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Where Is Our John F. Kennedy?

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We live in a nation with many problems. We are beset by foreign enemies and torn apart by internal divisiveness. The spirit of partisanship which George Washington warned against so many years ago has become an unreasoning monster that destroys our ability to unite and function effectively as a nation. The names, the faces and the enemies may be different, but the challenges we face today are not so different from those we have faced at other vital turning points in our history.

One of those times of crisis came with the transition from World War II to the Cold War. In that era we were fortunate to have the leadership of John F. Kennedy – at least for a few years – to set the standard by which we would meet the challenges of that era and remind us that the fight for survival was meaningless without fighting just as hard for the freedom on which our nation was founded – not only for ourselves, but for the world.

Kennedy had all the advantages and the aptitudes of a privileged birth, but also an understanding of the basic needs that bind men together no matter what their station. A man who embraced and defended the basic values of America – not self-righteous moralizing or sanctimonious religiosity, but the basic values of the Republic as laid out by our founding fathers – the freedom of the individual, the value and quality of life and the importance of an equal opportunity to pursue prosperity. He understood Thomas Jefferson when he said “that government governs best that governs least,” and he sought to provide a government of quality of ideas and leadership rather than quantity of bureaucracy and spending.

Kennedy came to the White House at a young age, after a period of warfare and during a time of domestic conflict. He transcended the limitations of political partisanship which had blackened the previous decade and embraced ideas which were anathema to the majority of his own party and supported in many cases only by his opposition. He was a northerner in a southern party, an elitist in a populist party, a liberal in a conservative party and an internationalist in an isolationist party. Rather than being weakened by these contradictions, Kennedy drew strength from them and made his party and the nation better as a result.

Had he lived, we have every reason to believe he might have become a glorious failure, sucked too deep into war and presiding over a nation going through changes too rapid and severe for anyone to manage, with his own party likely to turn against him. But Kennedy didn’t live. His untimely death preserved his legacy untainted for us to look to as an example.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of his death, in a time which is troublingly reminiscent of the early 1960s in many ways, it seems particularly appropriate to look to his legacy and the ideals he expressed so cogently in his First Inaugural Address. Here are some selections from that speech – arguably one of the greatest political speeches of all time. They seem particularly relevant to our current situation.

“Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. 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—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

Kennedy had to remind the people of his time of many of the same things which we seem to be forgetting today. He clearly saw the threat that we face today with the Patriot Act and the growing influence of government in day to day life. He echoes Rousseau’s observation that “Man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains.” He also points out a key point we seem to have forgotten: that a commitment to freedom means a commitment to human rights, and that you can not have one without respecting and protecting the other.

“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, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Kennedy was unequivocal. He understood that there is no price too high to pay for liberty, a message his own party seems to have completely forgotten in pursuit of political interests ahead of the common good.

“To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society can not help the many who are poor, it can not save the few who are rich.”

We’re not competing with communism anymore, but the problems Kennedy saw still remain and have even been compounded by years of neglect. Some of that neglect came from focusing on fighting Communism. In the distraction of that struggle, we allowed for the growth of new enemies among the people we should have been working to help, had we not abandonned Kennedy’s ideas in the years after his death.

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

This idea of civility seems to have been lost in the last few decades, not only between nations, but within our own ranks. Maybe it’s time to start over again as Kennedy suggested and find common ground and begin to to relate to others on a civil basis, rather than purely out of self-interest or the bitterness of old quarrels.

“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.”

“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Unfortunately, but I suppose inevitably, those same problems remain the main threats we must deal with today. The tyranny of terrorism and theocracy dominate too much of the globe. Poverty still rules Africa as it did in Kennedy’s time. AIDS is with all of us all the time as a constant reminder of the fragility of human life, and now we also face the threat of new diseases like the pandemic avian flu. And of course, war is ongoing, with new enemies and new objectives, but always with freedom hanging in the balance and, as in the past, with the supporters of freedom outnumbered and surrounded by those who would rather submit to tyranny than accept responsibility.

“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. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

That first line is quoted so much that we often forget the rest of this closing section of the speech. Kennedy asked sacrifice and service not only of his fellow Americans, but also of all the citizens of the world. It was idealistic, but it was a fair demand to make, insisting that America stand as an example for the rest of the world to follow, championing liberty and fighting oppression.

In many ways our situation today is similar to what America faced when Kennedy was elected in 1960. We are discordant and confused and out of touch with our core values and principles. We face a huge and implacable enemy which seeks not only our destruction, but to enslave the world to a philosophy which is totally alien to the liberties on which our nation and our civilization are based. They will stop at nothing and spare no cost to bring us to our knees, yet our leaders spend their time padding bills with pork for their special interests, inflating scandals for political gain and trying to tear down everyone around them in mindless, competitive self-destruction.

Where is the John F. Kennedy for our times? Where can we find a leader who is above and apart from partisan politics, who remembers our basic principles as a nation, and will work to bring us together so that we can face the dangers of our time with the strength of unity? Is there any leader today who has the strength to do what is right even when it isn’t what is popular or what his party tells him to do?

Or has our political system wandered so far from its basic roots that it is no longer possible for someone like Kennedy to survive and reach a position of leadership? Have our campaigns and parties and primaries become a weeding-out system which guarantees that only the most venal and the most duplicitous can rise to the top? Would a leader of Kennedy’s caliber even want to soil himself by wading in the cesspool which is the politics of this new century?

On this anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, I’d like to suggest that we look back to him and his times and search desperately within ourselves and throughout the ranks of our fellow Americans for some survival of his spark and his belief in the founding principles of our nation. If we can not revive that spirit and once again make ourselves a people who are capable of producing and supporting leaders of strength and vision, we may well deserve to be doomed to the purgatory of mediocrity, fear and lost liberties we have constructed with our apathy and indifference. Without a leader with his kind of vision and a people willing to support that vision, I fear that we will not be able to meet the challenges of our times.

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About Dave Nalle

  • MT

    Fine article Dave. I liked your question “where is the John F. Kennedy for our times?” Makes me wonder, though, how you could make such a perceptive statement and still defend Bush as often as you do.

  • troll

    * We face a huge and implacable enemy which seeks not only our destruction, but to enslave the world to a philosophy which is totally alien to the liberties on which our nation and our civilization are based.*

    huge – ? sounds like you are talking about Islam rather than a group of Islamic terrorists…has it come down to another crusade after all – ?

    troll

    ps: better speech writers – there’s the ticket

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Dave, much as some people will deny it, you are a writer who always seeks out the nuance in political issues. Nicely written.

  • Alethinos

    Excellent post Dave. Really. Thank you for the insights.

    Alethinos

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Fine article Dave. I liked your question “where is the John F. Kennedy for our times?” Makes me wonder, though, how you could make such a perceptive statement and still defend Bush as often as you do.

    Perhaps I once thought that Bush had the potential to be that new-era JFK.

    dave

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Awesome piece. Sadly, what you say is true.

  • Maurice

    Excellent writing, Dave. Your 2nd to last paragraph is right on the money. It is that very thing that causes us to end up with a politician like Bush.

    I have the feeling President Bush’s thinking is as muddled as his speech.

