The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

What’s to Like About JFK?

The rhetorical question could just as easily be rephrased to elicit
the same answers: What’s not to like
about JFK?
Plenty.
Most of the commentary I read on the 50th anniversary
of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22nd 1963 exuded
a special, repulsive kind of adulation, combined with almost tearful reminiscences
of what the country was like half a century ago (it was a bad country, ready to be knocked into shape by a great leader) and
plaintive projections of what it could have been had JFK been allowed to
complete his presumably first term in office (it would have been a good country, able to take its place
among the best welfare states in the world).  
The joke is on the sigh-filled dreamers. We have in President Barack
Obama’s two terms almost precisely what JFK would have created: a
semi-socialist, semi-fascist government dedicated to “leading” the
country to “greater” things, an administration determined to marshal
Americans to march in lockstep in the direction the White House and its allies
in Congress wish us to go, complete with a “charismatic” icon of a
leader, glib of tongue and murky in his motives.
Much of the commentary was so maudlin that it caused one to wonder
about the mental health of the individuals who wrote it. For example, the New
York Times chose to reprint humorist Art Buchwald’s New York Herald Tribune
poem, “We
Weep
,” from November 26, 1963:
We weep for our President who died for his country.
We weep for his wife and for his children.
We weep for his mother and father and brothers and sisters.
We weep for the millions of people who are weeping for him.
We weep for Americans, that this could happen in our country.
We weep for the Europeans.
And the Africans.
And the Asians.
 And people in every corner
of the globe who saw in him a hope for the future and a chance for mankind.
We weep for our children and their children and everyone’s children.
For he was charting their destinies as he was charting ours.
We weep for the Negro who saw in him a chance for a decent life.
And etc.
Had enough? There are two more stanzas, just as bad, but I thought
you should be spared them. Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post, in her
November 22ndA
Tribute to John F. Kennedy
,” picks up Buchwald’s lachrymose sentiment fifty
years later, but adds something revealing about herself and how she perceived
the country in November 1963:
…Neither the truth nor
the myth of the man seems to matter as much as the deeply personal experience
of hearing the words:
“A death in the family”
is how many have described that day, and this is as accurate as any
explanation, especially for people who were children then. The president and
Mrs. Kennedy were more than the nation’s first family; they were our parents,
too. We identified with the children and looked up to the grown-ups….
Thus, when Kennedy died,
we lost our symbolic father and our grief was for ourselves as well as the
Kennedys….
If truth be told, when I learned of JFK’s death, I felt nothing. As
a high school senior, I’d felt nothing but an irritation with the man, coupled
with a sense of impending doom, which I was able to identify only years later.
Listening to his speeches grated against my aural sensibilities; it was like
hearing someone run his fingernails down a blackboard. I’d watched film clips
of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini haranguing rapt crowds on television, and
JFK gave me that same feeling, that he was an ominous threat to my life and to
my future, and that if I stood in the way of the leagues of admiring, emotion-driven
mobs, I’d simply be trampled to death.
This was not a pretty or flattering observation to make about
“my fellow Americans.”
But I never then nor have I ever regarded JFK or Jackie Kennedy as
“parents” to “look up to.” I did not want a
“leader,” did not want to be lead, did not want to be “taken
care of,” did not want to be immersed in some hideous, identity-erasing gestalt of national purpose. The notion
of “belonging” to a collective was an alien and repellant one.
In fact, I grew to despise the whole Kennedy clan, from Joe
Kennedy, Senior, who made his initial fortune as a bootlegger, clear up to Ted
Kennedy, whose political career should have been aborted because of Chappaquiddick,
Mary Jo Kopechne, and the charge of homicide that was never levied against him,
but in
whose name
and memory ObamaCare was largely passed, and all of JFK’s
children. The whole spoiled, power-lusting bunch of them.
I despised the JFK “Camelot” myth as much as I mistrusted
the whole FDR myth, because it was the unreserved canonization of these two
political figures which caused me to smell something rotten in Denmark.
I subscribe to a number of “pro-freedom” weblogs. Some
of these organizations are scarier than any George Soros Progressive
organizations. Liberty Counsel, which touts the line that the U.S. is founded
on Biblical principles, is one of those. I received this “alert” just
this morning:
Yesterday, as a nation, we commemorated the 50th
anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The words most
associated with JFK came from his 1961 Inaugural Address, “My fellow Americans,
ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your
country.” It’s not hard to see how far “progressive” liberalism has taken our
nation away from this simple patriotic proclamation in 50 years and how foreign
that concept is to the current administration.   
Religious American conservatives are not the only ones smitten
with JFK. Europe doesn’t seem to have lost its ardor for him. For example, here
are the words of a Briton, Sean Collins, Spiked‘s
American correspondent, on the 50th anniversary:
…Most of all, Kennedy injected a sense of dynamism and
optimism into politics, and people were willing to believe in him. He
encouraged public activism and responsibility, in his call ‘ask
not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country
’.
He aimed high, urging a manned flight to the moon before the end of the decade
(even though the technology to do so was hardly evident). Americans were
problem-solvers, and there were few limits to what could be achieved – that was
his message.
JFK came to symbolise optimism and idealism (even if he
didn’t ultimately live up to it), and his assassination appeared to be the
death, not just of the man, but of what he symbolised. People hoped Kennedy
would bring a new era of prosperity and innovation; but as the years passed,
his assassination appeared to mark the beginning of an era of decline. Reagan,
Clinton and Obama attempted to reintroduce optimism into American politics, but
all paled in comparison with the genuine optimism that greeted JFK, and all
ultimately proved to be let-downs.
In many ways, not a few of them scandalous, JFK served as a
“role model” for another destroyer of the country, Bill Clinton. One
thing that anchored the political philosophy connection between Clinton and JFK
was the startling, full-page photograph of 16-year-old Bill Clinton
shaking hands with JFK
 in the White
House Rose Garden. I think I saw it in the New York Times, and have that page
buried somewhere in my archives. I dubbed it, “Passing the Torch.”  A video was made of the
encounter. That photograph, however, concretized what I had observed was the
perilous direction the country was taking.
I left this comment on a November 22nd FrontPage
article, “Fact,
Democrats, and the JFK Legend
,” by Bruce Thornton, who debunks JFK’s
legislative record:
JFK was a fascist. Any president or president-elect who asks
Americans what “they can do for their country” is simply emulating
what Hitler asked of Germans and Mussolini asked of Italians. “I’ll cut
taxes and shake my fist at the Commies, but you have to follow me and live for
the country, not for yourself.” Compared to current Democrats and Progressives,
JFK looks squeaky clean, almost nostalgic. But he was still bad news. If he’d
said in public that the government should get out of the economy and out of
education, I’d cut him some slack. But, like his fellow Democrats, he just
assumed that the government had a mission to run the economy and educate
Americans. He was a statist, and a fascist to boot.
 
