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.
RE: All was not idolization of Kennedy. In fact, he was trailing Goldwater in all the polls of the day.
So, do you believe he would have lost in 1964 had he been alive then?
Indeed. Colonists came to American to escape oppression. Then they had to rebel as it followed them. And even then there was a great portion of Americans who shunned freedom.
Now we have created generations of voluntary slaves craving the yoke of oppression in exchange for bread and circuses. And they are just about to extinguish the light of freedom forever.
The Great Experiment is almost over.
But he was a TRUE CONSERVATIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The English were still being very very nasty up until the mid-19th century, and the 17th and 18th centuries had been brutal http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-irish-slave-trade-the-forgotten-white-slaves—so 800 years would not be necessary. The older generation would remembering what their grandparents had experienced and relayed from the few previous generations would have been quite ample.
That it has been so swept under the rug that there is not a realization of how relatively close it is would make those few who do remember quite bitter.
It was my understanding that the boat was anchored at night. I think they were partying but am not sure. Probably no one on watch but even if the destroyer was seen there may not have been time to get out of the way. Seemed like a freak accident with incompetence thrown in.
It’s all about the myth.
One of best opines on this junk I’ve read
I salute NR
Now get your Neo con what culture war heads out of your butts
I went to Catholic schools 1-12. I had a grade school friend who chose to go to the public high school. In those days (sixties) most Catholic kids went to the Catholic hs and most Protestants went to the public high school. After Kennedy got shot, one Protestant kid, who I also knew, danced down the high school corridor shouting with glee about how happy he was Kennedy got shot. My grade school friend punched him out. Considering the level of anti-Catholic feeling still prevalent in the country in those days, I'm sure there were more than a few fist fights in the wake of the shooting between different religious parties.
Kennedy was guilty of dereliction of duty for not posting a man on watch. Despite getting some medals for saving the lives of his crewmen, he faced a Naval hearing when he went back to the States. He was not punished for various reasons: either the brass figured they needed more heroes than scapegoats or Pa Kennedy pulled some strings, but nothing was done to him.
Kennedy screwed up by not posting a man on watch. Lucky to escape punishment before a naval board of inquiry when he went back to the States.
Irish PM Eamon De Valera sent the German embassy in Dublin a note of condolence when Hitler died.
I thought Rob Lowe looked better than JFK.
On a trip to Ireland a few years ago my wife (who grew up in England) and I were having breakfast at a B&B (Kenmore?)sitting next to an Irish tour bus driver at another table. We started exchanging pleasantries. My wife’s still noticeable English accent came to the man’s attention. She said she left England many years before. The man allowed that he wouldn’t hold that against her then.
not only that, as if that’s not enough, he really lost the Cuban Missile Crisis by promising not to invade Cuba. He handed the Soviets a base in the western hemisphere for free. We received nothing.
From their base in Cuba the Soviets were able to export communist propoganda and movements throughout both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Yep. The CMC was a heck of a win.....for Kruschev.
You mean Nixon...not Goldwater. Goldwater ran in 1964.
One of my best friends in high school was Catholic. His family and the girl I mentioned were the only two I knew. They were a bit of a curiosity but no one hated them or wished any bad will towards them.
The girl I mentioned had a Polish name. The county I grew up in, Walton County, was nearly 100% descended from Highland Scots from the Western Islands. Even as late as 1960, well over half the population had Scottish names.
The tiny Catholic Church is named St. Margaret of Scotland.
Don't forget the Cuban missile crisis was the Soviet reaction to our putting missiles in Turkey.
He nearly caused WWIII.
Sorry, my mistake. You meant in the current polls at the time of his death. Even so, the amount of abuse Goldwater received by the media probably would have tilted things in Kennedy’s favor. It was as prejudiced against conservatives then as it is today. Goldwater was treated as the second coming of Satan by the honorable idiots in the press. And coming out against the civil rights bill ensured that he lost sizable numbers of black voters. In 1960 Nixon got 32% of the black vote. Goldwater only got about 6%.
McCain almost outdid JFK when he nearly sank the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal.
My uncle vaguely knew Kennedy and those who served with him in the Pacific. He was always trying to get special favors and was given the shaft by the higher-ups who were too far away for Joe's retaliation on them--hence his nickname was "Old Shafty"--true story...
