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Obamas, Clintons to visit JFK grave. Is Kennedy legacy still potent politics?

Fifty years after his death voters still often rank John F. Kennedy as the best of modern presidents. He's an icon every subsequent American chief executive has had to deal with.

By / November 17, 2013

Former President John F. Kennedy sits on a yacht with his daughter Caroline off Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1963. November 22, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Cecil Stoughton/The White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/REUTERS

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President Obama will visit John F. Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, two days before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, according to the White House.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The President will be accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, ex-President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The group will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Kennedy’s resting place on the long hill sloping down from Arlington’s Custis-Lee Mansion.

Later in the day Obama will further honor Kennedy’s legacy by holding the annual presentation ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kennedy established the modern version of this award, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the US government, in the months prior to his death.

This year’s recipients will include former President Clinton, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and baseball star Ernie Banks, among others.

Then on Wednesday evening Obama will give a speech honoring JFK and his lasting influence at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Kennedy family members are expected to attend.

The presence of the Clintons at Obama’s Kennedy events is sure to raise the question of whether Hillary may get his tacit endorsement in 2016. But beyond that is the larger, looming presence of JFK himself – an icon every subsequent American chief executive has had to deal with.

After all, associating oneself with the Kennedy aura remains potent politics. Fifty years after his death voters still often rank JFK as the best of modern presidents. A new Gallup poll finds that 74 percent of respondents believe Kennedy will go down in history as an outstanding or above-average president.

“This is the highest retrospective rating given to any of the 11 presidents who have held office since Dwight Eisenhower,” write Gallup’s Andrew Dugan and Frank Newport.

Some of that may be due to the Kennedy story – his glamour and life cut short by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. But less-remembered today is that JFK was enormously popular throughout his 1,000 days in office. His job approval average was 70 percent.

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