No one today dares call JFK a fascist. But his style, his
rhetoric, and his behavior all comport with the means and ends of fascism. JFK,
on a European tour before he entered politics, expressed admiration for the
Nazis. Only last May, in a book review by Alan Hall in the British Daily
Mail
, it was revealed that JFK wrote in his journal:
‘Fascism?’ wrote the youthful president-to-be in one. ‘The right
thing for Germany.’  In another; ‘What
are the evils of fascism compared to communism?’
And on August 21, 1937 – two years before the war that would claim
50 million lives broke out – he wrote: ‘The Germans really are too good –
therefore people have ganged up on them to protect themselves.’
And in a line which seems directly plugged into the racial
superiority line plugged by the Third Reich he wrote after travelling through
the Rhineland: ‘The Nordic races certainly seem to be superior to the
Romans.’ 
Other musings concern how great the autobahns were – ‘the best
roads in the world’ – and how, having visited Hitler’s Bavarian holiday home in
Berchtesgaden and the tea house built on top of the mountain for him. He
declared; ‘Who has visited these two places can easily imagine how Hitler will
emerge from the hatred currently surrounding him to emerge in a few years as
one of the most important personalities that ever lived.’
Liberal columnist Dylan Matthews, in his November 22nd
Washington Post opinion piece, “Americans
think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t,

