Not Backward, Please

Eisenhower_and_KennedyI have been thinking, I know dangerous up there my brain wheels grinding and all.  Nevertheless, I have been thinking.  Thinking about how the world has changed in fifty years, especially the United States.  How we as a nation and a people have changed so very much in this short half-century of time that has passed since the assassination of JFK in Dallas.  Do you wonder how we have changed?  Do you think it is for the better or like me, do you think we are worse as a nation and pettier, smaller as a people.

Dwight Eisenhower warned us of some of what was to come if we allowed certain elements of our society to gain control.  In his farewell speech he said much, though one quote is often referenced it is also taken out of context, leaving off much of what President Eisenhower said and intended regarding the military-industrial complex, I recommend reading his speech.1

From this same speech comes an even more profound statement, one that looked into the future and saw the potential of our smallness.

“Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Down the long lane of the history, yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”  1

What does this mean?  As the oldest President handed the reins of power to the youngest, he warned the nation of our potential for terrible acts.  He thanked Congress for working with him in a bipartisan manner.  He thanked the nation for allowing him to serve.

What this doesn’t tell us, we were already sending soldiers to Vietnam.  We had been doing for years though the term then was ‘advisors’.  Three weeks before the assassination of JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara upped the ante, increasing both military and economic support.  We were at war again, though undeclared.  This would lead to the first draft of unwilling soldiers since 1942, on December 1, 1969.

The world was in upheaval.  Young people taking to the streets, demanding they not be sent to die on foreign shores.  Demanding accountability for the billions spent, the lives destroyed and lost, the flag draped coffins shown on television every night reminded us, young and old, this was not a war of our choosing.

President Johnson decided not to seek reelection because of the outrage against Vietnam, thus handing the reins of power to Richard M. Nixon.  The nation was once again sent spinning, though he eventually ended the war, he also taught us a terrible lesson about the abuse of power.

Do we think about this, track this abuse of power in those we elect to high office?  Personally, I don’t think we do.  I think instead we shrug it off, in some cases even expect it and so continue to elect the miscreants.  One thing I know for certain.  No matter who actually commits the acts, whether criminal or simply scandalous we lay the blame at the feet of the President holding office at that time.  With this in mind, let’s take a quick look at the High Crimes and Misdemeanors of the past several administrations:

Crimes=Convictions  :  Scandals=Bad Acts made public

scandals

I will admit it was difficult to come up with these numbers, nearly every site listing numbers gives a slightly different view and I did not include Sex Scandals in the numbers of which we have had many over the years.  Soooo, while these numbers are close to accurate, they may be off by one or two in each administration.  What I found fascinating in looking through the lens of history?

the big ones_scandals

Look at that would you, all those big ones.  What does that say to us?  The redder we get the more corrupt.  That no matter which side of the aisle congress falls on, whoever is in the White House sets the tone.  Is this why today we have a bunch of obstructionist clowns, criminals and hypocrites trying their damnedest to manufacture scandals to lay at the feet of this President and this administration? Thus far though we have many named scandals, not a single one have stuck except in the minds of those who would smear, those who would destroy a legacy, those who are so filled with hostility toward this President, they would do anything including destroy democracy and us, the American People in their crusade to destroy this administration.

Don’t mistake me, I can find fault with President Obama.  I wish he would lead us further down the progressive path, further to the left rather than sticking so closely to the middle.  I understand though, he is leading the entire nation, not just the part I belong too.  I wish he would end Afghanistan, bring our soldiers home for good.  I wish he would rein in the NSA, shutter the programs of his predecessor.  I wish he would stop the Drone attacks and the killing of civilians.  I wish, frankly he would stop negotiating with his haters and stand up for his base, lead the party and the nation with strong words and actions that call out the naysayers by name. But I understand, sometimes you have to act in the best interest of others to gain the best interest of an entire nation.

I thought though these little factoids were interesting, fifty years of High Crimes, Scandals and What the Hell in the face of a changing nation.  No, our President isn’t King, Dictator or any of the other names laid at his feet.  He also clearly isn’t leading the most corrupt administration in the past century.  The election and ultimately assassination of John F. Kennedy opened the door for so many things, including the opportunity for Barack Obama to become President someday.  Strange what fifty years will do to a nation.

I have to ask all those Conservatives, those Tea Party Republicans, those whatever on the Right you call yourself; what is it you want to take us back to anyway?  From where I sit back doesn’t look all that grand.

1http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

http://usmilitary.about.com/od/deploymentsconflicts/l/bldrafthistory.htm

High Crimes & Misdemeanors, II

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. 

Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy, 20-January-19611

 camelot

They called it Camelot, the brilliant 1,022 days of the Kennedy Presidency. The young president with his beautiful wife and young children entered the White House full of the hope and dreams of a nation, the baton was passed from old guard to new. It was a new dawn where politicians, actors and artists mingled over meals and danced together into the dawn. The nation was mesmerized, as they watched on their televisions this young and handsome president, his brothers and friends take Washington by storm.

