November 29, 2011
ROSS DOUTHAT SAYS JFK WAS MEDIOCRE AT BEST
New York City (JFK+50) Op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat, wrote in his editorial published on the internet on November 26 & in the New York Times on November 27 that John F. Kennedy was a mediocre president at best & a “near disaster” at worst.
Douthat begins by saying:
“The cult of John F. Kennedy has the resilience of a horror-movie villan. No matter how many times the myths of Camelot are seemingly interred by history, they always come shambling back to life in another television special, another Vanity Fair cover story, another hardcover hagiography.”
In reference to Stephen King’s latest novel, “11/22/63,” Douthat says that the book’s “narrative power still depends on accepting the false premises of the Kennedy cult–premises that will no doubt endure so long as the 1960s generation does, but still deserves to be challenged at every opportunity.”
This serious op-ed columnist says that the premise (by us 60s generation types) that JFK was a “very good President who might have been great” is shared by “few serious historians.”*
*A poll of 49 historians by the Chicago Tribune in 1982 has JFK ranked 14th while another poll of historians by Arthur Mr. Schlesinger, Jr. in 1996 shows JFK at #12 of 43 men who have served as President of the United States.
Note: #1-11 could be classified as “Great”, 12-24 as “Very Good”.
Douthat concludes his, as JFK might have said ‘less than brilliant’ piece with the conclusion that “the JFK cult matters because its myths still shape how we interpret politics today. We confuse charisma with competence, rhetoric with results, celebrity with genuine achievement.”**
**The full editorial can be read at www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/opinion/sunday/Douthat-The-Enduring-Cult-of-Kennedy.html
READERS RESPOND TO CRITICISM OF JFK
New York City (JFK+50) The New York Times today published several well-written “Letters to the Editor” in response to Ross Douthat’s op-ed column of Nov. 27th titled “The Enduring Cult of Kennedy.”
The first letter was written by noted Kennedy historian Robert Dallek.
Mr. Dallek, who wrote “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” says that President Kennedy’s legacy deserves “better than Mr. Douthat gives him”.
Dallek correctly reminds us that while JFK’s legislative program did not pass until after his death, he did “put (it) on the table & would have been well positioned to pass (it) after his more than likely re-election in 1964.”
The second letter comes from Ben Miles of Huntington Beach, California.
Mr. Miles writes:
“Seldom does an anniversary of (JFK’s) death pass that I don’t reflect on & find inspiration in the wit & wisdom of his words.”
Barry Pritzer of Greenfield Center, New York, in the 3rd published letter, says that JFK is remembered by the 1960s generation “for the deep level of hope he inspired in people around the world, through his intelligence, his cultural appreciation, his call to service, his youth & his soaring rhetoric for the possibility of a better world.”
In the final published letter, former Time Magazine Washington bureau chief, Stanley Cloud, writes that Douthat’s “obvious aversion to polls showing that JFK rivals Lincoln & Reagan for the mantle of ‘greatest president’ prompts me to observe that the 80s generation has formed a formidable cult of its’ own.”*
*The full text of the letters can be found under “Why JFK’s Legacy Endures”, The New York Times Editorials/Letters, November 29, 2011.
JFK50 RESPONDS TO TIMES OP-ED CRITICISM OF JFK
Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) I sent an email this evening to the New York Times for their op ed columnist, Ross Douthat.
I admitted to Mr. Douthat that I am a “charter member” of the “Kennedy cult” of which he writes & asked him to take a look at JFK+50 to see what kind of influence this “mediocre” President had on me.
In keeping with Mr. Dallek’s letter to the editor today, I affirmed that Douthat’s judgment that JFK was “ineffective in domestic policy” is unfair.
As Mr. Dallek says, JFK put the agenda in play & while it did not pass until after his death, it would have passed had JFK lived & been re-elected to a 2nd term.
JFK was opposed by southern Democrats who opposed change as well as Republicans in the 2 years & 10 months he was in office. With re-election, he would, & Mr. Dallek agrees, have been in a position to get his legislative program passed.
I concluded my email to Mr. Douthat by saying that “this mediocre president” inspired my generation & people across the globe, as Barry Pritzer suggests, “for the possibility of a better world.”
As President Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961:
“I do not believe any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country & all who serve it, & the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”