Maureen Callahan writes: Nearly 50 years after Senator Ted Kennedy left a young woman to die in a shallow pond — and America went on to reward him with a lifelong career in the US Senate — we are finally beginning to reckon with the Kennedy myth.
But only just.
The new film “Chappaquiddick” is, to date, the most brutal and honest account of what happened that night. But it’s also something else: an indictment of our collective hero worship at the altar of Brand Kennedy, which bred so much corrosive entitlement that surviving brother Ted, the family beta male, went home to sleep it off after leaving a loyal young staffer to die alone.
“Chappaquiddick” is a much-needed counterweight to two current hagiographies: CNN’s docuseries “The Kennedys,” airing to high ratings on Sunday nights, and Netflix’s forthcoming documentary “Bobby Kennedy for President.”
JFK and RFK remain, of course, the family lodestars. But in 1969 Ted was next in line, and he had a lot of public sympathy.
His brother Robert had been assassinated while campaigning for president the year before. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Ted himself barely survived a plane crash in 1964, dragged to safety by Senator Birch Bayh (the irony) and hospitalized for five months. It was assumed, within the family and without, that Ted would run for president in 1972. He had three small children and, the July weekend he went partying in Chappaquiddick, a pregnant wife at home confined to bed rest.
As portrayed by Jason Clarke, the young senator is a venal, self-pitying coward, thoughtless and remorseless, ambition his only care. He treats loyalists and groupies with equal contempt, and as the weekend begins, he toasts them all for “wanting to prove yourselves worthy of . . . the Kennedy name.” Read the rest of this entry »
The movie isn’t a hit piece, but the history it tells is infuriating.
Kyle Smith writes: Chappaquiddick must be counted one of the great untold stories in American political history: The average citizen may be vaguely aware of what happened but probably has little notion of just how contemptible was the behavior of Senator Ted Kennedy. Mainstream book publishers and Hollywood have mostly steered clear of the subject for 48 years.
“If Chappaquiddick had been released in 1970, it would have ended Kennedy’s political career.”
Chappaquiddick the movie fills in an important gap, and if it had been released in 1970, it would have ended Kennedy’s political career. (It was only a few weeks ago that a sitting senator resigned over far less disturbing behavior than Kennedy’s.) Yet this potent and penetrating film is not merely an attack piece. It’s more than fair to Kennedy in its hesitance to depict him as drunk on the night in question, and it also pictures him repeatedly diving into the pond on Chappaquiddick Island, trying to rescue his brother Bobby’s former aide Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). He may or may not have made such rescue attempts. Moreover, as directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), the film is suffused with lament that a man in Kennedy’s position could have been so much more than he was. Yet Ted, the last and least of four brothers, was shoved into a role for which he simply lacked the character. That the other three were dynamic leaders who died violently while he alone lived on to become the Senate’s Jabba the Hutt is perhaps the most dizzying chapter of the century-long Kennedy epic. Read the rest of this entry »
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Expressing their excitement to share the historic item with visitors, Kennedy Space Center officials confirmed Thursday that the suit worn by Buzz Aldrin on February 24, 2015 when he lobbied the Senate to increase NASA funding was now on display for public viewing. “We are honored to add to our collection the actual jacket and trousers Dr. Aldrin wore that fateful day when he stepped out into room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building and uttered the immortal words ‘I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you about the future of American human spaceflight,’” the facility’s associate director, Kelvin Manning, said of the charcoal single-breasted suit, which was displayed together with the crisp button-down shirt, mission patch–patterned tie, and various lapel pins the former astronaut donned as he made the case for expanding the U.S. space program through strategic investments…(more)
It’s time for the Republican Party to nominate a JFK-style conservative for president
Ira Stoll writes; The most influential figure in the Republican presidential contest just may be a Democrat who died more than 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy.
When Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer recently predicted Marco Rubio as the eventual 2016 winner, Krauthammer praised the senator from Florida with a label encapsulating political vigor, pro-growth ideas, and a robust foreign policy of peace through strength: “Kennedyesque.”
The former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, another Republican with eyes on the White House, is, as Kennedy was, a Catholic from a wealthy and politically active family with bases in both New England and Florida. Jeb Bush even wrote a book, Profiles in Character, with a title that is a conscious imitation of JFK’s Profiles in Courage. Bush and Kennedy also both wrote books extolling immigration; Bush’s was Immigration Wars, Kennedy’s was A Nation of Immigrants.