credits Lyndon Johnson with accomplishing what JFK set out to do but was
assassinated before he could realize his legislative goals.
Conservative George Will, however, claims JFK was a
“conservative.” In his November 20th Washington Post
column, “The
JFK we had and the memory that lives
,” he wrote:
…Many who call him difficult to understand seem eager to not
understand him. They present as puzzling or uncharacteristic aspects of his
politics about which he was consistent and unambiguous. For them, his
conservative dimension is an inconvenient truth. Ira Stoll, in “JFK,
Conservative
,” tries to prove too much but assembles sufficient evidence
that his book’s title is not merely provocative.
A Look magazine headline in June 1946 read: “A Kennedy Runs for
Congress: The Boston-bred scion of a former ambassador is a fighting-Irish
conservative.” Neither his Cold
War anti-communism
, which was congruent with President
Harry Truman’s
, nor his fiscal
conservatism
changed dramatically during his remaining 17 years.
It was left to his successor in office, Lyndon B. Johnson, to
create the massive welfare state which JFK was sure to have pushed for himself,
given his pragmatic way of finding things for government to do and purposes for
Americans to hove to, to win brownie points with an mesmerized public and a
forgiving news media. Rand Simberg, in his November 22nd USA
TODAYcolumn, “Dear
NASA: President Kennedy just wasn’t that into you
,” casts credible
doubts on JFK’s commitment to an American space program, calling NASA a
“centralized state-socialist bureaucracy that we established to beat the
Soviets’ state-socialist bureaucracy to the moon.”
Larry Sabato in his November 20th Washington Post
column, “Lead
like John F. Kennedy
,” lists JFK’s strong and weak points. Among the
strong points was his way with words and not needing an electronic cue
card/teleprompter to deliver speeches, as does the current specimen in office:
Kennedy hired a superb wordsmith, Ted Sorensen, who substantially
wrote JFK’s book “Profiles
in Courage
,” his stirring inaugural address and many other well-known
speeches. Yet Kennedy was no parrot. He was a marvelous editor and wordsmith,
too, and he could talk extemporaneously without a text for long stretches.
Sorensen wrote JFK’s signature
statement: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask
not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your coun
try.”
Or apparently it was plagiarized (by Sorensen and JFK in a
“collaborative” composition of the inaugural address of January 20th
 1961) from an oft-repeated homily by JFK’s
headmaster at the elite Choate School, according to a November 1st,
2011 book
review
by the Daily Mail of Chris “Tingle” Matthews’ Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.
U.S. author Chris Matthews makes the claims in Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. He unearthed
notes written by George St John, the President’s former headmaster at Choate
School in Connecticut, which suggest he had been aware of the ‘ask not’ line
for many years.
The papers quote a Harvard College dean’s refrain: ‘As has often
been said, the youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask not “what
can she do for me?” but “what can I do for her?”‘
And Matthews is an admirer of Kennedy, not motivated to smear or
denigrate JFK.
But whether or not the inaugural
address
line was plagiarized, it deserves parsing. What JFK said before
speaking that line is important to take into context. He was, with very little
ambiguity, asking Americans and the country to devote themselves to
“saving” the world for “freedom,” although what he meant by
“freedom” is lost in an ambiguity deliberately calculated to appeal
to emotions, not reason. He was sanctioning the federal government’s taking the
lead in that “selfless” campaign in “a struggle against the
common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” This echoes
Wilsonian Progressivism, which called for the U.S. to become the supreme global
exemplar of selfless service to “noble causes.” This is unadulterated
altruism.
Much of the inaugural address was written as an answer to the Soviet
Union. Nowhere in it does JFK hint at what Americans were asking their country
(or him) to do for them. Doubtless, JFK was not asking Americans to fight for
their country by championing individual rights, the sanctity of private property,
and freedom of speech. Far from it. Liberty
was the last thing on his mind.
But the person who nailed JFK’s politics and warned of the dangers
he represented to the country was novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, long before he
was assassinated, long before anyone else began to smell something rotten in Washington
D.C.
In her provocative column, “The Fascist New Frontier,”
based on an address she gave at Ford Hall Forum in Boston in 1962, she wrote:
The difference between [socialism and fascism] is superficial and
purely formal, but it is significant psychologically: it brings the authoritarian