  • Michael

    Dave,

    I agree that politics is unhinged. But I must say that those in power (bush administration) have steered this country dramatically to the right. What we need is a moderate leader with rational thought. As of November 2004, bush was not that man, yet somehow received a majority of the votes (the mushroom cloud and gay marriage probably had something to do with it). We now have to wait until 2008 for a canidate, but my guess is it will be another loss for america whichever 2 are choosen by the wealthy.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Michael, I think the rightward swing of the Bush administration is entirely illusionary. It’s what the left wants you to believe, but the evidence to support it just isn’t there at all.

    And remember, Kennedy was of the wealthy class and chosen by the wealthy, yet he managed to retain his identity and to attempt to innovate, so that’s not the part of the system whcih is necessarily flawed.

    Dave

  • Michael

    Dave,
    Ok, I will agree that the labeling of bush as far right conservative should be blamed on hollywood and michael moore, along with cindy sheehan, john kerry and schumer, but let us agree on something.

    He is a bad president, no matter which party he comes from. This country is worse off today because bush and his administration have been in the decision making seat. And I do not intend this to be a liberal statement, only an observation of the facts.

  • JR

    Kennedy was pretty conservative for his party; one of the reasons he didn’t get trounced like Stevenson is that he was relatively hard-line on Communism, at least publicly. And he was dragging his feet a bit on social issues, as opposed to LBJ once he took power. Kennedy talked like he was holding back a lot for the second term, but that is no guarantee he would have followed through.

    And Vietnam surely would have gone better had Kennedy lived; he was already becoming disenchanted with the policies in place, and Johnson was about the worst person to have inherit that particular problem.

    What bothers me about Kennedy is that most of the perception of his greatness seems to be largely based on the mythology built by his administration’s tremendous skill with the media. I happen to think he was leading the country in the right direction, and that he was extremely intelligent and increasingly capable, but his actions showed little of the idealism expressed in his speeches. Was he really a great leader, or did he just fool us into believing it? Is fooling us good enough?

    A big difference between Kennedy and Bush, if you don’t accept that Bush is simply nowhere near as intelligent, is that Kennedy was only second generation wealthy. The personal drive and discipline of the recently underclass, long since atrophied in the Bush clan, was still fresh in the Kennedy’s at the time.

  • troll

    teetering on the brink of full blown fascism the last thing the US needs is a charismatic Leader to step up and sweep the people off their feet…be careful what you get nostalgic about – political mediocrity might be highly underrated

    troll

  • SonnyD

    Never thought I would say this, but I find myself agreeing with troll. Great speech writers are hard to find and the ability to sell a good speech is rare, also. A person blessed with both, plus a charismatic personality, has the ability to lead masses where ever they choose – like lemmings to the sea.

    I was never a JFK worshiper, never built a shrine in my back yard like some did. But, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe he loved his country, but he had weaknesses. Whenever I hear his name, my first thought is always Bay of Pigs. A lot of people died because they believed they would have US backing that never came.

    My second thought is Marylin Monroe. I don’t know why, I didn’t care what he did on his own time as long as he kept it out of the Oval Office. Maybe it was just sympathy for his wife and family that must have heard the gossip.

    That said, when he died I did feel terrible and shed some tears. I didn’t vote for the man but when he became president, he was my president and I hoped for the best for him. It is sad so many people, now, have lost that feeling. One country, one people, one president.

  • Chief Wiggum

    The sooner the remaining Kennedy’s are dead or out of politics the better off we will all be.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Ah, a man’s inhumanity to humankind…

  • http://www.elitistpig.com dave nalle

    troll, I really have to differ with your assertion that we’re on the brink of a fascist police state.

    Even the most extreme measures of the Patriot Act are impractical to apply or only impact a very few people in very limited circumstances. The war on drugs is more of a threat to liberty and most off its outrageous violations became law more than two decades ago.

    We ahould be vigilant, but perhaps a bit less paranoid.

    dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Dave,

    This was such a beautiful piece. I can recall the assassination of JFK as if it were yesterday.

    I was three days shy of my 8th birthday when he was cut down in Dallas. I remember going home from school and finding my mother in tears in the living room. What made it worse was the fact that she’s deaf and in those days we didn’t have closed captioning. As a CODA (child of deaf adults) I became my parents’ personal translator. For those three and one half days I was transfixed in front of our black and white television translating everything being said by David Brinkley, Chet Huntley and Frank McGee. I remember classical music being played that first night on the screen. My parents were devastated. I remember Jack Ruby snuffing out Lee Harvey Oswald’s life. I remember John-John Kennedy saluting his daddy and feeling sorry that we shared the same birthday. I remember the difficult time I had in explaining the backwards boots in the stirrups of that lone horse in the funeral procession. And, oddly enough, I remember the devastation painted on the face of France’s Charles DeGaulle.

    That Christmas my Dad crafted these beautiful pecan and mahogany picture frames with the President’s official picture in them. He made at least a dozen giving them to family members as gifts. That was the first time in my life where I saw how much my Dad’s woodowrking craft was a labor of love. As a matter of fact, President Kennedy’s picture still hangs in my folks’ living room as a constant reminder of what was and what could have been.

    Little did I know that the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be just the beginning of a most tumultuous time in American history. From November, 1963 until the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 it seemed that I was giving my parents one tragedy after another. That’s quite a burden on a kid who was just 8 years old. Over the years I’ve learned that there are thousands of persoanal stories about how people were affected. Those bullets fired in Dallas had far reaching effects into families in ways that we will never fully know.

    The deaths of JFK, MLK and RFK along with the struggle for civil rights and the VietNam War shaped the person I would become. As I have recounted many times in private, had I not had deaf parents I may never have developed my love for politics, America and journalism. The Good Lord gave me a unique gift and opportunity. There were times I screwed that up but for the most part I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Many of us here at BC grew up during those times. I want to repeat a few of your words here:

    If we can not revive that spirit and once again make ourselves a people who are capable of producing and supporting leaders of strength and vision, we may well deserve to be doomed to the purgatory of mediocrity, fear and lost liberties we have constructed with our apathy and indifference. Without a leader with his kind of vision and a people willing to support that vision, I fear that we will not be able to meet the challenges of our times.

    Perhaps I am locked in that childhood innocence lost 42 years ago but there’s a huge part of me that believes we are hungering for a leader with vision, focus and the ability to meet the challenges of our times. JFK said “Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country.” That’s what’s lost, Dave. We’ve become so demanding of our country that we’ve forgotten our individual responsibilities to it. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes existing at local and national levels. While it may seem that we are faced with a leadership drought I honestly believe that this is a temporary condition which can be corrected. Thanks, Dave. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well as everyone else here at BC.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Great response and reminiscence, Silas. You should have written that up as your own entry for the 22nd, or save it for next year.

    I was a bit younger when JFK was assassinated, and living in Jordan and not terribly in touch with events in America.

    My first real recollection associated with JFK came a couple of years later when I was back in the states and at the same school as his kids and the subject came up in gym class – boys had separate gym class from girls, so Caroline was not there; I vividly recall the teacher going through the events in detail with chalk diagrams on the tarmac of the outdoor basketball court. Totally fascinating fo 8 year olds.

    Of course I remember MLK and RFK much more personally, as I wrote a bit about last year on MLK day.

