The Kennedy Administration: Camelot or Incompetence?

jackie-and-john-jackie-kennedy-3856502-816-800
They seemed perfect …

The Kennedy Administration: Camelot or Incompetence?

W.J. Astore

President John F. Kennedy is surrounded by myths, the most famous of which is Camelot. The Kennedys brought youth and glamour to the White House, a reprieve from the perceived stodginess of Ike and Mamie Eisenhower (as well as the “square” and indeed criminal Nixon White House to come).  They seemed the perfect couple, John and Jackie, and it seems churlish and graceless to note how much of this was image.  Kennedy was a notorious womanizer, a fact both known and suppressed by a fawning Washington Press Corps.  Jackie came across as a traditional wife: loyal, unobjectionable, limited by her times but also steely in her grace and fortitude after her husband was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963 (the latest movie that captures this awful event is Jackie, starring Natalie Portman).

Kennedy’s father, Joe Sr., taught his sons a sense of winning at all costs. A sense of recklessness. Kennedy’s older brother, Joe Jr. died leading a risky bombing mission in World War II, and John F. Kennedy nearly died when he lost his PT boat in action in the Pacific.  The loss of PT-109 was depicted as a heroic act, as the young JFK helped to save some of his crew, but one may question how he came to lose his boat in the first place. JFK’s perfect marriage, as already mentioned, was a sham, and despite his relative youth, he was not in the best of health, plagued by a bad back, Addison’s disease, and other health issues. His Pulitzer-prize winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” was largely ghost written.  JFK’s life was often more a triumph of image than a profile in courage.

As President, Kennedy made many unwise decisions.  He escalated American involvement in Laos and Vietnam, setting the stage for a major commitment of U.S. ground troops by President Lyndon Johnson early in 1965.  He oversaw the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which backfired badly on the inexperienced U.S. commander-in-chief.  As Lawrence Freedman put it in his book, Kennedy’s Wars (2000), “This was exactly the sort of move—gambling on the basis of insufficient strength and then abandoning the operation before it was complete—that made [Dean] Acheson despair.”  Freedman further cites Acheson as saying European leaders compared JFK’s bungling to “a gifted amateur practicing with a boomerang and suddenly knocking himself cold.  They were amazed that so inexperienced a person should play with so lethal a weapon.”

Greater lethality was to come the next year with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is often sold as JFK’s moment of steely toughness, when he made the Soviets blink and back down, but as a recent book by Daniel Ellsberg reveals, that crisis nearly resulted in nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  It was yet another instance of JFK’s tendency toward taking big risks as a way of proving himself.  Almost precipitating nuclear Armageddon, however, is terrifying way to prove one’s fitness for office.

Even before JFK became president, he fabricated what today might be called “alternative facts.”  He invented a missile gap vis-à-vis the Soviet Union that didn’t exist.  In fact, the true missile gap was the opposite of what JFK claimed, in that the U.S. had many more nuclear ICBMs than the Soviets did.  When he became president, JFK embarked on a strategic policy of “Flexible Response” (suggested by General Maxwell Taylor) that activated and empowered more conventional operations by the U.S. military.  In practice what this meant was that the U.S. became embroiled in conflicts that were secondary to national interests; worst of all, of course, was a major land war in Vietnam that was essentially a lost cause even before Kennedy chose to escalate it with more advisers and materiel aid.

Defenders of JFK suggest he grew in office and would have seen the folly of continuing in Vietnam, but there’s little evidence to support this narrative.  The recent Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War cites Kennedy as saying the U.S. couldn’t win in Vietnam, but that he couldn’t order a withdrawal because to do so would cost him his reelection in 1964.  JFK, moreover, fancied the notion of Flexible Response, his New Look military and its emphasis on special ops forces such as the Green Berets, and he saw Vietnam as a test bed for a “counterinsurgency” approach to defeating communism. What LBJ did in 1965 in escalating that conflict by committing U.S. ground troops is probably what JFK would have done if he had lived.  (In his book, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam, Fredrik Logevall suggests JFK may have had the political will to resist escalation in 1965, effectively allowing South Vietnam to fall to communism, an intriguing if unprovable scenario.)

In sum, JFK set the stage for America’s disastrous war in Southeast Asia while provoking the Soviet Union into an escalatory nuclear arms race that threatened the world with extinction.  Profiles in courage these are not.

