JFK, Ethics Corrupter

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. Continue reading

Tiger Woods Ethics, Part II: Yes. It Matters

There are two main strains among the culturally corrosive arguments in support of Tiger Woods. One, discussed in Part I, is the “great athletes don’t need to be great human beings,” a contention that chooses to ignore the inescapable fact that they are paid to behave like great human beings, whether they are or not. While this argument is mostly obtuse, the second strain is the more ethically offensive. Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon embraced it with both arms in his defense of Woods entitled, “Some context on Tiger.” Its thesis: virtually all big-time athletes cheat on their wives, and if you had the opportunities and temptations they do, you’d cheat too. Translation: “It’s no big deal”: Continue reading