And don’t forget Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas. Cruz’s Senate Web site hosts a video featuring Fox News’s Neil Cavuto and a historic clip from Kennedy under the headline “The Success of President John F. Kennedy’s Tax Cut.” On the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Cruz published a remarkable piece in National Review Online crediting Kennedy with laying the foundation for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and Cold War victory.
At a forum last month with Jonathan Karl of ABC News that was sponsored by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Senator Cruz placed Kennedy with Reagan and Calvin Coolidge in the pantheon of conservative tax-cutters: “Every single time in our history that we have simplified taxes, reduced the burden, reduced the compliance cost, simplified regulation …. We’ve seen an economic boom, we’ve seen people climb out of poverty into prosperity. That was true in the 1920s, it was true in the 1960s, it was true in the 1980s.”
When another Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, spoke to me about his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he would have responded instead to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with “a Kennedy-esque moment,” launching a “national project” to become petroleum independent. Read the rest of this entry »
Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery will be the host of “Kennedy,” which will launch January 26 at 10 p.m., after the conclusion of an episode of the network’s new” Strange Inheritance” reality series that night. “Kennedy” will feature an opening monologue from the host, followed by interviews and discussion segments. Fox Business is billing the program as focused on “big water-cooler discussion topics.”…(read more)
13 December 1961 President and Mrs. Kennedy with the 1961 White House Christmas Tree. White House, Blue Room. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, Office of the Naval Aide to the President, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
Pierre Salinger, Autumn 1992: Cigars have been a part of my life. My smoking habit began in my youth, helped me write my own adult history, and now, cigars are in my dreams. Even though the world is rising against smoking, and particularly against cigars, I still feel they are part of my daily world and I have no incentive to stop smoking them.
My cigar smoking started when I was young. I entered the United States Navy in the early days of World War II and when I reached the age of 19 I became commanding officer of a submarine chaser in the Pacific Ocean. But to run a ship that had 25 sailors and two other officers, all older than me, posed a deep psychological problem . How could I convince them that I was a man of authority? Even if the quality of those big cigars was mediocre, they accomplished their purpose–they made a 19-year-old boy really look like the commander of the ship.
When I returned to San Francisco after the war, I went back to a job at a daily newspaper where I had briefly worked before entering the Navy. I kept on smoking my cigars while I wrote articles. But the cigars were still bad cigars, and they obviously smelled bad. There was a wonderful woman journalist working for the newspaper who hated the smell. She decided to take up a collection among my fellow workers. She handed me $19.32 and told me it was her contribution for a better quality of cigars. Better cigars, better smell.
Despite the self-interested largess of my colleagues, I still did not advance to the cream of available cigars in those days, the imports from Cuba. Actually, I would have to wait until I was almost 35 years old before I started to work for a rising young American politician named John Kennedy, who liked to smoke Petit Upmann Cuban cigars. Working around him, I felt I had no choice but to upgrade my smoke of choice to a Cuban. I’ve smoked them ever since.
Shortly after I entered the White House in 1961, a series of dramatic events occurred. In April, 1961, the United States went through the disastrous error of the Bay of Pigs, where Cuban exiles with the help of the United States government tried to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. Several months later, the President called me into his office in the early evening.
“Pierre, I need some help,” he said solemnly.
“I’ll be glad to do anything I can Mr. President,” I replied.
“I need a lot of cigars.”
“How many, Mr. President?”
“About 1,000 Petit Upmanns.”
I shuddered a bit, although I kept my reaction to myself. “And, when do you need them, Mr. President?”
I walked out of the office wondering if I would succeed. But since I was now a solid Cuban cigar smoker, I knew a lot of stores, and I worked on the problem into the evening.
The next morning, I walked into my White House office at about 8 a.m., and the direct line from the President’s office was already ringing. He asked me to come in immediately.
“How did you do Pierre?” he asked, as I walked through the door.
“Very well,” I answered. In fact, I’d gotten 1,200 cigars. Kennedy smiled, and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our country.
The embargo complicated my life. The only time I could get a few Cuban cigars was when I traveled abroad with the President to countries like France, Austria and Great Britain. But then, in late May 1962, I went alone to Moscow for the first time. I met for two days with Nikita Khrushchev, talking face to face with the Soviet leader. As our meeting came to end, Khrushchev turned to me. Read the rest of this entry »
In a dramatic televised address to the American public, President John F. Kennedy announces that the Soviet Union has placed nuclear weapons in Cuba and, in response, the United States will establish a blockade around the island to prevent any other offensive weapons from entering Castro’s state. Kennedy also warned the Soviets that any nuclear attack from Cuba would be construed as an act of war, and that the United States would retaliate in kind.