It’s worth briefly comparing JFK’s record to that of Richard Nixon, who has no Camelot myths attached to him.  Nixon, of course, was and is vilified as “Tricky Dick” and dismissed as one of America’s worst presidents.  He deserves opprobrium for his mendacious, meretricious, and murderous policies vis-à-vis Southeast Asia, especially his well-nigh treasonous meddling in peace negotiations in 1968, before he was elected president.  Nixon and Henry Kissinger saw themselves as the world’s powerbrokers, working to overthrow governments they disliked, as in Chile with the coup against Allende.  But Nixon and Kissinger deserve a measure of credit for opening negotiations with communist China as well as starting a process of détente with the Soviet Union.  Nixon showed a capacity for growth in office even as he permitted his own ego and paranoia to undermine his administration’s accomplishments in foreign policy.

The point here is not to praise Nixon, a man of considerable gifts but also of crippling flaws.  Rather, the point is to highlight an overly fawning approach to the presidency of John F. Kennedy.  His administration, rather than serving as a shining moment, a Camelot, ultimately was an exercise in imagery and incompetence.

34 thoughts on “The Kennedy Administration: Camelot or Incompetence?

  1. True everything/ one has a little grey in it/ them but as a brief and shining moment I think History will be kinder toward the Kennedy myth than the other Presidents mentioned, and He JFK, as well as some of his Brothers, gave their lives for their Country. I especially liked JFK’s boldness in setting a timetable to reach the Moon in this decade speech. He truly was a Space Cadet for NASA, Werner Von Braun, the Mercury 7 Astronauts etc. Too bad he never got to see the Goal reached with the Moon landings. I think it’s fair to say with his youth, vigor and at least portrayed vigor & vitality he was our 1st “Cool” President. Unfortunately, we can only say what might have been had he lived for a second term.

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    1. I’m not sure how devoted JFK was to space. His vow about putting a man on the moon was political and expedient: political in an attempt to divert attention from Soviet accomplishments; expedient in that it was almost an afterthought tacked on to a speech.

      JFK, of course, died a horrible death by an assassin’s bullet, and naturally there is a reluctance to take him to task for his failings. But we need to look at his record critically and honestly, and when we do, I think we find much to be critical of.

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  2. According to Interviews I’ve heard on YouTube Alan said he was in his talks privately with him, and the other Mercury Astronauts, and for him personally “Space” Shepard said JFK was a true “Space Cadet”, and not just as some might have said was only politically motivated. Whenever the Astronauts were with him all other matters of State could wait! A direct quote. I think for the many back in those heady days in our Country early 60’s. Kennedy gave hope. “The New Frontier” notwithstanding. I do believe the 60’s. started the day he was assassinated. It’s too bad he didn’t have more time…

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  3. Twelve Sets of Footprints on the Moon

    I Remember when we walked upon the Moon.

    Our president had said we would
    In less than ten-years time.
    And we agreed, because we could
    Do anything sublime,
    Or difficult, or dangerous;
    “It’s there, so let us climb”
    This thing called Space, he challenged us,
    A nation in our prime.

    But then he died. The Dream did not.
    That lived. We would see to it.
    What he had asked for, he had got:
    Our willingness to do it.
    Whatever. Name it. Cold or hot,
    We’d walk or run right through it.
    The one word we don’t speak: “cannot.”
    Each problem, we’ll subdue it.

    It may seem hard to see this now
    That Time has from us hid
    Just what it meant to take a vow
    That failure we’d forbid.
    Success alone would we allow.
    “Ten years is not too soon.”
    But still, we loved him, anyhow.
    Then walked upon the Moon.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortuneteller,” copyright 2018

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    1. Yes, it was an amazing achievement, those 12 sets of footprints on the moon. As a child of the space program, I had a NASA poster on my wall that dissected the entire process of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.

      How sad it is that there was no larger vision for the space program after that remarkable triumph. Or, no political will. We are stranded here on earth, slowly baking ourselves.

      Maybe I’ll join Bruce Dern and his robots in “Silent Running” …

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  4. In the Fall of 1960, my last year of Junior High School, I got tagged by my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Christiansen, to debate the case for the Democratic candidate in that year’s presidential election, Senator John F. Kennedy, against two other classmates who took up the case for the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon. My student partner in the debate, Jan Fetzer, had an intense attachment to Senator Kennedy because of her (and his) Catholicism. People may not remember this now, but Kennedy’s religion posed a severe obstacle to his getting elected, with the Republicans playing to the fears and prejudices of the mostly Protestant Christians of the United States, loudly hinting that, as President, John Kennedy would take his orders from a foreign Pope as many European-Christian emperors, kings, and princes had done throughout most of the past two millennia. But I let Jan handle that part of the argument, as I had little interest in religion.

