Skip to comments.Tell Me Again. Why Are The Kennedys Royal? [A history of the Kennedys]
Posted on 05/23/2003 7:37:16 AM PDT by ZGuy
Great men have great flaws. Is that it? At least it seems to be the rationale to excuse every failing of John F. Kennedy. And with the most recent revelation that he had his own "affair" with a White House intern, Bill Clinton must, therefore, be excused for his misdeeds and recognized for his greatness. Virtually no report or discussion of JFK's involvement with 19-year-old intern "Mimi" has failed to include a comparison to Clinton or to infer unfair treatment of him resulting in his impeachment. As is typical when the topic is raised, the truth that Bill's abuses attempting to cover-up the Monica affair are what caused his impeachment is omitted.
Diehard Clinton supporter Mort Zuckerman is the publisher of Robert Dallek's offering, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, within which Marion "Mimi" Fahnestock was exposed. Happenstance, I'm sure. Since the intern story became public, Dallek has been everywhere, talking to pious media personalities, proclaiming the vast differences between the press and society of today and those of the 1960's and declaring that JFK's performance as president was in no way "undermined or impeded" as a result of his endless skirt chasing. The intent to reinforce the argument that Bill was similarly unimpeded should be lost on no one.
Exposing the widespread enthusiasm for the effort, if not outright collusion, it was immediately announced that former President Bill Clinton would be appearing to discuss his legacy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. And CNN/USA Today/Gallup conducted a poll asking Americans whom they regard as the "greatest United States president". JFK, with his impervious "Camelot" aura, consistently places high in such polls, and came in second only to Abraham Lincoln in this one.
As the thinking goes, once we dismiss Clinton's unfortunate, though by Kennedy standards completely understandable, involvement with Monica Lewinsky, not to mention proven sexual harassment, possible rape, perjury, witness tampering, endless campaign finance abuses, corrupt land and cattle futures deals, Chinese agents with gobs of money, and coincidental transfers of nuclear secrets to Beijing, we can focus on all the wonderful things accomplished during Clinton's time in office and finally establish his eminence. The discounting of Monica might also aid Hillary's own White House quest by easing her image as a doormat.
Let's see now. Can Bill be congratulated for the strength of our military? Not quite. During the Clinton presidency the armed forces were starved for funds, cut nearly in half, over-assigned on "peace keeping missions", tinkered with sociologically and robbed of morale, causing a severe enlistment retention problem.
The economy was clearly great during the 1990's. Democrats might be prepared to champion tax increases as a way to prosperity. But considering their recent, though reluctant, embrace of cuts, even they aren't buying that. And tax increases are all that Clinton contributed, unless, of course, we accept that Al Gore really did invent the Internet. It was the technology sector that began to boom as Clinton strolled into office, and was collapsing as he strolled out.
He balanced the budget? Sorry, a Republican Congress did that. Check your elementary civic texts on "the power of the purse." He contributed to world peace and stability? Can you say "North Korea," "the Middle East," or "al Qaeda?"
But an absence of achievement and glaringly flawed character are of no consequence whatsoever in attaining greatness. Bill Clinton wants to be considered as such. If we accept JFK or any Kennedy as great, how can we deny Clinton the same lofty distinction? While the Kennedy clan maintains the title of "America's Royal Family", it is difficult to identify what about them is royal, great or even real.
A review is in order.
Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the late president, carefully crafted a "fresh off the boat," up by his bootstraps image, but was in fact a third generation Irish American whose entire life was that of privilege. His own father, Patrick Kennedy, was a wealthy business owner with interests in saloons, banks, coal, and liquor imports. Moreover he was the quintessential 19th century Boston politician who maintained his position and filled his pockets through election fraud, bribery, kickbacks and all other forms of graft. Former executive director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Kane Simonian, described him as generous to others as he "robbed everybody blind".
Joseph learned his lessons well and was instilled with a lifetime obsession with achieving power, financial and political. This obsession he both passed to, and imposed upon, his own children. Hugh Sidey, friend of JFK, author on the Kennedys and columnist for Time said the family patriarch decided "he was a law onto himself" and that "all the Kennedys carried that with them."
What is known but consistently disregarded is that Joseph P. Kennedy built on his inherited wealth by investing in Hollywood, subjecting innumerable young actresses to the "casting couch", bootlegging during Prohibition and utilizing trading practices in the unregulated pre-Depression stock market that today would land someone in prison. Along the way he developed extensive contacts with corrupt politicians and organized crime that he would maintain throughout his life and which would help to propel his sons to the summit of political power.
"Pappy" was also a perpetual and open philanderer, who exposed wife Rose to public humiliation. Briefly in 1920, when she was 8-months pregnant with their 4th child, she left him and contemplated divorce. But reminded by her father that she had "made her choice" and that Catholics didn't get divorced, Rose resigned herself to the situation and helped to establish womanizing as acceptable to her sons, and tolerance for it in her daughters.