Kennedy charged the Soviet Union with subterfuge and outright deception in what he referred to as a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.” He dismissed Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko‘s claim that the weapons in Cuba were of a purely defensive nature as “false.” Harking back to efforts to contain German, Italian, and Japanese aggression in the 1930s, Kennedy argued that war-like behavior, “if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. Read the rest of this entry »
On September 26, 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon held the first televised debate in presidential campaign history. The program originated in Chicago and was carried by all of the major radio and TV networks.
Oswald and Sirhan were troubled men of radical politics who wanted to murder their ideological enemies, Oswald on behalf of Castro and Sirhan on behalf of the Palestinian cause
Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein writes: While fifty years later, much of the MSM still refuses to acknowledge that JFK’s assassin was a Communist loser, somehow it’s also apparently not cricket to point out that his brother RFK was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.
So let’s review. Sirhan Sirhan was a Palestinian refugee with Jordanian citizenship. He murdered Kennedy because the latter promised to send advanced fighter planes to Israel. The PLO terrorist group Black September demanded his release in exchange for hostages in 1973, recognizing that he was “one of theirs.”
Yet of 5755 hits for “Sirhan Sirhan” in the ALLNEWS database on Westlaw, only four of them refer to him as a “Palestinian terrorist” or “Palestinian extremist;” three of these sources are the Jerusalem Post, and one is the New York Jewish Week. In mainstream publications, you actually get phrases like this, “Black September terrorists who kidnapped the Western diplomats in a failed plot to free Palestinian terrorists in European jails and Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Robert F. Kennedy,” as if Sirhan Sirhan, a terrorist and a Palestinian, on the same “trade of for hostages list” as other Palestinian terrorists, was somehow not a “Palestinian terrorist.” An even better one, from the Huffington Post: “[RFK] was gunned down in a hotel kitchen by a 24-year-old Palestinian whose motives have never been determined.” (Ironically, sources from the Arab world (e.g.,) seem more likely to acknowledge the real dynamic, though with the message that the U.S. and assumedly RFK got what was coming to it and him for supporting Israel).
I meant to wrap up our multi-volume series on Kennedy yesterday, but a this one caught my eye. It fits in with the contrarian view–a reality check on Kennedy myth–to counter the Kennedy inflation that characterized much of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination this month. If you’re a Kennedy skeptic, this is for you. If you’re a Kennedy admirer, the Washington Posts’s WonkBlog‘s Dylan Matthews is here to rain on your parade.
Dylan Matthews writes: Fifty years ago Friday, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. The assassination was a tragedy — and it turned the target into something of a secular political saint. There are few modern presidents about whom The Post’s own George Will and E.J. Dionne can agree, but JFK appears to be one.
“It tells us a great deal about the meaning of John F. Kennedy in our history that liberals and conservatives alike are eager to pronounce him as one of their own,” Dionne notes. A Gallup poll last week found that Americans rate him more highly than any of the other 11 presidents since Eisenhower. A 2011 Gallup poll found that he came in fourth when Americans were asked to name the greatest president of all time, behind Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton, but ahead of George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson.
Some of that reputation is hard to argue with. Kennedy was a brilliant rhetorician who inspired a generation of young Americans, and his death left a lingering scar on the American psyche. But it’s important that his presidency be evaluated on its actual merits. And on the merits, John F. Kennedy was not a good president. Here are six reasons why.
1. The Cuban Missile Crisis was his fault
Historians disagree on what exactly lead to the October 1962 crisis that almost ended in a nuclear exchange. But basically every interpretation suggests that, had the Eastern Seaboard been wiped out that month, it would have been the result of Kennedy’s fecklessness.
1. Camelot. The brief Kennedy years represent for many in the media their own golden moment. JFK was their royalty, their idol, their ideal, their handsome and rich young war hero. Jackie Kennedy was their queen. And then it was all cut short, like a Shakespearean tragedy or fairy tale. The mythic Camelot fell to lust. The American Camelot fell to an assassin. For those of us who grew up after JFK, it’s all so much history. I grew up around Dallas and heard about the assassination any time I visited anywhere else as a child, and later on I visited the Sixth Floor Museum. It’s haunting but it’s history. For many in that generation, which was mostly born after World War II and then ended up losing Vietnam, JFK provides a meaningful anchor point, or at least a point that they have infused with meaning. Don’t bring up his womanizing or how the Kennedy patriarch behaved toward the Nazis. None of that has any place in the myth.