    Dave

  • Anthony Grande

    Hey! Wasn’t Kennedy the one who almost blew it in the missle crisis? Wasn’t he the one who is the cause for the failure of the Bay of Pigs where several thousand Cuban refugees were left cold sitting on the shores of Cuba like sitting pig targets for Castro? Wasn’t Kennedy the one who made a deal with the commies that he would not mess with Castro and save our Cuban brothers from communist poverty?

    Where is Kennedy? He got sent to Hell by the Mafia because he betrayed them after they got him elected.

  • Anthony Grande

    Oh and I forgot this part, wasn’t Kennedy the one who led our boys into the Vietnamese jungle?

    I mean if it weren’t for the draft I would support this move of his but I know how you liberals hate the Vietname War, so I thought I would bring it up.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    And as for leaders of JFK’s caliber, I’m sure they are out there, doing good in their own communities. I’m just afraid they no longer feel the call to national service or are repelled by the current political environment.

    Back at the turn of the century Gov. John Altgeld of Illinois wrote:

    “What would be my advice to
    the young man of today who is anxious to beome a millionaire? If you wish to get rich very quickly, then bleed the public
    and talk patriotism. This may involve bribing public officials and dodging public burdens, the losing of your manhood and
    the soiling of your fingers, but that is the way most of the great fortunes are made in this country now.”

    And from what I can tell the climate has gotten slowly and steadily worse to the point where leaders of principle either shy away from politics or end up corrupted by it before they can reach the national level.

    Dave

  • Anthony Grande

    So are you saying that Kennedy didn’t do that kind of stuff, Dave?

    Kennedy won the deciding state of Illinois because he bargained with the Mafia and the Mafia rigged the election for him in turn Kennedy wouldn’t appoint his brother to Attorney General. Kennedy gets elected and appoints Bobby anyway. For this Kennedy got his brains blown out.

    Not corrupted, eh?

    Ask his dad. Yeah, the bootlegger.

  • Ebony Ghost

    Dave, this is an excellent article. And, you’re right. There’s no reason to expect that a man of his caliber would put himself into the dog and pony show that passes for elections in this country.

    As for the speechwriters, if they’re the ones who actually believe the high sounding words, they should be the ones we’re electing.

  • troll

    Dave – bugger the Patriot Act…the interesting thing about it is how quickly it was implemented – ‘leaders’ follow the trends emerging from the body politic

    what yardstick can one use to ‘measure’ the level of fascism in a population – ?

    how about willingness to surrender personal responsibility and choice for the greater good of the Nation…lets do a survey search

    but becoming a fascist state might be like falling off a mountain – everything seems to be under control right up to that last scramble to catch your balance

    In #2 I questioned the assumption of your article that the US faces a daunting enemy – any comment – ?

    As for Kennedy – it was the shining idealistic rhetoric of his administration that convinced many to go kill for their country thus enabling the slaughter that was Vietnam

    I’m afraid he went to hell

    troll

  • Chris

    Great Question, I agree with your point that a leader of Kennedy’s Caliber can’t “weed through” all the bs that is in place in the parties. Having said that I think Barak Obama might have potential?

    Who knows, i really liked his speech at the DNC, and i agree with his goal to see “purple” (red and blue mixed). This country needs a moderate leader that actually cares about the majority of the American Public.

  • Anthony Grande

    Kennedy sucked as a president and as an example, Dave. I am sure you realize that.

    Can you tell me one good thing he did for us and the world?

  • G. Oren

    Great post Dave!

    Despite his personal failings, which in today’s world would automatically be exposed and disqualify him, JFK got the big picture right – what Bush 41 called “the vision thing” (that he was singularly unable to express – except for that regrettable phrase “new world order”).

    The long twilight struggle with communism may have led us to misread the situation in Vietnam and to embark on that long quixotic war, but the generous public spirit of JFK and RFK were essential to calling out the better angels of our nature.

    Being more inclined to Goldwater’s view of public policy than to JFK’s, I am still able to whole-heartedly salute JFK’s call to service for the country and our communities. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot – we have more to do here than to make money from each other. Some of the traditional right viewed JFK’s call to sacrifice for the country as the smiling face of socialism, a call to surrender liberty at the behest of a controlling state. But even Bill Buckley supported some form of universal service to inculcate a greater sense of public sprirt in the young and to cement the bonds of citzenship in future generations. As the greatest generation slips from the stage of the present, it is important to note that the experiences of the Depression and WWII gave that generation a profound sense of citzenship and a shared bond that made them fully cognizant of the civility and public spiritedness required to hold this polis together.

    It would be reasonable as well to mark the passing, on 11-22-63, of another leader who was argaubly the most effective christian apologist of the 20th century – C.S. Lewis. The theo-cons of the right would do well to read Lewis and his ruminations on the crossroads of religion and politics.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Anthony, that one inaugural address alone did more good than 4 out of our last 5 presidents have done in their entire administrations.

    And how about Vista and the Peace Corps and guess what, he CUT taxes.

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    Amen, Dave! Imagine what else he could have accomplished.

  • stevo

    America has produced a finer Leader:

    George W. Bush 2000-2008

    notable mentions

    R.R. 1980-1988
    G.H.W.B 1988-1992

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I’m more Goldwaterish in general as well, G. Oren. But I think that given the opportunity Goldwater and Kennedy could have found a lot of common ground. I imagine Goldwater would not have run in 64 had it been against JFK instead of LBJ.

    Kennedy did seem to have a basic understanding of the idea that government works best when it encourages the people rather than dictating to them.

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    America has produced a finer Leader:

    George W. Bush 2000-2008

    Bush 42 is definitely at the bottom of this list.

    notable mentions

    R.R. 1980-1988
    G.H.W.B 1988-1992

    That’s a total insult to Ronald Reagan’s Legacy and the character of George H.W. Bush. The first Bush President had many of the qualities we would expect in our leader. Unfortunately, some things went sour during his reelection campaign and the rest is history.

    As someone who was keenly tuned into national politics from the cradle I am confident in this:

    • JFK was a man who inspired by his oratory. During the Cuban Missle Crisis there were many broadcast news conferences available on many an afternoon. This President did not slouch from the job of keeping the press corps invigorated.
    • LBJ was a whole other mess. He had good intentions and held firm in his dream of The Great Society. Things got in the way: Viet Nam, Civil Rights Protests, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. His heart was in the right place but he became so overwhelmed with the Viet Nam disaster that he had no choice but to decline another run for the Presidency.
    • The slaughter of the students at Kent State in 1970 over the protests against America’s entry into Cambodia. Nixon didn’t handle this crisis well. While he may have been one of the most brilliant foreign policy makers of the twentieth century, his domestic policies and his Watergate mistakes have tarnished what rightfully should have been Nixonian luster.
    • Gerry Ford was a healer. His genteel style accompanied by the First Lady’s Breast Cancer ordeal changed the paradigm of hate for a bit. President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon was arguably the bravest political act a man in Mr. Ford’s position could make. It was in that moment I knew that America would do well under Gerald Ford’s watchful eye. He carried out his duties to the best of his abilities until his last day in office.
    • The ascendancy of Jimmy Carter to the White House was a direct rebuke of the entire Watergate Mess. Ironically his Presidency had the most evidence and ability to garner far reaching bipartisan support. All of that good will and positive energy began to wain in the days of the Iran Hostage Crisis. By then we were at a very low point. America suffered from collective lack of self-esteem.
    • Ronald Reagan brought that spirit of hope and faith back into American everyday life. Things were possible once again. The Hostages were out and Reagan was making some serious decisions that required him to go directly to the people to communicate his vision. In so many ways the Reagan-Thatcher-Gorbachev coalition blessed by Pope John Paul II created the upheaval which crushed communism in Europe.
    • George H.W. Bush, arguably had the best character references of a President since JFK. His resume was impressive, his knowledge of foreign policy nothing short of brilliant. Domestically he was troubled and even with the support he had in the Gulf War, the situation at home just didn’t sit well with the voters.
    • “I still believe in a place called Hope.” Bill Clinon said the night he was elected President. I’m with Bill. I believe in that place, too. Yep, he screwed up big time in the Oval Office. He committed perjury and while it’s quite easy to understand his motivation, it doesn’t condone it. The bottom line, however, is that the overall performance of the Clinton Administration has far many high points than lows.
    • And that brings us back to George W. Bush. Sorry, folks, the jury is deadlocked. We will have to look at history and its analysis 10 years from now. All we can do is try and support what he is trying to accomplish in the Middle East. We may not agree with his means but I honestly believe that the majority of us want to get to the end in a proper, dignified way befitting an American action.
  • JR

