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TV Review: The Kennedys – Parts V and VI “The Irony Wants You”

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Joseph Kennedy suffers a massive stroke under the weight of the family’s political burden. He will never speak again, but he is fully aware of his surroundings and events.  In the meantime, Jackie steps up her use of Dr. Jacobson and “the shots” while Jack becomes alarmed about it. He defends his own use later saying he needs it even if it’s “horse piss.”  Historically I think he said this to Bobby, but it accurately reflects his reckless attitude on the subject.

Part V of The Kennedys is all about the integration of the University of Mississippi and the exercise of James Meredith’s right as a citizen of that state. He wants to attend Ole Miss. Jack’s use of force has to appear non partisan and at the same time, with the help of  his southern vice president, break the stranglehold of white supremacy and the racism of the Southern Democrats and pray that it does not cost him the 1964 election. It was ironic therefore in 1960 for the Democrats to plead, and sometimes bribe, black folks and mafia-types to join the Party and vote for Kennedy when that Party was dead set against Negro rights in the South. 

The South wanted to hang onto what was left of the old life including complete segregation in all public and private businesses and institutions. In the North whites paid lip service to integration while embracing Jim Crow in their own style and creating the most segregated neighborhoods in the country and the world.

In one episode, Jack Kennedy admits to Abraham Bolden, whom he hired, to integrate the CIA detail, which protects the president, that “I did not meet a Negro until I was in college.” But as a politician he and his brother often went out of their way to court influential blacks once in the White House. In fact, JFK even hosted an evening at the White House wherein he wanted to break a record for the most blacks ever invited there. Of course in those days they were called “the Negro people” in polite conversation. But the irony–it is glaring–that the would-be cloud of future liberals then supported Nixon over Kennedy and voted Republican rather than Democrat.

All that changed when the Kennedy brothers helped Martin Luther King. That episode was not part of the series but it stands alone in history as a turning point in the tide for black voters–a vote that would eventually be claimed by the Democrats for decades to come. 

When the blood settles, Meredith is admitted to the university after the National Guard is called in to keep order.  Finally, Rose Kennedy has a flashback to a sad event: Rosemary’s secret lobotomy and its outcome. Rose never forgives Joe for it and for his other many indiscretions with women. In the end she sends his beautiful secretary Michelle on her way and replaces her with former nurse Ann. Joe scribbles “revenge” on his chalk board.  Rose reminds him that it was “not mine Joe–God’s.”

Part VI

Jack strikes his first major public posture and on national TV scares the devil out of everybody with his warning that there are Russian missiles off the coast of Cuba that could spell nuclear war. The country braces for the worse.

Jackie halts her abuse of “the shots” from Doc Jacobson but Jack abuses her good nature by stealing off at every chance, including during a White House piano concert and party, to the downstairs theater where he watches “Spartacus” for the umpteenth time and Mary Meyer’s, an uninvited and unwanted guest, finds her way down there to keep him company. I love Katie Holmes as Jackie. The only real difference is that Jackie O was a size zero and Katie, while slim, is clearly not.

Keeping Russia at bay is next on the Kennedy brother’s to-do list. It was not a list of their own making although some historians believe it was Jack who caused the crisis thereby bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. To his credit he halts it by shrewd diplomatic means using back-door diplomacy methods, Joe Kennedy’s advice, and the Attorney General RFK.

Jack meets with the Russians in Vienna in 1961 and it does not bode well. The outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis is far from a sealed deal in U.S. favor. Back in Washington the cabinet and the president must mull over their options. It does not look good on the Russian front in nearby Cuba. Jack is dismayed at the public insurrection of Khrushchev: “Christ, he called me out,” he quips to Bobby when the leader of Russia makes a public statement about his disdain for WH moves against Cuba and by default Russian authority.

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