    For my part, I only cared about working-class issues since my widowed mother had taught me back in the 1950s that “A vote for a Republican is a vote against yourself.” I still believe that, but now that America has two Republican parties and both take their orders from Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Occupied Palestine, the idea of a “choice” between them has become something of a sick joke. But I digress …

    Anyway, our littleclassroom debate in 1960, like much of the arguing going on in the country, centered primarily on Nixon having all this “experience” and Kennedy having youth and energy. “Tricky Dick” and his red-baiting McCarthyism did get a little mention from me because our teacher had shown us a film of the Army-McCarthy hearings, but as far as foreign policy went, both Kennedy and Nixon had pretty much promised to start World War III over two small islands off the coast of China called Quemoy and Matsu. (I’ve lived in Taiwan for fourteen years now and I still couldn’t tell you where to locate those little specks on a map.) The Republicans kept accusing the Democrats of “losing” China to the “communists,” but since I had never met a Chinese person or a “communist,” I really had no idea what all of this meant. Neither did anyone else of our age that I knew.

    In the end, when Kennedy and Nixon showed up to debate each other on televison, Nixon looked sick and unshaven while Kennedy had a suntan and looked healthy. Kennedy narrowly won the election and Nixon shaved three times a day for the rest of his political life. I can still remember a Mad Magazine cartoon featuring a little kid running away from a television set showing a scowling Richard Nixon crying: “Mommy, Mommy! Bad man! Bad man!” Television spectacle and imagery thereafter became the primary concern of American political campaigns.

    Post election 1960, President Eisenhower laid a trap for the new President Kennedy by allowing the CIA to go ahead with plans to invade Cuba with some ex-patriot Cuban exiles. The U.S. military brass went along with it figuring that it would fail and then a humiliated President Kennedy would have no choice but to let them in to do the job right. Kennedy never forgave the Joined Chefs of Stuff — “sons of bitches,” he called them — for setting him up like that but he soon found them and their Republican cohorts in Congress foaming at the mouth about Cuban Missiles after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Kennedy finally got a grip on things and worked out a back-channel deal with Soviet Premier Kruschev wherein the U.S would withdraw its missles from Turkey (without publicly admitting that it had done so) and the Soviet Union would widthdraw its missles from Cuba. None of this skillful diplomacy stuff reached us public school students, of course. Our teachers had very little to tell us except to find someplace to hide when the mushrooms started sprouting everywhere. People pretty much accepted stoicly that Armageddon might actually happen soon. Nothing any of us could do about it.

    Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had gotten ahead of the U.S. in space exploration with the launching of Sputnik during the Eisenhower administration. This had belatedly gotten something of a competitive effort going in the U.S. but things didn’t show much promise until JFK came out and directly challenged the American people to get with it and show the world what we as a nation could do when we had a goal worthy of the best in us. Personally popular with a lovely, cultured wife and two little children, the American people had grown to like President John F. Kennedy. People went to the beach and wore “Jack and Jakie” masks to keep from getting their faces sunburned. We identified with our President. Yes, the U.S. military had gotten the upper hand in their slow-ramping escalation of another losing quagmire in Southeast Asia. And, yes, President Kennedy did not feel politically strong enough to keep them out of policy decision-making — a dreadful misjudgement on his part — but even with his untimely murder during my junior year in high-school in 1963, the country felt the power of his vision for a “new frontier” in outer space and stuck with the Dream until it became a reality. No other president in my lifetime has come anywhere near touching that kind of responsive chord in the national heart and mind.

    Rest in Peace, John FitzGerald Kennedy. You didn’t do everything that you might have. You certainly did some things you shouldn’t have. But you did more than a little good. Most importantly, you asked us to finish a worthy job for you, and we did. I think most kindly of you for that.

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    1. Nice tribute, Mike. I recall my own role debating the 1976 election (I was 13), Gerald Ford versus Jimmy Carter. I had to debate in favor of Ford. I can’t recall what I said but I probably talked about Ford’s experience over the novice “peanut farmer” Carter.

      You touch on a key aspect to JFK’s legacy — his charisma. His ability to inspire. That can’t be dismissed. But it’s a shame how much of JFK’s image was false, fabricated, and exaggerated. It is often so, I suppose.