    Anthony Grande: Can you tell me one good thing he (Kennedy) did for us and the world?

    Well, by your own admission, he successfully dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    I’ll concede that point, Dave. But isn’t that a “Texan” thing? It seems the yellow cowboys of Texas use money as the answer to every problem imaginable. Now that’s not a blanket indictment of all Texans — I know many who are wonderful, God-fearing people. But one must wonder if the white, ten-gallon hat wearing affluent dudes aren’t a bit over the top where money is concerned.

  • Nancy

    Extremely fine post, Dave. I think you answered your own question, tho, in that these days only the most venal & duplicitious can get elected these days. No honest or honorable, intelligent person stands a chance these days (witness Swift Boat Veterans) against the smear tactics practiced by Bush & his puppetmasters, Rove & Cheney – even those of the same party.

  • Baronius

    I’m not taking the same position as Anthony on this one, but…

    There was nothing Kennedy wouldn’t do to gain office. He seems to have bought the primary, and made a lot of backroom deals in the general election. He rebuked his own religious beliefs for political advantage. The results of the general election are suspect.

    Whatever you think of his time in office, and his willingness to work with both parties, you’ve got to grant that he was an unethical campaigner. 1960 was the end of the Roosevelt-Eisenhower era of respectable campaigning, and the beginning of the Johnson-Nixon criminality. The question becomes, how can this country get rid of our JFK’s?

  • G. Oren

    Dave makes another great point about the current primary process and how it tends to deliver candidates that satify the more radical elements of their parties without appealing to the more moderate independent elements of the electorate. W turned out to be a neo-jacobin, or a fellow traveler with the neo-jacobins, not the uniter we thought he would be when we voted for him.

    The Bush 43 phenomenon is proof that, in one sense there’s not much difference between the dems and GOP, handing out pork and federal patronage and control proceed under both – meanwhile the serious problems we face with medicare, social security, immigration, economic soverignty etc.. are ignored or made worse by both. Also meanwhile, the level of polarization increases over social “values” that have little or nothing to do with the daily lives of most Americans, at least in the guise of the issues most often debated; gay marriage, abortion, prayer in schools, flag burning. All of these values issues may be totems of an underlying unease with progressivism or an advancement of it, but are they worth the paralysis of civility that results?

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    There was nothing Kennedy wouldn’t do to gain office. He seems to have bought the primary, and made a lot of backroom deals in the general election…

    But is Jack Kennedy really to blame for that? It is said that old Joe Kennedy was the power broker and Lord knows that Jacqueline Bouvier was far more politically savvy than historians have given her credit for being. The old man was determined to place his son in the White House. Unfortunately, Jack was not his first choice. That was accorded to his oldest son, Joe, who was killed in World War II.

  • G. Oren

    Dave #32 – I seem to remember from Goldwater’s memoir “With No Apologies” that he looked forward to a clean campaign of ideas with JFK – certainly not what he got with LBJ. And I agree with your assessment of JFK’s intuition.

    Silas #33 and #36, LBJ was a ruthless self promoter, and he used the wealth available to him through Lady Bird to increase his own wealth. Of course he was poor-born and self made for the most part. LBJ couldn’t understand why he wasn’t loved like JFK was loved, he didn’t lack for political courage, he knew that the civil rights act would the lose the South for the democrats in the future, but he was committed to justice there. Dave, of course, is right about the great society spending programs – LBJ and the congressional democrats opened that floodgate wide open, and we continue to deal with that legacy. A more important point is that LBJ was so committed to a paternalistic nanny state that the great society created a cycle of dependence that has only worsened over the intervening years. As Dave pointed out with his “One Question Test” – the dem answer is to carve out a patronage for every perceived group with some disability or that can be considered a minority – this is not good governing either. There may be some impulse to justice, but there is also a cynical pandering involved.

  • Baronius

    Oren, that’s quite a contradiction: primaries cater to extremists, and both parties are the same.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    All of that being said, G Oren, don’t you think that on some level he had an unabashed love for his country? So much so that in the end he fell upon his own sword rather than wage a political battle? The man was ruthless in Congress. He was the consumate politician; but, in the end, he went down in his own defeat. I remember that there was a terrible rift between the Kennedys and LBJ especially after the President was shot. But, let’s face it, the President didn’t like LBJ either. His nomination as Veep was to insure a Democrat victory and nothing more. I don’t think Kennedy or his people ever imagined that LBJ would ever ascend to the Oval Office much less think he was even capable of being President.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I’ll concede that point, Dave. But isn’t that a “Texan” thing? It seems the yellow cowboys of Texas use money as the answer to every problem imaginable. Now that’s not a blanket indictment of all Texans — I know many who are wonderful, God-fearing people. But one must wonder if the white, ten-gallon hat wearing affluent dudes aren’t a bit over the top where money is concerned.

    Up until pretty recently Texas government has been remakably frugal, with a history of balanced budgets and even supluses without relying on an income tax.

    The number of Texans to make it to the White House has been small – not a fair sampling. Despite appearances our current president has kept overall spending down, with a few prime bits of pork, but with total numbers in most areas less than his predecessor, allowing for inflation. The one excepion is the war, and that has to be counted as an exceptional expense. And he did this with a substantial tax cut. Not much like LBJ.

    Dave

  • G. Oren

    Baronius #42 – I view it as a paradox and not a contradiction. The extremes are motivated by the red meat of rhetoric – much of it revolving around these social issues – and posturing about foreign and domestic policy. One of the things that demonstrates this paradox is that the dems are now talking like fiscal conservatives – not sure they are entirely serious about that – and the GOP is uncomfortable with itself for the obvious problems with deficit spending. The GOP house votes to cut some spending to make up for the Katrina spending – then are scheduled to take up a tax cut bill next week – is anyone serious about governing for the greater good.

    Silas #43 – Yes, I think LBJ had a great love for the country and wanted to accomplish something on the order of the New Deal, whether the Great Society did that or not, he thought it did. Vietnam consumed him, and his own inferiority complex about the Kennedy’s drove him to imprudence. But he did the right thing by removing himself from the fray in 68.

