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THE POLITICS OF SCAPEGOATING: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 28, 2013 at 12:00 am

With the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Republican Party went into a tailspin of dismay.

For almost 50 years, Republicans had conjured up The Red Bogeyman to scare voters into sending them to Congress and the White House.

But now that the “workers’ paradise” had disappeared, Americans seemed to lose interest in the Communist Menace.

True, the People’s Republic of China remained, and its increasing economic clout would challenge the United States well into the 21st century.  But Americans didn’t seem to fear the Red Chinese as they had the Red Russians.

What was the Republican Party to do to lure voters?

On September 11, 2001, the answer arrived–in two highjacked jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and one that struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Exit The Red Bogeyman.  Enter The Maniacal Muslim.

Consider:

  • Mike Huckabee - “If the purpose of a church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I have a hard time understanding that.”
  • Herman Cain - ”I would not” appoint a Muslim in his administration.
  • Newt Gingrich - “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they [his grandchildren] are my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists. …”
  • Rick Santorum On supporting the racial profiling of Muslims: “Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at, absolutely.”
  • Mitt Romney - “Based on the numbers of American Muslims in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position [for a Muslim] would be justified.”

And on July 13, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) sent letters to the Inspectors General of the Departments of

  • Defense;
  • State;
  • Justice; and
  • Homeland Security.

“The purpose of these letters,” wrote Bachmann, was to “request a multi-department investigation into potential Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into the United States Government.”

Michelle Bachmann

Bachmann further asserted in her letter to the State Department that Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

And the evidence for this?

The Center for Security Policy’s claim that Abedin’s father (who died when she was a teenager), mother and brother are “connected” to the organization.

And what is the Center of Security Policy?  A private organization subsidized by donors to neo-conservative causes.

In a separate letter, Bachmann demanded to know how Abedin received her security clearance.

Among the co-signers of Bachmann’s letter to the Inspectors General were:

  • Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who has said abortion has done more harm to blacks than slavery;
  • Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who called presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, ”uppity”; and
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who claims that terrorist organizations send pregnant women into the U.S. so that their children will be American citizens–who can enter and leave the country at will as they are trained to be terrorists abroad.

When pressed for their evidence of “a vast Muslim conspiracy,” right-wing accusers usually refuse to provide any.

An example of this occurred during an August 13, 2010 interview between Gohmert and CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

COOPER: What research? Can you tell us about the research?

GOHMERT: You are attacking the messenger, Anderson, you are better than this. You used to be good. You used to find that there was a problem and you would go after it.

COOPER: Sir, I am asking you for evidence of something that you said on the floor of the House.

GOHMERT: I did, and you listen, this is a problem. If you would spend as much time looking into the problem as you would have been trying to come after me and belittle me this week –

COOPER: Sir, do you want to offer any evidence? I’m giving you an opportunity to say what research and evidence you have. You’ve offered none, other than yelling.

Nor did Gohmert offer any evidence that evening.

Of course, the ultimate Republican Muslim slander is that President Barack Obama–a longtime Christian–is himself a Muslim.

No doubt Republicans feel totally safe in making these attacks, since Muslims comprise only 1% of the American population.

This has long been a hallmark of right-wing attacks–to go after a minority that cannot effectively defend itself.

Thus, Adolf Hitler attacked the Jews of Germany.

And Republicans have successively attacked blacks, Hispanics and gays–until each group became politically influential enough to defeat Republican candidates.

Today, most right-wing politicians at least grudgingly court all of these groups.

When Muslims become a significant political force in their own right, the Right will court them, too.  And then move on to yet another helpless scapegoat to blame for America’s troubles.

THE POLITICS OF SCAPEGOATING: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 27, 2013 at 12:05 am

“Judge not, that you not be judged.  For with what judgment you judged, you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

So warns the Gospel of St. Matthew, 7:1-2.  It’s advice that Right-wingers Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch and George H.W. Bush would have done well to heed.

Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin’s gift to the United States Senate, became infamous as the demagogue whose Red-baiting accusations terrified America from 1950 to 1954.

Joseph McCarthy

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Americans were already growing increasingly fearful of Communism:

  • Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had not withdrawn the Red Army from the countries it had occupied in Eastern Europe during World War II.
  • In 1948, the Soviet Union developed–and demonstrated–its own atomic bomb, an achievement U.S. scientists had claimed would not happen for at least a decade.
  • In 1949, China fell to the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung.

