I say alas because I would have given her listeners a contrary view to the overwhelming and suffocating adulation of JFK dished out by the media. Indeed, the only criticism I saw in print other than mine was that of Noam Chomsky.
Robert Dallek had a column in the New York Times headlined: “What made Kennedy great.” Answer: his charisma. Charisma has nothing to do with greatness as you can learn from reading about Lincoln.
Newspapers carried features asking readers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the assassination. As if anyone cares.
Even Dennis Myers, the usually insightful and level-headed reporter for the Reno News & Review, caught the frenzied hype. He gushed about two Kennedy speeches, as if rhetoric has anything to do with deeds.
Myers quoted labor leader John L. Lewis declaring after one speech that JFK uttered “a sentence that changed the United States forever.” He quoted the Times observation that JFK delivered “one of the most emotional speeches” of his presidency.
He noted absurdly “the world nearly ended” in the 1962 nuclear showdown. Myers concluded on another absurd note: “Kennedy helped make the world safer and the United States more just. In two days he accomplished more than many presidents have in eight years.”
Media critic Chomsky dug beneath the JFK rhetoric:
• “Kennedy attacked South Vietnam. In 1961-1962 he sent the Air Force to bomb villages and authorized chemical warfare to destroy food crops in order to starve the rebellious population into submission. He started a program that drove millions of villagers into urban slums--‘strategic hamlets’--seeking to prevent their support for guerrillas.”
• “The invasion of Cuba was outright aggression. He launched a cruel campaign against Cuba: bombardment of industrial installations, blasting hotels, sinking fishing boats, wielding sabotage and killing many people. He backed economic sanctions on Cuba that still exist today.”
My column seconded the Chomsky view. Kennedy got Congress to impose beastly economic sanctions on Cuba, a Cold War anachronism that still exists. It was a draconian measure typical of this “exceptional” nation.
JFK was hardly “world changing.” Rather, he was a grubby politician who vowed to pull out of Vietnam--but only after his re-election. It was Lyndon Johnson who achieved the great Civil Rights Act of 1964, not the cautious, fearful politician JFK.
Kennedy’s speeches soared but his deeds were often criminal. In a great distortion of history, nearly all Americans swallowed the JFK Camelot myth.
During the 1960 campaign he promised a “stroke of the president’s pen” to guarantee equality of opportunity. Yet he delayed because of his political ties to white Southern Democrats.
Martin Luther King urged, in a manifesto to the Kennedy White House, a second Emancipation Proclamation eliminating all forms of discrimination. He declared: “The time has come, Mr. President, to let those dawn-like rays of freedom, first glimpsed in 1863, fill the heavens with the noonday sunlight of human dignity.”
JFK, the politician not the rhetorician, balked. His book on historic profiles in courage was greatly applauded. His presidency did not follow its precepts.