The new memoir by Mimi Alford, the former White House intern whom President Kennedy made his sex toy (though not his only one), hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who didn’t accept the fabricated, idealized version of JFK sold to the public by the likes of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Chris Matthews. Still, her account of Kennedy’s revolting conduct is infuriating, because it continues his corruption of American ethics and leadership standards, the real legacy of his presidency.
Kennedy was a thoroughly fraudulent human being, a cynical and arrogant leader who used soaring prose about freedom, aspiration and the human spirit while masquerading as a devoted father and husband, betraying his wife, abusing his power for selfish personal gratification, and in the process, putting his country at risk during the height of the Cold War. Only moral luck, combined with the failure of a complicit media to tell the public what they really had a right to know—that their President was a sexist, reckless, ruthless, SOB—allowed Kennedy to escape with his myth intact long enough to be regarded as a heroic figure. Now, as the truth relentlessly emerges, the product of his devoted image-makers collides with the ugliness of JFK’s behavior, creating cognitive dissonance of the most destructive sort. After all, if the great John F. Kennedy abused drugs in the White House, used his office and power to lure employees into illicit sexual relationships, degraded and pimped-out women devoted to him, and did all of this with the full knowledge that it would bring down his administration and his party if anyone ever revealed his secrets, then this must mean that character doesn’t matter in our leaders, that we should tolerate a wide range of misconduct, and that the abuse of the power of the President is just a traditional perk.
Bill Clinton made full use of what was already known about Kennedy’s three years in office as a staple of his defense during the Lewinsky scandal; how he must wish Alford had spilled her beans 15 years earlier! For each occupant of the Oval Office enhances, degrades, expands, shrinks, burnishes or stains the Presidency with their conduct while in it, and the lingering effects of their acts changes the influence, prestige and expectations for each successor.
Jack Kennedy, unique among the Presidents, continues to degrade the office a half-century after his death. He makes each American who continues to admire him a little more corrupt—more tolerant of lies, more accepting of arrogance, more willing to see power abused—as time goes by. John Edwards was often called “Kennedyesque” during his rise to prominence; is it any wonder that he believed he could hide a mistress and a love-child from the American people and still get elected President? Everything John Edwards did to make himself “the most hated man in America” was something that Jack Kennedy either did or would have done, except that Kennedy never got caught. His character provides and audacity to aspiring national leaders like Edwards, by blackening the definition of “presidential.”
It is a rare leader who can make future leaders of his nation less trustworthy, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the undead of bad role models, continues to do it.
37 thoughts on “JFK, Ethics Corrupter”
I was visiting my grandmother shortly after the most famous line in Vice Presidential debate history, Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” quip to Dan Quayle. My grandmother snorted and said, “Well, I bet Mrs. Quayle is happy to hear that!” She was 96 at the time, and had a sharper mind than any of the candidates.
What a great story!
“Only moral luck, combined with the failure of a complicit media to tell the public what they really had a right to know—that their President was a sexist, reckless, ruthless, SOB—allowed Kennedy to escape with his myth intact long enough to be regarded as a heroic figure.”
I think that sentence most clearly sums up (in addition to his untimely death by assassination but much more so than his glamorous lifestyle/wife) the most relevant reason JFK was/is so idealized – and that the idealized version of him became so ingrained in the American psyche that it will take generations to dispel the myths. It takes time to re-write and re-teach the “history” that’s already in the history books. Just as it has taken generations to see that many of our forefathers, who we once held in such esteem, were not really such great guys after all. Clearly it’s difficult to idealize men who thought it was perfectly OK to preach about the rights of all men to be free and equal when they OWNED SLAVES! They may have been good leaders in many regards, but they were hardly moral and ethical standard bearers.