2. It provides them a chance to bash handy villains they already hate: Dallas, Texas, and the South. Not a JFK anniversary goes by without the New York Times publishing at least one piece blaming the assassination on Dallas, and more broadly on Texas and the South. The fact is, while Dallas had its share of mainstream Kennedy-haters, none of them fired a shot. Texas went narrowlyfor Kennedy in 1960. Dallas citizens actually turned out on November 22, 1963, to greet the Kennedys warmly. Even the horrible Zapruder film shows happy, cheering crowds lining the streets in Dealey Plaza just to get a glimpse of the First Couple.
One lone nut can change all that, and did, which is unsettling to the point of horror. But Dallas was not and is not to blame, any more than Ford’s Theater is to blame for Abraham Lincoln’s killing. Texas is not to blame. The South is not to blame. But many on the left would rather blame their preferred villains than look at the truth.
3. The truth is more horrible than the fiction. The truth is, the assassination of John F. Kennedy is the killing of one of life’s genetic lottery winners by a small-time loser. If JFK was larger than life, his killer was much smaller than life. The JFK assassination could have been a conspiracy, but it probably wasn’t. The evidence points directly at one man whose ideology, coupled with his combination of grandiosity and mediocrity, led him to kill the president in order to elevate himself.
Useful suggestions from Althouse. On reflection, I have violated least half of these rules–did I mention that I was in Dallas in 1963? While true, perhaps Althouse is right and it’s become a cliche–and will probably violate a few more by the time November is over. But since it’s Friday Nov. 22, and I’ve included a lot of coverage of Kennedy this month, Althouse’s list of 10 rules is a welcome addition.
Althouse writes: It’s coming up next Friday, and I’d like to help with that op-ed or blog post you might have in the works.
1. Don’t repeat the cliché that everyone who was around at the time remembers where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news.
2. Don’t tell us — especially don’t tell us as if it were not a big cliché — what youhappened to have been doing and how you’ve always remembered that. After 50 years, can you not finally see that it doesn’t matter?
3. Don’t even attempt to say that the assassination had a profound effect on people. There is no new way to say that. We know!
4. Don’t make up alternate histories of what would have happened if Kennedy had not been killed. Everything would have been different; we would all have been different. If you’re American and under 50, you can assume that you would never have been born.
5. Don’t recount the conspiracy theories. Here‘s Wikipedia’s article on the subject. If you’re into that sort of thing, enjoy it some day in your spare time, but don’t lard your 50th anniversary writings with that. It’s tawdry and undignified, and we’ve heard it all a thousand times. And by “all,” I don’t really mean all. What’s the one about the Federal Reserve? I just mean, if that’s what you’ve found to talk about, just shut up.
6. Don’t connect the story of JFK to Obama. I know it seems as though everything is about Obama, but resist. It’s cheap and inappropriate.
7. Don’t tell us about other Kennedys. Don’t drag in the recent news that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s son Jack appears to have reached adulthood in nonugly form and has grown a large head of hair and is therefore presumptive presidential material. That’s annoying and off-topic.
8. Don’t commemorate murder. A man managed to kill the President. He’s already gotten far too much press. He doesn’t deserve our endless attention. I’m sick of “celebrating” a death day. We don’t make anything of Lincoln’s death day. We celebrate his birthday, like Washington’s, because he was such a great President. We don’t celebrate JFK’s birthday — I don’t even know what it is — because he was not great enough. We celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, not the day he was assassinated. Why? Because of his greatness, and because we don’t want to direct our attention toward his murder. So why do we focus on Kennedy’s death day? It must be because he was not great enough, and because of points #1, #2, and #3, above. It’s about ourselves. A man died and we morbidly relive it annually, for some reason that must make little sense to those under 50.
9. Do write to end the annual ritual of death commemoration. Nail down the coffin lid and give the dead President some peace. Inspire us to move on to modest acknowledgements of the date at 10 or 25 year intervals up until 2063, when we — those of us who survive — can go big for the centennial.
10. Do make it — if not original — short.
Christopher Harper writes: The media coverage of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination has overwhelmed the American public, with books, documentaries, made-for-television dramas and journalistic memorials.
“Many of these specials, and there are dozens, are as preoccupied with the images and bereavement of baby boomers as they are with the slain president,” Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times wrote recently.