    Dave #44 – As a fellow Texan I agree with your statement about our state gov., but,I’m not sure we can carry on anymore without some adjustment in the tax system – and we do have a corporate income tax, we just don’t call it that.

    Dave, I think you cut W too much slack in the budget thing. He’s spent more in all areas, and that increase has exceeded inflation – if I can believe the New Republic. Nevertheless, your point about LBJ is well taken – see my post #41 above.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Oren, they just massively added to the tax base with all the new additions to who pays business taxes, which may not be the way to go. As always I favor a bigass gas tax.

    As for Bush’s budget I’m going by what the OMB says. I have yet to read the New Republic article. The OMB figures put overall growth within the recommended inflation-adjusted growth cap, which I admit may be slightly higher than the actual rate of real inflation.

    Dave

  • http://www.tbirdofparadise.blogspot.com Bird of Paradise

    David, Thank you for your post. It was nice to see some of JFK’s inspiring words again. One of the things that JFK did was to help us believe that, in the stress of the Cold War, the United States and our allies would prevail. Yet he never pretended that “winning” this war would be easy or without sacrifice.

    On the other hand, the prosperity of the 1950’s leading into the early 1960’s gave many young Americans the illusion that idealism and peace were normative in a world that really has never known much peace. This illusion/delusion led many to “blame” the “older generation” for just about anything that fell short of peace and freedom and for whatever social constraints were in place to hold evil tendencies in check.

    Kennedy’s “vision” did not, unfortunately, communicate the reality of human sin and rebellion very clearly. As Reagan later said, there are “evil” ideas that people live by. As George W. has said, there are “evil” people who live out those evil ideas and seek to impose them on others.

    I suppose that Goldwater understood that dimension of human nature better, perhaps, than JFK. But America did not want to hear that side of the moral argument in those days.

    The morass of Vietnam hit Americans, espcially those of the age of conscription, as some sort of anomily…some terrible intrusion into the idealism of peaceful coexistence. There was a genuine and sincere naivete in the anti-war crowd who honestly did not have an answer to the question more recently raised by Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

    The answer for many was, of course, the United States is the reason why things are so bad in the world. We led in the arms race; we were killing the people of Vietnam; we were imposing our democratic values on Latin American countries that were fiinding “peace and justice” in Marxist Socialism….a system and philosophy that, in ignorance, they sincerely believed was more caring and beneficial to the poor and the oppressed.

    In light of today’s political split in America, we can see the naive idealism and optimism articulated by JFK clearly reflected in the Democratic Party and coopted for a more pacifist and isolationist attitude.

    Nowhere is this more clear than in the words you quote from JFK, “We must never negotiate out of fear. But we should never fear to negotiate.”

    Democrats, from Al Gore to John Kerry to John Dean are still saying, “If we only talked it over and involved everyone in a really polite and honest tete a tete we would not be having these hostile attitudes between peoples, nations and faith communities. When in doubt, negotiate!

    Bush has tapped into the Goldwater, Reagan understanding of human nature. He has been optimistic for the future but, at least since 9/11, also somewhat gloomy about the difficult struggles that lie ahead of us as a nation and a world in dire conflict with an unyielding and uncompromising foe.

    The stern resolve that inspired us after 9/11 does not play quite as well politically today. People want the idealism to return. People want to know and be reassured that “all will be well.”

    Bush cannot in good conscience say that….because he knows that is not true.

    Democrats, however, seem to really believe that, with a return to a more idealistic view of human nature in regards to our foreign policy, all will be well.

    Personally, I would welcome a more “up-beat” message from Bush.

    Instead we are bombarded by a constnant mantra of “doom and gloom” by the Democrats….not because of the world situation, with nations engaged in genuine and life-taking conflict….but because of….George W. Bush!

    If only Bush were not the President, all would be well!

    Want a better America? Get rid of George W. Bush!

    But what is offered in place of Bush’s realpolitick? Idealism, of coure. Optimism. A sincere believe and promise that “we can all get along” if we just try harder. “Think Peace” and you will have it.

    Bumper-sticker stuff.

    Kennedy was a lot smarter than this. He had fought against real evil in the Pacific and knew that it had to be confronted by power in order to be contained.

    Jesus said that we should be “wary and wise as snakes and be innocent as doves.”

    JFK was both.

    Democratic Party leaders today are almost exclusively only the latter.

    And the Republicans just seem confused.

  • Anthony Grande

    I am sure Kennedy did a couple good things. But isn’t that his job as president as the United States? Kennedy really fucked up on many things. This is what I know and understand about JFK (remember that I wasn’t even alive back then):

    1. Family amounted their fortune threw illegal operations.

    2. Won the election by making deals with Chicago’s Giancana Mafia Family. If Kennedy would have kept the election clean Nixon would have been president.

    3. Almost blew the Cuban missile crisis and then won it by making backroom deals with the communists that ultimately devastated the people of Cuba for 50 years and going.

    4. To be a good boy and keep his promise to the Soviets he sacrificed thousands of Cuban exiles who were on the verge of overthrowing Castro. This was the Bay of Pigs (the Cuban exiles were like Pigs in the Havana bay that made easy targets for Castro’s guns).

    5. Showed a bad example to all of America by commiting adultery on several occasions.

    The Kennedy administration did a noble thing with their war on the Mafia. They devasted the Mafia. But as the saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” and Jackie and Bobby both got their brains blown out.

    I personally believe that Nixon would have done a better job. I believe Nixon would have handled the Cuban crisis and have successfully overthrown Castro.

  • Baronius

    Oren – Fair enough. I see what you’re saying. There is a tendency to strut to the extremes while campaigning, then govern in the middle. A lot of that comes from Kennedy’s unscrupulous campaigning, but to be fair, it was probably inevitable. Television and all.

    I think it’s valid to use a symbolic issue to differentiate yourself, as long as it legitimately indicates where you stand. This past election, the governor’s race in Virginia revolved around the death penalty and road construction. From what I understand (not much: VA politics is like Navajo code-talking) the road construction debate really highlighted the differences in the candidates’ governing philosophies, and the death penalty debate was pure mud-slinging. I wonder, is there any incentive to campaign on legitimate issues.

    You asked if the price is too high, this loss of civility. I don’t know who really pays the price. Do politicians get punished for excess? That’s not a rhetorical question.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I have to point out that when you’re campaigning against Nixon you can go pretty low and still be taking the moral high road.

    As for Anthony’s complaints, they are mostly irrelevant or basically meaningless. You think every major democrat politician doesn’t count on the mob-vote in some way?

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    (remember that I wasn’t even alive back then)
    There was a time when this world was a nicer place.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Shavua Tov Dave,

    Excellent post. I wouldn’t waste time comparing your present leader to John Kennedy. I agree with you that had he lived, he would have been a glorious failure. But Bush has lived, and is an inglorius failure with his worst days ahead of him – and of us in Israel as well.

    I remember watching the speech you quoted above on CBS News coverage of Kennedy’s inauguration. I watched it at home and didn’t care if I was late getting to school from my lunch break. I sensed, even at 10 years of age, that what Kennedy had to say was more important than Miss Doyle, my fourth grade teacher.

    We all had a lot of illusions then, us kids who watched the young handsome man without the hat and with the Boston accent as he made one of the best speeches in modern American history. Our lives since have been, in large part, the history of our disillusionment. Some of us have been lucky to move beyond that disillusionment.

