Baby boomers re­mem­ber Kennedy and in­flate his legacy

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation -

The me­dia cov­er­age of the 50th an­niver­sary of John F. Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion has over­whelmed the Amer­i­can pub­lic, with books, doc­u­men­taries, made-for-tele­vi­sion dra­mas and jour­nal­is­tic memo­ri­als.

“Many of th­ese spe­cials, and there are dozens, are as pre­oc­cu­pied with the im­ages and be­reave­ment of baby boomers as they are with the slain pres­i­dent,” Alessan­dra Stan­ley of The New York Times wrote re­cently.

I couldn’t agree more. We baby boomers like to revel in our story. Nearly all of us re­mem­ber pre­cisely where we were when we got the news. But more and more Amer­i­cans — those born af­ter 1963, which is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the last birth year of the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion — have lit­tle in­ter­est in the Kennedy legacy. Most of this ex­haus­tive me­dia cov­er­age failed to note Kennedy was a medi­ocre pres­i­dent. His record of less than three years pro­vides lit­tle sup­port for his place in many polls as one of the best pres­i­dents in his­tory. A re­cent sur­vey ranked Kennedy as the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dent in the past 50 years.

Within a month af­ter Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion, his widow, Jac­que­line, started to sculpt the myth in co­op­er­a­tion with au­thor Theodore White, who wrote a glow­ing ar­ti­cle in Life mag­a­zine com­par­ing the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion with the Camelot of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Ta­ble.

White wrote that the Kennedy pres­i­dency rep­re­sented “a magic mo­ment in Amer­i­can his­tory, when gal­lant men danced with beau­ti­ful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writ­ers and po­ets met at the White House, and the bar­bar­ians be­yond the walls held back.”

But let’s look at the record. For the most part, his do­mes­tic agenda in “the New Fron­tier” pro­vided the un­der­pin­ning of lib­eral poli­cies from food stamps to ex­panded un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits that still bur­den the coun­try. How­ever, he did cut busi­ness taxes in 1962, launch­ing a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic boom.

In April 1961, his fail­ure to pro­vide air sup­port for the Cuban ex­ile army at the Bay of Pigs un­der­mined any pos­si­bil­ity of oust­ing Fidel Cas­tro and left more than 100 CIA­trained forces dead.

The lack of in­tel­li­gence about the con­struc­tion of the Ber­lin Wall in Au­gust 1961, sep­a­rat­ing East and West Ger­many, pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for Kennedy to stand fast with the peo­ple of Ber­lin in a fa­mous speech. But it took nearly 30 years be­fore the wall came down.

A fur­ther lack of in­tel­li­gence brought the coun­try to the brink of a nu­clear war when the Soviet Union in­stalled mis­siles in Cuba. Kennedy got lucky when Soviet Pre­mier Nikita Khrushchev backed down in Oc­to­ber 1962. Another Soviet leader may not have blinked.

Kennedy in­creased U.S. in­volve­ment in Viet­nam from 700 ad­vis­ers to more than 15,000. His ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port for a coup led to the as­sas­si­na­tion of Viet­nam’s Pres­i­dent Ngo Dinh Diem in Novem­ber 1963, send­ing the coun­try into fur­ther chaos.

His sex­ual an­tics have been well doc­u­mented, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous trysts in the White House, caus­ing the CIA and the FBI to worry that he might have com­pro­mised na­tional se­cu­rity.

Let us ac­knowl­edge that Kennedy, a young and vi­brant man, was not one of the best lead­ers in the coun­try’s his­tory. Per­haps he could have been a great pres­i­dent, but he led our coun­try down some bad paths that con­tinue to plague the na­tion. May he rest in peace — along with his in­flated legacy that the me­dia and we baby boomers cre­ated and can­not put be­hind us.

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