I couldn’t agree more. We baby boomers like to revel in our story. Nearly all of us remember precisely where we were when we got the news. But more and more Americans — those born after 1963, which is generally considered the last birth year of the baby boomer generation — have little interest in the Kennedy legacy. Most of this exhaustive media coverage failed to note Kennedy was a mediocre president. His record of less than three years provides little support for his place in many polls as one of the best presidents in history. A recent survey ranked Kennedy as the most popular president in the past 50 years.
Within a month after Kennedy’s assassination, his widow, Jacqueline, started to sculpt the myth in cooperation with author Theodore White, who wrote a glowing article in Life magazine comparing the Kennedy administration with the Camelot of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Two lives change forever after a brush with Lee Harvey Oswald
Quin Hillyer writes: One of the few men who ever interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald ended up renting my old room for about four years. Another man, one of the few innocents who lost their jobs due to the Kennedy assassination, wrote feature stories for me when I was managing editor of the New Orleans weekly Gambit. The reverberations from that assassination a half century ago altered not only the course of a nation but also the course of numerous private lives, in ways poignant and deep.
For the two men I knew, Ed Butler and Jesse Core, August 16, 1963, was a fateful day. It was then that Lee Harvey Oswald was passing out leaflets for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, outside the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. Core was the Trade Mart’s publicist; as Oswald started causing a commotion, Core tried to shoo him away to avoid bad publicity for the Trade Mart. Core promptly reported the incident to the FBI. Five days later, Butler, as the head of an anti-Communist outfit called the Information Council of the Americas (INCA), joined a Cuban exile and two local reporters on WDSU radio to interview, or debate, Oswald.
Hauntingly, it is one of only two readily available recordings of Oswald before the assassination. It was Butler who helped goad Oswald into proclaiming that he was a Marxist — an admission that the late U.S. representative Hale Boggs, who served on the Warren Commission and who greatly admired INCA, thought was highly important in establishing Oswald’s motives. Read the rest of this entry »
Check out their slideshow of just a handful of Kennedy’s consorts
While the nation was still grieving JFK’s assassination, she used an influential magazine profile to rewrite her husband’s legacy and spawn Camelot
Few events in the postwar era have cast such a long shadow over our national life as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago this month. The murder of a handsome and vigorous president shocked the nation to its core and shook the faith of many Americans in their institutions and way of life.
Those who were living at the time would never forget the moving scenes associated with President Kennedy’s death: the Zapruder film depicting the assassination in a frame-by-frame sequence; the courageous widow arriving with the coffin at Andrews Air Force Base still wearing her bloodstained dress; the throng of mourners lined up for blocks outside the Capitol to pay respects to the fallen president; the accused assassin gunned down two days later while in police custody and in full view of a national television audience; the little boy saluting the coffin of his slain father; the somber march to Arlington National Cemetery; the eternal flame affixed to the gravesite. These scenes were repeated endlessly on television at the time and then reproduced in popular magazines and, still later, in documentary films. They came to be viewed as defining events of the era.
More Americans believe that a shadowy conspiracy was behind a president’s death 50 years ago than know who Joe Biden is
This is a guest post by University of Miami political scientists Joseph Uscinskiand Joseph Parent. This article is based on portions of their forthcoming book “American Conspiracy Theories” (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Conspiracy theories are conquering the country, leading us into a dark age of cynicism. Americans are bombarded by a growing barrage of outlandish tales, aided and abetted by a polarizing media, and amplified by the echo chamber of theInternet. While all sides indulge in conspiracy theories, Republicans andconservatives are particularly prone to them. Such inflamed rhetoric divides nations and destroys deliberative democracy.
Actually, there is not much truth in any of the above. Journalists have been quick to proclaim a “new age of conspiracy theories.” The only problem is that “new age” is typically just a synonym for “now.” For example, see 2011, 2010, 2004, 1994,1991 and 1964. Fortunately, we have a much better sense of where conspiracy theories come from and why so many people believe them.
Jesse Walker writes: Last week I mentioned that a majority of Americans thinks it likely that a conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy. One member of that majority turns out to be Secretary of State John Kerry. Politico reports:
Pressed in an interview aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to explain his beliefs that JFK’s death was part of a bigger plot, Kerry said: “I just have a point of view. And I’m not going to get into that. It’s not something that I think needs to be commented on, and certainly not at this time.”
“I’m not going to go into it. It’s just inappropriate, and I’m not going to do more than say that it’s a point of view that I have. But it’s not right, or worthy, or appropriate for me to comment further,” Kerry told host David Gregory.
Kerry said in a recent interview with NBC, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaches, he doubts the official story.
