This past week, as we do each January, OppenheimerFunds held a conference for our entire sales force, in Dallas, Texas. Officially, we’ve chosen Dallas due to its hub airport and low probability of travel-disrupting winter storms. I suspect Dallas may also be an attractive meeting location because, despite the city’s appeal as a place to live, work and raise a family, it does not offer quite the number of distractions that, say, New York does. I did, however, find one. I ducked out between presentations to visit the site of President Kennedy’s assassination. After spending an hour in a small museum housed on the sixth floor of the former Texas Schoolbook Depository—the place from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy—I started to rethink the somewhat peevish blog I posted last week.
I had complained about the personal and substantively limited shape our current presidential election campaign is taking. I still think someone who wants to become or remain President of the United States should find something better to do with his or her time and staff resources than dig through their opponents’ public and private utterances in search of something to hold up as a candidacy killer. But a visit to the site of Kennedy’s assassination—one of the most prominent events of my teenage years—actually made me feel a bit better.
The Dallas museum doesn’t dwell heavily on the 1960 presidential campaign, but it does document some of the controversies that dogged the Kennedy presidency. What struck me was the viciousness with which those controversies were raised—name calling, accusations of treason and attacks based on religion were common. Fifty years later, it seems these matters could have been discussed on their merits. And despite a brief interlude of national unity following the assassination, I don’t recall the 1964 election year or the rest of that decade as a time when politics turned from personal acrimony to rational discourse.
The 1960s was a turbulent decade of progress, prosperity and strife. Nevertheless, we did limit nuclear testing, pass civil rights legislation, cut taxes substantially and invest in infrastructure and technology. Those policy initiatives had (and still have) their opponents, but the republic survived—even thrived. And politicians continue to call each other names.