HOUSTON, Nov. 1, 2015 — November brings the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Democrats continue to exploit his death to perpetuate the myth of a Camelot that never existed.
President John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was more than a president; he was a husband and father, and his assassination was a tragedy that shocked the world.
Yet his untimely death gave him a political halo that he never earned. Like President Obama’s Nobel Prize, it was backed up by glamor and oratory, not by accomplishment. He was a Democrat and a celebrity who died way too young. His canonization was made inevitable by his tragic death.
The element of celebrity is apolitical. James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were all lifted from fame to quasi-deification because they died too young. They all had talent, but were they that special? Did they accomplish anything great? Young people were fed the same line about Kurt Cobain. His death was sad, but his significance to the world has been vastly overstated.
Politically, the similarities between JFK and Obama are remarkable. They both had adoring supporters enthralled by their youth and glamor. Their fans’ adulation had all the intensity of Beatlemania. They were worshiped not for what they did, but for who they were and what they represented.
Long before millennials chanted meaningless phrases like “Yes, we can,” JFK’s supporters campaigned for him like a rock-star’s groupies, and he had them long before “Obama Girl.”
Their supporters acted as if they won decisive mandates, yet Obama won only 52 percent of the total vote in his first election — less the second time — while Kennedy’s disputed victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 was even closer than the 2000 Bush-Gore finish. Kennedy won partly on the basis of his telegenic efforts in the first televised presidential debates, though people who heard the debates on the radio overwhelmingly thought Nixon won. Unlike Gore, Nixon put country above winning and refused to contest the results.
Long before Obama, JFK was the first television media darling. Obama was the first black president, and JFK was the first Catholic president. They were new, exciting and cool, and therefore given much less media scrutiny than they would have been if they were more boring.
Unlike Obama, JFK had some successes in office and some sensible policy proposals. JFK was anti-Communist, and his successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the pivotal events of the 20th century. “Ich bin ein Berliner” was a significant event. Yet early foreign policy stumbles had the Russians and other world leaders thinking what they still think about every Democrat in the White House since: JFK was initially seen as naive and not tough enough for the job.
Domestically, JFK supported supply-side tax cuts that became the basis of sound policy by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The policy worked when both parties enacted it, and reverse tax policies failed when both parties tried them. JFK would not recognize the Democratic Party of today, whose policies increasingly resemble those of tax-and-spend European Social Democrats. Modern Democrats are quick to surrender American foreign policy, and they continue to loathe the military.
JFK did something that Obama has never done: He took personal responsibility for an epic failure. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he wryly noted, “Victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan.” He took the blame, and in that he behaved like a leader.
Yet like Obama, JFK to this day is more myth than fact. He could have been a great president or a terrible one. He will always be the president who might-have-been. Yet he should not be judged on what might have been, but on what was. His overall record was mediocre; he never had the chance to show what he could do. He is often given credit for things he never did in the same way Obama was given a Nobel Peace Prize for smiling and waving.
JFK is treated like a demigod among blacks despite never seriously pursuing civil rights legislation. He made a deal with Southern Democrats to sacrifice civil rights for more bipartisanship on foreign affairs. JFK wanted to be a foreign policy president. His brother Robert F. Kennedy was passionate about civil rights, but JFK did not have that as a priority. If liberal blacks want to worship President Lyndon Baines Johnson, at least LBJ passed the policies. JFK never even advanced them.
With regard to his personal life, JFK’s public image was much more impressive than the man himself. Like most of the Kennedy men, JFK was a serial philanderer. One of the once-popular theories about his assassination was that it happened because he was sleeping with the girlfriend of a mafia kingpin.
JFK was also not an original. Most of his ideas were rehashed from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Bill Clinton credits JFK’s “New Frontier” with inspiring Clinton’s “New Covenant,” but they were both recycled versions of FDR’s “New Deal.”
Unlike Presidents Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Obama, it would be unfair to label JFK’s presidency a complete failure. He got some things right. Yet he certainly does not deserve to be mentioned along with Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan, who were not just popular or successful, but transformational.
It would be unfair to compare JFK to Clinton. Clinton had a full eight years and was peripheral. Times were good, and he mostly stayed out of the way. Nothing significant happened. JFK is more like President Gerald Ford: Both men deserve a grade of “incomplete.” Unless a presidency is a spectacular success or failure, 2.5 years is just not an adequate time frame to render judgment.
JFK should not be an object of derision like Obama or Carter, but to deify him is disrespectful to the legacies of the men who do deserve to be considered great presidents based on their successful deeds rather than unfulfilled promise and potential.
It would also behoove the Democratic Party to for once judge people based on actual accomplishments and not shallow externalities such as winning smiles and flowery slogans.