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      1. Speaking of imagery, real or fabricated: Like most kids my age, I only “knew” President John F. Kennedy from a great distance, through newspapers, magazines, and television, and then just for a short, three-year period. As FDR had learned to use the “new” technology of Radio to establish a connection with the American people in their homes, so JFK caught on quickly to the technological power of television to establish that same connection. As someone noted above, he looked “cool” to much of the country who saw him as intelligent and witty. I’ll always remember him saying that “The ship of state leaks from the top.” It did then and does now. Television gave us a glimpse of his self-deprecating nature when he attempted, on May 8, 1961, to present a medal of commendation to astronaut Alan B. Shepard for his fifteen minute flight up into space. President Kennedy dropped the medal, embarrassing everyone present, but he quickly recovered, making a joke about: This decoration, which has gone from the ground up.. The awkwardness dissipated. You can’t fake something like that.

        As a counter example of how not to skilfully exploit the television media, we had — only a year later — Nixon’s Bitter Concession Speech after losing the 1962 California governor’s election to Democrat Pat Brown, father of current California governor Jerry Brown, the only man to serve four terms in that office. Nixon had tried to make a quick political comeback after losing the Presidency to JFK the year before, but the California voters, usually quite conservative in those days, didn’t buy it. When Tricky Dick snarled that we “wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore,” no one took him at his word. Why would anyone do that? And sure enough, he broke that promise, too; came back for some more well-deserved kicking; and eventually got kicked out of the Presidency one step ahead of the prosecuting attorneys. If his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford, hadn’t summarily pre-pardoned him for anything whatsoever that he might have done, he would most likely have wound up in jail where he belonged. The outraged country then dumped Ford and elected Jimmy Carter to replace him.

        The American people had before them the images of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. They chose accordingly. Both the fake and the real came through clearly enough so that, all things considered, they chose as correctly as political circumstances in America ever allow.

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  5. Michael Murry, quote – The Republicans kept accusing the Democrats of “losing” China to the “communists”. I recall that ploy. Years later I read an article from a Left Wing type of author, who wrote the idea of “losing China” implied it was a rightful possession of ours. Since it was our possession, someone had to take the blame for losing it, which was Truman.

    Back when I was Catholic grade school in 1958-62, Quemoy and Matsu was almost always in the news. A nun asked one of our class wiseguys about Quemoy and Matsu. With a perfectly straight face he said, is that a new comedy team?? The class erupted in laughter. I visualized Quemoy and Matsu as a Chinese Comedy team in the fine tradition of Martin-Lewis, or Laurel and Hardy.

    There are several myths associated with Kennedy. Perhaps he approved the Bay of Pigs because the Eisenhower Regime had vetted it. Anyway, in the book The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, the Bay of Pigs would fail, but the idea was to send in the US military to the rescue. JFK decided against this.

    The Soviets seemed determined to test JFK, Berlin Wall, and Cuban Missiles.

    JFK faced other political considerations and one huge one looming over him was Civil Rights. The March on Washington on August 28, 1963 created a major challenge for JFK. The Solid South had delivered for him in 1960, but now he was caught in the middle. The Dixiecrats had in 1948 carried Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina in the presidential election. So, a defection from JFK was not a fantasy.

    JFK with a certainty inspired the space race. What a peaceful explosion of science and technology. Success was so regular space fight became almost routine. When trouble happened on Apollo 13, there was American team work and technology to put things right.

    It is hard to know what JFK might have done in Vietnam. The coup and killing of Diem, may have been part of plan to replace Diem, with more forceful leadership in South Vietnam against the VC rather than the Buddhists, so the war may have continued on course. Diem and his family had created a public relations nightmare. The possibility exists, then when Diem’s replacements failed, which they would, JFK could have made a cleaner break.

    Back then sexual misconduct was kept under strict wraps, by the press and political opponents. I doubt if any of his political enemies would have brought it up. Sexual misconduct is double edge sword for the person who pushes the issue.

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    1. You raise some interesting points for discussion, ML. Responding to each of them will take some time, so I hope you don’t mind if I take them up individually, in no particular order.

      Take your last point first, where you note the reluctance of the press to take up “sexual morality” issues back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” our parents taught us. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Pleasantville but it attempts to show the black-and-white television wasteland of cultural conservatism and crushing conformity just before the “sexual revolution” took off in 1966. As in that movie, television and films of the Eisenhower period had to show married couples sleeping in separate twin beds. The network censors simply would not tolerate the implications of a single large bed in the suffocatingly conformist suburban home. Surely, you remember all this.

      I can pinpoint the date of the “sexual revolution” rather precisely because I graduated from high school in June of 1965 and at that time no girl would have sex with us boys unless we proposed marriage first. They wanted a diamond ring, minimum, or no deal. The following year, several of my high school’s nine cheerleaders got pregnant “out of wedlock,” as the saying went. At a high school reunion many years later, one of my women classmates told me: “We girls thought that if you only had sex once, that you couldn’t get pregnant.” Damn! I just missed the boat.

