Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Buck Stops Where?

If he were alive, John F. Kennedy would be turning 90 next May. As an elder statesman, he could tell today’s politicians of both parties a lot about taking responsibility for their actions.

Dennis Hastert proclaims “The buck stops here” (pace Harry Truman) while ducking blame for an embarrassment on his watch.

George W. Bush and his Cabinet, in a “State of Denial,” try to persuade Americans that blunders in Iraq make them safer from terrorism.

Joe Lieberman asks voters to forget his cheerleading for the war.

President Bush, Speaker Hastert and Senator Lieberman, who cites President Kennedy as his inspiration for seeking office, should take another look at Kennedy’s experience.

Above all, he admitted mistakes, and the nation profited from his willingness to learn and grow in office.

Despite misgivings about the advice of the CIA and military, Kennedy went ahead with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba after being told we would be greeted as liberators (sound familiar?) and withdrew after realizing he had been misled, accepting “sole responsibility” for the fiasco.

“This Administration intends to be candid about its errors,” he told the media afterward. “As a wise man once said, ‘An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.’ We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors, and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.”

As the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, JFK put his Bay of Pigs lesson to use by overruling “experts” who wanted to bomb or invade Cubs and trusting his own judgment.

With hard evidence of missiles 90 miles from our shores, he rejected advice for an air strike or invasion, lined up support from the United Nations, gave the Russians every chance to back down and, when they did, ordered that there be no gloating about victory. No CIA “slam dunk,” “Mission Accomplished” or “Bring it on!”

If Kennedy were alive, his advice for today’s politicians about human fallibility might not differ much from what he told me in an interview a few weeks before Dallas. The talk had turned to the brutal and violent instincts of human beings that, in his words, “have been implanted in us growing out of the dust.”

In controlling our destructive impulses, John Fitzgerald Kennedy said sadly, “we have done reasonably well--but only reasonably well.“

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