But anti-communism as a lever to political advancement sharply accelerated following McCarthy’s speech.  Republicans–resentful at being denied the White House since 1932–seized upon anti-communism as their passport to power.

No American–no matter how prominent–was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer–”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the style of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan
  • President Harry S. Truman
  • Playwright Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb
  • Actressses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett

Even “untouchable” Republicans became targets for such slander.

The most prominent of these was President Dwight D. Eisenhower–labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, who founded the John Birth Society in 1958.

Robert Welch

Welch, an independently wealthy businessman, used his money to publicize the Society and its views.  Welch saw even hardline anti-Communists like Vice President Richard Nixon and actor Ronald Reagan as dangerously liberal.

Meanwhile, McCarthy finally overstepped himself.  In 1953, he attacked the leadership of the United States Army as “a hotbed of traitors” and convened an inquiry through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But the hearings backfired, exposing McCarthy as the bullying demagogue he was.  A Senate committee voted to condemn his behavior, charging that he had “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

Although McCarthy remained in the Senate another two and a half years, his political influence had ended.

Journalists who had raced to cover his latest slander now avoided him.  So did his Republican colleagues–many of whom had once sought his help at election time.

Yet even without McCarthy, Republicans rode the issue of anti-Communism to victory from 1948 to 1960.

After holding the White House for eight years under Eisenhower, they lost it in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 to Lyndon Johnson.

By 1968, with the nation mired in Vietnam and convulsed by antiwar demonstrations, Americans turned once more to those who preyed upon their fears and hates.  They elected Richard Nison–and re-elected him in 1972.

After Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 and lost it in 1980, Republicans held the White House until 1992.  Throughout that time, they continued to accuse their opponents of being devious agents–or at least unwitting pawns–of “the Communist conspiracy.”

Even as late as 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

Their evidence: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow.

Thus, the Republican charged that he might have been “programmed” as a real-life “Manchrian candidate” to become, first, Governor of Arkansas–one of America’s poorest states–and then President.

What made this charge all the more absurd: The Soviet Union had officially dissolved in December, 1991.

Although Republicans continued to hurl “Communist!” and “treason!” at their opponents, these charges no longer carried the weight they had while the Soviet Union existed.

Right-wingers had to settle for attacking their opponents as “liberals” and “soft on crime.”

Then, on September 11, 2001, Republicans–and their right-wing supporters–at last found a suitable replacement for the Red Menace.

THE POLITICS OF SCAPEGOATING: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 26, 2013 at 12:09 am

“All revolutions,” said Ernst Rohem, leader of Adolf Hitler’s brown-shirted thugs, the S.A., “devour their own children.”

Ernst Rohem

Fittingly, he said this as he sat inside a prison cell awaiting his own execution.

On June 30, 1934, Hitler had ordered a massive purge of his private army, the S.A., or Stormtroopers.  The purge was carried out by Hitler’s elite army-within-an-army, the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS.

The S.A. Brownshirts had been instrumental in securing Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.  They had intimidated political opponents and organized mass rallies for the Nazi Party.

But after Hitler reached the pinnacle of power, they became a liability.

Ernst Rohem, their commander, urged Hitler to disband the regular German army, the Reichswehr, and replace it with his own legions as the nation’s defense force.

Frightened by Rohem’s ambitions, the generals of the Reichswehr gave Hitler an ultimatum: Get rid of Rohem–or they would get rid of him.

So Rohem died in a hail of SS bullets–as did several hundred of his longtime S.A. cronies.

SS firing squad

Among the SS commanders supervising those executions was Reinhard Heydrich–a tall, blond-haired formal naval officer who was both a champion fencer and talented violinist.

Ultimately, he would become the personification of the Nazi ideal–”the man with the iron heart,” as Hitler eulogized at Heydrich’s funeral just eight years later.

Reinhard Heydrich

Even so, Heydrich had a problem: He could never escape vicious rumors that his family tree contained a Jewish ancestor.

His paternal grandmother had married Reinhold Heydrich, and then Gustav Robert Suss.  For unknown reasons, she decided to call herself Suss-Heydrich.