    You suggest that politics is unhinged in your country. I agree with you. It is becoming unhinged all over the world. Reality appears to be becoming unhinged as well.

    I commend you to Yeat’s poem, “The Second Coming”, written when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was an infant. I believe that G-d gave him a view of the future, It was expressed in a Christian metaphor, but I think he saw the future, whether he realized it or not. He reflected, withut realizing it, much of what constitutes the Jewish view of history.

  • Baronius

    I dunno, Dave. Nixon could easily have challenged the vote count. More than 600 members of the Daley machine were indicted for campaign violations (3 were found guilty: you’ve got to love Chicago). Illinois and Johnson’s Texas made the difference in a very tight election. They say Nixon’s heart shrank 3 sizes that day: he felt that the election was stolen, and never got over it. But Nixon was a more decent man, maybe the more decent man, in 1960.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com Silas Kain

    I liked Nixon a lot. He had a keen sense of world affairs and I really think he wanted to do some good. The 1960 election followed by the 1962 Gubernatorial election in California caused him in many ways to snap. Though he resurrected himself in 1968, I don’t think Nixon ever really felt secure as President. In his post presidency years he tried to change his image and I think he did a pretty good job of becomeing an elder statesman in the end.

  • Anthony Grande

    “You think every major democrat politician doesn’t count on the mob-vote in some way?”

    Yeah I know but that isn’t a reason to excuse them.

    We are forgetting the Vietname War:

    Democratic President Kennedy started it,

    Democratic President Johnson escalated it by inseting the draft,

    And Republican President Nixon tried to win it and he is the one who goes down in history as a tyrant and loser.

    What if Nixon was president in 1960 rather than Kennedy, would things be different?

  • G. Oren

    Silas – Somebody should do a study of politicians with “Kennedy Envy”. We know LBJ had his inferiority complex and so did Nixon.

    I’m a little younger than you and Dave (44 last August), but I’ve been politically “aware” since birth I guess. Ha! Ya’ll remember what it was like as Vietnam drug on but wound down, the sacrifice of troops as we “Vietnamized” the war and drew down our overall troop commitment. Nixon must have had a press conference every six weeks, seems like he was always out in front himself answering the press directly – peace with honor etc… he did the right thing in Dec. 72, bombed em back to the stone age and the NVA came back to the peace table by Jan. 73. Watergate encapsulated his ego problem, if he’d just’ve come clean in the beginning he would’ve wound up as a great president and the dems would not have had the opportunity to gut the CIA, the military etc.. in the mid 70’s. Lots of “if only’s” for Nixon – but history has been kinder to him than his contemporaries were – his version of realpolitik and Salt I were helpful in framing the Soviet’s position.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Anthony, a quick visit to google could set your historical information straight. US involvement started after the French began to pull out after Dien Bien Phu in 1954, with monetary aid and then unofficial direct involvement prior to Kennedy’s inauguration. True, Kennedy did send in the first official troops, but the CIA was operating in the area before 1960.

    If Nixon had won in 1960 I think our chances of nuclear conflict in the 1960s would have been enormously higher. Johnson couldn’t afford to be a cold warrior because of all the economic problems his policy helped to exacerbate.

    Dave

  • G. Oren

    Anthony – I think I read on the most recent gay rights discussion post that you are 17-18? Anyway, The vigor you display in your posts is laudable, and I might have posted things similar to yours when I was your age – I was certainly ideologically convinced of the rightness of lebertarian/conservatism. But, you must try to capture something besides heat and the lazy sound bite. Aping Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity will not cut it, you need to get your facts straight – as Dave points out above – then see how the facts line up with your ideological barometer. You may find your barometer doesn’t work in a lot of cases. You may also find there is much more to culture and politics than parotting the party line. I’m writing to you as I would talk to my daughter (who is about your age and very politically aware), I mean no disrespect. I appreciate reading your thoughts, but they would be so much more informative and stimulating if you would expand your knowledge base. Reading lists of great books and conservative “must reads” are easy to find. Again, I mean no disrespect, a world of knowledge and history lies open to you – be one of the few who really tries to grasp it – not parrott some talking head or uneducated preacher.

  • Anthony Grande

    Dave, don’t get me wrong, I would have supported the Vietname War. I was just trying to make a point. I believe that, despite all the propanganda, we won the Vietname War but lost only one objective: a free South Vietname or a united democratic Vietname.

    I do believe that things would have been different if Nixon was elected instead of Kennedy (fill me in if I am wrong): A declaration of war, no draft and less casualties.

    G. Oren, heard it many times and we’ll see.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Anthony, when I was a young snot about your age, I had plenty of opinions about politics, and lots of other things. But when my dad asked his neighbor, “remember Fiorello La Guardia?” and my mom recounted how he read the funnies over the radio during a newspaper strike, I shut my trap and listened. I heard a lot of these stories during the many strikes in the first administration of Mayor John Vliet Lindsay, whom I, in my intemperate “wisdom,” had convinced my parents to vote for in 1965.

    No matter what I knew, or thought I knew, I understood enough to understand that I did not know enough to open my mouth. My parents had lived through the things in La Guardia’s day that I only read about. They had lived through the Depression and the Second World War. My father had a doctorate in being a war refugee, even though he had only a sixth grade education.

    When he talked about how the German soldiers would give him and his brother bread from their bakeries during the First World War in occupied Russia-Poland, I listened to the voice of history. There were things my dad could tell me about the First World War that are found in NO textbook, no matter how thoroughly written and researched.

    This thread is primarily for those of us who have some historical memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the era that immediately followed. Some of us who lived in this era, believe that Nixon would have been the better choice in 1960. Some not.

    Some of us believe that the war in Vietnam was morally wrong. Some, like me, believe that it was a stategic error, a waste of blood and money. Some of us believe that it was right and more than a few of us put those beliefs into action and volunteered for service rather than wait for the letter in the mail “inviting” us to come to the Selective Service Board. There are many voices you do not hear on this list. They belong to those who never lived long enough to even see an IBM PC because they swallowed a bullet in Vietnam – and died.

    Maybe your mom or dad can tell you about some of these things, and maybe, if you are lucky enough to still have them, your grandparents can give you a better shading of understanding. But beyond that, these are things you can only read in a text, or on a computer “encyclopedia.”

    It is good that you are interested in these things and think enough to have opinions on them. It puts you leagues ahead of the mall rats in your country and in mine. But there are times when you are wiser to let your elders who lived through all this argue while your read in silence. You might learn something.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Lovely job, Dave. I mentioned in comments in another post only a little while back that Kennedy is the last president that I felt I could admire.

    His famous call, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” is still pertinent today, maybe even more so than in the 60s. We need people to rise out of their cynical cocoons and do more (this means even little things like volunteering at a local senior center or the big things like joining the Peace Corps). Kennedy had a vision for America, and I think that’s what inspired us.

    You mention that Kennedy might have been a glorious failure, but I beg to differ. I think he would have been one of our most successful presidents had he lived; he would have been re-elected and served until 1968 when his brother would have won the White House (of course, I am assuming that neither assassination took place).

    With Bobby serving until 1976, we might have avoided many of the things that tore this country apart: Vietnam, Watergate, the Nixon resignation. Moreover, we would not have slid into a deep decline in the Carter presidency (no doubt a Republican, perhaps even Reagan since he ran) would have won in 1976. It would have altered the landscape of our times (I think for the better).

