Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Surrounded by a picturesque landscape, a cathedral of liberalism and an archive of an American dynasty; the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a place which distinguishes itself for its celebration of culture.

A picturesque setting. The journey leading into this museum begins on a narrow road flanked by a colonnade of American flags. Upon arrival the visitor finds the museum, a timeless brilliant white structure made of sharp geometrical shapes balanced by a grand central glass pavilion, from which drapes Old Glory in her stars and stripes. Built on the Columbia Point Peninsula, the museum overlooks the historic Boston harbor. On one side of the museum grounds is a vista of Boston’s skyscraper skyline, while on the other extremity is a collection of Boston’s scattered islands which serve as the gateway to the Hub and the unfading Atlantic.

An archive of an American dynasty. Inside the museum, the exhibit rooms tell the story of the Kennedy political dynasty. The protagonist of the museum is the late President John F. Kennedy. However, the entry exhibit quickly introduces the visitor to Mr. Kennedy’s supporting cast, the Kennedy family. Every wall of the museum bears a memory of Mr. Kennedy’s rise to the nation’s highest political office, while also noting the contributions of his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Each portrait depicted a seminal moment in Kennedy family life: The humble house in Brookline, followed by the stately dinners with the Queen during his father’s stint as American ambassador to England, to the summers spent sailing off the Kennedy compound in the Nantucket Sound. Each portrait depicted a tightly knit family, always together, always enjoying each others company, always supporting each other in every setting, whether humble or stately. The museum portrays the Kennedy political dynasty, as a tale of kindred spirits who accompanied each other throughout their journey in life.

The cathedral of liberalism. The JFK Library and Museum celebrates the vision of liberalism cultivated by President Kennedy. The museum’s “White House Years” exhibit, tells the story of an American president who embraced FDR’s vision of the New Deal. As FDR, President Kennedy saw the American presidency as a catalyst for social progress in American society. This exhibit portrays a president who used the power of the federal government to bring civil rights to the disenfranchised and to eradicate poverty. In addition, the “Kennedy Press Conference” exhibit portrays a president who actively sought to dictate the legislative agenda of the country, by influencing the formulation of public opinion through the media. President Kennedy was the first president to truly master the art of unscripted press conferences on television. Furthermore, Kennedy held true to the American liberal brand by fighting Communism around the world; from the exhibit of the Cuban Missile Crisis to his involvement in Vietnam, the JFK museum portrays a president who was convinced of the exceptionalism of republican democracy.

However, the JFK museum also portrays a president who gave a new streak to liberalism. The “1960 Presidential Election” exhibit, commemorated President Kennedy’s famous remarks, “Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce...ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.” The JFK museum presents a liberal who is calling for government to be a patron of the sciences, but who also calls for Americans to not become too dependent on social welfare programs, but to be self-reliant to and contribute to their country through public service.

The only disappointment of the museum is its inability to fully show how the 35th president got his political skills. President Kennedy was the product of the bare-knuckles politics of Boston. The museum occasionally shows pictures of his legendary grandfather John F. Fitzgerald, “Honey Fitz”, former mayor of Boston, a true political animal, and the man who introduced the family to the rough and tumble politics of Boston in early 1900’s. Furthermore, the museum only makes timid references to Mr. Kennedy’s Irish immigrant heritage. The city of Boston, as in President Kennedy’s time, continues to be a hub of diversity, a city of immigrants who breath life to Boston’s political culture by continuing with Boston’s hallowed tradition of a politics defined by tenacity. In sum, the museum does a disservice to the residents of Boston, many of them of Irish descent and many of them immigrants, who look to public service, as the Kennedy’s did, to cultivate roots in American culture.

Nevertheless, the JFK museum will charm anyone with a passion for American culture. An archive of the American national memory, visit the museum dedicated to the 35th president of the United States and from the Columbia point peninsula get a vantage view of Boston’s skyline and the political horizons which President Kennedy strove to reach.

JFK Library and Museum video

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