Since “Suss” was widely believed in Germany to indicate Jewish origin, the “stigma” of Jewish heritage attached itself to the Heydrich family.

Heydrich joined the SS in 1931 and quickly became head of its counterintelligence service.  But his arrogance and overweening ambition created a great many enemies.

Only a year later, he became the target of an urgent investigation by the SS itself.

The charge: That he was part-Jewish, the ultimate sin in Hitler’s “racially pure” Nazi Germany.

The investigation cleared Heydrich, but the rumor of his “tainted” origins persisted, clearly tormenting the second most powerful man in the SS.

Even his superior, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsfuhrer-SS, believed it.

When Heydrich was assassinated in 1942 by Czech assassins in Prague, Himmler attended his funeral.

He paid tribute to his former subordinate at the service–”You, Reinhard Heydrich, were a truly good SS-man.”  But he could not resist saying in private:

“He was an unhappy man, completely divided against himself, as often happened with those of mixed race.”

Those who dare to harshly judge others usually find themselves assailed just as harshly.

A modern-day example is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and now a candidate for U.S. Senator from Wyoming.

Liz is positioning herself as far more right-wing than her opponent, Republican U.S. Senator Michael Bradley “Mike” Enzi.

She has her work cut out for her: In March, 2007, Enzi was ranked by National Journal as the sixth-most conservative U.S. Senator.

Among his legislative priorities:

  • Supporting partial privatization of Social Security
  • Consistently voting against expanding Medicare.
  • Voting against enrolling more children or the poor in public healthcare.

 

                     Mike Enzi

And Liz has a problem Enzi does not: Her sister, Mary, is not only a lesbian but legally married to another woman: Heather Poe.

This has led many Wyoming voters to wonder if Liz Cheney is far-Right enough to merit their support.

So Liz is going all-out to assure them that even though her sister leads a degenerate lifestyle, she, Liz, stands foursquare against legalizing gay marriage:

“I do believe it’s an issue that’s got to be left up to states. I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.”

Liz Cheney

And, in another statement: “I am strongly pro-life and I am not pro-gay marriage.

“I believe the issue of marriage must be decided by the states, and by the people in the states, not by judges and not even by legislators, but by the people themselves.”

This stance has led to a heated rift between her and Mary.

“For the record, I love my sister, but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage,” Mary Cheney wrote in a Facebook post in September.

“Freedom means freedom for everyone,” she continued. “That means that all families–regardless of how they look or how they are made–all families are entitled to the same rights, privileges and protections as every other.”

Adding to the complications: Their father, Dick Cheney—often ridiculed as “Darth Vader” for his own extreme Right-wing views—endorsed same-sex marriage in 2009.

But, as was true for officials in Nazi Germany, so is it true for Right-wing Republicans: It’s impossible to be too radical a Right-winger.

In the 1930s and 40s, it was politically—and personally—dangerous to be labeled “pro-Jewish” or “pro-Communist” in Hitler’s Germany.

And today it is equally dangerous—at least politically—to be labeled “pro-liberal” or “pro-gay” in the Republican Party.

MACHIAVELLI SAW IT COMING

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on November 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

All the warning signs were there in The Prince for anyone to read.

Especially President Barack Obama.

And either he skipped those chapters or he ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.

The chapter he should have started with was 6: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Early in his first term as President, Obama decided to reform the American healthcare system.  Before taking any such action, he should have carefully considered the following:

…There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. 

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

Another chapter he should have consulted was 19: “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

For openers, Niccolo Machiavelli writes:

…The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised.  And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….

He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger…. 

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude.  As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.

The prince who creates such an opinion of himself gets a great reputation, and it is very difficult to conspire against one who has a great reputation.  [He] will not be easily attacked, so long as it is known that he is capable and reverenced by his subjects.

Obama started off well.  Americans had high expectations of him.

This was partly due to his being the first black elected President.  And it was partly due to the legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.

But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on. With the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs.

This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.

But Obama chose to spend most of his first two years as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which soon became known as Obamacare–through Congress.

The results were:

  • Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.
  • The reform effort became a lightning rod for conservate groups like the Tea Party.
  • In 2010, a massive right-wing turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.

Yet even worse was to come for the President.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised that, under it:  “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period.  If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period.”

