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.
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.