Day By Day

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Unoriginal JFK

A great part of the mystique associated with the Kennedy presidency was his way with words -- those marvelous, glittering phrases he uttered, broadcast by a semi-literate press corps, which became part of our common culture. The only trouble is, most of those ideas and statements were not original with the shining young prince. He, and his speechwriters, shamelessly copped other peoples' words and ideas without attribution and presented them as his own.

Ralph Keyes writing in the WaPo notes that "JFK was not always as knowledgeable as he tried to sound." Well..., that's a charitable way of putting it.

The "New Frontier" had been a campaign theme used both by Henry Wallace and Alf Landon long before JFK adopted the term. The "Ask not what your country can do..." line, perhaps JFK's most famous utterance, was copped from Warren Harding's 1916 campaign. Other sources of famous JFK lines are the Gospel of Luke, Edward R. Murrow and Benito Mussolini.

Often in an attempt to sound erudite, Kennedy would make up quotes and attribute them to famous men. The press never bothered to call him out on these either out of ignorance or infatuation with the shining young prince.

Some quotes, though seem to be original with JFK, but they are not the ones that make his partisans most comfortable. He was apparently the first to use the term "light at the end of the tunnel" to describe the Vietnam experience. He also was the first to describe the economic notion that "a rising tide raises all boats," later often cited by Ronald Reagan.

Read it here.

JFK was not the only kleptoquoter in his family. As I have pointed out elsewhere, RFK's most famous quote was lifted from G. B. Shaw, who had a much more profound understanding of its meaning than did Bobby or his adulators in the press. [here]

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