Day By Day

Monday, November 28, 2011

Douthat on the Kennedy Myth.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of JFK, we should note that Ross Douthat, writing in the NYT, uses the appearance of Stephen King's new book to briefly survey what he calls the "Kennedy cult". Douthat notes that few serious historians today consider Kennedy to have been a good president. 
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.) 
 He's not done. Consider:

[I]t would be... accurate to describe the Vietnam War as Kennedy’s darkest legacy. His Churchillian rhetoric (“pay any price, bear any burden ...”) provided the war’s rhetorical frame as surely as George W. Bush’s post-9/11 speeches did for our intervention in Iraq. His slow-motion military escalation established the strategic template that Lyndon Johnson followed so disastrously. And the war’s architects were all Kennedy people: It was the Whiz Kids’ mix of messianism and technocratic confidence, not Oswald’s fatal bullet, that sent so many Americans to die in Indochina.

To this I would add Kennedy's most famous piece of rhetoric: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" which is, to my mind, as perfect an expression of fascist sentiment as can be found in the realm of American political rhetoric.

Nonetheless, Kennedy's image remains bright in the minds of most Americans, largely due to an extravagent public relations effort on the part of liberal Democrats, aided and assisted by the Kennedy clan and associated academics, to create a politically useful myth after his assassination. The JFK people remember today bears little resemblance to the man as he was. Rather it, and the entire "Camelot" imagery were, as Christopher Hitchens has recently reminded us [here], a carefully constructed and assiduously defended myth.

And one more thing Douthat points out. JFK was not killed by right wing haters.

Read the whole thing here.

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