“To this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” Kerry said about the suspect arrested in the 1963 assassination.
Hat tip: Bryan Alexander. As for me, I think the most persuasive account of Kennedy’s death and life is this one:
For a half-century, John F. Kennedy has mesmerized Democrats.
Robert Costa writes: It’s a black-and-white picture we’ve all seen before: an earnest, 16-year-old Bill Clinton shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy. It was snapped in July 1963 in the Rose Garden, soon after Kennedy addressed a group of Boys Nation delegates. Ever since, and most notably during his 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton has recalled the moment. For him, it was more than a brief encounter; it was an experience, and one so powerful that Clinton once said it caused him to have “arthritis of the face.”
Clinton’s deeply felt connection to Kennedy is hardly unique. Memories of Kennedy’s presidency, from his inaugural address to the horror of Dallas, live on in the American imagination. But they linger particularly with Democrats, and for the past 50 years, generations of them have venerated JFK as their party’s tragic hero. Democrats may have long ago abandoned the Kennedy program, but JFK’s flame flickers elusively in their hearts.
On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed “we choose to go to the Moon in this decade,” setting in motion the race to land humans on the Moon. But no one has gone back in 4 decades.
Readers know this is subject I’m covering, and will continue to cover, in the weeks leading up to the historic anniversary of JFK’s assassination. In the wake of the resurgence of left-wing propaganda about Dallas in 1963, its a topic that deserves honesty, legitimate pushback, and clarification. Stay tuned for updates. , I welcome The Weekly Standard‘s Mark Hemingway commentary, and include it here.
Mark Hemingway writes: The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy is nearly upon us, so one would expect America’s public intellectuals to be gearing up to present a series of sober and illuminating reflections about the tragedy’s cultural and political legacy.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. Any misty-eyed resonance that can be wrung out of JFK’s death is already being exploited by our elite media gatekeepers to advance a political agenda.
To start things off, the New Yorker‘s George Packer has filed a dispatch about the “the potent brew of right-wing passions, much of it well organized and well funded—Bircher anti-Communism, anti-Catholicism [and] racism” that is apparently to blame for JFK’s death. This is nonsensical on many levels. Racism is, of course, described as a “right-wing passion” though it is conveniently forgotten that at the time of JFK’s assassination this odious legacy was exploited and enforced primarily by the Democratic party. And yes, Dallas may have been suffused with “Bircher anti-Communism” but that seems very much at odds with the identity of JFK’s assassin who had spent time in the Soviet Union under mysterious circumstances.
The columnist Ira Stoll has managed to obtain a hard-to-get interview with the author Ira Stoll, whose new book, JFK, Conservative, is being published this week by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. An edited version of the exchange follows.
Q. Why did you write this book?
A. A lot of my conservative friends were contemptuous of the whole Kennedy family. I wanted to set them straight. And a lot of my left-of-center friend admired Kennedy, but for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to set them straight.
Q. Why does it matter now what people think of Kennedy? He’s been dead for nearly 50 years.
A. The same issues that Kennedy grappled with — economic growth, tax cuts, the dollar, free trade, peace through strength, immigration, welfare reform — are still with us today. I think he had some ideas that can inform our current debates over politics and policy.
Q. Oh, come on. When Kennedy wanted to cut taxes the top marginal rate was 91 percent. And when he built up the military we were in a global conflict with the Soviet Union. It was a totally different situation than the one we face today.
A. Well, read the book. You may be surprised by how similar some of the arguments then were to the arguments today. Al Gore Sr., the Democratic senator from Tennessee who was the father of Bill Clinton’s vice president, was denouncing tax cuts as a bonanza for fat cats. John Kenneth Galbraith, the Keynesian Harvard economist, opposed tax cuts and preferred, instead, more government spending. The top long-term capital gains tax rate in the Kennedy administration was 25 percent, and Kennedy wanted it lowered to 19.5 percent. In 2013, if you include the Obamacare tax, the top long-term federal capital gains tax rate is 23.8 percent.
Q. Why is the title of the book JFK, Conservative and not JFK, Libertarian?
A. There’s a lot in the book that will probably resonate with libertarians. Kennedy was likely influenced by a libertarian writer called Albert Jay Nock. Early in his political career, JFK gave some amazing speeches about the individual versus the state. On January 29, 1950, at Notre Dame, he said, “The ever expanding power of the federal government, the absorption of many of the functions that states and cities once considered to be the responsibilities of their own, must now be a source of concern to all those who believe as did the Irish Patriot, Henry Grattan: ‘Control over local affairs is the essence of liberty.’” And the Inaugural Address line “Ask not what your country can do for you” was a call for self-reliance and an attack on the welfare state. Other parts, like Kennedy’s foreign policy and his stance on some social issues, libertarians might find less attractive.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr…. attorney, a radio host…environmental activist...also, as it happens, a full-blown anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist.