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

It soon turned out that a great many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare: Charged and ridiculed as a liar.

Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.

As a result, the President now finds his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.

According to a CBS poll released on November 20, only 37% of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, down from 46% in late October.  CBS called that rating “the lowest of his presidency.”

All of which takes us to the final warning offered by Machiavelli:

Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

Fifty years ago this November 22, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.  From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverence.

White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Contrast that with today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 21, 2013 at 12:16 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachussetts in 1952.

In 1956, his eloquence and political skill almost won him the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.  But the nominee, Adlai Stevenson, chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as his running mate.

Fortunately for Kennedy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for re-election, easily beat Stevenson.

Had Kennedy been on the ticket, his Catholic religion would have been blamed for the loss–and almost certainly prevented him from getting the Presidential nomination in 1960.

In 1957, his book, Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

From 1957 to 1960, Kennedy laid plans for a successful Presidential race.  Many voters thought him too young and inexperienced for such high office.

But he used his TV debates with then-Vice President Richard Nixon to calm such fears, transforming himself overnight into a serious contender.

Many Americans identified with Kennedy as they had with film stars.  In contrast with normally drab politicians, he seemed exciting and glamorous.

Since 1960, for millions of Americans, mere competence in a President isn’t enough; he should be charming and movie-star handsome as well.

John F. Kennedy after taking a swim at Santa Monica Beach, 1960

But charismatic politicians face the danger of waning enthusiasm.

Many people were growing disillusioned with Kennedy before he died.  He had raised hopes that couldn’t be met–especially among blacks.

And many whites bitterly opposed his support of integration, believing that Kennedy was “moving too fast” in changing race relations.

Still, for millions of Americans, Kennedy represented a time of change.

“Let’s get this country moving again” had been his campaign slogan in 1960.  He had demanded an end to the non-existent “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union.

And he had said that America should create full employment and re-evaluate its policies toward Africa, Latin America and Asia.

His youth, the grace and beauty of his wife and the oft-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was on the way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to change as many believed.

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He had made no outcry against the Red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a frequent dinner guest at the home of his father.
  • As President, Kennedy never forgot that he had been elected by a margin of 112,881 votes.  He often rationalized his refusal to tackle controversial issues by saying: “We’ll do it after I’m re-elected.  So we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”
  • He thought it absurd for the United States to refuse to recognize “Red”China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy in that area.

Nevertheless, many historians believe that. by vocally supporting civil rights and healthcare for the elderly, Kennedy laid the groundwork for Lyndon Johnson’s legislative victories.

Perhaps no aspect of Kennedy’s Presidency has received closer study than his assassination.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have hotly debated whether he was murdered by a lone “nut” or a deadly conspiracy of powerful men.

JFK’s assassination: The moment of impact

The murder has been the subject of two government investigations.  The first, by the Warren Commission in 1964, concluded that an embittered ex-Marine and Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone in killing Kennedy.

Similarly, the Commission determined that nightclub owner Jack Ruby had killed Oswald on impulse, and not as the result of a conspiracy.

Millions of disbelieving Americans rejected the Warren Report–and named their own villains:

  • the KGB;
  • Anti-Castro Cubans;
  • Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson;
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders;
  • Fidel Castro.

Each of these groups or persons had reason to hate Kennedy:

  • The KGB–for Kennedy’s humiliation of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Anti-Castro Cubans–for JFK’s refusal to commit American military forces to overthrowing Castro at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Lyndon Johnson–lusting for power, he stood to gain the most from Kennedy’s elimination.
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders–for believing that Kennedy had “sold out” the country to the Soviet Union.
  • Fidel Castro–knowing the CIA was trying to assassinate or overthrow him, he had reason to respond in kind.

The second investigation, conducted in 1977-79 by the House Assassinstions Committee, determined that Oswald and a second, unknown sniper had fired at Kennedy.  (Oswald was deemed the assassin; the other man’s shot had missed.)

The Chief Counsel for the Committee, G. Robert Blakey, believed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination, owing to his hatred of Robert Kennedy for his war on the crime syndicates.

Still, 50 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has come forward to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

The impact of Kennedy’s death on popular culture remains great.  Millions saw him as an American sccess story–a brilliant and courageous hero who had worked his way to the top.

