It has been more than fifty years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963. No other event in the postwar era – not even the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 – has cast such a long shadow over American national life. The murder of a popular president shocked the nation to its core and shook the faith of many Americans in their institutions and way of life.
The repercussions from that event are felt today in the public’s ongoing romance with the Kennedy family, the fascination with conspiracy theories about the assassination, and the widespread sense that the full story has never been told.
It is clear that the Kennedy assassination marked a turning point in American life. This was the moment when the cultural consensus of the 1950s began to give way to the experimental and oppositional culture that we associate with the 1960s.
Kennedy’s sudden death and the surprising reaction to it, moreover, stalled the advance of twentieth-century liberalism. The ensuing confusion and grief drained energy from the liberal movement and catalyzed a redefinition of what it means to be a liberal in the United States. Some of the confusion was the fault of national leaders and family members who insisted on viewing Kennedy as a martyr to civil rights and an heir to Abraham Lincoln, when in fact he was shot by a communist and thus a casualty of the Cold War.
‘Camelot and the Cultural Revolution’ places the assassination into the perspective of history, particularly as it affected the fortunes of American liberalism. In the process, it answers many lingering questions about President Kennedy: What did he really stand for? What was his connection to the liberal movement? How did he come to be seen as a martyr for civil rights? Why was the public’s reaction to his assassination so much different from the reaction to Lincoln’s assassination? What was the meaning of the Camelot legends that sprang up around Kennedy? Who was the assassin and why did he act as he did?
Most of all, this book highlights the wide gulf between the liberalism before Kennedy’s assassination and the version that emerged afterwards.