bureaucracybusters

JFK’S LOST LEGACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2022 at 12:14 am

Fifty-eight years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK 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 atmospheric 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. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • 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 1973, 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 perseverance.

 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, Republicans and Democrats 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 insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, 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 for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

An August 20, 2019 story in Forbes noted that a Pew Research survey, conducted in July, had found that “the percentage of Republicans attributing a positive effect to higher education has steadily eroded from 58% (2010), 53% (2012), 54% (2015), 43% (2016), and 36% (2017).

“Among Republicans, 59% now say higher education has a negative effect on the U.S., compared to just 18% of Democrats.” 

When Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke announced his candidacy for President in 2020, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade attacked him for having a “huge library.” 

“As if it’s a big plus that he reads books,” scoffed Kilmeade.

In March, 2020, an NBC News poll found that only 30% of Republicans said that they would actually listen to the advice of doctors to stay away from large, crowded areas to avoid Coronavirus.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

Related image

Donald Trump

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President.

As President, he attacked the free press as “the enemy of America” for exposing his lies and criminality. He scorned legitimate mainstream news media while seeking guidance from ego-stroking Right-wing shills at Fox News—who often proved as ignorant as he was.

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

Kellyanne Conway official portrait.jpg

Kelleyanne Conway

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, the moderator on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” properly responded.

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, about 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.

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

And they resented 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

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