      I mention this rather innocent time because, President Kennedy had to fit into that “responsible” “man in the grey flannel suit” imagery while his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier, carried about her person an air of fashionable French culture that women of the day found exciting and “new.” The bikini bathing suit had just made its “acceptable” appearance at the beach and all the girls wanted to wear one, but would only dare to do so if they could round up five more girls to wear one also. You could see them in their little “bikini gangs” giggling conspiratorially at the thought how “naughty” and “daring” they felt in the safety of a crowd. Sort of the “me too” phenomenon of the day. On the other hand, to the arch-conservative John Birch Republicans of Orange County among whom I grew up, anything “French” meant “pornographic,” although no one would utter that particular word out loud. The Republican elders of our reactionary environment saw the young and dashing Kennedy couple as a threat to public morals, but then, they thought that of any “Democrat” or “liberal.” Any mention of metropolitan Los Angeles in suburban Orange County put them in mind of Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, we still had “voluntary” Bible-study meetings before school officially started in the morning.

      JFK never lived to see the end of the innocence. He just missed it by a couple of years.

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  6. Whatever Pres Kennedy’s flaws ( which I believe became public posthumously….. I am not an Historian so do not know the details ) I admired him and had lot of respect for him. I did not think of him as a Hero but someone who inspired me. His assassination left me totally devastated. For me, it was a great loss for the world and what future could have been!
    I read a great book which described what he was trying to do and what he could have achieved if he had not been assassinated. To this day, his death anniversary is a day of unbearable sadness.
    “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters”
    by James W. Douglass
    More than likely, readers of this blog have already read this book!

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  7. I always loved the musical production of Camelot. I would often go to the library and check out a vinyl LP record which I would listen to in one of the little rooms reserved for that purpose. I especially enjoyed a lyrical line from Mordred, King Arthur’s illegitimate son by the witch Morgan Le Fey: “It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.” Always timely and appropriate, that observation.

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  8. JFK did keep the embargo in place on Cuba from day one of his administration. There is one school of thought that the US embargo on Castro drove Castro to give a full embrace of the Soviet Union.

    There is a good article in Counterpunch – It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes. As the author says: >> It was absurd to imagine that dictators like Kim Jong-un or Saddam Hussein would be influenced by the sufferings of their people*. There is nothing very new in this. Economic sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is being done. A difference is that such sieges used to be directed at starving out a single town or city while now they are aimed at squeezing whole countries into submission. <<

    * Back during WW 2 we carpet bombed Germany – sanctions in the extreme. Post war pictures of a portly Hermann Göring revealed it did not appear he missed a meal.

    Madeline Albright let the truth slip out not that it made difference to Americans: On May 12, 1996, Albright defended UN sanctions against Iraq on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" and Albright replied, "We think the price is worth it.

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  9. Thinking of President Kennedy’s death in November, 1963, followed by the stunning betrayals of his two immediate successors, Lyndon Johnson (1964-68) and Richard Nixon (1968-1975), not to mention the current and previous three Precious Peacock Pretenders to Power (1992-2018-and ?):

    Another Commander-in-Brief (or Grief)

    The Sacred Symbol Soldiers (or, in other words: “The Troops”)
    Provide a prophylaxis that prevents
    The slightest doubt about our military nincompoops
    Who decorate themselves with vain pretense
    On cue, at each new bungle, after which they mumble: “Oops!”
    (Just don’t touch their career entitlements.)

    Another Brief Commander has intruded on the scene
    To chiefly “tow the line” (by custom, red)
    Announcing his addiction to the vicious and obscene
    Which always seems to end with millions dead.
    Unfortunate, perhaps, but not intentionally mean
    (Just don’t cut the “war” budget – his real dread.)

    His generals, he claims, can do whatever they decide
    About the number of enlisted men
    That they’ll get killed or wounded to assuage their punctured pride
    At having lost another war – again –
    To barely armed “insurgents” who know how to wait and hide
    (Until the GI comes along, and then …)

    So after sixteen years of kicking cans down dreary roads
    With each year looking like the one before
    That old Vietnam Syndrome with its bitter, heavy loads
    Of irony explains the present score:
    The ever-promised “strategy” predictably implodes
    (Then come excuses and demands for more … )

    Hyperbole so hyperbolic that it hurts the ear.
    Superlatives so super that they stink.
    And repetition so repetitive that now we fear
    The paper paid-off pundits stain with ink.
    Exaggeration so erratic that no thing seems clear
    (The PURPOSE, after all: No way to think.)

