Kennedy's Catholicism created the symbolic link between political ambition, leadership, and, for years, helped to maintain the link between America's moral and political identity (Billett, 1995). It allowed the stereotypical image of Americans as "the people" who were represented by their duly elected political leaders, long after those political leaders ceased to even maintain the pretense of being one of "the people." The "Camelot" years, as Kennedy's presidency was romanticized, has only in recent years been identified as consistent with other presidencies in American history; the dominant elite and the counter elite (Adrain, 1973, p. 30). However, Kennedy's presidency, and his untimely assassination, served as the symbol of how Americans saw themselves in their political system.
For many years, Kennedy was not mentioned in conversations about the most controversial and debated events in American history; the Vietnam conflict. Kennedy reigned as a symbol of American values, and he avoided designation of blame for his role in taking Americans into Vietnam because Americans would not denigrate his memory or the image by which they identified themselves in him by laying responsibility at Kennedy's political door. Americans assuaged their grief with discussions of what he "would have" done had he not been struck down in the prime of his life and presidency. The symbolic interactionism by Americans in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr., has given political leaders the opportunity to take over the American government from the people, establishing a government of dominant and counter elites, which Charles R. Adrain describes as:
The dominant elite and the counter elite differ in two important ways. The elite controls the most significant of the decision-making positions in both public and private life, but not necessarily all of them. In addition, the elite is committed to an ideology that defends, for the most part, the current distribution of statuses, monetary resources, and political power in the society. The counterelite disagrees with the existing distribution and the present means for gaining rewards and benefits (p. 30)."
Today, leaving most Americans in a state of culture shock, Kennedy has been given responsibility for leading Americans into Vietnam. It remains a sensitive discussion.
The events of 9/11 did indeed awaken a sleeping giant; the American people their initial response was one of unity, symbolic bonding in the display of the American flag and coming together behind President George W. Bush in an hour of crisis. However, as the sleeping giant shook off the countries around the world; has served to bring about change in the way Americans perceive themselves. As is typical of American symbolic interactionism, they are coming together to bring about change on their home front and for the first time in American history, a black man and a woman have a very good chance of becoming the next American president.
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