November 22, 1963. To my generation, it was a terrible watershed in our lives. Those of us alive remember where we were and how we heard of the assassination of JFK. Could it really be 50 years ago? Why are we still talking about it all these decades later? Here are my memories and why his life - not just his death - matters to me.
We were dismissed from school early, and when I arrived at home, my mother was in tears watching the television. From that moment on our entire family was glued to the television for the next three days - including the surreal scene from the Dallas jail of Oswald's killing by Jack Ruby.
Most of the media coverage and commentary understandably focuses on his assassination - understandably. The plot scenarios get rolled out - some more fantastical with each passing year. I have read most of the books, but I do no find them ultimately persuasive. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Yes there are unanswered questions and tantalizing threads, and I remain open minded, but so far, they are not credible.
I was always more interested in reading about his life and his Presidency. We have learned that he was a flawed man in his private life, but he changed America, and the world. With panache, style and wit, he represented a fresh, appealing view of what was possible as individuals, and ultimately as citizens of the world.
JFK's Last Hundred Days: 'The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President', author Thurston Clarke paints a picture of a man who had gone through the profoundly personal tragedy of the loss of his stillborn son, Patrick; his evolution from a cautious politician to a confident national and world leader are convincingly laid out by Clarke in his book. I had the opportunity to meet him at an event at the Canadian War Museum and the book is a must-read for Kennedy-ophiles.
Given my enduring fascination by JFK - and equally his brother, Bobby - it seemed inevitable that I would end up at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (now known as the Harvard Kennedy School). Nicknamed 'Camelot High', the Kennedy School turned out to be an even greater experience than I had imagined. One of our profs, the late Richard Neustadt, was a Kennedy aide, and a well known expert on Presidential power. He shared with us wonderful anecdotes of JFK. "He was the smartest man I ever knew", said Neustadt.
While there, I attended a 20th anniversary panel discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis and had the opportunity to see McGeorge Bundy and others who were right there during this crisis. They shared their recollections of how Kennedy refused to listen to the advice to unleash nuclear weapons on Cuba and instead - with the help of his brother - find a negotiated solution. The world really was teetering on the edge of nuclear war. Kennedy, with the ability to stay cool and skeptical, was able to weigh carefully the advice of the military leaders anxious to have him press the button.
It struck me at times like that how determined she seemed to be to live a 'normal' life and she succeeded in doing so as much as possible.
JFK 'I'm an idealist without illusions'
Will there ever be another JFK? Our world has become so much more cynical since that November day. Our political life has turned crass and mean. Yet, to balance this off, I have the privilege of interviewing young people applying to Harvard each year, and it's a wonderful experience in that it reminds me that there still are idealistic youth who want to change the world.
So on this 50th anniversary, I think of what the late Sen. Pat Moynihan (D-NY) said to columnist Mary McGrory as they were on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force base watching President Kennedy's casket being lowered to the ground. Mary said to him in anguish, "Pat do you think we'll ever laugh again?" Moynihan replied, "Mary, we'll laugh again. But we'll never be young again."
Let's spare a moment today to think of JFK - for what he accomplished and where our world would be today if he had lived.
Who is the happiest person in Canada right now? Why, that might well be Stephen Harper, who just a week or so ago was mired in the 'Senate scandal' and now sees a media universe dominated with far greater outrage and media fixation....the Rob Ford Follies. Laura and I spent a lot of time in Toronto last week, and the mood is not one of fun and games...it's a profound sadness that has taken hold over the soap opera. It's only as one goes farther afield across Canada and the United States does a certain giddiness take hold...leading to Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show and Letterman's Top Ten. It's not something that Toronto needs - as a city, it needs to be taken seriously. In this post, we will take a look to see if there really is any chance for Rob Ford at this late date?
Coming soon to Sun News Network. I would be amazed if some creative reality TV producers haven't already inquired about the possibility of a series starring the Ford family. Given the international fame already generated by the daily feats of PR blunders by Mayor Rob and Brother Doug, it's entirely likely that they could rival Duck Dynasty or the Kardashians for viewers.
Just when you think there's been nothing new to comment on regarding the Mayor, here comes another outrage to feast upon.
I have been doing my share of media interviews - although not with any sense of glee - but to try to understand how intelligent people can violate every rule of ethical and effective crisis management - let alone common sense. Earlier in my career I had coached the late Doug Ford Sr. when he was a member of the provincial government. I found him to be a common sense, self-made, smart man who could sense political BS from a mile away. Ironically, it was those qualities of his father that made Rob Ford so appealing to the electorate back in 2010 when he ran for Toronto's mayoralty. It's exactly what seems to have left him over the past year or so. I have worked for a number of Mayors who have found themselves in trouble - some through no fault of their own - but the one common denominator that was needed to help them, was their recognition that something profound had to change in their conduct and messages. In Rob Ford's case, his political instincts seem to have left him; his ear for the 'Ford Nation' seems to have turned to tin. All the exposure on CNN's Anderson Cooper and Fox News is not going to help him. And now the only question remaining in his career is...
Is there any chance for Rob Ford?
Well, the odds are against him, but he has a slim chance.
Everybody loves a redemption story, but there's been no redemption here.
His refusal to take a medical leave of absence and clean up his act has been one of the greatest failures of judgment in the entire sad spectacle. What he has failed to understand is that the public is enormously forgiving (Bill Clinton, Marion Barry, Gov. Mark Sanford etc. etc.) so long as you eat humble pie and take your punishment. If he had taken a leave for treatment last May or June when the story of the crack video first surfaced, he had a window of opportunity to get cleaned up. However, as the Toronto police surveillance tapes have shown, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time this summer engaged in suspicious activity with at least one known criminal (even though he seemed to know he was being followed by the cops). That is a complete failure of common sense, no matter how the die-hard Ford Nation tries to paint it.
Stop blaming the media for his troubles.
Sure, the Toronto Star has been a thorn in his side. But they turned out to be right about the crack video (the existence of which the Mayor had long denied - until confirmed by Chief Blair). The Mayor treats most of the media as the enemy - which appeals to his base - but is not going to help him in any possible recovery scenario.
Tell the truth first - not eventually. The Mayor doesn't seem to understand that people will forgive everything except lies. So tell the truth immediately - not when all other options have been exhausted.
What is one thing he could do - even now - to give him a chance for re-election?
Make a dignified statement admitting fully his mistakes, apologize to the Toronto Chief of Police, Bill Blair (for the demand that he resign), apologize to his Executive Committee whom he has alienated, apologize to the people of Toronto for putting them through this spectacle, and then take whatever time it takes - one to two months at the least - to get treatment. Come back sober, fresh, determined and genuinely focused on the taxpayer. And....he would have a chance (a slim one, but a chance, nonetheless). Without it, the circus will continue, and long before election day next October, the Ford Nation will have fractured, and, it will be an ignominious defeat worthy of Anthony Weiner.
Sad, sorry, and ....it didn't have to be.
Until next time.......