Why Is JFK So Deified?

He most likely was elected with the assistance of voter fraud. His personal behavior put his presidency at risk. The Bay of Pigs was a huge blunder that was in part caused by his inexperience. And worst of all, he allowed the coup in South Vietnam and the assassination of Diem to proceed which pretty much made the Vietnam War inevitable.

Plus he wasn’t in office long enough to pass much legislation. JFK pretty much looked good on camera and gave some good speeches. Am I missing some accomplishments that justifies his deification?

Why is Mayweather?

He got shot.

That’s about it. If he would have had to finish out his term and run for re-election he would probably have lost and then become just another former politician.

Certainly he was a good looking young man with an attractive wife and cute kids in the new tv era where celebrityhood was becoming important.

I do like how he pushed to get America into space.

JFK is both underrated and overrated, IMO. He’s overrated because yes, he was handsome, charismatic, a good speaker and because his death impacted America’s largest generation in a huge way.

But I just got through reading a thorough account of his almost three years in office. He was a good President, probably in Bill Clinton’s class. He had an approval rating in the 60s and 70s, he was moderate on economics issues, liberal for his time on social issues, and a foreign policy hawk who nevertheless was cautious unless bold action was called for. He was not qualified for the Presidency when he first took office, which might have been why Kruschev tested him, but grew into the office pretty well. He probably got along with the Democratic majority better than any President in history, never needing to resort to the arm twisting and threats that LBJ did. That being said, he never tried to do anything as bold as LBJ. A lot more Clinton than LBJ or FDR, wanting incremental steps rather than big changes.

I think he’s also deified based on “what could have been”. JFK probably wouldn’t have achieved the domestic policy successes of the Johnson administration, but he also probably wouldn’t have had such an ill considered Vietnam policy. I think we still would have gotten more involved in Vietnam, but slow escalation wasn’t JFK’s style. It is more likely that we would have either had a more successful strategy or gotten out before tens of thousands of Americans had given their lives. But what Democrats really would miss is that JFK was persuasive and popular, which would have probably delayed the Democratic Party malaise of the 70s, which was caused in part by Vietnam but also by a government that had grown so fast that it wasn’t really doing anything well, and by political figures who simply were not very likeable. If we assume no assassinations, Camelot could have lasted until 1976, easy, with RFK succeeding JFK, and been as legendary as the FDR period.

The guy was hugely charismatic. The nation was in thrall of its good-looking, young, rich, athletic president and his beautiful, cultured wife. He spurred not only an interest in exploring space but in physical fitness as well, with his whole family becoming famous for its touch-football games and his promotion of 50-mile-walks which became a craze for a while until people began to realize how difficult and blister-inducing walking 50 miles in a day really was.

Then he got cut down in the prime of his life, seated next to Jackie, with full-color Life magazine photos and the Zapruder film bringing it all right into our living rooms, followed by the hugely dramatic funeral that his wife engineered, complete with his young son stepping forward to salute as his father’s casket passed by.

And of course it essentially happened during the dawning of the television age, which resulted in everything surrounding Kennedy, his presidency and ultimately his assassination being brought home to the populace, resulting in a familiarity not known during previous times.

All of this made for a much more impactful experience for the nation’s populace, and it caused him to be regarded and remembered in ways that were outsized compared to his actual accomplishments during the short time he was in office.

JFK’s charisma was huge. Programs like the Peace Corps and Project Apollo were very inspirational and their success may have derived in large measure from JFK’s leadership. Some think Man wouldn’t have landed on the Moon without JFK’s ambition; the fact that no man has set foot on the Moon again in the past 43 years suggests this may indeed be true.

But JFK also had great weaknesses. It may seem romantic that a President have Marilyn Monroe as mistress, but in fact JFK’s womanizing, even while Presdient, was unbelievably sordid. That it was kept secret shows a huge difference from present-day media coverage.

