Three Myths About President Kennedy

Ross Douthat dispels the myths about the Lord of American Camelot in his op-ed, The Enduring Cult of Kennedy –

The first premise is that Kennedy was a very good president, and might have been a great one if he’d lived. Few serious historians take this view: It belongs to Camelot’s surviving court stenographers, and to popularizers like Chris Matthews, whose new best seller “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero” works hard to gloss over the thinness of the 35th president’s actual accomplishments. [...]

In reality, the kindest interpretation of Kennedy’s presidency is that he was a mediocrity whose death left his final grade as “incomplete.” The harsher view would deem him a near disaster — ineffective in domestic policy, evasive on civil rights and a serial blunderer in foreign policy, who barely avoided a nuclear war that his own brinksmanship had pushed us toward. (And the latter judgment doesn’t even take account of the medical problems that arguably made him unfit for the presidency, or the adulteries that eclipsed Bill Clinton’s for sheer recklessness.)

The second false premise is that Kennedy would have kept us out of Vietnam. [...] Actually, it would be more accurate to describe the Vietnam War as Kennedy’s darkest legacy. [...]

The third myth is that Kennedy was a martyr to right-wing unreason. Writing on J.F.K. in the latest issue of New York magazine, Frank Rich half-acknowledges the mediocrity of Kennedy’s presidency. [...] This connection is the purest fantasy, made particularly ridiculous by the fact that both Rich and King acknowledge that Oswald was a leftist — a pro-Castro agitator whose other assassination target was the far-right segregationist Edwin Walker. [...]

This last example suggests why the J.F.K. cult matters — because its myths still shape how we interpret politics today. We confuse charisma with competence, rhetoric with results, celebrity with genuine achievement. [...]

  • climberdia2

    Had you read anything Kennedy had ever written, you would know he matched his charisma with competence. I recommend The Strategy of Peace, read that and then comment on how ‘mediocre’ he really wasn’t. He smashed empty rhetoric like that of Ike which claimed to “stand by” Democratic revolutions but never actually offering programs to these revolutions. He not only offered programs, he started the Peace Corps.

    Given your cynical tones I can assume you understand we in America are enamored by celebrity. Kennedy knew this and he knew that a celebrity President was the best kind of President. One that would be loved, not berated.

    And as for genuine achievement…

    I suppose you can thank Mr. Kennedy that you are even alive to write this article which seems to be very selective with evidence.

    Was he a good President? 3 years is too difficult to tell, then again how many President’s were deemed ‘good’ after just 3 years?

    Kennedy inspired people with his imagination for a more peaceful world and he fully believed the energies of creativity should not be inhibited.

    And that bit about Vietnam…is just silly. Let me ask you this question, if Kennedy would have sent us into Vietnam to defend the Free World, why wasn’t he willing to do the same in Cuba?