Which brings me, sadly, to the state of politics today. The fact that huge numbers of the American public can, for such a sustained period of time, support candidates like Cain and Gingrich, despite at least some in the media airing serious moral and ethical character flaws about these characters, not to mention calling into question the state of their mental health (in the case of Gingrich, I think there are few mental health professionals who would not agree he shows all the characteristic signs of several personality disorders, including sociopathic behavior) means that too many people will not listen no matter what they are told because they just DON’T CARE. It speaks to the values, ethics and moral and character of the voters who support these candidates. And yes – I’m talking about the far right, religious zealots who would like to shove/impose their biases, hatred, and discrimination on the rest of us. Even when their standard bearers hardly exemplify the qualities they claim to require in a president.
Frankly, I’m more than a little bit frightened by what I’ve seen in this year’s republican primary race. And I’m not talking about the candidates as much as I’m talking about the American public. When we have the information and we choose to ignore it … we have no one to blame but ourselves. And the idiots end up running the asylum. I’m deeply concerned that too many are grossly ignorant, and that too few are even minimally informed.
Remember the “Don’t blame me … I voted for McGovern!” bumper stickers? A nice sentiment. But if someone like Gingrich were to be elected POS, a bumper sticker couldn’t begin to counter the destruction he could bring to this country.
In 1972, I refused to vote—my first opportunity– because I regarded it as a hopeless choice between a talented leader who was untrustworthy because of his character and a good man who was a completely incompetent leader. When my McGovern-volunteer classmates later said, “Don’t blame me … I voted for McGovern!”, I replied, “I DO blame you; you NOMINATED McGovern!”
In 1972 I was too young to vote – so please excuse me for using a seemingly bad example in McGovern if he would have been an incompetent leader. But I agree with your sentiment regarding blaming those who nominate a bad candidate. It’s been my frustration with the republican primary process this year (and in the last election when McCain opted to name Palin as his VP running mate it took my breath away – in a really bad way). When it looked like Cain was gaining momentum I was ready to throw up. The fact that people like Gingrich, Palin, Bachman, Perry (the list is too long to name them all) and other completely unqualified and/or morally bankrupt individuals can garner so much popular support makes me want to retch.
Can’t argue there. Also at fault, of course, are the better qualified candidates who DON’T run, leaving the field to the Bachmanns and Cains. I would have loved to see Mitch Daniels and/or Chris Cristie in the race.
But perspective is in order too: in 1960, the Democrats had Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Stuart Symington and Adlai Stevenson competing for the Democratic nomination, and the Dems picked the least experienced and qualified candidate, Jack Kennedy, instead, because he was handsome, young, a war hero, and because his billionaire father threw a lot of money around.
As a left-of-center, I’d vote for Chris Cristie. At least he has the guts to tell the extremists to go stuff it so he can govern.
Trust the mainstream media because they have proper ethics? As Buddy Holly would say in his song, “That will be the day!”
The quality of candidates to a significant degree reflects the poisonous process that they ( and we) must endure. Is it any wonder that we are left with too many deeply -flawed individuals pursuing the highest elective office? Many “normal” potential candidates would not want to be faced with the demands of money and fund-raising, physical and psychological stress of 18-24 months-at least-of campaigning and an open season on one’s family. The Brits have their own problems but a short campaign with public financing would be a step in the right direction and might get some folks like Daniels to run. He and / or his wife appear to understand the potential risks involved.
If you can’t handle the stress and sacrifice of a campaign, you have no business being President. Allowing more weenies to run isn’t the answer. One thing about leadership—you have to want it. There are no effective reluctant leaders, though many pretend to be reluctant.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on the U.S. presidents, but from what I know of them, it seems like Washington was most reluctant to take on the office. In my lifetime, Ford seemed like an accidental president. I remember “liking” (so Facebook-y!) something Ford said early on, about being “acutely aware” that he wasn’t voted into his office – and then saying something to the effect that he owed nothing to anyone but his wife.
Found Ford’s speech: http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/740001.htm
Washington set the standards for the rest, and the “reluctant leader” template has always been important in public judgments of the candidates—we have suspicion of those who want power too much, which indeed is inconsistent with the fact that great leaders want to lead. Washington was a natural leader, but the image he has was of one who led because it was his duty, not his ambition.
