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JFK holiday necessary?

It's easy to understand why our tired and overtaxed lawmakers are seriously pondering the possibility that they need one more holiday.

After all, it has been hard work the past couple of years, passing less legislation than any Massachusetts Legislature in memory. If they didn't have to pass a budget, and debate the occasional capital punishment or gay marriage initiative, they would hardly have been heard from at all. Sounds burdensome, doesn't it?

So now comes a proposal to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States and the last one from Massachusetts. Politically, it's probably the most palatable holiday one could propose. Even questioning it seems nearly churlish.

But is the late president really under-honored in Massachusetts? Just off the top of my head: There is a John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, a John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, a John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, the historically protected John F. Kennedy birthplace in Brookline, and, eventually, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greensward, honoring his mother, on the land formerly occupied by the Central Artery. Oh, and there's a handsome statue of John F. Kennedy on the lawn of the State House.

This is not a question of whether he deserves to be honored. Elsewhere, Kennedy's reputation has suffered a bruising reassessment in the past two decades. But not much of that seems to have stuck in Massachusetts, where he remains perhaps the most successful Massachusetts politician of the past century and the shining example of Irish-American assimilation.

No, the real question is why do we need another holiday? Massachusetts already has 14, more than 44 other states. We have holidays, like Evacuation Day, that people in other states have never even heard of. All these holidays commemorate worthy events or people, history that we should sit and think about once in a while. Still, that's a lot of down time.

It is unusual, though not entirely unheard of, for an idea that has been knocking around for 20 years to suddenly gain momentum. Though it has been quietly shot down many times before, this could be the year for it.

And you can see why. It isn't just the intrinsic appeal of another day off. It's good news, happy news, at a time when very little good news is coming from Beacon Hill. In the midst of cutback after cutback, and continued strife between the branches, it gives lawmakers a chance to do something people will cheer. They could use that.

There has been no word yet from Governor Mitt Romney on this proposal. Should it reach his desk, he might be tempted to tread lightly, after the embarrassment of taking on the legacy of Tip O'Neill earlier this year.

Something about this holiday doesn't sit right with me. Some holidays achieve their stated goals beautifully -- I think people really do remember heroic, departed veterans on Memorial Day. Certainly the Martin Luther King holiday is taken seriously. It's more than just a string of breakfasts; it's a day to reflect on the elusive goal of unity.

But more often, holidays become history on the cheap. Consider Presidents Day -- a great opportunity to buy a car, but an occasion that has virtually nothing to do with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Even the ritual readings of the Gettysburg Address I remember from childhood have gotten to be too much trouble.

President Kennedy's status as a figure of romance and tragedy is secure, and the continuing deluge from the cottage industry his life has spawned proves that he is in no danger of being forgotten. The giant shadow he casts at the intersection of American history and myth is his real memorial, and the Massachusetts Legislature will be hard-pressed to enhance that.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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