Monday, May 28, 2007

JFK: Bush, War and the Web

If he were still alive, John F. Kennedy would be turning 90 tomorrow. As an elder statesman, what would he think about our world?

For a start, he would be puzzled by George Bush’s bubbled White House. Kennedy’s own curiosity was insatiable. He devoured books, took a speed-reading course to absorb more, wanted to know everything. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he held a running seminar at the White House to consider every possible way to avoid a nuclear showdown. Only then did he act.

With hard evidence of missiles 90 miles away, he rejected military 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 “slam dunk,” “Mission Accomplished” or “Bring it on!”

Afterward, in an interview, he told me, “Too many people want to the blow up the world.” He felt his response was “just right.”

You can imagine what he would have thought of toy soldiers like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz playing war games with the lives of other people’s children.

The Justice Department scandal would have revolted him. JFK appointed his brother Bobby Attorney General, and they played hardball against opponents when necessary. But the nutball antics of Alberto Gonzales and his crew would have made no sense to them. The Kennedys could never abide amateurs.

When JFK was wrong, he said so. After the Bay of Pigs, he took “sole responsibility” for the fiasco. After four disastrous years in Iraq, Bush the Decider will only admit “mistakes were made.”

This could go on like one of those montages on the Daily Show, but the difference between the President we lost too soon and the one we have had in office too long is as simple and as complicated as poetry.

After JFK’s death, the world’s poets filled a volume with elegies and anguish. That won’t be happening again any time soon.

Kennedy was political to his bones, but his vision went beyond winning elections. At the dawn of the nuclear age, he realized politics was no longer a game for insiders, pointing out that an exchange “would produce over 300 million deaths. That means everybody is involved in this debate.”

He would have been bemused by the Internet, watching millions mix it up, but he had a tragic sense of life unlike Bush, who has only a tragic insensitivity. Kennedy would have looked on all of today’s ardent opinionating with approval, some humor and certainly without rancor.

Not long before Dallas, he talked about the brutal and violent instincts of human beings that, in his words, “have been implanted in us growing out of the dust.”

In controlling those destructive impulses, JFK said sadly, “We have done reasonably well——but only reasonably well.“

We’re still trying. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.


AmericanDreamer said...

Ted Sorensen's fine, short book Decision-Making in the White House contains a preface in the most recently re-issued edition (2005) comparing Kennedy's with Bush's style.

The book might well be subtitled: "Dear George, and other aspirants to the White House: *This* is how it should be done."

Taylor Marsh said...

I'm not surprised J.F.K. thought his response was "just right." It was.

Giant Attitude said...

Rot in hell, JFK!

I've never stopped hating you or the effeminate sob sisters that still comprise your satanic personality cult!