    Once more the cunning candidate will preach of Peace on Earth
    And voters will make clear their wishes plain:
    To have an end to fighting for the few who from their birth
    Have seen no war from which they couldn’t gain.
    In office and saluting, though, “Commander” sees no dearth
    Of “reasons” to spill blood, inflicting pain.

    So ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round it goes:
    The Carousel of Cruelty revolves,
    As each new Brief Commander lifts his chin and strikes a pose,
    Producing problems no one ever solves,
    While Time and Tide continue in their ceaseless ebbs and flows
    Till Life itself surrenders and dissolves.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortuneteller.” copyright 2018

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    1. Less than a year after President Kennedy’s death, something disturbing seemed to have crept into our lives between my junior and senior years of high school. At the beach from June through August, 1964, some of our friends from the previous graduating class turned up with their shaved heads, fresh out of Marine Corps boot camp, showing off those big KA-BAR knives that the Marines carried with them. They looked more like swords. These indoctrinated young psychopaths seemed positively delighted at the prospects of getting to use these things on some Asian “enemies.” I could hardly recognize these guys from the year before when we played football and baseball together.

      Then, in the first semester of my senior hear in 1964, JFK’s successor as President: Lyndon Johnson, started his campaign for re-election, promising not to send us American boys to fight a war in Asia that Asian boys could fight themselves. He sounded just like Donald Trump did last year, before assuming office. Johnson beat Goldwater in a landslide. The American people did not want another Korean War and made that overwhelmingly clear. But President Johnson betrayed us all, the way all U.S. Presidents now regularly do. Every one of them without exception preaches peace to win election. Then they invariably give their generals the wars that they demand. It happens every time. The stunning cynicism of that betrayal by President Johnson, I think, severed once and for all time any sense of “patriotism” that I might once have felt for the “America” of my youth. From that point on, I became an alien in my own land. My government would later send me abroad for the worst possible reasons, to do the most unnecessary and shameful of things. That same me never came home again. Someone else did. A damaged, but better man, I think. But much less an “American” one.

      Which leads to a few more thoughts in verse with respect to:

      Leading From Behind

      Expatriate ex-patriots expectorate
      When REMFs proceed to hide behind the troops
      Extolling virtues of “heroic” men who met their fate
      In service to a penis pride that droops
      Each time a petty presidential potentate
      Ignites a war, and in his panties poops

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012

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    1. Nice review, Clif. I enjoyed reading it.

      My wife and I refer to Facebook as “Boast Book.” More than a few people do the “post and boast,” creating an image for themselves that is often at odds with reality. In a way, they are their own publicists. FB allows the illusion that each of us is a celebrity worthy of having our most mundane acts captured and repeated and “liked” by our peers. Look at me! I had sushi for lunch! (Attach photo of food here, and a smiling selfie.)

      And I’m not suggesting I’m immune from posting mundane stuff, e.g. photos of my cat in odd poses and places.

      It’s a strange world we live in today. Social media is tending to make us more insular, more self-referential, more narcissistic, concerned with image and creating our very own “reality” show.

      Perhaps Trump, at least in this sense, is the perfect president for the moment?

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      1. Trump is most certainly “the perfect president for the moment”. Fake, insincere, now turning to LIAR, who he bamboozled into desperate unemployed workers voting for him. Though the alternate was just as bad. Edward Bernay’s would applaud! So would his uncle Dr. Freud*. 2 GREEDY people for money & ‘fame’. (*Haha! Freud today? Rich women spending fortunes on his ‘couch’? A gigolo would be far more satisfying – and cheaper!)

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    2. From what I’ve read somewhere, it was Dad Joe Kennedy who said, “We’re gonna’ sell him, like a can of soup”. If ‘best dressed/worst dressed’ Hollyweird reporters had such mean, bitchy lists at the time, and were honest, Joe would get “Worst dressed Gangster” of the year. But he forked over plenty to Jackie to show up in French courtier stuff worth a decent car – EACH! Stolen money is always easy to spend; his ‘Ambassador’ role to England made sure as Prohibition ended, he’d get a cut of every bottle of gin & scotch bottle entering America.
      So booze made the money, but he was absolutely right about soup sales!

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  10. Interestingly, Democrats are tapping the Kennedy mystique again. Next week, Joseph Kennedy III, Congressman from Mass., is giving the State of Union reply to Trump’s speech. Joe Kennedy is the grandson of Bobby Kennedy and the great-nephew of JFK.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/state-of-the-union-2018-democrats-donald-trump-joseph-kennedy-iii-us-president-congress-a8179806.html

    Nothing against Joe Kennedy III, but the appeal to the Kennedy name is a retrograde decision, an appeal to nostalgia.

