Camelot Reconsidered: JFK’s Presidency July 19-22, 2017
John F. Kennedy, whose administration was tragically abbreviated by his assassination in November 1963, continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. On our youngest president and his legacies, historians disagree largely on four important distinctions: between myth and reality, style and substance, rhetoric and actions, and idealism and realism. The overriding purpose of this reconsideration of JFK will be to distinguish one from the other.
A Democratic congressman for 14 years prior to running against Richard Nixon in 1960, Kennedy brought to the White House good looks, glamour, charm, a beautiful wife, and an uncommon respect for the life of the mind. His Catholicism made him an outsider and underdog who had to overcome the darker impulses of his Protestant countrymen. He did so with vital assistance from a rich and ambitious businessman father and a wheeler-dealer politico from Texas who was his vice-presidential running mate and ticket balancer.
Elected over Nixon by a razor-thin percentage of the popular vote, JFK installed in his administration so-called "New Frontiersmen," an inner circle of highly educated advisers and aides who were charged with conceiving and executing the new president's domestic and foreign policies. Not surprisingly, in light of the resounding globalist message delivered in his inaugural address, foreign affairs posed the greatest challenge to his administration.
How he handled a continuous stream of national crises, domestic and foreign, raises questions as to whether he was a liberal or conservative, an idealist or a realist, or a curious blend of each. Given what we now know about his moral failings, his presidential leadership also beckons a discussion of the nature of the connection between personal character and presidential decision-making-in other words, between the private man and the public man.
We'll also explore that high-stakes contest of wills between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, as well as the early years of America's deepening involvement in the disastrous Vietnam War. We'll examine also Kennedy's relations with the press, his use of the new medium of television, his ambivalent role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his responsibility for launching a space program that eventually put a man on the moon.
W&L faculty include Barry Machado, professor of history emeritus; Bob Strong, professor of politics; and Ted Delaney '85, associate professor of history. Marc Selverstone, from the University of Virginia history department and Miller Center, will join them.