But his sudden and violent end proved a shock for those who believed there was always a happy ending.

If so gifted–and protected–a man as John F. Kennedy could be so suddenly and brutally destroyed, no one else could depend on a secure future.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART EIGHT (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2013 at 12:05 am

Throughout his life, John F. Kennedy was lucky–both personally and politically.

Part of the secret lay in his physical presence.  He was young and handsome, witty and articulate.

He appeared zestful and athletic despite a series of ailments, including Addison’s disease (a malfunction of the adrenal glands) and an injured back that required the use of a brace.

His wit was sophisticated and often self-depcrecating.  Addressing an assembly of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, he said: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

JFK making a joke at a press conference

And his sense of humor often defused otherwise ticklish problems.  During the 1960 Presidential race, he was sharply criticized for relying on his millionaire father for much of his funding.  At a campaign rally, he deflected the charge with humor:

“I just received a telegram from my generous Daddy.  It says: ‘Dear Jack: Don’t buy one more vote than necessary.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.’”

Another controversey emerged when he named his brother, Robert, Attorney General.  Critics charged that the appointment smacked of neoptism–and that Robert didn’t have enough legal gravitas to be the nation’s chief law enforcement offer.

“I see nothing wrong in giving Robert a little experience before he goes out to practice law,” he said at a press conference.

His highly-polished rhetoric–produced by wordsmiths such as Theodore Sorensen–dazzled audiences.  His Inaugural Address was acclaimed by Democrats and even most Republicans.

Its signature line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has become as famous as Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

His speeches often urged Americans to seek a higher cause than mere self-interest.  Speaking of the role of the arts in a nation’s life, he said:

“It may be different elsewhere, but [in] democratic society…the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”

Memorial at the Arlington gravesite for John F. Kennedy

But he could be blunt and profane in private.

“My father always told me all businessmen were sonsofbitches, but I never believed it till now,” he said in private when the steel companies made an inflationary price increase in 1962.

Like Richard Nixon, Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the White House.  And, as with Nixon, this picked up many of his profanities.  Unlike Nixon, however, Kennedy died before his secret taping system was discovered.

Kennedy impressed many journalists with his capacity for detail.

“He swallows and digests whole books in minutes.  His eye seizes instantly on the crucial point of a long memorandum.  He confounds experts with superior knowledge of their field,” wrote Games McGregor Burns in 1961.

Having briefly worked as a journalist (covering the opening of the United Nations Assembly in 1945) JFK understood and catered to the sensitivities of the Washington press corps.

Using charm, wit, candor and selective accessibility, he cultivated his own favored group of reporters. Critics charged that he was manipulating the media–and they were right.

Sometimes the manipulation was heavy-handed.  He pressured The New York Times to censor its coverage of actions he intended to take–such as during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But he failed to coerce the Times into removing David Halberstam, its Vietnam correspondent, whose highly critical articles cast doubt on the effectiveness of the American military commitment to Vietnam.

A major part of Kennedy’s appeal lay in his glamorous background.  He was born–on May 29, 1917–into a large, robust family headed by wealthy and powerful financier Joseph P. Kennedy.

He attended Princeton and Harvard, graduating from the latter with top honors.

During World War II he became a Naval hero in 1943 after a Japanese destroyer sliced his PT boat in half–by towing an injured shipmate to safety.  Stranded on a South Pacific island, Kennedy persuaded a native to summon rescue help from the U.S. Navy.

Kennedy had no plans for a postwar political career.  That had been assigned to his elder brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., by their ambitious father, who was determined to seat the first Irish Catholic President.

After learning of his younger brother’s heroism, Joseph volunteered for a dangerous Naval bombing mission.  On August 12, 1944, he and a co-pilot flew an explosives-laden plane from England toward France.

While over the English Channel, they were supposed to parachute from the aircraft–after activating a remote control system to send the plane crashing into a German command center.

But the plane mysteriously exploded before the pilots could eject–and before the plane reached its target.

The death of his elder brother ended John F. Kennedy’s plans for a career as a writer.  Joseph Kennedy, Sr., insisted that “Jack” assume the political career that the Kennedy patriarch had assigned for his dead brother.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART SEVEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

John F. Kennedy fired the imaginations and captured the hearts of Americans and foreign citizens as no President since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Millions who voted for him–or against him or didn’t vote at all–still believe that, if only he had lived to be re-elected, America would have entered a truly Golden Age.