Jack, what do you think of this set of candidate characteristics for a voter to use, when taking into consideration which candidate to vote for?
character, charisma, ambition, vision, knowledgeability, demeanor, articulation, prior accomplishment, apparent health
“Jack, what do you think of this set of candidate characteristics for a voter to use, when taking into consideration which candidate to vote for?
character, charisma, ambition, vision, knowledgeability, demeanor, articulation, prior accomplishment, apparent health”
That gets a touche, too! 🙂 Clearly, however, too many voters don’t consider enough of these characteristics. Hence the likes of Gingrich, Palin, Cain, Bachman, etc., etc., etc., extending their stays on the national stage for far more time than than intelligent, informed people should allow them to. Oops – I said intelligent, informed people. How silly of me.
Touche! In a very big way!
“If you can’t handle the stress and sacrifice of a campaign, you have no business being President. Allowing more weenies to run isn’t the answer. One thing about leadership—you have to want it. There are no effective reluctant leaders, though many pretend to be reluctant.”
My “touche” comment was meant to follow this post. Don’t know why it didn’t. No offense meant, Proam.
No offense taken i.B., thanks – I was fairly sure, by the tier of indentation and the context of your comment, that you were replying to Jack; thanks again for confirming. I enjoy your comments.
You can’t be defending the current system of money and political campaigns. Is this anyone’s idea of “American exceptionalism”. Look at the current crop of candidates. We get these folks because we have allowed the political system to be so bad that the leaders we really need are too smart to endure the process. That leaves the weenies to run.
“…the lingering effects of [the acts of each occupant of the Oval Office] changes the influence, prestige and expectations for each successor.”
I agree, with “for the worse” added to the end of your sentence.
I’m waiting for the policy ideas and vision of the candidates. The mudslinging gets old. If they don’t talk sense. Is it worth it to vote?
And ripped from today’s headlines … Romney – in my opinion the only (until this morning) sane, viable candidate left in the Republican field, decided to shoot himself in the foot with moderate voters and women by declaring that he fully supports the decision by SGK to defund Planned Parenthood. Has he not listened to the backlash that decision brought nor learned anything from the swiftness with which they reversed their decision?! Unbelievable!
There is no ethical position OTHER than to support Komen’s position, because the decision of how to best meet Komen’s mission is Komen’s to decide, and supporting abortion services, whether one favors them or not, is NOT PART OF THAT ORGANIZATION’S MISSION. So 1) his position is correct, if unnecessary (it’s not a presidential or government issue) and 2) anyone who is so fanatically pro-abortion that they would try to undermine breast cancer research because an organization didn’t actively support a an abortion-providing organization is hardly going to be open to voting for a GOP nominee anyway.
Abortion is not so universally popular as you seem to think it is. In fact, a slight majority believe that there need to be at least some limitations on abortion, which is not the PP position.
Jack, NONE of the oney was going to abortion services. NONE. so how was that supporting abortion services?
You miss the point, and I have to say, it’s an obvious one. Regardless of which pot the money was going to—and the Komen funds to PP were relatively small—the furor against Komen for not giving to PP;s mamogram referral was 100% because Komen would no longer be supporting the nation’s major abortion-provider, because they are an abortion provider. What, you think they cared who referred patients for mamograms? It was “support abortion—symbolically, financially—or else.” Nobody honest is seriously denying it. It was a shakedown, as I explained in the post. Even though not there is no connection between abortion and breast cancer, find me a single critic of Komen’s decision whose motive isn’t based on protecting ” a woman’s right to choose. It was a “you’re either with us or against us bullying move,” despicable, and dishonest…Komen had no choice, given the extortion but to cave….despite the fact that all they sought was neutrality.
Have you spoken to any women who came out against Komen? I have and to a person they were pissed of becuase Komen was going to deny money to an organizatiojn that in some cases is the onky place a women can get any kind of health care and mammogram screenings. Now Im not a fan of Komen, they are a money making shakedown machine that would make Jesse Jackson blush, but they pissed off the people who fund them and got what they deserved.
