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Fifty Years after Dallas: Time to See beyond John F. Kennedy's Many Camelot Myths

November 4, 2013 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

Nov. 22 — a little over two weeks from now — will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963. But unless you’re on a starvation-level “media diet,” you probably knew that already.

Politico notes a looming “media tidal wave,” with more than 100 new Kennedy books, dozens of TV specials and several new iPad apps accompanying the unhappy anniversary.

Kennedy’s murder was a national tragedy, to be sure, but an honest assessment of his record shows that our lawless and reckless 35th president was anything but a national treasure.”

In a December 1963 interview, the president’s widow gave a name to the Kennedy mystique, telling journalist Theodore White of Jack’s fondness for the lyric from the Lerner and Loewe musical about King Arthur: “Once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Much more than a “moment,” Camelot has proven an enduring myth.

JFK places near the top 10 in most presidential ranking surveys of historians, and in a 2011 Gallup poll, Americans ranked him ahead of George Washington in a list of “America’s greatest presidents.”

Kennedy’s murder was a national tragedy, to be sure, but an honest assessment of his record shows that our lawless and reckless 35th president was anything but a national treasure.

Shortly after the then-Massachusetts Democratic senator announced his presidential candidacy, Kennedy gave a remarkable speech, titled “The Presidency in 1960,” outlining a remarkably broad view of the president’s duties and powers.

“Today a restricted concept of the presidency is not enough,” JFK argued: the presidency must be “the center of moral leadership” — “we must endow that office with extraordinary strength and vision.”

And the president “must be prepared to exercise the fullest powers of his office — all that are specified and some that are not.”

Indeed, JFK rarely let legal specifics deter his exercise of presidential power. At his behest in 1961, the Internal Revenue Service set up a “strike force,” the Ideological Organizations Project, targeting groups opposing the administration.

In 1962, outraged that American steel manufacturers had raised prices, he ordered wiretaps, IRS audits and dawn FBI raids on steel executives’ homes.

In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning national security journalist Thomas E. Ricks opined that JFK “probably was the worst American president of the [20th] century.”

In foreign policy, Ricks said, “he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco.”

True enough, after …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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