The John F. Kennedy cult

Ross Douthat:
...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. Yet there is no escaping the myth’s hold on the popular imagination. In Gallup’s “greatest president” polling, J.F.K. still regularly jostles with Lincoln and Reagan for the top spot. 
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. Or as a character puts it in “11/22/63,” making the case for killing Lee Harvey Oswald: “Get rid of one wretched waif, buddy, and you could save millions of lives.” 
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. 
The third myth is that Kennedy was a martyr to right-wing unreason. Writing on 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. Neither can King, whose “11/22/63” explicitly compares right-wing Dallas to his own fictional territory of Derry, Me. — home of the murderous Pennywise the Clown from “It,” among other demons. 
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....
The left is always trying to shift responsibility from its own kooks like Oswald and Loughner.   Kennedy was a real disaster on foreign policy.  He had already screwed up Vietname before Johnson was sworn in.

He was probably the worst President of the last 60 plus years.  He did have one good idea--tax cuts.  That is probably the one idea that liberals still hate.


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