As have I, and that’s utter crap, and a cover story. What do you mean “the only place”—PP didn’t even do the screenings themselves!!!
They pissed off the people who funded them who happened to be pro-abortion, single issue zealots, and those who cared about making abortions as frequent as possible more than they cared about research for breast cancer, Those are pretty loused up priorities. Donors for breast cancer research gave money because Komen gave money to PP for services that are abundant elsewhere—why didn’t they just give money directly to PP, since all they really care about, apparently, is abortion or groups that support abortion. I repeat—a shakedown by the PP fans. There’s no other word for it.
Jack – I’m really surprised at you! You are usually MUCH better informed when you respond. It is a well known FACT – undisputed even by SGK – that their donations to Planned Parenthood NEVER went to fund abortions. They were ALWAYS used entirely for mammograms/breast exams. They chose to end their long-standing relationship with Planned Parenthood, in which thousands of women’s lives were/could be saved, through proper breast examination and screening – their stated mission, because SOME clinics provide abortions. This was a political decision which infuriated millions of women who have donated generously to SGK for many years. SGK realized they made a MISTAKE and they decided to restore the funds – again directed toward breast exams/health. For Romney to come out and say they were right to disassociate themselves from an organization whose PRIMARY purpose is to promote women’s health to those who can least afford medical care – and which saves lives – is irresponsible. He decided to pander to the far right for a moment because they think he’s too moderate in his views on abortion (even though most liberals who, up till now were planning to give him their votes instead of voting for Obama, already disagreed with him on abortion). Big mistake! Most of the Planned Parenthood clinics do not offer abortion services, most are the only source of mammograms and other gynocological services for many poor women. Planned Parenthood is an “abortion provider” of mythical proportions only in the eyes of the right-wing nut-jobs. It’s a tiny fraction of what they do. Most abortions are done in private medical offices. The Republican lawmakers who initiated the “investigation” into PP were doing so in order to try to shut the clinics down, when other methods had failed, again because SOME offer abortion services. They couldn’t exactly go after every sole practitioner gyno office. And – guess what – abortion happens to be LEGAL in this country. This “investigation” is nothing more than grandstanding and a waste of tax-payer money in a vain attempt to curtail a women’s right to choose. SGK used it as an excuse to make a political statement. They got burned for it. Romney will as well. And – more bad news for SGK – because of their idiocy – many people have taken a look at their finances and seen how little of what they collect actually goes out to research and women’s health compared to what is spent on salaries and kept within the organization’s very deep pockets. I don’t know anyone who will ever give them another dime. The people I have spoken with will ALL direct the same amount of money to cancer research or Planned Parenthood or another organization that provides services to women where the money will actually be spent doing the most good instead of sitting in a foundation’s coffers. SGK won’t get another dime. And they’re all rethinking whether or not they can give Romney their vote.
Romney got this one wrong. In a really big way.
And when you get it wrong, you really get it wrong, Jack.
He did not, I did not, and you are either naive or gullible. Planned parenthood is the largest abortion-provider in the nation—don’t play rhetorical games about “some clinics.” When Planned Parenthood is mentioned, the first thing they are seen as standing for is abortion—you support Planned Parenthood, you support abortion—denying that is disingenuous. (Try this: if Planned Parenthood had a superb parenting training program, would the Catholic Church charities contribute to it? If they did, would anyone in the Church accept the argument that it wasn’t supporting abortion by supporting a program of the nation’s largest abortion providers? I find the dishonesty of the discussion mind-boggling.) If you do not support Planned Parenthood and do not support anti-abortion efforts, then you are neutral, which is where a non-profit seeking breast cancer cures has every right, and lots of good reasons, to be.
