This is not the column I originally intended to write today. I wanted to follow the lead of Caroline Kennedy and focus on the triumph of her father's life, not the tragedy of his death.
I wanted to write about how charming he was, and how he inspired my generation to ask not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country.
But for those of us who are old enough to remember that terrible day in Dallas, the shock and pain of his assassination still hurts, even after all this time. I think few of us will really ever get over it.
In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, a consensus seemed to emerge that two reforms must be accomplished right away. First, we needed to tighten up the gun laws so crackpots like Oswald, who purchased the death rifle via mail order for only $21, couldn't get access to guns.
A simple background check would have revealed that Oswald not only was affiliated with some very dodgy extremist groups and defected to the Soviet Union for three years, he had already tried to assassinate retired Gen. Edwin Walker the previous spring.
The second thing we felt needed reforming was the culture of hate that was dividing the country.
We already had ample warning that there was danger afoot before President Kennedy went to Dallas. Some people had spat on U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson there a few weeks earlier, and local residents sent letters to the White House begging Kennedy not to come because of the risk. On the day he landed, the local John Birch Society distributed ominous-looking leaflets with his picture and the words "Wanted For Treason!"
Needless to say, these much-desired reforms never came to pass. Despite the subsequent murders of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and the assassination attempts on Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Gabby Giffords, the gun manufacturers and their puppet group, the National Rifle Association, have not only blocked attempts at reform, they've been successful in getting laws passed that actually loosen gun restrictions.
And now the list of victims has been expanded to include college students (Virginia Tech), high school students (Columbine), moviegoers (Aurora) and even toddlers (Sandy Hook).
Meanwhile, the culture of hate is even worse now than it was in 1963. Some Americans hate other Americans more than they love their country. If you don't believe me, just go on the Internet and see for yourself. It's a deadly combination, and I fear for the future of our country.
At President Kennedy's funeral, Chief Justice Earl Warren asked a question that rings even truer today:
"If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence. Is it too much to hope that the martyrdom of our beloved president might even soften the hearts of those who would themselves recoil from assassination, but who do not shrink from spreading the venom which kindles thoughts of it in others?"
Half a century later, that question remains unanswered.