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    1. An Appeal to Nostalgia? Yes. Make America Good Again. (At Something)

      Personally, I wish that Donald Trump and his followers would stop misspelling the word “Grate” in conjunction with the adverb “Again” in their own MAGA slogan, as if the United States has somehow stopped rubbing raw the wounds of the world and only needs to resume doing that once more. “Still Grating After All These Years” (or SGAATY) might better serve as a theme song encapsulating the current American political zeitgeist, foreign and domestic, but six letters instead of four might not fit on the front of a small-sized baseball cap for sale by Trump, Inc., at a staged propaganda rally coming soon to a venue of viciousness near you.

      “Nostalgia”? Yes. I can remember a better time, probaby gone beyond recall. “Retrograde?” I don’t think so.

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      1. Mike: with respect to retrograde, a friend of mine put it well: “In the light of #MeToo and the reaction against mansplaining/womanising, and the need to not come across all East Coast-Hamptons monied liberal nepotistic elite, they are going with a Kennedy?”

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      2. It all depends on what the young man has to say, which we will all get to judge once he has said something. For awhile there, after the Grammy Awards, I thought that the Democrats might go with Oprah Winfrey, or — wait for it — Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who, for some reason, keeps showing up on CNN and other major media outlets to explain why the Democrats keep caving to President Donald Trump and the Republicans in return for vague promises of stuff like — get this — “potential for momentum.” What a hard-nosed negotiating team! See: Democrat Stuns CNN Host With Her Stupidity on the Jimmy Dore show. Priceless.

        Reminds me of when The Democrats swept into office in 2006 with most of the country — including conservative retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich — begging them to pull a 1975 and cut off funding for Deputy Dubya and Dick’s stupid quagmire disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, what does the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, do when given the “power of the purse”? She preemptively “takes impeachment off the table” and starts signing blank rubber checks for Dubya the Dimwit to cash without even having to sign them. Which prompted me to compose:

        Nancy the Negotiator

        Nancy the Negotiator
        Gives up first; surrenders later;
        Takes her cards from off the table,
        Then recites her loser fable:

        “We don’t have the votes we need,”
        Nancy says, in tones that bleed:
        “Mean Republicans will whine
        If we do not toe their line.”

        Nancy bows to George and Dick
        While her skinny ass they kick;
        Writes them checks both blank and rubber,
        Then proceeds to lamely blubber:

        “We don’t like what Dubya’s doing.
        Still, we quite enjoy the screwing.
        Masochism’s what we offer,
        Helping crooks to loot the coffer”

        “Sure, the squandered blood and treasure
        Goes to those we will not measure.
        Still, we promise you’ll adore us
        If you mark your ballot for us.”

        “Choices you don’t have assail you,
        Leaving only us who fail you.
        Nonetheless, we’ve gotten fatter.
        Why, then, should we think you matter?”

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2007

        “But wait!” the Democrats promised. “Once we elect the first black President in 2008 and give him majorities in both House AND Senate, then you’ll see us put an end to this permant war nonsense.” Sure. Which led not long afterward to me composing yet one more funeral dirge for those “all tough and stuff” Democrats and their fearless leader:

        Congenital Stockholm Syndrome

        He started by giving up quickly,
        Surrendering early his case.
        He offered to kiss their asses.
        Replying, they pissed in his face.

        Their urine, he thought, tasted strangely;
        Yet not at all bad to his taste.
        He’d gotten so used to it, plainly.
        Why let such a drink go to waste?

        The people who voted in favor
        Of him and his promise of “change”
        Now see in his many betrayals
        A poodle afflicted with mange.

        Each time that the surly and crazy
        Republicans out for his skin
        Condemn him for living and breathing,
        He graciously helps them to win.

        He’ll turn on his base in an instant
        With threats and disdain and neglect
        While bombing some Muslims so Cheney
        Might thrill to the lives that he’s wrecked.

        A black man in love with apartheid
        He offers his stalwart support
        To Zionists and their extortion
        With “More, please!” his only retort.

        A masochist begging for beatings
        Obama takes joy in abuse
        Receiving just what he has asked for
        Which makes him of no earthly use

        The little brown men that he’s murdered
        In homes far away from our land
        Bring profits obscene to his backers
        Who give him the back of their hand.

        Obama seeks praise from the vicious
        Republicans, no matter what.
        He suffers, apparently, nothing
        So much as his need to kiss butt.