And I do mean full-blown.
“RFK Jr. has a long history of adhering to crackpot ideas about vaccines, mostly in the form of the now thoroughly disproven link to autism. He’s been hammering this issue for a decade now, and his claims appear to be no better and no more accurate now than they were when he first started making them.”
Contrary to reputation, the Kennedys aren’t particularly bright.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Anti-Vaxxer (yourcurrentaffairs.wordpress.com)
- Is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Anti-Science? (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- Can antivaccinationists knock it off with the autism Holocaust analogies already? (RFK, Jr. edition) (scienceblogs.com)
- RFK Jr.: GOP To Blame For IRS Scandal (huffingtonpost.com)
Continued American silence will convince China that it can advance on other fronts. We must show Beijing that Hong Kong’s freedom isn’t up for grabs.
Marion Smith writes: Would the United States have let the Soviet Union invade West Berlin? Never. Yet America is on the verge of allowing Communist China to enslave the free city of Hong Kong. If this happens, it will be one of the greatest abdications of U.S. moral leadership in history.
Right now, Communist China is massing paramilitary forces on its border with Hong Kong. The purpose appears obvious: Intimidate the pro-freedom movement that has brought parts of the city to a standstill in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Beijing’s rulers have labeled Hong Kong’s protesters “terrorists,” while stating that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” The echoes of the Tiananmen Square massacre 30 years ago are unmistakable.
These developments are eerily familiar to the Soviet Union’s attempts to dominate West Berlin. Yet the United States always made it clear that we would defend the city. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan even traveled there personally, proving by their presence that America stood with its residents.
Compare that with today. The best President Donald Trump can muster is a tweet: “Everyone should be calm and safe!”
A new Cold War
It’s time to admit that we’re in a new Cold War. The blockade of Berlin in 1948 was widely seen as the opening salvo of the decades-long struggle between freedom and communism. With Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong already well underway, maybe now we’ll admit that another struggle has arrived. The Soviet Union is gone, and America’s new adversary is the Chinese Communist Party.
Yet unlike the first Cold War, this time it’s unclear whether America has the will to win. Read the rest of this entry »
Rumbling into a mostly sunny sky, SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket — the world’s most powerful present-day launcher — soared into orbit Tuesday, and its two strap-on boosters came back to Cape Canaveral for an electrifying double-landing punctuated by quadruple sonic booms.
The dramatic test flight took off at 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT) Tuesday from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the same facility used by the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew and numerous space shuttle missions.
Standing nearly 230 feet (70 meters) tall, the Falcon Heavy’s 27 main engines put out nearly 5 million pounds of thrust, one-and-a-half times more than any other rocket flying today, and around two-thirds the power output of the space shuttle at liftoff. Read the rest of this entry »
Nearly five decades ago, on July 18, 1969, a car went off the Dike Bridge on the island of Chappaquiddick. The driver, Ted Kennedy escaped. His 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, did not.
An upcoming movie, Chappaquiddick, attempts to tell the story of what happened that night and why it took Kennedy some ten hours to report the accident to the local Edgartown police …
… The film, directed by John Curran, stars Jason Clarke as Senator Kennedy, Kate Mara as Kopechne, and Bruce Dern as Ted’s father Joe Kennedy. It’s based on the 1969 inquest into the accident. Read the rest of this entry »
These were the myths in which the Kennedy assassination came to be embalmed. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they are still widely believed, and not only by members of a credulous public. The claim that JFK was a victim of hatred and bigotry or a martyr in the crusade for civil rights is now a basic element in the liberal interpretation of the post-war era.
James Piereson writes: It has now been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was cut down on the streets of Dallas by rifle shots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, a self-described Marxist, recent defector to the Soviet Union, and ardent admirer of Fidel Castro. The evidence condemning Oswald was overwhelming: the bullets that killed President Kennedy were fired from his rifle, the rifle was found on the sixth floor of the warehouse where he worked and where he was seen moments before the shooting, witnesses on the street saw a man firing shots from a sixth floor window in that building and immediately summoned police to provide a description of the assassin. Forty-five minutes later a policeman stopped Oswald on foot in another section of the city to question him about the shooting. As the policeman stepped from his squad car, Oswald pulled out a pistol and pumped four shots into him before fleeing to a nearby movie theater where he was captured (still carrying the pistol with which he had killed the policeman). Two days later Oswald was himself assassinated while in police custody by a nightclub owner distraught over Kennedy’s death.
