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The Kennedy Curse

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For a half-century, John F. Kennedy has mesmerized Democrats.

Robert Costa writes: It’s a black-and-white picture we’ve all seen before: an earnest, 16-year-old Bill Clinton shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy. It was snapped in July 1963 in the Rose Garden, soon after Kennedy addressed a group of Boys Nation delegates. Ever since, and most notably during his 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton has recalled the moment. For him, it was more than a brief encounter; it was an experience, and one so powerful that Clinton once said it caused him to have “arthritis of the face.”

Clinton’s deeply felt connection to Kennedy is hardly unique. Memories of Kennedy’s presidency, from his inaugural address to the horror of Dallas, live on in the American imagination. But they linger particularly with Democrats, and for the past 50 years, generations of them have venerated JFK as their party’s tragic hero. Democrats may have long ago abandoned the Kennedy program, but JFK’s flame flickers elusively in their hearts.

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