(Updates with wreath laying at Arlington)
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON Nov 20 President Barack Obama joined
with Bill and Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to recognize the
legacy of John F. Kennedy, the president who inspired a
generation until he was felled by an assassin's bullets 50 years
ago this week.
Obama, former President Clinton and former Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton laid a wreath and bowed their heads before
Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. As a bugler
played "Taps," an eternal flame at the gravesite fluttered in a
chilly autumn breeze and Kennedy family members stood nearby.
It was a remarkable meeting of Democratic heavyweights to
mark the anniversary of Kennedy's death on Nov. 22, 1963, an
event that has spawned countless books and conspiracy theories
on whether assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
The day was steeped in powerful political imagery as Obama
awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal
of Freedom, to Bill Clinton and 15 other Americans who have made
significant contributions to U.S. culture, politics, sports and
The White House event was intended as a testament to the
memory of Kennedy, who signed an executive order shortly before
his death creating the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kennedy
also established the Peace Corps and set the country on a path
to landing humans on the moon.
Kennedy was shot to death as he and his wife, Jacqueline,
rode in a motorcade in Dallas. America has been awash in
televised remembrances of the death of the handsome, vigorous
46-year-old president and subsequent killing of Oswald by
nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
White House officials decided to mark the occasion with the
Medal of Freedom ceremony to remember Kennedy's life rather than
the macabre circumstances of his death.
Those who had the Medal of Freedom medal draped around their
necks by Obama included a wide range of American success
stories, from TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey to former Chicago
Cubs baseball star Ernie Banks, country singer Loretta Lynn and
former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.
The event allowed Obama and Clinton to warm a relationship
that has seen its share of strains and came as speculation
mounts that Hillary Clinton might seek to succeed Obama as
president in 2016.
Just last week Bill Clinton jumped into the political fight
over Obama's healthcare law by telling a TV interviewer that
Obama should "honor the commitment" he made that if people like
their insurance plan, they can keep it.
Millions are seeing their insurance plans canceled despite
Obama's pledge, and the resulting loss of trust in his
leadership has contributed to a downward spiral in his job
approval ratings, down to 37 percent in a new CBS News poll.
A new book, "Double Down," by journalists Mark Halperin and
John Heilemann, said Obama in the past has found Clinton to be
exhausting, and quoted him as telling an aide, "I like him ...
PRAISE FOR CLINTON
Perhaps mindful of that anecdote, Obama went out of his way
to honor Clinton, who was president from 1993-2001 and heads the
Clinton Global Initiative, a global charity organization.
Clinton's lifelong interest in public service dates back in
part to a 1963 visit to the White House where he shook Kennedy's
hand four months before the assassination.
Obama said he was grateful for the patience Clinton had
shown during the endless travels of Hillary Clinton as the top
"I'm grateful, Bill, as well for the advice and counsel you
have offered me on and off the golf course, and most importantly
for your life-saving work around the world, which represents
what's very best in America," Obama said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)