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JFK Legacy: His Ability to Inspire

Nov 21, 2013

A historian from Western Illinois University feels President John F. Kennedy’s greatest accomplishment was to inspire so many Americans.

“His words and some of his actions inspire a generation of Americans and still inspire a generation of Americans to go out and volunteer, to go out and take action in their communities,” said Richard Filipink, Associate Professor of History.

He said Kennedy’s message should still resonate with students today.

John F. Kennedy
Credit Wikimedia

America is marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Many Americans wonder about his untapped potential – about what might have been. But Filipink thinks the assassination inflated Kennedy’s potential and the value of his presidency.

“Kennedy is not going to be able to get that civil rights bill through before his re-election campaign. Kennedy is unable to get his tax cut through Congress,” Filipink said. “And he is escalating in Vietnam. He’s not going to de-escalate in the middle of an election campaign and it’s not clear what he’s going to do in 1965.”

Filipink said Kennedy should be remembered more for creating the Peace Corps than for anything he did on behalf on civil rights.

Filipink said Kennedy’s poll numbers were always strong during his presidency and were surprisingly high after the botched Bay of Pigs operation. They were also especially high after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Richard Filipink
Credit Rich Egger

Filipink considered the missile crisis the high point of Kennedy’s presidency.  He thinks the low point was his meeting with Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, which led to construction of the Berlin Wall. Filipink said a low point on a personal note for Kennedy was the death of his son shortly after birth in 1963.

Filipink said Kennedy was in constant pain. He suffered from Addison’s disease and suffered back pain from a World War II injury. Filipink said it’s inspiring to know Kennedy did not allow health problems to slow him down, but it’s also a bit worrisome to know he was taking so much medication while president.

“By not (publicly) acknowledging any of this, he’s calling into question his sense of responsibility. He’s making decisions that are vital to the United States while hopped up on amphetamines,” Filipink said. “If he mismanages his meds, he’s not going to be as effective a president.”

Filipink said Kennedy’s legacy continues to evolve. He said that’s common for ex-presidents. He points out Harry S Truman was considered a failure when he left office but is know regarded as having been a good president.

Filipink made his comments after a presentation in the Garden Lounge at WIU's Malpass Library.