Skip to comments.A Beautiful Mediocrity: JFK was a so-so president, a deeply flawed man.
Posted on 11/20/2013 10:00:27 AM PST by SeekAndFind
By almost any measure, John F. Kennedy was a middling president at best, and an occasionally disastrous one. The Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis, setting the nation on the wrong course in Vietnam, his nepotism, the spying on political rivals all must weigh heavily in our judgment of his presidency. And while Kennedy the president was a middle-of-the-range performer at best, Kennedy the man has been relentlessly diminished by the eventual revealing of the facts of his day-to-day life.
Conservatives who see in Kennedy a committed combatant in the Cold War and a supply-side tax-cutter must keep in mind his bungling at home and abroad. Liberals who see in Kennedy a receptacle for all they hold holy must keep in mind his calculating cynicism for example, his opposition to civil-rights legislation when he believed its passage would strengthen the Republican president proposing it. Kennedys virtues his vocal anti-Communism, his assertive sense of the American national interest, his tax-cutting would hardly make him a welcome figure among those who today claim his mantle. His vices, on the other hand, are timeless.
The Cuban missile crisis is generally presented as the great episode of Kennedys hanging tough in the face of Communist aggression, but, like so much about Kennedys life, that story represents a triumph of public relations over substance. Kennedy gave up much more than he let on to resolve the crisis, agreeing to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey on the condition that the concession remain secret, so as not to undermine his political career or his brothers. And the Cuban missile crisis was brought on in no small part by Kennedys inviting displays of weakness: His performance at the 1961 Vienna summit made little impression on Nikita Khrushchev, and within a few months the Berlin Wall was under construction. After the Bay of Pigs, the Soviets had little reason to suppose that Cuba was anything but a safe port for them.
But Kennedy had a gift for spinning gold out of goof-ups.
John Kennedy looms large in the American imagination, but not for anything he accomplished in office. He was a handsome and vivacious man whose ascendancy coincided with that of television, a politician who was one part royal, one part movie star. That Americans found his celebrity and his pretensions to aristocracy appealing is beyond argument; however, it does not speak well of our political culture. But as created personas go, JFK was a doozy: He won the Pulitzer Prize for a book largely written by somebody else; his reputation as an intellectual was largely the creation of Arthur Schlesinger; and his family was figuratively and perhaps literally in bed with Joe McCarthy (who dated two of the Kennedy women), but the stigma of McCarthyism has never attached itself to his name. His pathological sexual appetites gave him the reputation of a charming rogue, when the truth is that he was closer to a mid-century Anthony Weiner. He was a veteran with an admirable military record, an unexceptional and difference-splitting senator with an Irish name: But for his celebrity, he would have been John McCain or John Kerry.
Kennedy did not transform the country, but he did transform the presidency largely for the worse. Combining grandiose rhetoric with shallow policy, he established the modern template of president as media hero, beginning the conversion of the office of the presidency from that of chief administrator of the federal government to the modern grotesquery it has become. The main effects of his time in the White House were to make his immediate predecessor look like Cincinnatus by comparison and to unleash the ugliness of Johnson and Johnsonism on the republic after his martyrdom at the hands of a deranged Communist. That Lyndon Johnson, a man he detested, was Kennedys political heir is a testament to the fact that there was hardly any devil he was unwilling to get in bed with if it brought him political power.
And what did he do with that power? Among the heaviest burdens facing the American public in 2013 are the direct expenses and unfunded liabilities associated with Medicare and Medicaid, two ill-shaped programs conceived of by the Kennedy administration but executed under Johnson which is to say, well be paying the price for Kennedys grand dreams for a long time to come.
He looked great in a suit, and he could deliver an applause line with the best of them. We may grieve the murder of a president, but our grief should not blind us to what kind of president, or man, he was.
Maybe on TV. In person he looked like a fragile painted porcelain doll.
I thought the young Mitt Romney was better looking, but oh well... to each his own.
he was the only PT boat skipper to get run over by an enemy ship.
The JFK mythology is a high tribute to the national press and the democrat machine who deftly put lipstick on a pig and gave it near-deification in the public view.
JFK was crap, accomplished little other than what he believed would politically help him, stole the election and never wrote a single line of his famous books, was so weak and foolish that he almost took us into a nuclear war. In short, the perfect democrat.
This author will probably be stoned to death in public.
One thing you should NEVER do is speak the truth.
Probably. Can’t say because I’ve never seen Romney up close.
There are similarities between JFK and Joseph Smith. They both loved the ladies. Their sudden death rescued them from discovery and ultimate shameful repudiation that they would have experienced had they lived on. Their followers were able to craft a narrative that lives on for generations.