    In the end, we would not have the ascension of the Bush dynasty, perhaps no Clinton administration at all, and maybe no 9/11.

    All speculation, but that is the only thing we can do. I wish JFK would have lived and served his country (as a sitting President and then later as an eloquent statesman) with the amazing capacity for leadership and courage that he showed throughout his life. He and Teddy Roosevelt are the only two presidents that I can admire after Lincoln. That’s a downright travesty.

  • Tom Donelson

    To those who used Dave’s piece to blast Bush may reconsider. Kennedy prepresented the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party and his tax cuts served as a model for both Reagan and Bush. His support for free trade is closer to the modern Republican Party. While he was a liberal who had faith in government intervention in the ecnonomy and was not a limited government advocate, he certainly understood that even liberalism had limits.

    Was he perfect? Hardly, as his private life showed. The bottom line is that Kennedy put in place the basis for a moderate Democratic Party. A legacy that his own brother among others have thrown away.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    In the end, we would not have the ascension of the Bush dynasty, perhaps no Clinton administration at all, and maybe no 9/11.

    Actually, I think that if your scenario had happened it would have further legitimized dynastic presidencies and the Bushes are the moderate Republican elitist answer to the moderate Democrat elite dynasty of the Kennedys.

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    I think you’re right, Dave. And had we gone down that dynastic path I wonder how different politics would be today. As archaic as it sounds, there seems some advantage to a constitutional monarchy. I like the idea that the prevailing political party in Parliament also maintains the Executive. We have had some phenomenal leaders in the House who would have made far better executives than we’ve had. All that being said, we have what we have and need to make the best of it. A good place to start these days would be to revamp election laws and campaign finance.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I don’t know about legislators as executives, Silas. Seems like those who serve too long on the hill make poor candidates and worse presidents. Let me just mention LBJ and Ford as classic examples. The skill sets just aren’t the same.

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    You’re not big on Ford, Dave? I really liked him, especially for the courage it took for him to pardon Nixon. You’re right about being in power too long but being the executive would require party approval as in Britain. It will never happen in America, but I can dream, can’t I?

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Thinking this over again, I had a wild thought. If the three branches of government are truly to be separate, why does the president get to choose Supreme Court justices (who need to be approved by legislators)?

    How about the public voting for Supreme Court justices? They would have to campaign, speak about the issues, and I think in the end we’d have a more pure system.

  • G. Oren

    We’ve wandered far and wide with this thread, but that befits the legacy of JFK and the pivotal time of his presidency. Dave responded above regarding political dynasties, and I have to jump in here with something I’ve been stirring on for some time, this also touches on VL’s post in #67.

    Briefly, as all of you know, the founders were steeped in the classical history of Greece and Rome. The history of republican democracy indicated that small city states e.g. Athens were the most sucessful venues for plebiscitary democracy. The Roman republic had numerous counterbalances to the “will of the people”. That they first thought of themselves as citizens of soveriegn states, and these states as part of a confederation of states is obvious from the articles of confederation. That the subsequent constitution incorporated numerous “checks and balances” and indirect methods for the “election” of various legislators and the executive, as well as appointment (with approval) of SC justices, indicates the skeptical attitude the founders had toward the “will of the people” and the tyranny of temporary majorities.

    My points are these: 1 – though it was not surprising that JQ Adams should follow in the steps of his father when the nation was still small and states still comparatively strong, I think it would surprise the founders to see so many legacy politicians on the landscape in the 20th century. In a nation of nearly 300 million, you would think we would have better mechanisms for seeing that the best and the brightest are able to run for public office. I see these political dynasties as comparable to Roman families that produced senators and consulars, they have the money and their names present a political shorthand to the faithful. Nevertheless, a tradition of public service does not make a good or especially wise public servant of any particular dynastic member, as Tom points out above. In my opinion, that these political dynasties exist is an example of the lassitude of a large electorate, we don’t care enough to educate ourselves on the issues – in most years we are pretty far from the hot-headed rabble the founders feared – dunder-headed rabble maybe. W was certainly not the most qualified person to be governor of Texas, but his name was known and the money could be raised with the name etc… I imagine a Kennedy could get elected to anything in Mass. So, in my view these dynasties do not represent quality of leadership, but access to money and a rather cynical belief in their right to rule. It makes you wonder if the Athenian model can be applied at all to such a large polis.

    2. Assuming we could get the constitution amended to make it so, electing Supreme Court Justices would add another layer of bloviation to the process. Though it might increase the quantity of direct democracy, that by itself would be no guarantee of knowledgeable or qualified candidates, much less good judging. In Texas, we elect supreme court justices to four year terms, and I can tell you it is a process by turns both unseemly and surreal – who can know what really needs to be known about the candidates – I end up following the advice of our professional association, the TSCPA. Imagine if the nine justices of the court had to be elected to six year terms with three being up every two years – it would be like having three mini-presidents elected every two years – the thought makes me quesy. But, that’s just me.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    You’re not big on Ford, Dave? I really liked him, especially for the courage it took for him to pardon Nixon.

    Courage or the inevitable payoff for getting a shot at being president. My problems with him date back to the Warren commission, where he was a leading force for not investigating anything but the obvious explanations. And the fact that as president he basically did nothing at all – he certainly didn’t introduce the economic policies he could have to bring the country out of recession.

    You’re right about being in power too long but being the executive would require party approval as in Britain. It will never happen in America, but I can dream, can’t I?

    Have you seen what a mess the British system is? I’m all for multiple parties, but picking an executive out of the legislature by consensus is a disaster.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Thinking this over again, I had a wild thought. If the three branches of government are truly to be separate, why does the president get to choose Supreme Court justices (who need to be approved by legislators)?

    Well, that way both of the other branches theoretically have a say in who gets picked. Personally I’d like to see them up for review periodically. The problem here is really the life term, not how they’re selected. I’d put them on there for a 3 year probationary period before final confirmation.

    How about the public voting for Supreme Court justices? They would have to campaign, speak about the issues, and I think in the end we’d have a more pure system.

    We do that here in Texas and the result isn’t any better PLUS you get justices bought and paid for by special interests elected to the bench.

    Dave

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I’ve been looking over the latest back and forth here and I can only say that a parliamentary system breeds people who are executives accustomed to operating in a legislative body. That’s because every single back bencher is dreaming of heading the cabinet as prime minister.

    The grass is always greener in the neighbor’s pasture. Israel has a professional committee choose its High Court judges and the result is that one is the clone of the other. Decisions here are pretty predictable.

    Countries who have no fundamental vision of what they are about tend to be a mess. This extends to America, Canada, Israel, Germany, ands of course, Italy. Kennedy tried to provide a vision, but it died with him.

    Silas, like you I dreamt of living in a parliamentary democracy. Now I live in a country that pretends it is one. It sucks.

    Finally, every now and again, someone pops up with the family trees of presidents. What is remarkable is how many of these jokers are distant relatives. A long time ago, someone wrote a book aboiut political “tribes” in the States. The dynastic principle is quite alive in the country that calls itself a republic.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    I have to agree that the dynastic principle is alive and well here in the States. Besides Massachusetts, the Kennedys have injected themselves into the politics of New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and even with Arnold, California. The Bush family has been discussed ad nauseum along with its direct connection to Franklin Pierce via Barbara Bush. Though the Rockefellers are on the verge of extinction, the Cuomos may pick up where they left off.

