By Rob Natelson
For an audio version of this article by the author, please click here.
Just ten years ago, I posted an essay in this space reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On re-reading it, I find almost nothing I would change. I still recommend the article.
When I wrote ten years ago, the news media were spending a great deal of ink (physical and electronic) on JFK. I noted, however, that “there were far fewer mentions than in prior years about President Kennedy’s ‘greatness.'” In part, this is because in the years after his death, evidence of his irresponsible behavior as President came to light. While he was alive, the liberal media assiduously suppressed all that information.
Nevertheless, he remains somewhat of a hero with the liberal establishment, and its functionaries in academia and the media continue to exaggerate his performance as President. Even as late as 2021, the C-SPAN Presidential rankings (fashioned from the responses of overwhelmingly-left-of-center academic historians) rated JFK 8th among all Presidents. For reasons I explained in my 2013 essay, that is entirely absurd. In my own view as a historian, an accurate ranking would place him somewhere among the bottom ten.
JFK was, in some ways, the author of the currently overgrown and dysfunctional federal bureaucracy. Kennedy did not have the political skills needed to persuade Congress to enact most of his agenda. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, did that.
But it was Kennedy who laid out the vision of a hugely expanded federal welfare state—utterly without regard to the Constitution’s limits on federal powers and responsibilities. Enactment of his vision has left the feds perpetually unable to balance their budget and threatened with eventual bankruptcy. And, even more disturbingly, it gives them the power to bully the people they are supposed to serve.
Like our current President, Kennedy came to office under an electoral cloud. To this day, no one knows if he really won the 1960 presidential election. And unlike in 2000, when the media investigated to see if Republican George W. Bush really won (eventually they were forced to admit he had), the media showed no interest in investigating the process that brought JFK to power.
At the end of my 2013 article I wondered how things would have been different if the election had been reported honestly. Perhaps an early Nixon presidency ultimately would have resulted in our country being healthier and freer today; perhaps not.
The troubles that have arisen since the disputed election of Joe Biden spark similar questions today.
By the Latin maxim, De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum, we are advised to “Speak only well of the dead.” Let us remember, however, that it is also important, when considering the dead, to learn from their mistakes.