By RONNIE ELLIS
This is written on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A year ago, I demonstrated my exquisite sense of timing: I wrote my personal remembrance of that dark day in Dallas last year on the 49th anniversary of the horrific events in Dealey Plaza.
Nevertheless, memories of that day are dominating news shows this weekend, and I’m again reminded of it and the ensuing weekend of sadness and anxiety.
Someone remarked to Pat Buchanan, a speech writer for Richard Nixon, that “we will never laugh again.” Buchanan answered: “We’ll laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.”
It was also a time of fear. After returning to Washington, D.C., newly installed President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “We’ve got to show them that they killed our president but they can’t kill our country.”
The world wondered if in the nuclear age the country might stumble or in its grief falter in the face of international threats. Would it crumble from within? But there was an orderly transition — really continuation — of power. Our country’s ideals, traditions and institutions carried us through.
A decade later, we faced another crisis, this time a constitutional crisis. The man John Kennedy defeated in the 1960 election, but who rose again to power in 1968, faced imminent impeachment by the House and almost certain conviction by the Senate. Go back and read the recollections of those in the White House and Congress in 1974 and you realize the very real fears of those trying to maneuver the country and its government through the crisis. White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig even discussed the possibility of surrounding the White House with troops.
Fortunately, Nixon decided not to put the country through an even greater ordeal and resigned. We had our first unelected president, Gerald Ford. Ford had been a member of the Warren Commission which had investigated the Kennedy assassination. To this day, there are some who think Kennedy was a victim of a conspiracy, perhaps by the CIA. (My own conclusion: either Lee Harvey Oswald or someone NAMED Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy.)
But Ford, fatally for his re-election chances, decided to end “our long national nightmare” and pardoned Nixon, which created tremendous uproar, but in retrospect seems to have been best for the country. But he lost the 1976 election.
On this Nov. 22, I’m confronted with two unpleasant realities. It’s been 50 years. I was only 12 years old. Many who read this column weren’t around in 1963, didn’t experience the then-unimaginable. The next time the country observes a milestone anniversary of the assassination, there may not be any alive who were alive in 1963.
The second observation is how much our political discourse has deteriorated since the days when Kentucky’s Republican John Sherman Cooper, the patrician former rural county judge, was such good friend to the younger, urbane, northeastern Democrat John Kennedy. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater were also friends. There’s a story that the two discussed traveling together on Air Force One to joint campaign appearances in the 1964 election. That probably wouldn’t have actually occurred, but it’s unimaginable in today’s environment that they even considered it.
The other big news of this day is the change to Senate rules about how to end debate — cut off the filibuster — on the current president’s nominations to federal courts below the Supreme Court and to the executive branch. It’s a safe bet that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and their wives aren’t going to sit down for dinner this weekend the way the Kennedys and Coopers often did.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at ww.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.