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					The Nature of the Presidency
 of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Representations of Kennedy:
      Man and Myth
    1963 and beyond – The
      creation of Camelot
Theodore White eulogy in Life magazine –
 established the analogy of the Kennedy
 administration with King Arthur and the
 Knights of the Round Table

      "For one brief shining moment
           there was Camelot."
    The Camelot view of Kennedy would quickly
         be perpetuated during the 1960s
 Arthur M. Schlesinger  Theodore C.          Pierre Salinger
  Jr. A Thousand Days:    Sorensen            With Kennedy (1966)
  John F. Kennedy in      Kennedy (1965)
  the White House           Sorensen was a        Aid to Senator
  (1965)                     liberal academic     Kennedy
    Schlesinger was a       In 1953 joined      Worked for
     liberal academic         Kennedy’s          Kennedy during
    Closely associated       senate staff       election campaign as
     with the Kennedy        Became             press officer
     administration           Kennedy’s major
    An advisor to            speechwriter        Kennedy’s press
     Kennedy once he         Served as a        secretary once he
     became president         special counsel    became president
                              to Kennedy once
                              he became
The Kennedy Myths
 Kennedy, despite back problems
caused by football and war injuries,
      was fit and energetic
  Kennedy and Jackie were the
epitome of the attractive and ideal
         married couple
 Kennedy had
  been a war
hero due to his
exploits in the
  Pacific as
commander of
 the torpedo
 boat PT109
Kennedy was anxious to engage in
serious reform of American society
– in particular civil rights for African
     The end of Camelot…
As time passed, Kennedy’s Camelot was
challenged and soon the perfect image of
the late president was destroyed.

Thomas C. Reeves’ book A Question of
Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy and
Richard Reeves’ book President Kennedy:
Profile in Power (1993) are correctives to
the Camelot version of events
         Kennedy’s health

Sorensen (1965): It would be wrong to assume
that he was a sickly man. He had astounding
vitality, stamina and endurance.
        Kennedy’s health

Reeves (1993): In truth, boy and man, he
was sick and in pain much of the time. As
candidate and President, Kennedy
concealed his low energy level, radiating
health and good humour, though usually
spent more than half of most days in bed.
        Kennedy’s health
Rorabaugh Kennedy and the promise of
the sixties (2002): (Kennedy was) affected
by the drugs he had to take for his various
maladies. The presidential party included
Dr. Max Jacobson (“Dr. Feelgood”),
dispenser of shots laced with
     The Kennedy marriage

Sorensen (1965): In the White House husband
and wife were very close. His election, to her
surprise, strengthened instead of strained their
marriage. Those were their happiest years.

Salinger (1966): The White House had brought
about a closeness in their relationship, a wider
understanding of one another.
      The Kennedy marriage
Dallek in An Unfinished Life (2003): Since they had not
lived together before marrying, Jackie was unprepared
for what she called Jack’s “violent” independence – by
which she meant not just his habit of going off with his
male friends but, more important, his thinly disguised

Reeves (1991): While her husband traveled frantically
throughout the country seeking political allies, Jackie
grew increasingly unhappy. Detesting politics, lonely,
and suffering from occasional black moods, she was hurt
by continuous stories of Jack’s extramarital affairs
           The War hero

Sorensen (1965): He had been a genuine
hero of World War Two, he had towed one
injured sailor three dark and freezing
miles, grasping the man’s life belt strap in
his teeth as he swam
          The War hero

Dallek (2003): Since Jack’s boat was the
only PT ever rammed in the entire war,
questions were raised about his
performance in battle
 Kennedy the crusader for civil
Sorensen (1965): In 1953 John Kennedy
was mildly and quietly in favor of civil
rights legislation as a political necessity
consistent with his moral instincts. In 1963
he was deeply and fervently committed to
the cause of human rights as a moral
necessity inconsistent with his political
 Kennedy the crusader for civil

Miroff in Pragmatic Illusions (1976): Faced
with a social movement and a moral crisis
that transcended the ordinary boundaries
of American politics, Kennedy continued to
play politics as usual
Public and private figure
 Kennedy and his wife, both ex-journalists,
 were extremely media savvy and image
 Much of the imagery centered on family
Sorensen (1965): As President he welcomed
every opportunity to get away from his desk and
get back to the people. While most of the
shyness in public disappeared, a well-bred
deference in private did not

