Belltower: Differing views of John F. Kennedy
I watched the Bill O’Reilly interview of Rob Lowe, who played John F. Kennedy in a film version of O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Kennedy.” He played a clip of the movie that was shown on the National Geographic channel.
I didn’t’ watch it and probably won’t. I saw it pretty much live on TV on Nov. 22, 1963. Our high school yearbook at Bella Vista High was dedicated to Kennedy. I’ve already seen lots of reruns of the Zapruder film of the assassination and don’t need to see anymore.
He may not have been one of our greatest presidents, but he certainly inspired a lot of young people, probably because of his young age — 43 — when he took office as president. Barack Obama was 48 when he took office. He was about 2 1/2 when Kennedy was assassinated. Obama certainly inspired a lot of young people but his first inaugural was memorable only for insulting the outgoing president.
Kennedy was president before the invention of the TelePrompter. He was from the era when one practiced and memorized one’s speech to avoid looking down at notes or the written speech too much. He was an inspiring speaker and obviously had an outstanding speech writer.
He did not have President Eisenhower’s organizational and administrative skills, but he did find an innovative way to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. He wouldn’t have got there if he didn’t have the guts to use the U.S. Navy to enforce a blockade on Cuba.
My wife and I visited his grave in Arlington with its perpetual flame and quotes from his inaugural address some years ago when we visited Washington, D.C.
Inscribed on the wall around the gravesite are excerpts from his inaugural speech. The excerpts were selected by Jacqueline Kennedy and speech writer Ted Sorenson. They are some of the most memorable presidential statements and the only ones from an inaugural that I remember, though I’ll confess I haven’t read Abraham Lincoln’s inaugurals — but one sure remembers his Gettysburg address.
From Kennedy’s inaugural:
“… the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans …”
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
A few remarkable quotes I am less familiar with from assorted speeches follow:
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”
“The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.”
From that “unity of freedom” quote I now turn my attention to Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton and his Nov. 17 column, “Count me out of the JFK club.”
Breton wrote about the “looming spectacle” of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination as “an overblown spectacle.” On those counts I agree with him, though calling it the “ultimate baby boomer fetish” was just a 51-year-old twisting the knife a little too sadistically.
For 50 years I have not played my copy of Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader’s First Family album. Not going to play it anytime in the future.
Breton’s column can be summed up when he wrote, “This isn’t a rejection of JFK’s historical significance. It’s a rejection of the idea America saw its best days in the ‘Camelot’ of the Kennedy presidency.”
I don’t believe that’s the way most of my generation thinks about it. I don’t think that’s the way my mother looks at, who is from the Depression and World War II generation.
For Breton I’ll end with a Kennedy quote: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
For me, the most informative columns about Kennedy were written Nov. 18 by Wall Street Journal columnists. I found them fascinating because I haven’t really delved into the history of the Kennedy presidency. It was a short presidency, after all.
The first column was by Latin American specialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Her column is based on a newly revised book called “Castro’s Secrets” by veteran Cuban CIA analyst Brian Latell, “who spent 15 hours interviewing a top Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1987. He also had thousands of declassified CIA documents and the unpublished memoir of Thomas Mann, who was U.S. ambassador to Mexico when Lee Harvey Oswald came there to make contact with the Cuban Embassy. Oswald, who had lived in Russia prior to this, also visited the Soviet Consulate there.
Oswald wasn’t a direct agent of Cuba, but Latell “uncovers startling details that suggest that Cuba fueled Oswald’s maniacal desire to prove himself worthy of Castro’s revolution during the American’s visit to Mexico city in the fall of 1963,” O’Grady wrote.
The long and the short of it is, according to O’Grady, “Mr. Latell concludes that ‘Castro and a small number of Cuban intelligence officers were complicit in Kennedy’s death but their involvement fell short of an organized assassination plot.’ Instead they ‘exhorted Oswald,’ and ‘encouraged his feral militance.’”
On the same page was a column by L. Gordon Crovitz called “Information Age.” Cravitz wrote that contrary to popular belief John F. Kennedy was not a liberal. The confusion probably came from his younger brother Ted Kennedy who spent a lifetime as the ultimate Senate liberal.
Crovitz,, like O’Grady, based his column on a new book, this one being “JFK, Conservative” by Ira Stoll.
“Mr. Stoll makes a strong case that in 1960 ‘the anti-Communist, anti-big government candidate was John F. Kennedy. The one touting government programs and higher salaries for public employees was Richard Nixon,’ he writes.”
Kennedy, after all, cut taxes against the advice of his advisor John Kenneth Galbraith and against the worries of the Wall Street Journal in 1963. “The tax cuts, enacted after his death, created years of strong economic growth. The Wall Street Journal later championed supply-side economics, and Ronald Reagan cited JFK’s precedent in embracing the idea,” Cravitz wrote.
And Nixon gave us wage and price controls, the EPA and environmental impact reports.
Also cited as a no-holds-barred speech was Kennedy’s June 26, 1963, speech in West Berlin, where he called communism an “evil system.”
“And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sic nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.”
The conclusion of the speech is my favorite: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
Michael Raffety is editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears biweekly.