There would have been no John F. Kennedy as brilliant statesman cut off in his prime, had it not been for those riveting days from Dealey Plaza to Arlington and the lighting of the Eternal Flame.
Along with the unsleeping labors of an idolatrous press and the propagandists who control America’s popular culture, those four days created and sustained the Kennedy Myth.
But, over 50 years, the effect has begun to wear off.
The New York Times reports that in the ranking of presidents, Kennedy has fallen further and faster than any. Ronald Reagan has replaced him as No. 1, and JFK is a fading fourth.
Kennedy is increasingly perceived today as he was 50 years ago, before word came that shots had been fired in Dallas.
That he was popular, inspirational, charismatic, no one denied. But no one would then have called him great or near great. His report card had too many C’s, F’s and Incompletes.
His great legislative victory had been the passage of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. His tax cut bill was buried on the Hill.
His triumph had been forcing a withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. But we would learn this was done by a secret deal for the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey and a secret pledge not to invade Cuba.
And after the missile crisis, Bobby Kennedy pushed the CIA to eliminate Castro, eliciting a warning from Fidel that two could play this game. Lyndon Johnson said that under the Kennedys, the CIA had been running “a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.”
What caused Nikita Khrushchev to think he could get away with putting rockets in Cuba? His perception that JFK was a weak president.
Kennedy had denied air cover for the Cuban patriots at the Bay of Pigs, resulting in the worst debacle of the Cold War. He was then berated and humiliated by Khrushchev at the Vienna Summit in June 1961.
In August, Khrushchev built the Berlin Wall. Kennedy sat paralyzed.
In September, Khrushchev smashed the three-year-old nuclear test-ban moratorium with a series of explosions featuring, at Novaya Zemlya, a 57-megaton “Tsar Bomba,” the largest man-made blast ever.
“Less profile, more courage,” the placards read.
In Southeast Asia, JFK had Averell Harriman negotiate a treaty for neutralizing Laos, resulting in Hanoi’s virtual annexation of the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos into South Vietnam.
Where Eisenhower had 600 advisers in Vietnam, JFK increased it to 16,000 and gave his blessing to a generals’ coup in which our ally, President Ngo Dinh Diem, was assassinated.
Then and there, Vietnam became America’s war.
Kennedy had made a famous phone call to Mrs. Martin Luther King during the 1960 campaign when her husband had been arrested. Yet, he kept his administration away from the March on Washington and directed J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap Dr. King to learn of his associations with Communists.
Since his death, Kennedy’s reputation has been ravaged by revelations of assignations and mistresses from Marilyn Monroe to Mafia molls to White House interns from Miss Porter’s School.
All of this was covered up by his courtier journalists who would collaborate in perpetuating the Kennedy myth and collude in destroying their great hate object, Richard Nixon.
Yet, contrast what Nixon did, with what JFK failed to do.
Where Kennedy managed to get Gov. George Wallace to admit two black students to the University of Alabama, Nixon desegregated 70 percent of all Southern public schools.
Where the JFK-LBJ administration spent eight years putting 535,000 U.S. troops into a war they could neither end nor win, Nixon withdrew all U.S. troops in four years, brought home the POWs, and left every provincial capital in South Vietnamese hands.
Where Kennedy had the Peace Corps, Nixon ended the draft, gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, created an Environmental Protection Agency and a Cancer Institute and an Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Where Kennedy gave speeches about detente, Nixon negotiated the greatest arms treaties since the Washington Naval Agreement — SALT I and the ABM treaty — ended decades of hostility between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China, rescued Israel in the Yom Kippur War, and pulled Egypt out of the Soviet bloc into the U.S. camp.
Creating a new majority that would dominate presidential politics until 1992, Nixon was rewarded with a 49-state landslide in 1972.
Whereupon a press elite that had maintained a conspiracy of silence on Kennedy’s misconduct, seized on Nixon’s failure to deal decisively with misconduct in his campaign to bring him down in the first successful coup d’etat in U.S. political history.
The mythologizing of JFK and demonization of Nixon tell us less about respective accomplishments than the moral character of an establishment, which, though it had lost America by ‘72, still controlled the culture, media, bureaucracy and Congress.
And as they brought down Nixon with Watergate, they would seek to bring down Reagan with Iran-Contra. But that coup failed.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”