For baby boomers and their parents, today's date is etched painfully in the national consciousness. This is less true today, finally, but it is a testament to John F. Kennedy enduring legacy that it's taken nearly six decades for the sadness to wane.
In part this was because of JFK's extraordinary appeal. It was also due to the shocking assassination of his brother Robert F. Kennedy five years later. And for many Americans, it was because they've always harbored doubts about the official version of President Kennedy's killing -- namely, that it was carried out by a misfit marksman named Lee Harvey Oswald.
Personally, I have no trouble believing that a gnat like Oswald killed a giant like Kennedy. If you think about it, it's a common, albeit unsettling, historical phenomenon. It happened to James A. Garfield and William McKinley -- and to Bobby Kennedy.
Over time, the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists have gained the upper hand, however, with the usual suspects being the Mafia or the CIA. As far-fetched as this seems, public opinion surveys show that a majority of Americans doubt Oswald acted alone. Furthermore, a 1978 special committee in the House of Representatives declared, without citing much evidence, that JFK "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."
Much of that committee's work struck me as sloppy and speculative, but in fairness to the House investigators, their efforts were thwarted by the difficulty obtaining classified government records. That problem remains. Four years after President Trump delayed the planned public release of thousands of such documents, President Biden did the same thing last month.
"Temporary continued postponement is necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure," Biden wrote in a presidential memorandum released late on a Friday -- the preferred time politicians divulge unpopular information to the public.
Biden added, unconvincingly, that officials at the National Archives and Records Administration had been delayed in their declassification review because of the coronavirus pandemic. This surprised me because Biden was in the Senate in 1992 when Congress set the deadlines for releasing all this material; it passed the upper chamber in a unanimous vote, at a time when Edward M. Kennedy, the last surviving Kennedy brother, was also a senator. Early in his career, Biden had campaigned with Teddy Kennedy, projecting the very image of a generation to whom the torch had been passed -- and one willing to face the challenges of the future.
But this latest delay in releasing information to which every American is entitled makes you wonder if today's leaders are truly willing to face the challenges of the past. It also makes even those of us disinclined to believe conspiracy theories to ask a very basic question: What are they hiding?
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.