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 sleep, rubbed its eyes, it was shocked to see that the perception of it that the world had was very different than the perception it had of itself. It was a culture shock, a rude awakening to which the groggy giant is only now becoming fully cognizant of.
In the beginning, according to a well-known hermeneutician, was Word; but before the Word was the act, and in time it became a social act and a discursive act. Since then, too, the events and activities of everyday life have been acts and social acts -- worded or otherwise. John Dewey gave expression to this view in very clear terms. He proposed that "signalling acts evidently formed the basic material of language, but are not language yet nor yet are they its sufficient condition" (1925: 77). The very emergence and continuation of social relationships and society are based on such acts and social acts (Perinbanayagam, 1985, p. 1)."
The cultural shock with which Americans met Kennedy's participation in Vietnam, the recent near demise of the Catholic Church in America, and, with the events of 9/11 the resentment towards Americans from 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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