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

        So, I’ll wait for the young Kennedy gentleman to speak his piece. If he can’t mop up after a self-tooting narcissist like Donald Trump, then he’ll have proven himself just as hapless and useless as most Congressional Democrats. After all, the billionaire donor class buys Republicans to win and rents Democrats to lose. Everyone gets paid for what they do best. A famous name guarantees nothing in itself. It just gives a person the opportunity for a respectful hearing. It won’t surprise me if Mr Kennedy makes nothing of his big chance. But if he does, then good for him. And if by any chance he should show that he has a pair of brass balls, the women will love him for them, no matter what they might say otherwise.

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  11. Here is something from JFK in 1951. He was on the right track at the time…

    “…as a 34 year old congressman, he had traveled with his brother Robert and sister Pat for seven weeks through India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. He came back moved by the poverty he saw, and by the strength of nationalist passion in countries long bridled by colonialism. ‘If one thing was bored into me as a result of my experience in the Middle as well as the Far East,’ he declared upon his return, ‘it is that Communism (read terrorism today) cannot be met effectively by merely the force of arms. The central core of our Middle Eastern policy is, or should be, not the export of arms (the US is now the #1 exporter of arms) or the show of armed might, but the export of ideas, of techniques, and the rebirth of our traditional sympathy for and understanding of the desires of men to be free.’ ”

    – from “The Icarus Syndrome” by Peter Beinart, which I very highly recommend.

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  12. “Defenders of JFK suggest he grew in office and would have seen the folly of continuing in Vietnam, but there’s little evidence to support this narrative.”

    On the contrary, there is solid evidence to support this narrative – at least with respect to Vietnam.
    Robert McNamara (JFK’s Secretary of Defense) speaking in “Fog of War” by Errol Morris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cYZLqnu3rs&t=4s
    Starting at 0:10

    McNamara: “October 2nd [1963] I had returned from Vietnam. At that time, we had 16,000 military advisors. I recommended to President Kennedy, and to the Security Council, that we establish a plan and an objective of removing all of them within 2 years.”

    Kennedy expresses reservations about the plan.

    McNamara: “We need a way to get out of Vietnam, and this is a way of doing it.”

    McNamara: “Kennedy announced that we were going to pull out all of our military advisors by the end of ’65. We were going to take a 1000 out at the end of ’63 and we did.”

    Unfortunately, JFK was assassinated before the full plan could be carried out and LBJ quickly reversed course once he assumed office.

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  13. I’ll leave this comment section saying I love all the comments, but us old guys – all of us – never forgot where we were when Kennedy was shot. I was in front of Grand Central Station, my 1st year in collage, taking a train back to the suburbs where I had a job as a busboy.
    The liquor fueled cocktail parties-it was mostly a Republican neighborhood – was silent. A TRAGEDY has stuck, whether you liked him or not. The community came together, hugged in this tragedy. Politics no longer mattered. A tragedy!
    Few can remember where they were on Martin Luther King Jr. or Robert Kennedy’s assassination.

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  14. A spot-on observation by Bill Astore above: “As you know, Mike, with Obama and Pelosi, it’s “fake left, run (and govern) right.” How true, but consider an even worse campaign concept by the Democrats: namely, “Let’s run to the Right of the Repblicans so they can beat us by stepping to the Left, back towards the true center of the country.” Hence:

    Always Moving to the Right (or, “Center”)

    Red-baiting wthout the reds,
    Dick Nixon without the dick,
    McCarthy went off her meds
    And tail-gunner Jane got sick.

    The Russians did something, but,
    No evidence proves a thing.
    The war witch got beat. So what?
    She wanted, and got, her fling:

    A last chance at breaking glass,
    The ceiling and not the floor,
    But fell on her ample ass
    And got booted out the door.

    She lost to a game-show host,
    A rookie on his first jaunt,
    A real-estate con at most,
    With money and wives to flaunt.

    More dollars she raised, then blew
    On pollsters who told her stuff,
    Except what they never knew:
    That people had said, “Enough!”

    They just wanted peace and jobs.
    No NAFTA or TPP.
    It hurt when she called them slobs,
    “Deploring” their dignity.

    She campaigned as if by rote,
    Neglecting a few key states.
    The neophyte, he took note
    And trashed her in their debates

    The voters held up one hand.
    The finger to her they gave,
    Then sent (with a TV brand!)
    Her dreams to an early grave.

    She never did think to look
    How far from the Left she’d run.
    So seeing, the Right-guy took
    One step to the Left — and won.

    She then wrote a book (she said),
    Explaining (though in the dark),
    “What Happened” the title read
    But left out the question mark.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018
    .

    Like

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