One way to play with the mind of a liberal — remember, they tend to worship the memory of JFK, so tell them Obama isn’t fit to carry JFK’s jock strap.
It puts ‘em in a quandary.... are they going to denigrate JFK’s legacy by bringing him down to Obama’s level or let the insult to Obama stand....
Interesting. I like Nock's writing -- must check that one out. His writing on education is brilliant.
Very interesting. Thanks.
You need to discount two of McCain’s plane losses. One was during the Forrestal fire when a Zuni rocket on a Phantom accidentally went of and hit his Skyhawk. The other was when his Skyhawk got hit by a SAM. A good number of good pilots got shot down by SAM’s.
However, while the press attacked him he was still ahead of Kennedy in the polls of those days. If I remember correctly blacks were not as likely to vote in 1064 Goldwater had a good shot, even Kennedy was worried-that is why he went to Texas.
I never saw his father Joe, but he had an evil reputation at the hotel, for trying to seduce girls working there. Of course that was some years before.
One Sunday morning I ran into Bobby sneaking out of Mass early, and got his autograph. Bobby looked perfectly healthy.
As for the Cuban Missile Crisis:
1. The real reason why the missiles were pulled out of Cuba was that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were actively planning to take control of the missiles and launch them.
2. The removal of the Jupiter missiles were already being planned in 1961. These were stop gap weapons, above ground and vulnerable to attack. The Soviets already knew the locations, one group of missiles was overflown by a reconnaisance MiG flying out of Bulgaria. The Jupiters also used liquid oxygen, which resulted in a slow response time. So they were just about obsolete by 1961. By the time the Jupiters were phased out, Minuteman ICBM’s were on line, as well as the first Polaris subs. So 15 Jupiters were removed from Turkey, to be replaced by maybe one George Washington class SSBN with 16 missiles, which could be launched as soon as the sub got the go order and reached launch depth. And just where the heck is that sub? (question asked by the Soviets, until John Walker spilled the beans).
A very true article. I remember being taught in school that JFK was the best president and a Hero that was tragically slayed. I really believed it myself until I got the opportunity to do a report on the bay of Pigs, then it all unraveled for me.
I realized for the first time that the real JFK was not a hero portrayed by the press even today but rather an incompetent idiot.
A man that actually believed withdrawing vital support from an attack to overthrow a dictator would have any effect but doom the mission and drive that dictator into the hands of our enemy. That revelation of course led to my discovering what really happened in the missile crisis. JFK didn’t heroically stand down the soviets as I was taught in school, he just gave them what they wanted our missiles in turkey. All that drama and near war was over nothing.
The press loved this man and for the first time he proved that was enough to overcome any level of gross incompetents in politics. In a lot of ways this guy was and is like Obama, The big difference was he diden’t live long enough for his enormous failures to becomes to large as to be impossible for the press to cover up. So LBJ got blamed instead.
“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.”
This is the other dirty truth about JFK had he not been killed he probably would have lost.
As a side note, I read a bio of Jackie Robinson this last year. Robinson was a huge figure in the civil rights struggles of those times. He was a huge champion of Nixon, but he despised Goldwater and considered him a bigot and racist due to his, Goldwater's, stand on the coming civil rights bill. It was only a few years after the election that Robinson sat down and had a talk with Goldwater did he regret calling Goldwater those names and realized Goldwater acted on principle and not because he was bigoted. Nevertheless, the loss of several million votes, or whatever the number would have been, could not be dismissed in a close election. However, Kennedy's death made a martyr out of him and ensured Johnson's easy election.
Agreed. I think he would have lost.
Kennedy and his staff were concerned enough to go to Texas as they were behind in the polls. Public opinion was a little more stable in those days-not much-but more stable. I admit there was a big Kennedy cult and I certainly agree with you as to Kennedy’s death killing Goldwater’s chances. If I remember correctly Goldwater himself said so a while after the election. I forget his exact words; something to the effect that “after Kennedy’s death we were just pooping around.” He had geared his entire campaign against Kennedy.
And a good number of PT Boat skippers did not get run over by a Jap warship! He skated on his family connections as did McCain.
JFKS HANDLING OF MISSILE CRISIS A TRIUMPH THAT KILLED THE MONROE DOCTRINE.
