Carol Anne Costa: Where Would JFK Fit Into Modern Politics?

Thursday, November 21, 2013


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If JFK's tragic death had not occurred, where would he stand on the politics of today?

On November 22, 1963, the world went silent, as on a bright shiny day in Dallas, America’s promise embodied in a handsome, heroic, and captivating President was literally blown away. Although I was only three years of age, it seems that act and its fallout most definitely shaped me and my political beliefs. My memories of the time seem vivid and strong even today, and then I realize that as a 3 year old I could not possibly have captured and kept them. So, it must have been the long lasting shock of the shooting and the raw feelings of the folks around me as I grew up, which helped to create these strong recollections as well as a unique bond with this President John F. Kennedy.

It also created for me—and I know I am not alone here—a desire to better understand this man. He has since shaped my politics and desire for public service, and defines the true meaning of being a Democrat. But, if he were here today where would he fit in? Would his sweeping speeches, measured approach and Presidential style have survived our blogosphere, rigorous ideological positions, and the dreaded 24 hour news cycle? I am not certain and people way smarter than me have written and studied this with vigor. Really, we will never know.

A uniter not a divider

Let’s face the facts. At the time he climbed to the Presidency, especially in Northeast, the Irish and Italians were not exactly bosom buddies. The tensions of these 2 converging and battling immigrant populations were well documented. While immigrants were wrangling it out to achieve the American Dream and often at odds that resembled tribal warfare, it had to be a special person who moved these groups toward a common good and goal. JFK’s ascendance and presidency provided a respite for the tumult, as this Catholic boy from New England was making big news on the political scene. It made it easier to cast aside the long standing hatred, to root for the handsome war hero with working class appeal. Was it JFK’s Catholicism, was it his looks, was it his charisma, or was it his heroism at war that found their commonality for so many diverse populations? Who really knows, all we do know is they found hope in this aristocrat and his “liberal” politics.

Hanging in the 3rd floor tenement that was my grandparent’s abode there was a portrait of JFK, along with Kennedy china, and the book Profiles In Courage with dog-eared pages that rested on the wrought iron book shelf in my grandfather's room. Often times Grandfather would encourage me to read it, and we would talk about it, and so many other topical issues. I hold dear my time spent with that man. A man who arrived from Italy on these shores alone at 14 years of age, who taught himself to read and learned English all on his own. He also held an immense patriotism for this country…such fond memories. I know now that those times, those reads, those talks, and a faith in a young president taken too soon helped to create and mold my national and global views.

Yes JFK, the good looking Irish boy from Massachusetts found places of honor in so many 1st generation immigrants’ homes. The erudite Harvard graduate resonated with the working class folks and his memory and impact continue 50 years after the day he was violently taken from our nation’s discourse, but here is where I think he would be on some key matters, particularly aging and my mind always a true blue Democrat.

A prophet on an aging America

It was then Senator John F. Kennedy who carried forth Truman’s campaign to address our nation’s elderly with initiatives in nutrition, housing, and health in order to help them age with dignity and care. In August of 1960, he selected RI Congressman Aime J. Forand as National Chairman of Senior Citizens for Kennedy in the ongoing efforts to assist America’s elderly. In remarks made in October of 1960 as he unveiled an unprecedented push to face head on the needs of ever changing demographics, he stated (in part), “A quiet revolution has taken place in the age structure of American society. There are not only 16 million Americans over the age of 65 with an estimated 26 million by 1980; there are also 6 million over the age of 75; over a million Americans reach retirement age every year; and one out of every three persons reaching the age of 60 has a parent or close relative over 80 to worry about. To a substantial extent—and increasingly so in the next decade—there is emerging not one but two generations of senior citizens. Increased life expectancy is one of the greatest social achievements of our times. At the turn of the century life was short and aging appeared as progressive decline, deterioration, and dependency.” It was 1962 when Kennedy attempted his healthcare initiative, and it was met with the enthusiasm of a hibernating bear. His push for what is now Medicare was called an attempt to socialize medicine and was labeled a threat to American individualism. Sound familiar? His words and deeds are as valuable now as they were prophetic then, as we continue to face these concerns.

My two cents…

My impressions of where JFK might have been on issues of the day…JFK probably would have been all in on Afghanistan post-9/11, but all out on Iraq. He would be waving the flag in full support of the ACA, but most certainly admonish President Obama on the rollout and miscommunication. I am pretty sure he would be greatly disappointed in the SCOTUS gutting the voting rights act and the Citizens United decision. Based on his prankish youth at Choate (which is so well told in the Chris Matthews book, Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero), I think he would really get along with Senator John McCain and stand shoulder to shoulder with him on campaign finance reform.

Imagine if he were part of the Presidents Club…I really think he and Bubbah would have had a close relationship and he would have enjoyed a good sports conversation with W. I picture him with H.W putting their heads together on the evolving globe. I think they would have liked one another. I also think he would have crunched foreign policy and Cold War developments with Reagan. He would have simply marveled at, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I surmise he would have loved to be a rock in Maggie Thatcher’s shoe. To the joy of many lefties, he and Jimmy Carter would probably have a secret liberal handshake! I do know this for sure, JFK would have been extremely proud of his nephew, former RI Congressman Patrick Kennedy who has publicly taken on the issue of mental illness and pushed for studies of the human brain by co-founding a sweeping research foundation. JFK’s constant quest for answers through research and science for certain lives on in Patrick’s work.

An inspirational leader

President Kennedy remains a beacon for so many good things. His legacy lives on in the ongoing struggle for civil rights, human rights, voting rights. His Presidency and death proved transformational, as it moved so many people into public service, enhanced global awareness, and bettered America’s place in the world. His push to the moon created scientists and dreamers. His compassion for the less fortunate moved many to volunteer domestically and serve abroad in the Peace Corps. His words, directives, and books inspire American pride, volunteerism, planetary exploration, global service, and innovation. It is so hard to believe it is 50 years since that fateful day in Dallas. Yet, I remember so clearly how much his words, policies and actions continue to touch our lives.


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Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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