Did you even read the post here about the Komen-Planned Parenthood flap? Clearly not! Read it before you start telling me I’m wrong, and respond on that post, not this one. I really hate having to write the same thing over and over again because people don’t take the time to read. Your argument is just regurgitating pro-abortion talking points used to bully Komen out of its right and DUTY to pursue its mission, and it is dishonest because the controversy was dishonest. Virtually very item you mention is covered, except this…
If donors think not enough money is going to breast research, that is an entirely different issue. That’s worth bitching about, and worth getting the board’s attention. But it has ZERO to do with this. Indeed, I would argue that the money being given to PP is also a diversion of funds. Give to the screeners, not the referrers….you get more bang for the buck. That doesn’t make sense to you??
I know what I’m talking about regarding non-profit governance—I teach it, and I practice it, and Komen’s decision was 100% responsible (except for miscalculating the brutality of pro-abortion bullies), regardless of who supported it on the conservative side or who opposed it on the “Abortion Is Everything” side. The media and Congress, on the other hand, trying to coerce a non-profit into spending funds for symbolic support of abortion—and that IS what this controversy was about, don’t kid yourself (or me)—when they are supposed to be focusing on breast cancer, a tangential PP concern at best, is unethical to the core.
I know the facts, I’ve talked to some angry critics, I’ve read the smears, and I wrote it up clearly. Read before you criticize. it’s back a couple days. Search “Komen” and it will come right up.
Jack – Clearly our dialogue is an example of why it is difficult for those on either side of the abortion debate, who agree on many other issues, to communicate on this particular issue without letting our emotions get involved to too great a degree to see each others’ position/look at what has been written without reading our own biases into the words. I guess we’ll have to just agree to disagree on this one and move on. Peace. 🙂
From ACLU of Massachusetts Online Communications Coordinator Danielle Riendeau, who wrote the following guest blog posted in today’s Boston Globe, I quote:
“Women’s health is not “simply” about any one issue. Breast, ovarian and cervical cancer awareness, access to reproductive health services, and preventative care are all part of the same equation. You cannot claim to care about women’s health and then attempt to cut out a woman’s right to choice, nor can you expect to cut crucial funding without seriously hurting the women that you purport to serve.”
Ms. Riendeau stated my sentiment far better than did I.
IB, my post has absolutely nothing to do with abortion; it could be about any “politically correct” position in which a lot of people believe they have bullying rights, and my point to you was that you commented without reading, or after ignoring, the relevant essay. I would have the same position if Komen had been supporting tangential health services at an anti-abortion organization and decided to give its grants elsewhere.
I do not agree to disagree when facts and motives, not to mention the reality of what non-profits do and how they do it, are being carelessly misrepresented.
The quote you read is so dishonest it makes me physically ill. Oh, the outrage over the grant was because both organizations are about “women’s health”?…please. So is Jenny Craig—is it an outrage that Komen doesn’t give IT a grant too? Komen and PP are not “about” “women’s health” any more than the Ku Klux Klan and ACORN are “about” community relations–Komen is about curing breast cancer, and PP is about reproductive issues. Komen is not “about” diabetes, not mental illness, and not cute Suzy Creamcheese who is worried she won’t be able to fit in her prom dress because she got knocked up. It is about finding a cure for breast cancer, and the grant to PP could do that job as well or better elsewhere, according to the Board’s judgement—and it is their judgment to make.
The funding was not “crucial,” and every organization that applies for a grant thinks it programs are crucial. The controversy was not about mammogram referrals, and nobody who is being honest believes it was. It was about protecting PP from perceived and real attacks on its funding for abortion services, and the withdrawal of Komen was seen as the retreat of an ally…it was about the politics of abortion and lock-step support for it, not “health.” And it was dead wrong.
Separate and distinct from the abortion issue and Komen, it is interesting how little discussion there is about the contraceptive services that PP provides. Republican candidates -even Santorum-walk around this issue like walking on eggshells: don’t want to offend the Catholic Church but realize that the vast majority of Catholics -read voters-support contraception. This is a service that most Americans support and for many women, PP provides the service. The Catholic hierarchy notwithstanding, most Americans agree that families and our society benefit. It ‘s one of the few things that Red and Blue agree on.