    I don’t think election of judges is prudent, especially in our elections system. The fact that there are states where judges are elected has always concerned me. Judges should be selected by the Executive with consent of the Legislative. What’s happened is that polarizing issues confronting society have entered the judicial debate in such a way that the selection of judges has become completely devoid of reason. When special interests get hold of the judicial selection process, that can only spell trouble. Again, like a broken record, I have to refer to what I have said since my first day here at BC. We need radical campaign finance reform and the decentralization of the special interests on K Street. And before we implement that kind of reform, we need something even more: the electorate showing up at the polls.

  • http://pogblog.blogharbor.com pogblog

    John Kennedy was shot on my 19th birthday. I felt flayed. That makes one keenly aware of politics and consequences for the rest of a life, believe me.

    I like your insight that at least in fledgling form JFK had “an understanding of the basic needs that bind men together no matter what their station.”

    I think if JFK had lived he would have come to promote what I might call the leadership in each of us. Rather than rallying to soaring words from an exalted leader, I think he might have asked us each to pick up our own grain of sand and move it to the mountain.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    “That makes one keenly aware of politics and consequences for the rest of a life, believe me.”

    Words of wisdom, well spoken.

    In January 1963, we were watching TV and a bulletin came on telling us that Sylvanus Olympio of Togo (I think) had been assassinated. My mother said, “that can’t happen in America.” I looked at her and said, “really?”

    I was enough of a snot to remind her of this when watching the carriage carry John Kennedy’s casket on the day of his funeral.

  • Anthony Grande

    Ruvy, comment 60, thanks. I see what you are talking about.

    I am an amateur Mafia expert. I have have and read about 30-40 books written by or written about mobsters, my family has connections with the Mafia going back to the Old Country and I watch just about anything I can on the Mafia. This is where I get my information about Kennedy from. JFK, his daddy Josepgh and little RFK has deep connections with wiseguys and made many deals. This is fact.

    You say listen to my parents about history? My dad has many stories but he never went to Nam eventhough he was old enough. My mom is a throbbing Liberal (but is Pro-Life) and she cries every time a tell her my dream is to enlist in the Army. My paternal Grandparents are long gone. My maternal Grandparents on my mom side are so liberal it makes your head spin (they are also Pro-Life).

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I have to agree that the dynastic principle is alive and well here in the States. Besides Massachusetts, the Kennedys have injected themselves into the politics of New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and even with Arnold, California. The Bush family has been discussed ad nauseum along with its direct connection to Franklin Pierce via Barbara Bush. Though the Rockefellers are on the verge of extinction, the Cuomos may pick up where they left off.

    There are so many other dynasties too. The Roosevelts are still around, a Taft is governor of Ohio, the Chafees have a long history in government – almost the hereditary rulers of Rhode Island. Then there are the newer entrants in the race, the Gores, the Bayhs and so many others. But I don’t see it as a bad thing. These people who feel called to national leadership as a sense of inherited responsibility seem to often make better and less venal leaders than those who come up from the bottom of the garbage heap of politics or those who are in politics purely for personal gain.

    When special interests get hold of the judicial selection process, that can only spell trouble. Again, like a broken record,

    Of course, the special interest we can never get rid of on the bench is the lawyers. I’d like to see more judges with a background other than law, at least at the top levels of the judiciary. An intelligent person can learn the law he needs to be a judge, but just practicing law your whole life doesn’t give you much of a feel for the needs and circumstances of the kinds of people who end up on trial.

    Dave

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Anthony,

    You wrote,”My maternal Grandparents on my mom’s side are so liberal that it makes your head spin (they are also Pro-Life).”

    May I sugest that you forget the conservative and liberal labels and listen to their stories. You might discover the source of their beliefs, which is something worth far more than an elusive and shifty label, like liberal or conservative.

    In your studies, you’ll eventually discover that “liberal” in Europe is something very different from “liberal” in America, and that often “pro-choice” is a term used by Europeans who are in favor of restricting or making abortion illegal.

    For example, elsewhere I mentioned that I was a socialist. That too is a shifty and tricky label. If I must tack on the labels, I’m a syndicalist socialist, which in simple English means that I prefer a system where you have only pivate enterprise competing on the open market, but the private enterprises are as much possible owned by the workers, rather than coupon clipping capitalists.

    I mention this not to raise the issue or advocate the concept, but to illustrate how tricky and misleading political labels can be.

    In the ’50’s and ’60’s, the Histadrut (the national labor federation) ran the sick funds here, the health insurance providers here. The “nationalist” Herút party and the “conservative” Liberal party advocated the state taking over the sick funds so as to weaken the Histadrut. That is what most folks would call socialism.

    Have I sufficiently confused you yet with labels?

    If not, consider that in Central Europe, the People’s Party is the name of a right wing political organization, while just a decade and a half ago, the People’s Republic was the standard name of the “left” wing communist states in Eastern Europe.

    There oughta be a labelling law.

  • Anthony Grande

    “May I sugest that you forget the conservative and liberal labels and listen to their stories.”

    Why do you think that I labeled them as liberals?

    My grandparents do tell me stories and tries to influence me with them, let me share one with you:

    Those damn Jews invaded the Holy Land after WWII and burned down and destroyed the villages of those poor Palestinians. They are now occupying the little land the Palestinians have and oppressing them. We need to do everything we can to give back the Holy Land to the rightful owner, the poor Palestinians. I do not blame those suicide bombers because they have been oppressed for so many years. (When they went to Israel they befreinded Palestinians who told them these stories. They also bought me a book, “Blood Brothers” by Elias Chacour, are you familiar?

    “In your studies, you’ll eventually discover that “liberal” in Europe is something very different from “liberal” in America”

    No, they are very much the same. Its just that here the liberals hide it.

    We are very different and liberal means something and conservative means something. I am sorry if I am offending by using terms that vary in your country.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    The use of the word liberal in the sneering, condescending way that it is used by many people is as subtly devious as it is offensive.

    What people who use the word that way are objecting to isn’t “liberalism”, it’s tolerance. However they rightly saw that going around objecting to tolerance would be a very difficult message to sell and came up with this snide innuendo.

    Furthermore, the use of the word liberal in this way has the effect of shutting off debate on many serious issues, which is another calculated and intended result. It may be of some political expedience in the short term but is certain to rebound on the perpetrators of this intellectual fraud.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I have to agree with Chris. Using political labels to cut off debate tends to rebound unfavorably on those who use the tactic.

    Anthony, from the story you told me above of your grandparents’views it is impossible to conclude that they are “liberal,” “conservative” or anything else. They are clearly anti-Israel and pro-Arab. That is as far as one can reasonably go.

    I do not like your grandparents’ views, but at least they want you to think. This is good.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    PICK OF THE WEEK ::: A section editor pointed your way as a pick of the 11-19/11-25 week. Click HERE to find out why.

    Cheers. Temple

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Mazel Tov, Dave.

    A very good job of a piece, that deserves recognition.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Thanks to Natalie Davis for picking the post and thanks to you too Ruvy.

    Dave

  • Anthony Grande

    Ruvy, supporting the Palestinians is a liberal thing to do in this country.

  • Fucker

    I needed to know what opposition John faced