January 5, 2011
This month marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration—January 20, the day that the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts took oath and famously appealed to his fellow Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and author of John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life, also considers the moment a determinate one in defining the role of a president. In Smithsonian’s January issue, he reflects on how the president’s power, particularly in foreign affairs, has expanded since Kennedy was in office.
I interviewed Dallek about his experience writing “Power and the Presidency, From Kennedy to Obama,” and he seemed wary about the extent of the president’s war-making powers today. (And the power in the hands of other world leaders, for that matter.) “It is really pretty daunting when you consider that not just presidents, but prime ministers, chancellors, leaders of these other countries, have this power to do such destructive things,” says Dallek, whose latest book The Lost Peace looks at leadership around the globe from 1945 to 1953. His advice to his fellow Americans: “Presidents need to be critically studied and analyzed.”
This Thursday, January 6, from 6:45 PM to 8 PM, Dallek will do just that, offering up insight about Kennedy at a Smithsonian Resident Associate-sponsored lecture in the Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium at the Freer Gallery of Art. His presentation will discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, the nuclear test ban and relations with Southeast Asia, as well as Kennedy’s struggles with his domestic agenda. Given Dallek’s expertise on the subject, I imagine those in attendance will walk away with a rich understanding of Kennedy’s legacy.
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