Bob – There was actually a lot of discussion about this when the PP clinics started being shut down in various states a while back. I didn’t see any middle ground. Even Dems who are apposed to abortion and aren’t opposed to contraception supported PP clinics staying open (for the most part), but Repubs were adamant they be shut down regardless of the other services they provide, even for clinics who do not provide abortions, because SOME PP clinics DO provide abortions. So PP is EVIL. The level of disrespect for women on this issue (if you don’t care about the reproductive health of your wives, mothers, sisters and daughters you don’t respect them- period) is astounding.
The GOP anti-abortion forces want PP gone for the same reason that PP supporters regard a legitimate decision not to give them non-abortion related funding as an attack on abortion rights: in public discourse, PP’s non-abortion activities, worthwhile and significant though they are, don’t matter. PP+abortion.
I don’t dislike PP—my wife was on a local board for a while. PP does good work, and while I have problems with abortion, the law says its a right, and PP provides access to that right. I do dislike bullies, zealots and liars.
I do dislike bullies, zealots and liars.
We are in agreement here. I think SGK was lying when they stated the reason they cut off finding for PP. It think the it decision to “investigate” PP was let by zealots and bullies, and I think the backlash was bullying, to a degree, but not entirely. There are, actually, some of us who DO see PP as MORE than an abortion provider.
I still can’t tell if you read my post on this. I said that Komen was being dishonest with its investigation excuse. I don’t see how Congress’s investigation is germane—many Congressional investigations are bullying to some extent. The backlash was on Komen denying a greant, as it had every right to do in its own discretion in accordance with its mission, and it HAS THE RIGHT TO BE NEUTRAL on an issue, abortion, that is not part of its mission,
Actually, Jack, SGK CLAIMS they do MORE than just fund research for breast cancer research. Many people who donate to SGK do so with the full knowledge of where SGK CLAIMS they use their donations. And to claim that SGK succumbed to pressure from pro-abortion advocates in reversing their decision and not acknowledge that their initial decision to remove PP funding was a decision made after having been pressured by 1 board member and many politicians (a decision that caused some of their own board to resign) seems unfair. The following comes from the SGK website:
Affiliate Community Health Grants
In more than 18,000 communities across the U.S., more than 75,000 Susan G. Komen for the Cure volunteers work to help fund breast cancer education, screening and treatment projects for those who need it most. Last year, Komen for the Cure Affiliates—working in concert with local organizations—awarded more than $93 million in needs-based community grants. That’s in addition to the many millions Komen invests each year in promising research.
In order to ensure they are funding programs that address the specific unmet breast health needs of their communities, Komen Affiliates work with local medical experts and community leaders to conduct comprehensive community needs assessments. These community profiles are then used to establish local grant application and review processes consistent with Komen’s standards and mission.
(The only “standards and mission” PP failed to meet in order to continue to receive funding they had previously received was due to the “investigation” initiated by the far-right Republicans in DC with a political agenda to overturn Roe V Wade. This is now CLEAR with the release of the internal SGK correspondence.)
In 2011, in MA alone, 27 of these programs (other than PP) were awarded funding by SGK – and ALL involved women’s breast and/or reproductive health, not breast cancer research.
If SGK had come out and said we, as an organization, choose to take a stance that we will not, on principle, give any funds to any organization that provides abortion services, I would have respected their honesty and I agree that they would have had every right to do so and hold firm to that stance, misguided as some may think it is. They did not do this. They chose to withdraw support from PP – an organization they had long supported and an organization SGK’s donors KNEW they had long supported – specifically, deceitfully under the guise of a new criteria, when their agenda was clear, hoping this deceit would not lose them donors they KNEW would be outraged. They lied, and got caught in a lie, and it has cost them financially and hurt their reputation, perhaps irreparably. I’m sorry you don’t see this the same way I do, but I am not alone in my views on this, regardless of how strongly you feel in yours.