Harboring dreams of one-day becoming president, he attached himself to the campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was tapped by FDR to reform the stock market with the president declaring, "Takes [a crook] to catch one." But Roosevelt had no love for Kennedy, and appointed him ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1938 to be rid of him saying, "He's too dangerous to allow around here." Eleanor Roosevelt was known to despise Mr. Kennedy.
As the Nazi threat grew, and the world moved towards war, the new ambassador advocated appeasement,
"If I'm called an appeaser because I oppose the entry of this country into the present war, I cheerfully plead guilty"
But he was more than that. Joseph Kennedy was a known anti-Semite that coveted business deals with the Nazis, anticipating their ultimate victory. He spoke publicly and at length of his pro-Nazi views and said democracy was "finished in England". This resulted in a demand for his resignation and ended his political career.
The mantle of Kennedy "greatness" was left to his children, whom he pushed for their sake, and to redeem himself. Upon the birth of his first child, Joseph Jr. ("Joe"), Pappy boasted that his son would be president, and groomed him for that destiny. With his money and influence in Hollywood and the press, he publicized the entry of his two eldest sons into the navy during WWII. In order to secure the enlistment of the sickly JFK, it was necessary to bribe a navy doctor.
When John received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his exploits in command of the ill-fated PT-109, Joe was distraught that his younger brother had taken his place as his father's golden boy. He was determined to win a more prestigious medal, becoming of a future president, to gain back his father's favor. In 1944 he volunteered for an "experimental" bombing mission. He ignored the warnings of faulty equipment in his PB-24 bomber, which exploded before reaching its target, killing Joe Jr. and his copilot.
Joseph Sr.'s daughter Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy also died in a plane crash in 1948, while on a holiday with her married British aristocrat lover.
Rose and Joseph's oldest daughter, Rosemary, possessed an IQ of about 75. She was able to write endearing letters and solve fairly complex math problems, but was clearly slower than her siblings. In her father's eyes she was a loser, and he had no tolerance for losers. She also cried, which he hated. Rosemary was an embarrassment, sub par and made aware of it. She was frequently sent to live away from the family, was banished from the house and spoken of rarely. As she grew older, she became abusive and prone to tantrums, likely caused by rejection from her family. Without consulting his wife, Pappy had Rosemary lobotomized. She was left with the abilities of a toddler, and relegated to an institution.
Joseph Kennedy's ambition fell to his oldest surviving son John. While our current president is continually ridiculed for being a substandard student, JFK was no better. He cared little about his studies while at Harvard and led a notorious band of troublemakers. He was saved from expulsion only by his father's name and wallet. He did manage to be voted "most likely to succeed", but by rigging the balloting.
Once the war was over, planning began in earnest on John F. Kennedy's path to the White House. Considerable mileage was gotten out of his wartime actions, bought and paid for in the press by Pappy. The depths to which the Kennedy myth has burrowed into the American psyche has long ago buried questions concerning JFK's heroics. Whispers about dereliction of duty in the loss of PT-109, and memory reconstruction with the help of Joseph Kennedy's money, have been silenced. But the pattern of image crafting with cash by the family patriarch, and the lesson to his children of "It's not what you are that counts, but what people think you are" make doubts more than reasonable. President Kennedy himself hinted that the advertised story wasn't accurate.
Joe selected the eleventh district in Massachusetts for his son's 1946 congressional bid with its concentration of Irish Catholics. He then paid the financially strapped, sitting Democrat James Curley $12,000 to vacate the seat. So much money was spread around to assure John Kennedy's victory that the Boston press began referring to $20 bills as "Kennedy campaign buttons."
The pattern held until Kennedy's arrival in the Oval Office, and beyond. During his 1952 Senate campaign, he got a considerable boost from an endorsement by the Boston Post, which had long supported sitting Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. The surprise endorsement came after a $300,000 "personal loan" by his father to owner/editor John Fox. JFK latter quipped, "You know we had to buy that fucking paper or I'd have been licked." Papa Joe also boasted that for a paltry $75,000 he managed to have his senator son placed on the cover of Time in 1957. Kennedy largess was delivered in suitcase loads to party bosses, union leaders and mob figures. Gratitude was shown with votes, often materializing out of thin air, in bulk and in the nick of time.
During the nail-bitingly close presidential election of 1960, a flurry of last minute calls and deliveries of cash were made to key areas of the country, a considerable portion of which went to the Illinois political machine of Richard Daley and the Chicago mob. So blatant were the unseemly maneuvers that Robert Kennedy feared the election would be reversed. Some years later, investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations believed convincing evidence existed that illegal methods threw the election to our late, "great" president.
