With JFK memories, baby boomers strive to keep history alive

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Some of these truly resonate with enormous historic significance, but by the time 2019 rolls around, Americans are likely to find themselves suffering from a bad case of anniversary fatigue.

More than anything else, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is a chance for members of our largest and most influential generation to reminisce about a time when they were young and anything seemed possible, about a tragedy that defined their generation, and about the societal upheaval that was soon to follow.

The divide has started showing up in popular opinion polls as well.

A 2008 Gallup poll found a pronounced divide between the young and not-so-young on a ranking of America’s greatest presidents.

The survey found that 32 percent of respondents ages 50 to 64 rated Kennedy as the top former president they would like to see come back to lead the country, compared with 22 percent of those 18 to 29. The top choice of those in between was Ronald Reagan, with 30 percent of the vote.

Nostalgia, the Gallup pollsters concluded, “appears to play a modest role in Americans’ choice of past presidents to serve the country today.”

The periodic displays of Kennedy obsession in the media have sparked earlier backlashes. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the days after the July 1999 plane crash that took the life of John F. Kennedy Jr., Generation X computer specialist Rich Hampton wrote:

“Being born after JFK’s assassination, I acknowledge that I can’t possibly understand the significance of the president’s son to the American public of 1963.”

He added, “I suggest, however, that the only non-Kennedys emotionally shaken by his death are folks in their 40s or older; people old enough to have become TV anchors, newspaper editors and politicians. They may truly believe that JFK Jr. is the closest person we have in America to a Prince, but for those of us in our early 30s and under (the majority of the American public), such romantic, melodramatic statements can only perplex us.”

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