It would have been crass to publish this article yesterday, on the 58th anniversary of the murder of John F. Kennedy. But today, as Scarlett O’Hara reminds us, is another day.
No matter who killed John Kennedy, likely a Cuban-mob combo hit, if we’re talking crass his administration was the epitome of it. As opposed to the Camelot horse manure that Bobby and Jackie Kennedy foisted upon an infatuated press and pop culture, the Kennedy administration stank of a low rent modus operandi that makes Donald Trump look like Pericles.
Hookers in the White House, pill addictions that would make Judy Garland blush, amphetamine shots administered by a quack doctor, sexual harassment as semi-official policy, mistresses shared with mafia dons, weed as a regular inebriant, starlets shared amongst the Kennedy brothers, and an ethos that made British historian Paul Johnson quip, “Watching the Kennedy brothers take over Washington in the spring of 1961 was like watching the Borgias take over a respectable northern Italian town.” But that wasn’t the worst of it.
The old man, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., was a bootlegger, an antisemite, and was quite fond of Nazi chances in WWII. He cheered for Hitler during the Battle of Britain. He bought the 1960 presidential election for his son Jack by cutting deals with the mob in Chicago and West Virginia. The deal between Joe Kennedy and the Chicago syndicate delivered votes in exchange for a Kennedy administration hands off approach to organized crime. But AG Bobby Kennedy reneged on the deal and went after them. You didn’t double cross guys like Sam Giancana. Hence the hit.
Jack Kennedy’s domestic achievements were mediocre and his national security blunders from the Bay of Pigs to the killing of the Diem brothers put America and the Free World in danger. President Kennedy cared more about the life of a glamorous playboy than he did about the office he was elected to. And it showed.
Bobby Kennedy, a vicious political cutthroat, used his brother’s death to turn his image from hatchet man into noble seeker of peace and justice. It was only public relations hocus pocus. Underneath was still the cynical infighter. But again, the press and pop culture bought into the story line. As for Ted Kennedy, he remains known for Chappaquiddick, waitress sandwiches, and as the only man in history to have his political ass kicked by Jimmy Carter. By the end of his run the Kennedy family reputation was a running joke.
But the press continues to lionize them. It still tries to transform them into a great American clan, almost royalty, martyred for America. It is the ultimate political triumph of style over substance. That is the true Kennedy legacy, myth over truth in the service of political image making.