What is it that they say these days? "Bush stole the 2000 election", with a Democrat produced "butterfly ballot" and an appeal to the Supreme Court? Even if one buys that, seeing as everything Kennedy is excusable, like sleeping with interns, where is the problem?
Any possibility of reversing the election that put JFK in the White House was remote due to his father's influence and deep pockets. Doing so would have required uprooting the most deeply entrenched political power brokers and organized crime figures in the country. The installation of little brother Bobby as Attorney General, the chief law enforcement position in the country, at daddy's insistence, didn't hurt the Kennedy cause either. At that time Robert Kennedy had never held public office and, though a lawyer, had never tried a case. The appointment was naked nepotism that would never be tolerated today. He wielded power in every corner of the administration, power that no Attorney General before or since has possessed. The conflicts of interest were glaring, but the posting placed Bobby in the ideal position to continue in his role as "Jack's cover-up boy", according to author Ralph G. Martin.
Portrayed as a noble crusader, Robert Kennedy's duties included paying off his brother's mistresses and ushering some out of the country. He had adulterous encounters of his own, but not nearly as often as JFK or his father. Deeply involved in his older brother's campaigns, it is unreasonable to believe that he was unaware of the buying of votes and favorable press coverage.
Considerable weight is given to Bobby's role in fighting organized crime, yet he ignored his own family's involvement. As an investigator for the McClellan Committee in the early 1950's he unearthed evidence of his father's connections to the mob. According to Barry Goldwater, who served on the committee, "It just killed him." But apparently it did not bother Bobby so much that it prevented him from becoming involved in CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro, which deeply involved the Mafia.
RFK was described as "ruthless" and "authoritarian". The Christian Science Monitor condemned him for his use of "naked power" and the Wall Street Journal described him as commander of the "state security police". What is beyond dispute is that he frequently violated the constitution and deprived those he targeted of due process, including civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy's shining image is likewise inconsistent with his role as legal counsel during the Joseph McCarthy hearings. He got the position thanks to Pappy's friendship with the senator. During his time in the Senate, brother John was also close to McCarthy. So much so that he refused to support censure against him for his alleged communist hunting abuses.
DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe recently accused President Bush of fomenting "new McCarthyism" against those who oppose his polices. The Kennedys were no strangers to the original version, yet they remain "royal." If they did it, it must not be all that bad.
Above all Robert Kennedy saw his first duty as protecting his brother and the family name.
JFK's personal life was equally well orchestrated and sanitized. Similar methods were used to keep the laundry list of chronic ailments, which often left him immobile and delirious for days at a time, and the sexual adventures of "mattress Jack", as he was known in Congress, out of the public's eye. His marriage to Jackie had as much to do with politics as it did with love, if there was love. Joseph Kennedy made clear to his senator son that the nation was unlikely to elect a bachelor to the White House. But as we understand more vividly by the day, fidelity was never part of the deal. His involvements with other women went on daily and were seemingly endless. His list of partners included not just White House interns, but actresses, mafia women, his wife's personal secretary, Pamela Turnure, two other secretaries, who the president referred to as "Fiddle and Faddle" and who Jackie called "dogs", and a woman named Maria Novotny thought to be connected to a Soviet vice ring. In a particularly ignominious incident in1960, Jackie was in serious condition and gave birth to a stillborn daughter. Even after hearing the news JFK refused to cut short his Mediterranean cruise with his brother Teddy and a few female guests.
Need we talk about Teddy?
While President Kennedy can be appropriately respected for his anti-communist views and general support for lower taxes and smaller government, he deserves no accolades for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was brought about by his lack of leadership in neither fully supporting nor overruling the Bay of Pigs invasion. He can also be held responsible for the beginnings of the Vietnam buildup and putting together the team that mismanaged the war so horribly.
It appears that looking good and dying young can do wonders. Tons of cash and mafia connections don't hurt either.
Considering the amazing lack of character in America's Royal Family, it seems almost unfair that Bill Clinton should be denied greatness. If it is the Kennedys who set the standard, he certainly qualifies. But acknowledging this does not oblige anyone to accept the contention that such severe personal flaws do not "impede" the performance of the President of the United States. Nor does it obligate us to believe that 1960's, pre-Sexual Revolution America didn't care about the personal habits of its leader. JFK's compulsive womanizing left him vulnerable to manipulation by his sexual partners, the Soviets, the Cubans, the Mafia, J. Edgar Hoover and anyone else who was aware of it.
The American people put considerable value on the manufactured, wholesome image of the Kennedy family. This is why so much money and effort was spent to maintain it. The press's reluctance, because of greed, fear or piety, to expose the Kennedys in their time was not due to public deference, but was a simple failure on their part to fulfill their constitutional role. Not only does the "Mimi" revelation not vindicate Bill Clinton, it damns the press once again for constructing and perpetuating lies.
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