01218960.jpg

Inarguration Day

JFK was the youngest president ever elected; he was also the first Roman Catholic. His campaign was the first ever televised his speeches the first seen by more than those in the room with him, the four presidential debates the first both seen and heard. Though his Catholicism was considered a deterrent by many he was able to deflect questions about his religion when asked, ultimately this became a non-issue with many voters though not with all especially among Southern Protestants. The one thing to keep in mind when considering the Kennedy Presidency, he barely beat Nixon, it was a neck-and-neck race right down to the end with the electoral vote finally deciding the presidency and even this being questionable due to the unpledged Southern Segregationist Electors who refused to cast their vote for the Kennedy ticket. Ultimately, this is what both the popular and Electoral College vote looked like:

Candidate Popular Vote Electoral College % of Vote
Kennedy / Johnson 34,220,984 303 49.72%
Nixon / Lodge 34,108,157 219 49.55%
Byrd / ThurmondByrd / Goldwater Never on ballot, no popular vote 15 (1)15 (1)

So now, we come to it 1,022 days of Camelot. What did he accomplish and during this time what nefarious acts, scandals and outrages was the Office of the President or those around him involved in? Surely, given the advent of television and the hunger of the American public for gossip we know what went on in the inner circle of this damned near American Royal family inhabiting the White House.

Of political scandals, poorly managed foreign affairs there have been much written over the years. The question becomes, why was so much so closely held for so many years? What drove this Administration to muck up relationships with USSR Premier Khrushchev was it simply generational and language barriers? Or, as some who witnessed the Summit of 1961, both public and private the egos of both men that played large parts in their inability to find any common ground. It is likely we will never know however certainly we can consider the cocktail of drugs the young president relied upon for pain management as one possible reason for his inability to process information, think quickly on his feet and act pragmatically rather than emotionally.

There are key political issues that haunt the Kennedy tenure in the White House; these were all driven by the Cold War and the legacy of the Eisenhower administration. All were failures in their execution though not all were considered failures at the time or even today, all have been white washed by press and biographers alike.

  • Invasion of Cuba, aka Bay of Pigs: 17-April, a CIA led excursion was originally planned by the Eisenhower administration, ultimately cost $53M in food and medicine in exchange for captured 1,189 survivors of the Spring Mobilizationfailed invasion and attempted overthrow of Fidel Castro. Many consider this a failure of Eisenhower plan rather than of JFK.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis: this really was more than a US issue, based on spy plane pictures of Soviet ballistic missile sites built in Cuba the National Security Council and the President reacted by beating the drums of war. The world reacted differently, with the UN Secretary General stepping in to request a cooling off period after the announcement by the President of a naval blockade. Ultimately, the world prevailed and good sense won. The missiles in Cuba were removed, the offending US missiles in Turkey were removed and the US promised to never invade Cuba again. Many believe this represented a success for the administration and the president saw is ratings rise to 77%.
  • The CIA was the first line of defense against communism throughout the world. One focus was South America and stopping the spread of the dread political enemy of freedom in nations so close to our own. One tool was assassination, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. In the case of Castro, we know they failed. In the case of Trujillo, there has always been a debate whether they were involved or not in his assassination and to what extent.
  • NATIONAL SECURITY ACTION MEMORANDUM NO. 124, 18-January-1962: Authorized the escalation of troops in the first war that couldn’t be won, Vietnam.2

The beleaguered JFK was not originally intended for political office, upon the untimely death of his brother Joe Jr. he was queued up to fulfill the family ambitions. Jack was plagued by health problems from an early age; over time, these would be exacerbated by his reliance on cocktails of drugs including painkillers and amphetamines. He was also what today we would call a sex addict, though frankly this is simply an easy out for someone lacking self-control. His womanizing was well known within his inner circle and included both the famous and infamous; many of those who were tasked with protecting him extended their protection to include his reputation, even the press corps of the day kept his secrets.

The ambiguities of JFK the man versus JFK the public figure, father and husband were kept or was it simply that as a nation we were not interested in the personal lives of those in power? That the President cheated regularly on his young wife with stars the likes of Marilyn Monroe did not cause us to raise our moral hackles in outrage so long as he continued to do the work of President. One can only wonder why this President with known ties to Sam Giancana the Chicago Godfather, Frank Sinatra leader of the Hollywood Rat Pack and his many lovers was not in the eye of the storm for his many indiscretions.

JFK_America

Did this young president during the course of his 1,022 days in office do good? He set the stage to do good in some arenas certainly. He set the foundation for Civil Rights to move forward. He established the Peace Corps, which continues to this day. He signed the first Nuclear Test Ban treaty. Many of the Kennedy proposals for domestic policy including those for the New Frontier would not be carried out prior to his assassination in Dallas, Texas on 22-November-1963 but would ultimately be signed by his successor Lyndon B. Johnson.

JFK_EDUCATION

How would we, as a nation have viewed this young and morally challenged President had he lived? Would his indiscretions come to light? Would the nation have cared? Would Vietnam continue to escalate; there are some who believe he would have pulled our troops out but for re-election concerns; “We don’t have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our asses out of there at any point. But I can’t give up that territory to the communists and get the American people to re-elect me”.3

I know many deify JFK, frankly seen through the prism of history; he is not my favorite president. My personal opinion is he was without a moral compass, he was arrogant and self-centered, drugs impaired his cognitive abilities and he had a tendency to be ruled by his emotions, including his feeling of not being ‘good enough’ based on his relationship with his overbearing father. JFK frequently did what was right, not because he believed in it, not because it was the right thing to do but instead because of the political consequence, he had to have his hand forced.

I thought I would be able to write both the Kennedy and Johnson tenures into a single post, I was wrong. Thus, I bring to an end part two of the High Crimes and Misdemeanors series.

1http://www.powerfulwords.info/speeches/John_F_Kennedy/5.htm

2http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v02/d26

3Reeves, Thomas. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (1991)

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=24146

http://www.infoplease.com/t/hist/state-of-the-union/176.html

http://www.infoplease.com/t/hist/state-of-the-union/175.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/jfk-nyliberal/

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