Whatever his strengths, much of JFK’s mythical stature is just that: based on myth. He is credited with averting World War III during the Cuban missile crisis; but in fact his own advisors called the Cuban missiles “strategically irrelevant” and the only quid pro quo Kruschev wanted – removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey – was already planned before the crisis.

True, but I think he saw it as Kruschev testing him and knew that if he failed the test there might be a provocation he couldn’t ignore that would be even more dangerous. Remember that at this time, the biggest issue affecting world peace wasn’t Cuba. It was Berlin. The Soviets were rattling the saber more than they had since 1948 and the airlift. If JFK had backed down on missiles in Cuba the Soviets may very well have decided to see if they could take West Berlin without a fight.

I wasn’t claiming JFK was wrong in the missile crisis, just contrasting the reality with the myth. Foreign policy matters where JFK probably did blunder include the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam. JFK was noted for trusting his own judgment and ignoring the advice of experienced State Dept. analysts.

Good posts all. the fact is, JFK was in over his head…but the press loved him. In contrast to the cautious, elderly Eisenhower, Kennedy seemed much more charismatic. but the fact is, Kennedy’s administration was nothing short of disaster-take the bay of Pigs: his own advisers told him it would not work. When the day came, the CIA couldn’t even coordinate the time right! Then, when the Free Cuban forces came under air attack, their commander begged for air support. The USN had an a aircraft carrier just 5 miles away-yet Kennedy got cold feet-the USN jets would have blown Castro’s puny airforce out of the skies. In this action, he showed indecisiveness and fear (which would be echoed by Johnson later, where in Vietnam he was always afraid of provoking Russia/China). Kennedy also got involved in Vietnam in the same way-with half measures that could neither defeat the enenmy nor reduce the losses. in this regard, he must be judged a failure. He was also the guy who introduced the concept of the “Imperial Presidency”-where the US president became a sort of “world emperor”, witha private jet (AF-1), a “Praetorian Guard”, and a royal court (headed by his attractive wife). WE see this displayed today in the actions of the current president, with his $70 million “winter vacations”.

He certainly got off to a bad start, although given the campaign he ran it’s impossible to see how he could have done otherwise even if he’d been experienced. He campaigned as if the Eisenhower years had been disastrous, but when he took office of course things were pretty okay and thus anything that happened was probably going to be worse than what came before, not better. When I was reading about the campaign from Time and Newsweek I was struck by how little Kennedy’s portrait of the Ike years comports with the way we think about Ike now, and even how people thought about Ike then. Unemployment was like 6% and Kennedy acted as if the sky was falling, plus the missile gap… Just a weird campaign, but I guess someone as charismatic as him could sell anything. Plus voters often want change even when a Presidency is fairly successful. It’s really hard to succeed a two term President of your own party, even a popular one.

I gotta agree with adaher and SA. He was cut down before public opinion could find something to really turn against him and what things went badly in his administration were not subject, at the time, to the no-holds-barred hostile 24hr news cycle. For instance the deal with the Turkey missiles for the Cuba ones, which as mentioned was already in the planning, was not made a big deal out of but instead it was all about “the Russians blinked” for domestic consumption. The JFK/RFK administration may not have been able to pass the kind of dramatic Civil Rights and social legislation that LBJ rammed through (full knowing “it will cost us the South for 20 years”) in 1964 but clearly they knew they would have to do something about it had they had a second term and that in turn probably would have kiboshed an immediate RFK succession (IMO Goldwater would still have lost in '64). Whether Kennedy would have noticed early enough that Vietnam was a no-win situation and cut our losses is kind of retcon speculation really, as is whether he would have launched any sort of real succesful action to at the very least leave in place a Korea-style containment.
botsgotme, the AF1 707s were bought by Eisenhower, the structural rebuild of the White House was done by Truman and Jackie merely redecorated, the superhigh level of guarding and access control around the President was already going up since the attept on Truman in 1950 but REALLY ramped up after JFK got shot; Bay of Pigs was organized and prepared at the end of the Eisenhower administration and yes JFK fucked up giving the go-ahead without being committed to wherever it led – he would have done far better to say “wait, let’s go back to the drawing board” and even nixing it. The view of the First Family as some sort of quasiroyal court ***did ***rise under Jack and Jackie (to a large degree because so many of the Kennedy/Shriver/Bouvier clan were in other positions of influence). By the time Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter tried to affect a greater degree of modesty they were criticized as bringing down the image that the Presidency needs to project, and people loved it when Ron & Nancy brought back glamour.

