JFK: style over substance?

In popular opinion, JFK is regularly ranked among the best American presidents, but how well does his record stand up to historical scrutiny? On the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, Mark White considered how we should view him today

John and Jackie Kennedy shaking hands with a crowd. Jackie continued to fight her husband's corner after his death, says Mark White. (Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The elements of what occurred on the streets of Dallas on 22 November 1963 are indelibly burned onto the world’s memory. The motorcade, the gunshots, the Texas School Book Depository building, the grassy knoll, the conspiracy theories. And a dead president, father and husband.

A week after witnessing the murder of her husband on Dealey Plaza, John F Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, invited the journalist Theodore White to interview her for Life magazine. Taking place just four days after the state funeral, the timing of the interview might have been surprising, but clear-eyed reason underpinned the invitation. John Kennedy had always worked hard at cultivating a powerful and alluring image. Up until 1961, his father, Joseph Kennedy, the driven businessman who had served as US ambassador to Britain, had helped his son in the polishing of his image. In late 1961, however, Joe Kennedy suffered a massive stroke that left him incapacitated, so the protection of JFK’s image was bequeathed to the grieving widow.

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