MIAMI (CBSMiami) — One hundred years ago today, the nation’s 35th president was born.
John F. Kennedy was the youngest person ever elected president and has a legacy that lives on more than 50 years after his assassination.
The nation had never seen a presidential debate until the little known Senator from Massachusetts faced Republican Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960.
Historian Robert Dallek remembers Kennedy as cool and presidential. Not so, the vice president.
“Nixon was sweating, makeup was running down his face,” said Dallek. “Somebody else said he looked as if they had him embalmed before he had died. And this gave Kennedy a significant advantage.”
Those who heard the debate on radio thought it a draw. Some even thought Nixon won. But those who watched on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner.
In what would be a very close election, analysts said the TV debate tipped the election to Kennedy.
Kennedy became the first president to allow live coverage of his news conferences and he held on average one every 16 days.
“He called it the six-o-clock comedy hour, and the journalists loved him because he was witty. He was charming, engaging, and yes, handsome,” said Dallek.
Kennedy was briefly a newspaperman in his youth, He understood the power of the press and understood how to put himself and his family in the best light.
“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people,” said JFK during a speech on February 26, 1962.
Through the new medium, Americans came to know Kennedy in a more personal way than any of his predecessors, which made his tragic death that day in Dallas all the more difficult to accept. As a nation, we had never experienced anything like it.
For the first time, an entire nation had watched the horrendous scenes unfold in real-time and those who saw it would never forget.
“The fact that Kennedy was assassinated has contributed to this idea that he was kind of an immortal figure,” said Dallek. “He is frozen in our memories at the age of 46.”
JFK’S presidency lasted just over 1,000 days. Even so, Americans still rate him among the top rank of modern presidents.
“He has a kind of charismatic hold on the public’s imagination and now we live in a time when people are very disillusioned with politics, with presidential leadership, and they look to the past. It becomes kind of lifeline,” said Dallek.
Steven Levingston, the author of a forthcoming book about Kennedy, sees a parallel in his mastery of television and President Trump’s use of Twitter.
“So both of these men…without maybe realizing it entirely rode the new media of their era into the White House,” said Levingston.