Forty eight years after communist loving, Castro sympathizing Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy (D), Ross Douthat examines "The Enduring Cult of Kennedy" in Sunday's New York Times, turning the dreams of the aging 60s generations into nightmares.
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,
Wow! Heads are exploding already.
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. (snip) Actually, it would be more 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.
Had Kennedy lived would he have changed course, changed tactics in Vietnam? Again speculation is fruitless; we can only work with the record as it is and it is mixed at best. But Kennedy was stronger on self defense than liberals care to acknowledge
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. But he cannot resist joining a generation of liberals in drawing a connection between the right-wing "atmosphere of hate" in early-1960s Dallas and the assassination itself -- and then linking both to today's anti-Obama zeal.
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. The idea that an atmosphere of right-wing hate somehow inspired a Marxist radical to murder a famously hawkish cold war president is even more implausible than the widespread suggestion that the schizophrenic Jared Lee Loughner shot his congresswoman because Sarah Palin put some targets on an online political map.
Again, the same parallels between our contemporary mythic president so beloved by the liberals and the mainstream media is important as Douthat summarizes
[T]he 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. We find convenient scapegoats for national tragedies, and let our personal icons escape the blame. And we imagine that the worst evils can be blamed exclusively on subterranean demons, rather than on the follies that often flow from fine words and high ideals.
Kennedy's martyred aura benefited his entire family, still referred to by some--who should know better--as American royalty; they breezed into office on the basis of the Kennedy name--or connections to it--and of course Kennedy money. (Much of it carefully tucked away in tax free havens.) The late Massachusetts senator, Ted Kennedy (D) bribed and cheated his way into and through law school; he was elected, and re elected and re elected senator until his death. But the Kennedy cult carried him on with no real examination of his record, minimizing at best his misdeeds.
But there are some differences--those who oppose President Barack Hussein Obama are called racists; at least in the comments section Douthat isn't called anti Irish, anti Catholic. Yet.