President Kennedy Assassinated!
But as long as we’re looking at him and hearing about him, we might as well think about who he was and what he meant to us. Like the rest of us, Kennedy was a walking bundle of contradictions.
The Senator Kennedy who ran for re-election in 1958 flogging a non-existent “missile gap” signed, as President, a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. This, at the height of the cold war, when mushroom clouds were a tourist attraction in Nevada and nuclear fallout was raining down on upstate New York.
This elected plutocrat, whose father famously told him not to buy one more vote than was needed because “I’m not paying for a landslide,” may have been the first “trickle-down economist.” Remember “a rising tide lifts all boats?” Funny though, the Revenue Act of 1964 ultimately passed under LBJ lowered top income tax rates from 91% to 70%, and corporate rates from 52% to 48%. How many of today’s tax protesters could get their minds around rates like that. In those days corporate taxes were twice the share of revenue they are today; goes to show who’s running the country now that corporations are ‘people’ and money is ‘speech.’ Contrary to predictions, tax revenue as percent of GDP actually increased after these cuts, and unemployment fell. Unfortunately, tax cutters in decades since then have had no such success. A funny note from one of the bios on PBS; Kennedy said that he first learned of the Great Depression studying history, that he was unaware of it growing up in the 1930’s.
The Cold Warrior who went along with the Bay of Pigs invasion, Operation Mongoose and other horrors found another way when the Joint Chiefs advised that he respond to Soviet missiles in Cuba with a nuclear first strike on Russia and China (why China? –‘because we could.’)
And then there’s Vietnam. Biographer Richard Reeves quotes Kennedy saying in 1963: “We don’t have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our asses out of there at any point. But I can’t give up that territory to the communists and get the American people to re-elect me.” Lyndon Johnson continued this hopeless escalation because to end it would have been bad politics. So did maybe a million people die because of the illusions and ambitions of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations? -And people call the assassination a tragedy.
And last, there are the foibles. Not just talking Marilyn here, or the college girls the Secret Service snuck into the White House swimming pool; Kennedy had affairs with a Soviet spy and a Mafia mistress. His staff and the press may have covered for him, but J. Edgar Hoover had his number. This may be a product of wealth and privilege, or his upbringing; Joseph Kennedy was linked to silent movie star Gloria Swanson. Maybe the fact that JFK grew up almost dead had something to do with it. By the time he turned forty years old he had been administered last rites three times. Who can say. It is scary to think that this sex-addicted risk-taker, gravely ill, nearly crippled and injected with all manner of steroids, speed and painkillers was at times charged with the fate of the free world.