September 3, 1987| By GEORGE WILL, Washington Post Writers Group
Clio, the muse of history, is in bed with a splitting headache, prostrated by the task of trying to correct the still multiplying misunderstandings of the Cuban missile crisis. Most Americans believe it was a famous victory won by a resolute president prepared to take the world to the brink of nuclear war. Actually, there was not much of a brink, and no triumph worth celebrating.
Kennedy In last Sunday`s New York Times magazine, J. Anthony Lukas reported on a reunion of former Kennedy administration participants in the crisis. The meeting was last April at a Florida resort with the wonderfully inapt name of Hawk`s Cay.
Because the crisis began when the Soviet Union began putting missiles in Cuba and ended when the missiles were removed, it was considered an unambiguous triumph achieved by a president more hawkish than some dovish advisers. (The terms ``hawks`` and ``doves`` were popularized by this crisis.)
Now much is being made of a letter from former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, a letter read at the April reunion. The letter is said to show that Kennedy was a dove.
In the crisis, Robert Kennedy notified Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that U.S. missiles in Turkey would be withdrawn within months of withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, but it was imperative (obviously for domestic American political reasons) that the linkage of the withdrawals not be announced. Rusk`s letter reveals that if the Soviet Union had insisted on public linkage, Kennedy would have complied.
That historical morsel is only redundant evidence of what should by now be patent: Kennedy succeeded because his military advantage was huge and his goal was tiny.
The Soviet Union was not going to war at a time when U.S. advantages were three to one in long-range bombers, six to one in long-range missiles and 16 to one in warheads. The Kremlin must have been astonished and elated when Kennedy, in spite of advantages that would have enabled him to insist on severance of Soviet military connections with Cuba, sought only removal of the missiles. He thereby licensed all other Soviet uses of Cuba.
The stunning revelation in Lukas` report is not Rusk`s letter; it is something said at the reunion by Ted Sorensen, the aide closest to Kennedy.
On Aug. 31, 1962, five weeks before the administration discovered the missiles, New York`s Republican Sen. Kenneth Keating, trusting information received from intelligence and refugee sources, said offensive missiles were going into Cuba. Republicans were making an election issue out of Soviet shipments to Cuba. In September, Kennedy warned the Soviets, with interesting preciseness, not to put in Cuba ``offensive ground-to-ground missiles.`` Now, Sorensen says that the president drew a line where he soon in October wished he had not drawn it:
``I believe the president drew the line precisely where he thought the Soviets were not and would not be. That is to say, if we had known the Soviets were putting 40 missiles in Cuba, we might under this hypothesis have drawn the line at 100, and said with great fanfare that we would absolutely not tolerate the presence of more than 100 missiles...``
Sorensen is a member of the McGovernite wing of the virtually one-wing Democratic Party. But he also is an assiduous keeper of the Camelot flame. Thus it is fascinating that he says, in praise of Kennedy, that Kennedy wanted to practice appeasement but calculated incorrectly.
This is amusing in light of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.`s rhapsodizing about Kennedy`s handling of the crisis that Kennedy, according to Sorensen, wanted to define away: ``He coolly and exactly measured... He moved with mathematical precision... This combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated...``
Even assuming Sorensen is wrong, Schlesinger`s romanticizing is not right. In 1978, Mig-23s (nuclear-delivery vehicles far more menacing than the 1962 missiles) were introduced into Cuba. Kennedy`s non-invasion pledge, given as part of the crisis-ending deal, guaranteed the survival of this hemisphere`s first communist regime and makes attempts to remove or reform the second seem disproportionate.
The Reagan administration, which began by talking about dealing with Nicaragua by ``going to the source`` Cuba, is reduced to clawing for piddling sums for the Contras, a recipe for another protracted failure. Today, most ``peace plans`` for Central America postulate the moral equivalence of U.S. and Soviet involvements in the region, another legacy of the missile- crisis ``triumph`` that killed the Monroe Doctrine.
A few more such triumphs and we shall be undone. The romanticizing of the missile crisis makes such triumphs more likely.
Kennedys - Can’t Drive, Can’t Fly, Can’t Ski, Can’t Skipper a Boat.....but they know what’s best for us.