nature of a planned economy crudely into the open…. [p. 98]
Under fascism, citizens retain the responsibilities of owning
property, without freedom to act and without any of the advantages of
ownership. Under socialism, government officials acquire all the advantages of
ownership, without any of the responsibilities, since they do not hold title to
the property, but merely the right to use it—at least until the next purge. In
either case, the government officials hold the economic, political and legal
power of life or death over the citizens…..[p. 98]
Under both systems, sacrifice is invoked as a magic, omnipotent
solution in any crisis—and “the public good” is the altar on which victims are
immolated. But there are stylistic differences of emphasis. The
socialist-communist axis keeps promising to achieve abundance, material comfort
and security for its victims, in some indeterminate future. The fascist-Nazi
axis scorns material comfort and security, and keeps extolling some undefined
sort of spiritual duty, service and conquest. [p. 106]
But, surely, freedom of speech would be guaranteed under a fascist
régime, wouldn’t it?. Quite the contrary, wrote Rand.
Freedom of speech means freedom from interference, suppression or
punitive action by the government—and nothing else. It does not mean the right
to demand the financial support or the material means to express your views at
the expense of other men who may not wish to support you. Freedom of speech
includes the freedom not to agree, not to listen and not to support one’s own
antagonists. A “right” does not include the material implementation of that
right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by
one’s own effort. Private citizens cannot use physical force or coercion; they
cannot censor or suppress anyone’s views or publications. Only
the government can do so. And censorship is a concept that pertains only
to governmental action. [p. 106]
By what means could the government establish censorship without scaring
men off, without calling it
censorship? By pressure applied by the myriad federal agencies that regulate business
and men’s actions in the private sphere of our “mixed economy.” Rand wrote:
The dividing line – the frontier – between a “mixed
economy” and a dictatorship lies in the issue of freedom of speech; the
establishment of censorship is the tombstone of a free country. Observe the
concerted efforts of the administration to push – or rather, to smuggle – us across
that particular frontier. I say
“to smuggle,” because these efforts are as devious as the New
Frontiersmen’s use of language – and the fog of their terminology is here at
its thickest….[pp. 105-106]
…Rule by hidden,
unprovable intimidation relies on the victims’ “voluntary”
self-enslavement. The result is worse than a censored press: it is a servile
press. [p. 109]
And what have we had for at least the last half century but a
servile, boot-licking press that cheers on any candidate who preaches
“volunteerism” and “wealth redistribution” and deference to
the “public good” and all the other collectivist panaceas?
Barack Hussein Obama was only a year old when Rand wrote those
words. But they apply to him and his administration as well as to JFK and his
administration. And I think, tough as she was, she would have swooned in
disbelief at the state of a country that would elect the likes of Obama – twice.
(She died in 1982.)
What’s to like about JFK?
I would say: Nothing.

*”The Fascist New
Frontier,” by Ayn Rand, in The Ayn
Rand Column
. Ed.  Peter Schwartz.
Irvine CA: Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1998.

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2 Comments

  1. Unknown

    According to my mom, President Kennedy was one of the best presidents ever ruled in the USA. She was only a high school student when Kennedy became the president and for my mother, JFK was a hardworking and lovable leader. She added that JFK was a dapper guy because he was always good looking that's why there were lot of girls went gaga over this man.

    @ http://essays.mightystudents.com

  2. Edward Cline

    Unknown: All the reasons you cite for your mother liking JFK are irrelevant, sorry to say. They do not reflect judging a man by his character or by what he says. If a person claims he is going to assign you a value or a goal without your permission or knowledge, without taking into account your own values and goals, this is not a person you want to have political power. Hitler and Mussolini did the same thing to Germans and Italians, and if you know your history, you know what happened to them. The same thing happened to Russians under Lenin and Stalin and their successors, and to the Chinese under Mao and his successors. In Cambodia, some two million people were slaughtered or starved or worked to death because they did not believe in being "led." I'll read your link but I suspect I'll disagree with what is said in it.

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