Despite the evidence, few Americans today believe that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy or that, if he did, he acted alone. A recent poll found that 75% of American adults believe that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy of some kind, usually of a right-wing variety. This is not surprising because most of the popular books published on the assassination since the mid-1960s have elaborated one or another conspiracy theory. Right-wing businessmen, disgruntled generals, CIA operatives, and Mafia bosses are the typical villains in these scenarios. Before long the Kennedy assassination came to be encrusted in layers of myth, illusion, and disinformation strong enough to deflect every attempt to understand it from a rational point of view. And this enduring national illusion and confusion has had unfortunate consequences.
Creating the Myth
In the days and weeks following the assassination the idea took hold that a climate of hate in Dallas and across the nation established the conditions for President Kennedy’s murder. Racial bigots, the Ku Klux Klan, followers of the John Birch Society, fundamentalist ministers, anti-Communist zealots, and conservatives of all kinds had sowed hatred and division in national life. These battalions of the American Right had been responsible for manifold acts of violence across the South against Negroes and civil rights workers in the years leading up to the assassination, and they must have been behind the attack on President Kennedy. It followed that President Kennedy was a martyr, like Abraham Lincoln, to the great causes of civil rights and racial justice. Liberal writers had warned throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s about the undercurrent of bigotry and intolerance that ran through American culture and the political dangers arising from the “radical Right.” Now it appeared that their warnings had come to fruition in the murder of a president.
This explanation for the assassination did not drop out of thin air but was circulated immediately after the event by influential leaders, journalists, and journalistic outlets, including Mrs. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Democratic leaders in Congress, James Reston and the editorial page of the New York Times, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., columnist Drew Pearson, and any number of other liberal spokesmen. The New York Times through its editorial page and columnists insisted that a climate of hate brought down President Kennedy, even as the paper’s news reporters documented the evidence against Oswald and his Communist connections. Reston, the paper’s chief political correspondent, published a front-page column on November 23 under the title, “Why America Weeps: Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in the Nation.” In the course of the column he observed that, “from the beginning to the end of his Administration, he [JFK] was trying to damp down the violence of the extremists on the Right.” Reston returned to this theme in subsequent columns, pointing the finger at hatred and a spirit of lawlessness in the land as the ultimate causes of the presidential assassination.
Following this line of thought, Chief Justice Warren, soon to head the official commission that investigated the assassination, declared: “A great and good President has suffered martyrdom as a result of the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.” Pat Brown, governor of California, and Charles Taft, mayor of Cincinnati, organized a series of candlelight vigils across the nation “to pledge the end of intolerance and to affirm that such a tragedy shall not happen in America again.” The Reverend Adam Clayton Powell (also a congressman) issued a statement shortly after the assassination: “President Kennedy is a martyr of freedom and human rights and a victim of injustice as promulgated by Barnett and Wallace,” here referring to the segregationist governors of Mississippi and Alabama. Less than a week after the assassination, Pearson published one of his syndicated columns under the title, “Kennedy Victim of Hate Drive.” Many took this a step further to declare that all Americans were complicit in Kennedy’s death because they had tolerated hatred and bigotry in their midst. As a popular song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” by the Rolling Stones put it a few years later: “I shouted out: who killed the Kennedys? When after all it was you and me.” This became the near universal response to the assassination: a strain of bigotry and hatred in American culture was responsible for Kennedy’s murder.
For his part, President Johnson saw that his job as national leader in that time of crisis was to supply some meaning to his predecessor’s sudden death. “John Kennedy had died,” he said later, “[b]ut his cause was not really clear…. I had to take the dead man’s program and turn it into a martyr’s cause.” In his first speech before the Congress on November 27, Johnson proclaimed that “no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.” The civil rights bill, which Kennedy belatedly proposed in mid-1963, was approved in 1964 with bipartisan majorities in the Congress. On the international front, Johnson feared a dangerous escalation of tensions with the Soviet Union and another McCarthy-style “witch-hunt” against radicals should the American public conclude that a Communist was responsible for the assassination. From his point of view, it was better to circumvent that danger by deflecting blame for the assassination from Communism to some other unpopular target. Read the rest of this entry »