Kennedy certainly encouraged such belief.  Asked for his definition of happiness, he quoted the ancient Greeks: “The full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

Almost 50 years after his death on November 22, 1963, he remains frozen in time.  Assassinated at age 46, he remains forever young, vigorous and charming.

But even if he had not been assassinated, his Presidency could have ended in disaster.

After his 1953 marriage to Jaqueline Bouvier, he continued to pursue both a married and a bachelor life.  Rumors of Kennedy’s extramarital affairs swirled throughout his Senatorial career and followed him into the White House.

His conquests included secretaries, wives of friends, strippers, movie stars (such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich) prostitutes and even a mobster’s mistress.

Various theories have been advanced for his taking such dangerous risks with his political career:

  • As a victim of Addison’s Disease (insufficiency of the adrenal glands) he had been told by doctors he might not live beyond 35.
  • As a result of the cortisone he took to control his Addison’s, his libido was greatly enhanced.
  • After escaping death with the sinking of PT-109, he decided to cram as much excitement into his life as possible.
  • His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a notorious womanizer, had encouraged him and his three other sons to sleep with as many women as possible.

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, Frank Sinatra–who had become smitten with Kennedy and was determined to see him elected–introduced him to a “good time girl” named Judith Campbell.

Judith Campbell

Whether Kennedy knew it or not, Campbell was also sleeping with Sam Giancana–the most-feared Mafia boss in Chicago.  And it wasn’t long before Giancana learned about her trysts with Kennedy.

As a favor to Sinatra, Giancana and his fellow mobsters used their powerful influence to ensure that JFK carried Illinois in 1960.

Sam Giancana

In turn, JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy had promised Giancana that the Mob would get a free ride under a Kennedy Presidency.

When JFK appointed his brother, Robert, Attorney General, the latter declared war on organized crime.  Giancana and his fellow hoods felt betrayed.

Giancana often raged to Campbell: “If it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t be President.”  And having knowledge of her scandalous relationship with JFK, Giancana was in a position to expose Kennedy to what would be a shocked public.

And if Giancana didn’t do it, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover might.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Hoover, under relentless pressure from Robert Kennedy to crack down on the Mob, had, through illegal electronic surveillance, discovered the Giancana-Campbell-Kennedy connection.

Always fearful that he might be replaced as FBI director, Hoover had quickly alerted the Attorney General to his latest discovery in February, 1962.  Neither RFK nor JFK could not dare fire Hoover now.

White House telephone logs reveal that, from January, 1961 until February, 1962, Campbell phoned the White House 70 times.

After Hoover informed Robert Kennedy of Campbell’s status with the President, she made only one more call to Kennedy.  It was then that the President said the affair was over.

Similarly, the President’s on-and-off affair with Marilyn Monroe put him in an equally dangerous position.  Monroe’s behavior, fueled by emotional instability, alcohol and pills, became increasingly erratic.  And she grew convinced that Kennedy should divorce Jackie and make her the new First Lady.

Rumors still circulate that the President sent Robert Kennedy–who was by now an old hand at cleaning up JFK’s messes–to tell Monroe their relationship was over.

Whatever secrets Monroe may have been able to reveal about her relationship with Kennedy, she took them to the grave in an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills on August 5, 1962.

In his 1995 bestseller, The Dark Side of Camelot, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh got several former members of Kennedy’s Secret Service detail to speak about JFK’s extramarital sex life.

They revealed that they had not been allowed to search any of the women Kennedy cavorted with.

Any of these women could have injected the President with a poisonous hypodermic.  Or secretly tape recorded their trysts with Kennedy for blackmail purposes.

Kennedy believed he would be re-elected in 1964–especially if his opponent was Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senator from Arizona.

And he almost certainly would have been re-elected; Lyndon Johnson scored a smashing victory over Goldwater that year.

But it’s also possible that Kennedy could have been forced to resign in disgrace over his affairs with Campbell, Monroe or any number of other women.

Such a fate overtook British Secretary of State for War John Profumo in 1962.  In 1961, he had begun an affair with Christine Keeler, an attractive model.  But Keeler was also bedding Yevgeney Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Britain.

