Society and Culture
50 Years Later, Jackie Kennedy Deserves All the Credit
Folks, this Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
How is that possible?
That same year, the term “Beatlemania” was coined, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time. My mom was about 10 years old when all of these things happened. My dad was five or six. That was HALF A CENTURY ago.
This is completely insane!
I know I’m not the only one who has absolutely no concept of time. So let’s all just take a moment and be mind-boggled by its passage, mmkay?
Moving right along! This week, to commemorate JFK’s tragic death, the History channel has essentially been live Tweeting the final days of his life, half a century later. It’s like they’re making up for the fact that Twitter didn’t exist back then.
Kennedy is meeting with members of the Inter-American Committee Symposium, including representatives from Mexico, Argentina and Chile #JFK50
— HISTORY (@HISTORY) November 20, 2013
Aside from being slightly weird, this JFK-centric Twitter feed is a really interesting way to commemorate the late president. The History channel is really making sure that he’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Well, everyone who’s on Twitter at least, which is basically everyone, right?
Anyway! While we’ve all spent this past week following JFK’s every move on Twitter, fretting about the details of his presidency, his personal life, and the many conspiracy theories surrounding his death, there’s one very important detail we’ve collectively forgotten.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy—later Jackie Kennedy Onassis, when she remarried—was arguably the most iconic First Lady in history. She was blue-blooded, young, and stylish. She was absolutely gorgeous. And she was incredibly smart, fluent in four languages. She also lived through a horribly traumatic experience, and went on to not just survive, but flourish. Jackie Kennedy was super inspirational, and she’s getting shafted a little bit, with all of this JFK memorialization. So let’s take a few moments and focus on her, shall we?
Let’s start with her tenure as First Lady. A huge lover of art and history, Jackie was underwhelmed when she first moved into the White House. Claiming that there was nothing of historical relevance in the house, she immediately made it her mission to restore the presidential palace.
So basically, the presidential grandeur we all see when we get inside photos of the White House? That sense that each piece of furniture, each painting, each plate in the china cabinet, was touched by the presidents of America past? That’s all thanks to Jackie. She turned the White House into a veritable museum.
But her time in the White House wasn’t simply an interior designer’s dream. It was also something of a nightmare. Being married to JFK was famously challenging—he was quite the playboy, and he suffered from a ton of physical ailments. Basically, this was a guy who couldn’t keep it in his pants, but also couldn’t always take those pants off by himself. Jackie wasn’t just a woman scorned, a wife disrespected by a philandering husband. She was also his primary caretaker. And that’s a hard job for anyone. But caring for someone who very often treats you like crap? That’s a whole ton harder.
Things only got worse when the couple entered the White House. The stress of the job exacerbated JFK’s ailments, and he slept around more to blow off the extra steam. He took a shit ton of drugs while he was in office, just to function like a semi-healthy human being, and he fucked A LOT of women. Like, a lot. Like, this guy couldn’t remember how many or what all of their names were.
Meanwhile, here’s Jackie, cultivating a public image of Presidential perfection and familial bliss. Given the circumstances, that is a HARD job. Let’s give her some extra credit.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Literally, the unthinkable. Because who imagines, ever in their wildest dreams, that they’ll be sitting next to their significant other in a car while he/she/ze gets gunned down? If that’s not traumatic, I don’t know what is.
And even in the face of this awful event, Jackie was still on. She never for a second sunk down into grief. She didn’t fall into a crumpled heap, wailing because of her loss. She didn’t get hysterical or catatonic. Either of those reactions—and the spectrum that runs between them—would have been acceptable behavior for a person who had just lost her partner in such a violent, terrifying way.
But no. Instead of drowning in emotion like a regular human being, Jackie remained poised. Graceful. Calculated. She wasted no time in arranging every detail of JFK’s funeral, which was modeled after Lincoln’s. She carefully planned every move to set him up as a legend.
She stood beside Lyndon B. Johnson, as he was sworn into the presidency, while still wearing that blood-spattered pink suit. She led JFK’s funeral procession, instructing her young son to salute his father good-bye at just the right moment. She literally wrote JFK’s entry in the history books, giving an interview where she referred to his tenure in the White House as Camelot, editing the piece herself as it was phoned into LIFE Magazine.
If any of you watch Scandal, Jackie was Mellie to JFK’s Fitz. She was the political genius behind the whole administration, propping up her flawed, frail husband throughout his entire presidency. She is the PR powerhouse who shaped his legacy.
She is the reason that JFK is memorialized the way he is. Can you name the anniversary of Pres. James Garfield’s assassination? Pres. William McKinley’s?
No. I bet you can’t. Because they weren’t married to Jackie.
So this year, as we commemorate the loss of a man cut down in his prime, or a President whose potential was cut short—let’s be sure to remember his wife.
Because she’s the only reason any of us care to memorialize him at all.
Featured image courtesy of [Gerard Stolk via Flickr]