Bay of Pigs wiped out the armed Cuban opposition to Castro.
He abandoned the Eisenhower’s Tibetans to be wiped out to the last man, refusing to take the calls as they were surrounded and out of ammunition.
He got the South Vietnamese president killed (oh, did I do that?). Fired the team which had previously beaten the communists in the Philippines, and turned the counter-insurgency over to his Harvard pals.
The guy was a wrecking ball.
You don’t want to sound heartless, but, Kennedy has this image only because of his assassination. He was made into a mythical figure, and the myth of Camelot arose, only because of his tragic death.
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The assassination was the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party.
A despicable man from a disgusting family
Yeah but you have to figure after he was knocked off the commies took over the ‘rat party then eventually the Republican party then the entire government where today we’re practically living in a commie country with a commie POTUS. That’s why I think Oswald wasn’t the only one involved.
Libs hate to be reminded that 'Tail-Gunner' Joe McCarthy was a frequent guest at Hyannis Port, as well as a Godfather to one of RFK's children.
I cracked up the first time I saw that pic in an ad in Vintage Guitar Magazine!
Exactly. His greatest accomplishment was to be assassinated. Americans were reluctant to speak ill of the dead. His chickens couldn't come home to roost. And most importantly, liberals were able to create their myth of Camelot.
For those who scoff, remember; liberals tried to do the same (and failed) for Ted Kennedy.
Okay, but he was far superior to anything the Democrats have come up with lately.
RE: There are similarities between JFK and Joseph Smith
I thought Joseph Smith was KNOWN for his polygamy even when he was alive... he actually PREACHED IT.
JFK on the other hand, tried to hide his pecadillos.
As P.J. O’Rourke wrote (primarily referring to the Kennedys),
It’s Always Tempting To Impute
Unlikely Virtues To The Cute.
RE: The guy was a wrecking ball.
Well, he did something right -— HE CUT TAXES.
Kennedy inherited a major recession (a contraction at an annualized rate of five percent in the fourth quarter of 1960) but kept domestic spending basically flat while ramping up military and overseas spending.
Though he did preside over a 25 percent increase (over two years) in the federal minimum wage and launch several domestic programs beloved by liberals including food stamps and what became Medicare when it was passed in 1965, he harbored deep suspicions of the creeping influence of the state.
Albert Jay Nocks anti-New Deal book Our Enemy, the State was a volume JFK kept at his Boston home in the 1950s and he sometimes echoed the book in public statements. I do not believe in a super state, he said in a 1960 speech in which he declared himself a liberal, with heavy qualifiers that made him sound more like one of todays conservatives.
I see no magic to tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned, he continued, smartly summarizing the voodoo economics of Keynesianism. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well.
It is hard to believe how unpopular Kennedy was even tho I was there and saw it.
I remember standing on the arcade at lunch and a kid named Tim Sutton came up and told me the President had been shot. At that point there was almost unanimous cheers. I mean probably 90% of the student body was glad to hear it.
After maybe 10 minutes, the mood began to change. I recall more than one saying, “well we are glad he got shot but we don’t want him to die” At that time we didn’t know anything other than the first reports.
Later during class, the principal came on the AV system and announced that Kennedy was dead. That immediately threw a cloud over every one, even those who hated him.
I do remember one girl who was one of the few Catholics in school, quietly sobbing to herself.
The gist of it was that Kennedy was very unpopular with our kids but we fairly soon realized just what had happened and that it was not a good thing.
If truth be told, JFK was far more flawed and dishonest than his election opponent, Nixon. But the media plays it totally otherwise.
Maybe that's why McCain had high office aspirations. He was an American Ace. He destroyed 6 American aircraft all by himself and then .....? Anchors Aweigh my boys, anchors aweigh!
I heard for the first time yesterday that he was wearing a brace in the car in Texas that limited his movements and made him ride higher then he normally would.
The Kennedy myths and legends were largely the creation of dynasty’s (crime family more like it)founder, Joseph Kennedy Sr who made vast fortune in various shady activities including stock market manipulation, insider trading, and other questionable practices. Kennedy Sr., more than most understood the power of advertising and pioneered the use of political advertising. Long before Jack was mixed up with Marilyn Monroe and the Hollywood rat pack, Kennedy Sr. pioneered in myth making churning out low budget movies in Tinsel Town and cavorting with famous actresses. Kennedy told his children, it doesn’t matter who you are, but what people think you are. He was a man who believed that money could buy anything and was an expert at media manipulation and creating false images and myths. Only a man like Joe Kennedy could have turned a disaster like the loss of PT-109 into an heroic feat, and turned his son’s lazy and lackluster record in Congress into a major presidential candidate. Sound familiar? No...BHO did not have the advantage of having a wealthy and powerful father buying his way into public office. But like the Kennedys, an adoring and slavelike media and Hollywood establishment plus lots of radical Left billionaires to help finance his campaigns.