He got lucky and died with people still thinking he was going to accomplish something. Then LBJ followed up on all his initiatives. When things worked out JFK got the credit, when they didn’t LBJ got the blame. Death can be a great career move if you time it right.

It’s not that he got shot. It’s that his death gave LBJ the political capital to push through a number of great things. Like how 9/11 allowed Bush to do a lot of things he could not otherwise have done, only LBJ (mostly) used the power for good.

Kinda hard to fault him for Bay of Pigs when according to newer history books, the CIA was acting like the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files and running things without him knowing the truth. Most of the good stuff I read about him comes from investigative books on civil rights, mafia, CIA, Secret Service, and NSA.

In many ways, JFK was the last real president, someone who could truly unify citizens from different backgrounds. He would be baffled by Obama and GWB. probably see them both as communists or puppets owned by corporations.

The question is about deification, though. So yes, he became a martyr like MLK and RFK because of assassination. Lincoln was also deified, even with all of his contemporary criticism and later day academic deconstruction.

Ya just had to be there, I guess.

John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps, which is still going strong and doing a lot of good for the U.S. around the world. He set a bold goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade; the Apollo program is still one of the greatest accomplishments of human history. He very skillfully handled the Cuban Missile Crisis, which remains a model of modern crisis management; it could even be said that he saved civilization. After early half-heartedness, he fully committed the U.S. Government to civil rights for the first time since Lincoln. He rebuilt our conventional military capability, which had deteriorated since the end of the Korean War and had left us dangerously reliant on nuclear weapons. He cut taxes, faced down Big Steel and did much to spur the economic boom of the Sixties. He authorized the negotiations for and signed into law the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which has kept radioactivity out of our air and water for half a century. His Food for Peace program was very successful. He honored the arts and literature like no President before him, and he inspired a generation to public service.

I don’t deify him. JFK had many faults, to be sure, but he was actually a pretty good President.

Absolutely, although I’ll nitpick about the “rebuilding our conventional military”. Relying on nukes by Ike was by design. He figured we couldn’t compete with the Soviets conventionally, so why waste money? After all, he was the guy who said that every dollar spent on a bomb or missile was food taken out of someone’s mouth or something close to that. Having a strong nuclear deterrent, the theory went, was more than enough to deter the Soviets and thus he wanted to concentrate on that.

I think that being a general, he also knew that if we had a big conventional military, we’d be inclined to use it, and sure enough we’ve used it over and over and over again.

Not that Kennedy was wrong, but I disagree with the characterization that it was dangerous. It was a valid strategy given what Ike knew at the time.

Check out Schlesinger’s A Thousand Days. JFK was presented, early on, with the Pentagon’s war plans. For virtually anything the Soviets did, the only U.S. options were to either back down or to start World War III. He wanted a wider range of possible responses, and rightly so.

There are no conventional military responses to Soviet actions either. It was assumed long before and long after JFK that a conventional confrontation was likely to lead to WW3, which is why it never happened. It was just as unthinkable, and thus considered by some to be a waste of time.

I disagree, and so did JFK. WWIII was inevitable if there was a serious confrontation and the U.S. was left only with a full nuclear attack as an option; it was possible but not inevitable if the U.S. conventional capability was improved, and that’s just what JFK ordered. A great power can’t have just one arrow - even a thermonuclear one - in its quiver.