When the press learned about the threesome, Profumo was forced to resign, his 22-year political career destroyed.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART SIX (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 18, 2013 at 12:00 am

President Kennedy’s untimely death has since fueled arguments over how, if he had lived, he would have dealt with Vietnam.

In his memoirs, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote: “Kennedy would have never let his country get bogged down in Vietnam.”

But David Halberstam, who covered the early years of the war for The New York Times, came to a different conclusion.

David Halberstam in Vietnam

In his bestselling 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest, he wrote that although Kennedy questioned the wisdom of a combat commitment, he had never shown those doubts in public.

In public, he had expressed doubts only about the Diem regime–whether it held enough support among the Vietnamese to win the war.

His successor had to deal with Kennedy’s public statements, all supportive of the importance of Vietnam.

And it was that successor, newly-elevated President Lyndon B. Johnson, who decided, in 1965, to commit heavy military forces to protecting “freedom-loving” South Vietnam.

In short: Even if Kennedy had intended to withdraw American forces after winning re-election in 1964, he made a fatal mistake: He assumed there would always be time for him to do so.

Historian Thurston Clarke, in his 2013 book JFK’s Last Hundred Days, reached a totally diferent conclusion: That Kennedy planned to quietly remove American military advisors regardless of the military situation.

Like Halberstam, Clarke believes that Kennedy intended to gradually withdraw troops from Vietnam–but felt he could not afford to inflame the Right during an election year.

Essentially, the question, “What would  Kennedy have done?”–on Vietnam, civil rights, relations with the Soviet Union–lies at the heart of his continuing fascination among Americans.

For millions, the later turmoil of the 1960s remains such a traumatic memory that they assume: “America would have had to be better-off if Kennedy had lived.”

But much of Kennedy’s proposed legislation–such as his civil rights act–did not become law until President Johnson overcame conservative opposition to it.

Johnson had first been elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, where he gained influence as a protege of its speaker, Sam Rayburn.  In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and eventually became  one of its most powerful members–especially after becoming its Majority Leader in 1954.

Johnson knew the strengths and weaknesses of his political colleagues, and he ruthlessly exploited this knowledge to ensure the passage of legislation he supported.

Kennedy had served in the House from 1946 to 1952, and from 1952 to 1961 in the Senate.  But he had never been a major leader in either body.

It was as a Senator that he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage.  But it was also as a Senator that he refused to vote on whether U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy should be censured by his Senatorial colleagues.

In 1954, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy, whose slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.  McCarthy’s influence as a political figure died overnight.

Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, was a strong McCarthy supporters   And Robert F. Kennedy had briefly worked for McCarthy’s Red-baiting Senate subcommitee.

JFK’s refusal to say how he would have voted on censuring McCarthy damaged his support among liberals during the 1960 election.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that Kennedy should show “more courage and less profile.”

Although Lyndon Johnson’s legislative achievements as Senator and President remain unprecedented, he has become a pariah figure among Democrats.

His 1965 decision to wage all-ou war in Vietnam ignited nationwide protests and elected Richard M. Nixon as President in 1968.

Like a doomed character in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, he has largely become an un-person.

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy continues to endlessly fascinate Americans.  In poll after poll they continue to rate him highly–even though he served less than three years in the White House.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about JFK.  On the big screen he’s been depicted by actors such as Cliff Robertson (PT 109), Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) and James Marsden (The Butler).

Movie poster for PT-109

On TV, he’s been portrayed by William Devane (The Missiles of October), William Petersen (The Rat Pack), Martin Sheen (Kennedy), James Franciscus (Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy) and Cliff De Young (Robert Kennedy and His Times).

William Devane as John F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October

Kennedy has even appeared on Saturday Night Live (perhaps most famously in a sketch where he chides then-President Clinton for his twadry choices as a womanizer).

He even figured in a 1986 episode of the revised Twilight Zone episode where a history professor travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

The result: JFK is saved but Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is murdered and World War III erupts.

In fact, the Internet Movie Database lists a total of 94 movies, mini-series. TV dramas and even comedies featuring the character of John F. Kennedy.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART FIVE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 15, 2013 at 12:00 am

The Kennedy administration’s unprecedented attack on organized crime has led some law enforcement experts to believe the Mob engineered President Kennedy’s assassination.