Makes you realize just how many Americans would be happy if we were still under a monarchy.
Ping for later
He was having an affair with an enemy agent. Was he blackmailed? Would he have had to have been killed to protect the Democrat party?
Joe was a Hitler-lover as well.
RE: , Joseph Kennedy Sr who made vast fortune in various shady activities including stock market manipulation, insider trading, and other questionable practices.
Was there a law against insider trading back then?
I wonder what would have happened to a Lieutenant Smith if Lieutenant Smith’s PT boat was rammed while the boat was dead in the water and a crewman was killed.
Don't get me started - I know of a half-dozen FReepers who would be happy if we moved to one.
When I lived in Tulsa back in the early 70s, I was a Social Security Claims rep for a couple of years. One guy came in applying for Social Security, and when I saw his DD214, I asked him about his Navy experience.
It turned out he was a PT boat captain and was in the same squadron as Kennedy. He said Kennedy was well liked by all the men and they all knew he was well connected.
Of course he also said that being rammed was the worst embarrassment a PT Boat Skipper suffer. The PT Boats were the fastest things on the sea.
Compared to Osama Obama it's clear that JFK was an outstanding President.
“It is hard to believe how unpopular Kennedy was even tho I was there and saw it.”
I’ve read that his re-election was anything but a lock with poll numbers sinking had he made it to ‘64.
He was made a martyr and that is what carries the myth to this day. Same with Bobbie but to a far lesser extent, who still would have gotten creamed in ‘68 in my opinion.
No...the stock market was largely unregulated back then. Many of Kennedys activities were perfectly legal, though obviously manipulative. A favorite Kennedy trick: He would take an inactive stock, trade it back and forth with his friends, creating a false sense of activity among the public at large. After the stock was pumped up, Kennedy and his friends would unload their shares at high prices on to the unsuspecting public-—a classic pump and dump scheme. Kennedy even joked to a colleague, we need to make as much money as possible before they pass a law against it. To add to the irony, FDR appointed Kennedy Sr to be the first head of the SEC——saying it takes a thief to catch a theif and that Kennedy was familiar with all of the tricks of the trade.
That’s why I pray every day for Obama’s long life, good health and safety.
Nothing turns a sub-standard POTUS into a Saint like tragic death in office.
And, thus, I give him credit for being a mediocre president, roughly on the same level as Harry S. Truman, who was probably the second best Democrat to occupy the Oval Office in the last century.
Some conservatives might rank him higher than JFK. But I'd have to say that the loss of China was a far more serious blunder than the Bay of Pigs.
So, yeah, JFK is the best Democrat to serve in the Oval Office in the last century. But its a pretty low bar.
Disagree, not when I saw him. During the 1960 campaign he came to Syracuse NY and a liberal friend and I walked to a corner to watch him drive by on the back seat of a convertible. He so impressed me just sitting there, that I had to sign up for door to door canvasing for Nixon.
He was strong and impressive looking, but a scum bag like all the Kennedys.
Always thought the Press had kind of a gay thing for him and still does.
“he was the only PT boat skipper to get run over by an enemy ship.”
And for that he should have been court marshaled, better yet keel-hauled. How does a high speed PT boat get cut in half by a Japanese cruiser?
Maybe JFK was passed out drunk?
I was shocked at how unwell he looked. Like a fragile old lady whose face has been carefully painted.
Don’t believe he used teleprompters either !?
Did they even have them 50 years ago?
JPK certainly was an appeasor and a coward. Perhaps FDR kept him at his job as Ambassador to Great Britain because he knew the US was not ready for war at that time and he knew Kennedy had no stomach for it all. JPK cowered in the English countryside during the Blitz as Prime Minister Churchill and the King and Queen remained in London throughout the ordeal.
Many Irish-Americans sided with Hitler against England.
RE: Nothing turns a sub-standard POTUS into a Saint like tragic death in office.
Well, St. Jimmy Carter is alive and well... see how people view his legacy...
Based on the enemy of my enemy theory...
I was alive and able to vote at the time this man was President. All was not idolization of Kennedy. In fact, he was trailing Goldwater in all the polls of the day. He was losing big in Texas and that is why he went to that state in November. He and his advisers thought that by going to Texas he could revive his fortunes.