Fifty years is long enough to mold history into mythology, but in the case of John Fitzgerald Kennedy it only took a decade or so. Indeed, long before Lyndon Johnson slunk off into the sunset, driven out of office by antiwar protestors and a rebellion inside his own party, Americans were already nostalgic for the supposedly halcyon days of Camelot. Yet the graceless LBJ merely followed in the footsteps of his glamorous predecessor: the difference, especially in foreign policy, was only in the packaging.
While Kennedy didn’t live long enough to have much of an impact domestically, except in introducing glitz to an office that had previously disdained the appurtenances of Hollywood, in terms of America’s stance on the world stage—where a chief executive can do real damage quickly—his recklessness is nearly unmatched.