One of these is G. Robert Blakey, father of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).   As the former Chief Counsel and Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (1977 – 1979) he oversaw the second official inquiry into the Kennedy assassination.

As a result, he believes the Mob had ample means, motive and opportunity to arrange for a “nut” to kill the President.

In his 1980 book, The Plot to Kill the President, Blakey asserted:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy.
  • An unknown confederate of Oswald’s, firing from the “grassy knoll,” also shot at Kennedy but missed.
  • The conspiracy was rooted in organized crime and involved Mafia boss Santos Trafficante of Miami and/or Mafia boss Carlos Marcello of New Orleans.

The 1983 drama, “Blood Feud,” clearly implied that the Mob was responsible.  At the heart of the mini-series lay the 10-year conflict between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, then president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

This was also the plot of American Tabloid, a 1995 novel by James Ellroy.

But investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that during the five years he researched The Dark Side of Camelot, his expose of the hidden life of President Kennedy, he didn’t uncover any evidence of such a plot.

After Robert Kennedy left the Justice Department in 1964 to run for the post of U.S. Senator from New York, the Justice Department slacked off its push against the crime syndicates.

But the war was resurrected during the Nixon administration and has remained a top priority ever since.

Perhaps the most controversial legacy of the Kennedy administration remains the President’s dealings with the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.,

In 1954, the French–who had controlled Vietnam for 80 years–were forced to withdraw their military forces from the country.  Their army had suffered a humiliating defeat at Dienbenphu and the French citizenry–still recovering from defeat and Nazi occupation during World War II–demanded an end to the disastrous conflict.

Into this political vacumn stepped the victorious North Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh.

Kennedy–then U.S. Senator from Massachussets–had visited Vietnam while the French were still trying to hold onto one of their last colonial possessions.  And he had urged them to withdraw and allow the Vietnamese to govern themselves.

But President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aware of Ho’s overhwleming popularity throughout Vietnam due to his battles against Japanese and French colonialists.  In any nationwide election, Ho was certain to win the presidency.

But Eisenhower felt he couldn’t allow an avowed Communist to rule Vietnam.  With the North under firm Communist control, America focused its attention on the South.

earching for an acceptable alternative, Eisenhower found hm in Ngo Dinh Diem–a mandarin in a nation swept by revolution, a Catholic in a nation with an 80% Buddhist population.

Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1954, America began backing Diem.  Although his first years were marked by social progress, he later became increasingly oppressive toward the Buddhist majority.  Corruption flourished among government and army officials.

In 1960, North Vietnam launched an aggressive campaign of infiltration and assassination across South Vietnam.

In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets and 100 other military advisors to South Vietnam to offer support.

Diem requested American financing of a 100,000-man increase in his army.  Kennedy agreed to an increase of 30,000.  Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that 40,000 U.S. troops would be needed to “clean up the Vietcong threat.”

Kennedy underestimated the reaction of North Vietnam, whose forces were fighting what they believed was a crusade.  As American troop strength increased, the North escalated its own commitment.

From 1961 to 1963, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam steadily rose from 685 to 16,732.  American minesweepers patrolled the coasts while their aircraft engaged in surveillance.

For the first time, Americans became casualties of the war–especially those in helicopter combat-support missions.

Meanwhile, Diem–urged by his influential brother, Nhu, who ran the secret police–cracked down on the Buddhists.

Government troops fired on a peaceful demonstration in May, 1963.  In protest, Buddhist monks burned themselves to death before TV cameras.

Nhu’s beautiful and powerful wife led growing world outrage by her ridicule of “monk barbeque shows.”

American efforts to stop Diem’s anti-Budhist campaign failed.  On August 21, 1963, Diem’s police shot their way into Buddhist pagodas, killing scores and arresting hundreds.

This finally convinced the Kennedy administration that Diem would never gain the popular support he needed to win the war against the Communist North.

As a result, the administration offered support to South Vietnamese military officers planning a coup against Diem.

On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese army units stormed the presidential palace.  Diem and Nhu fled, but were caught and shot.  Madame Nhu, visiting the U.S. at the time, escaped death, accusing  Kennedy of supporting the coup.

The administration issued a flat denial.

Diem’s assassination was followed 21 days later by Kennedy’s own.

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