November 24, 2013 at 02:59 PM
The problem is that Americans do not read historical facts, they react to a masterful myth-making machine lead by Kennedy disciples, a poorly educated media, and liars like Oliver Stone. The record shows that he was reluctant to push for civil rights, was ineffective with Congress, and reckless (wrapped up with the Mob, women spies, and tried to kill Castro. One could argue his greatest achievement was in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Historically - a mediocre President. On the other hand, LBJ is clearly one of the nation's greatest Presidents.
NWBL November 24, 2013 at 04:53 PM
Kennedy family :P
Danny Leake November 24, 2013 at 05:15 PM
I will try this again as I was interrupted by a prompt: I was 11 years old living 5 miles away from Ground Zero if Chicago was hit by a Russian Nuke. I remember that there was a diagram in the Sun-Times that showed the arc of destruction of a 100 Megaton explosion hitting downtown Chicago....I and my little family living in the Henry Horner Projects would have been vaporized....Every day since I have thanked President Kennedy for avoiding war during the crisis and THANKED GOD that LBJ wasn't President because he probably would have listened to General Curtis Lemay, who bombed Hiroshima and by the way thought a Nuclear war was winnable, and civilization as we know it would probably cease to exit. In my personal opinion, JFK was one of the greatest Presidents to walk the Earth and definitely didn't deserve to have his head blown off after saving the World.....revisionist thinking aside.
mary glynn November 24, 2013 at 06:22 PM
JohnF Kennedy would not hav. started a war with Viet Name. How many lives would have been saved how many would not have been wounded and hurt. We would not have been a split country. its a shame people want cut down person. Do you think its the first time a president had a afair. Look at Rooselvelt.. look at what he tried todo look at what he stted and President Johnson finished Civil rights,Space programs many more. why do we have to teardown people. why can't we forget s human misgivings andremember the good. A young man with a young family. Plus the good e hasdone
Phil Collins November 24, 2013 at 10:03 PM
JFK was the first President to be a Trend Setter and Mover and Shaker all rolled into one. He left us all way to soon but he made a difference in the way the world is today and few folks can say they did that to in so short a period of time.
Belle November 24, 2013 at 11:53 PM
So much to think about this young President that passed. He didn't have a good start as a President. Now if he had lived longer, not sure. For he was well aware of the war that was going on in Viet Nam. As it was not a place that US had been involved into. He wanted to do so much for this country and just could not live long enough. Many did not like the man. He came into this with a lot of MONEY....


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