Schlesinger (1965): Jack was urbane, objective,
analytical, controlled, contained, masterful, a
man of perspective
Reeves (1991): An enormous gap existed
between the image of JFK – dignified
public servant, faithful husband, cultivated,
judicious, reflective, well-mannered – and
the real man, often insensitive, lascivious,
and irresponsible
  Kennedy and Cuba

Role in the Cuban missile crisis
  Sorensen’s assessment of
Kennedy and the Cuban missile
Waiting for the President to come in, we
speculated about what would have
happened if John F. Kennedy had not
been president of the United States

He had earned his place in history by this
one act alone. He had been engaged in a
personal as well as national contest for
world leadership and he had won
Role in the Cuban missile crisis
 Early accounts in 1965:
 Make no mention of Operation
 Emphasize Kennedy’s role – no longer
 relying on advisors as he did during Bay of
 Pigs fiasco
 Play down fact that Kennedy’s policies
 contributed to crisis
Giglio’s (2006) assessment in The
 Presidency of John F. Kennedy
Few Americans at the time understood how the
first Cuban crisis contributed to the second one
or the extent to which government leaders
helped provoke the Cuban missile crisis

The administration contributed to the missile
crisis, coming just seven months after the Bay of
Pigs, when President Kennedy approved
operation Mongoose, a covert CIA-inspired plan
to topple Fidel Castro

The debate
    Kennedy was an expert on
  communism in the Third World
and was convinced of the need to
oppose communism in Indochina.
He used a variety of means to do
 this but was willing to pull out of
 South Vietnam if his policies did
             not work
     According to Schlesinger:
 Kennedy’s policies in South Vietnam were
  successful in 1961-62
 Difficulties arose only because of internal
  problems amongst the South Vietnamese
 Kennedy didn’t approve of Diem as leader,
  whom had been in power since 1955
 Diem’s incompetence as a leader and personal
  behaviour led to problems in Vietnam –
  Kennedy’s policies were not to blame
 Kennedy never intended on fighting a land war
  in Asia and was looking for ways to get out
    Kennedy was mislead by
advisers on the real situation and
 had little idea about what he was
  doing in Vietnam. His policies
were inconsistent and piecemeal,
leading to the disastrous situation
              in Vietnam
   According to Reeves (1991):
 Kennedy had too many other problems during
 1961-62 to give his undivided attention to
 Vietnam – Cuba, Berlin, Laos
 Kennedy’s anti-communist foreign policy was at
 odds with the real situation – leading to irrational
 Under Kennedy, the US became deeply
 involved in Vietnam – it was now impossible to
 Schlesinger’s views are self-serving – he didn’t
 want himself or Kennedy associated with the
 later disasters of the Vietnam War
Relationship and dealings with

          The debate
Kennedy was able to handle the
      Russian leader Nikita
Khrushchev and to improve US-
Soviet relations despite problems
 over Berlin, the arms race and
   Sorensen and Schlesinger:
 Defensive accounts of the Vienna
 Kennedy firmly expressed his views
 regarding Berlin to Khrushchev
 The establishment of an ongoing
 correspondence between the leaders was
 very important
Schlesinger: Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev
emerged victorious, or defeated, cheerful or

Sorensen: Generally, Kennedy carried the
conversational initiative, introducing topics,
keeping them specific, bringing straying
discussions back to the question and pressing
Khrushchev for answers

Salinger: Despite their failure to reach accord on
major East-West conflicts, both heads of state
left Vienna with greater personal respect for
each other
 Kennedy probably improved in
  his dealings with Khrushchev
over time, but the Russian leader
   was a strong opponent and
 Kennedy never really came to
     grips with handling him
Reeves (1991): But the American President’s
arguments did seem old and defensive

He was on the other side, arguing against
revolution, against change. The Marxist coal
miner was tying him in knots

For the first time in his life Kennedy met a man
who was impervious to his charm
Rorabaugh (2002): In any event, Kennedy
allowed himself to be drawn away from a
discussion of specific problems into a
fruitless ideological debate

Although Americans had to live with the
consequences of this failure in the early
sixties, Kennedy’s poor performance
remained partly hidden from view for

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