"This child is the future President of the nation." - John F. Fitzgerald, referring to his grandson, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
In many ways, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his young family were the perfect embodiment of the ‘60s. The decade began with a sense of idealism, personified by the attractive Kennedy, his beautiful and fashionable wife, Jackie, and his young children. Months into his presidency, Kennedy exhorted the country to reach for the stars, calling upon the nation to send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade. In 1961, Kennedy made it seem like anything was possible, and Americans were eager to believe him. The Kennedy years were fondly and famously labeled “Camelot” by Jackie herself, suggesting an almost mythical quality about the young president and his family.
As it turned out, the ‘60s closely reflected the glossy, idealistic portrayal of John F. Kennedy, as well as the uglier truths. The country would achieve Kennedy’s goal of a manned moon mission, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally guaranteed minorities their civil rights and restored equality, ensuring that the country “...would live out the true meaning of its creed.” But the idealism and optimism of the decade was quickly shattered, starting with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The ‘60s were permanently marred by the Vietnam War, and by the time Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated in 1968, the country was irreversibly jaded. The events of the decade produced protests and countercultures unlike anything the country had seen before, as young people came of age more quickly than ever.
By the time Bobby Kennedy was killed, references to the infamous “Kennedy Curse” became more common, to the point that Americans are now familiar with the phrase, but if such a curse did truly exist, it did not originate with the fallen president or his younger brother. Instead, the first Kennedy to suffer an untimely death was the oldest brother, and the one originally expected to achieve a preeminent place in politics.
Joseph Kennedy, Jr. was the expected heir to his father’s dream of a Kennedy in the White House. His parents doted on their firstborn, even as more children followed in quick succession. They sent him to the best schools, made sure he made the right sort of friends, and constantly reminded him of his political destiny. Joseph Kennedy, Sr., who would reach the upper echelons of the federal government himself, groomed his son for a future in politics, encouraging him to refine his opinions and exposing him to the most important issues of the day.