Let’s get real about JFK

By Christopher Harper

In a yearly ritual on November 22, baby boomers recall when and where they heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Unfortunately, few of us reflect on how Kennedy, while tragically struck down as a young man, was a lousy president and an even worse man.

Many consider JFK one of the best presidents in the history of the United States.

But even a cursory view of his life and times demonstrates how his legacy became hugely inflated after his death in 1963.

For example, many consider Kennedy responsible for civil rights laws when his successor, Lyndon Johnson, was the man who made that happen.

Moreover, as a senator, JFK voted against President Eisenhower’s civil rights legislation to appease racist Democrats in the South. In collusion with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Kennedy ordered wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr.

In international affairs, he approved the assassination of the leader of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, as long as the United States had “plausible deniability.” In Cuba, he launched an attack to overthrow Fidel Castro, known as the Bag of Pigs invasion, which failed because JFK failed to approve air cover. In Vietnam, he expanded the U.S. presence and endorsed a coup that ultimately resulted in the assassination of the president, Ngo Dinh Diem.

During his presidency, JFK engaged in various extramarital affairs, including Marilyn Monroe and Judith Campbell, who also dated Mafia boss Sam Giancana and posed an incredible security risk because of her ties to the Mob.

Sure, JFK did some things right. He stared down the Russians during the Cuban missile crisis. He rejiggered the tax code—changes that would rankle his fellow Democrats because it actually made it easier on the wealthy. I’ll even give him credit for encouraging American scientists to launch probes into space.

A longtime friend who covered JFK admitted to me that the reporters knew about the affairs and the political shenanigans. But the media saw JFK as the Great White Hope to bring the United States into a new era.

I don’t want to speak ill of the dead. But I think Americans, particularly baby boomers, should analyze JFK’s legacy in a much more rational way.