The national tragedy of President Kennedy's death pushed the legacy of his administration to the level of myth. In his thousand days in office, roughly where President Obama is now, Kennedy passed no major legislation of any note. His first term was full of turmoil and mistakes, his landmark achievements were, in large measure, to the detriment of the American people. Any objective review of Obama's presidency must include historic and unprecedented achievements. History will also likely criticize the president for those achievements having been less substantial than they could have been because of the president’s having prioritized bipartisanism over what was in the best interest of the nation. The president took office during a time of national crisis, a global threat created by the men and women Obama wasted half his presidency trying to appease. Either out of hope or naďveté, the president assumed the country would pull together during a time of national crisis. What has happened is just the opposite.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy is remembered as a great president. He wasn’t.
Absent the irreducible tragedy of his assassination, a sober
evaluation of the president’s record renders a barely passing
grade. His tragic death pushed the legacy of his administration
to the level of myth. In his thousand days in office, roughly
where President Obama is now, Kennedy passed no major
legislation of any note. Like Obama, Kennedy inherited a
recession. His handling of the economy was slow and
ineffective, leading to the nation’s first non-war,
non-recession budget deficit. Kennedy ultimately proposed what
he called “The New Frontier,” an ambitious set of proposals
which were not enacted until after his death. Like Obama,
Kennedy's religion was a main avenue of attack by his political
enemies. Like Obama, Kennedy proposed sweeping healthcare
reform--Medicare--which was vigorously opposed by Republicans
and defeated in Congress. Kennedy was lied to and
bullied by his national security and military apparatus, leading
to a disastrous failed invasion landing at Cuba's Bay of Pigs by disgruntled Cuban exiles.
This was a perhaps planned failure, designed to manipulate
Kennedy into ordering an all-out U.S. invasion of Cuba. Kennedy
didn’t invade, enraging his military commanders and the CIA,
had trained assassins and maintained covert “wet teams” in
Florida in an effort to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Kennedy made critical miscalculations which had terrible global ramifications. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, was largely incited by the Bay of Pigs and the president's ongoing obsession with getting rid of Fidel Castro. In order to close a fictitious and nonexistent “missile gap” between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, Kennedy in January of 1961 ordered America’s nuclear arsenal of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) to be increased from 400 to 1,000. This was a massively destabilizing move. The Soviet Union, which actually had only seven operational ICBMs which didn’t work very well, felt threatened by this and installed missiles in Cuba in an act of historic brinksmanship designed not to attack America or start a war, but ultimately to ensure the stability of the friendly Communist regime in America’s back yard. The USSR agreed to withdraw the missiles (which they would have done anyway) in return for an American promise not to invade Cuba and to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey.
Kennedy involved the U.S. in Vietnam, a tiny country half a world away led by a corrupt dictator which held absolutely no strategic value to the U.S. America faced off against China, taking sides in a civil war between North and South Vietnam and ordering in first teams of advisors and ultimately 16,000 combat troops (escalating, under Lyndon Johnson, to over half a million) in a tragically misguided effort to prevent the spread of Communism throughout southeast Asia.
The notion of Communism being "evil" was part of a PR campaign invented by Dean Atchison, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's undersecretary of state. Atchison felt the postwar Soviet threat was too complex a concept to explain to the American public, so he fitted the Soviets with a black hat, painting them in simplistic, childlike tones of black and white, and literally invented this notion of the evil being not merely the clearly unhinged, megalomaniacal Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev or even the Soviet Union but the political ideology of Communism itself. Atchison's propaganda, which, like that of the GOP and Tea Party, capitalizes upon the gullibility of the American public, led to Vietnam, three million combat soldiers, 58 thousand dead, 300 thousand wounded--numbers Kennedy could not possibly have imagined. Atchison literally invented the Cold War, which at times threatened to destroy the entire planet, as America naively waged war against an idea. Not even specific persons, but a political concept. This thinking is now deeply embedded within our cultural DNA as we still consider Communism "evil," as opposed to more properly understanding some Communists have done evil things. Right-wing conservatives have successfully translated this concept to Islam. Rather than our focus being on specific people who commit evil acts, we ascribe the quality of evil to an ideology and fight the air. People can be hunted down and killed. Ideas cannot.
President Kennedy took only reluctant action in support of the Civil Rights movement, which he regarded as unnecessary and an embarrassment to his presidency. Civil rights ultimately became the main challenge to JFK's domestic agenda, but he was not leading, the movement was leading him.
Like our current president, Kennedy was enormously popular with liberals and centrists but despised by conservatives. Much of the over-heated, irrational loathing of Obama echoes the unbridled hatred most of the south had for Kennedy, who was thought to be “soft” on Communism and against states’ rights by his support of strong Civil Rights legislation. Kennedy never lived to see his Medicare or civil rights legislation passed (both were enacted by his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson) as Kennedy’s presidency was cut short in Dallas by either a lone assassin or a coup d’état--blowback from the killing machine the military and CIA had created for Castro--depending on who or what you believe.
Kennedy was thus enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. His first term was full of turmoil and mistakes. His ambitious and hopeful agenda was hopelessly bogged down in Congress, and his most effective achievements were, in large measure, to the detriment of the American people--nuclear escalation and Vietnam.
History will remember Barack Obama kindly.
At some appreciable distance from our current politicized
environment, an objective review of his presidency thus far will
include a historic if not unprecedented list of historic
landmark achievements in American history (see sidebar). History
will also likely criticize the president for most of these
achievements having been less substantial than they could have
been because of the president’s having prioritized bipartisanism
over what was in the best interest of the nation. Obama’s
apparent political agenda, to change the way things are done in
Washington, was a laudable one, but the president took office
during a time of crisis, a global threat created by his predecessor and the men and women Obama
wasted half his presidency trying to appease. If George W. Bush
is the root cause of America’s economic turmoil (and, by
extension, the global economic crisis), Barack Obama is his
partner in that causation. “Obama Has Failed,” the GOP political
mantra, has some truth to it. The president has failed to end
the childish squabbling or the political scheming in Washington.
Either out of hope or naďveté, the president assumed the country
would pull together during a time of national emergency. What has
happened is just the opposite.
The root cause of our current crisis is not Barack Obama, is not George W. Bush. It’s Ronald Reagan. It is the Reagan “supply side” economic theory, ridiculed by his political rival (and eventual vice-president) George H.W. Bush, as “voodoo economics.” The basic theory is tax cuts solve all problems in America. Republicans have taken Reagan’s economic theory to a ridiculous extreme, cutting taxes at every opportunity, even when every leading economist is warning against it. George W. Bush seems to have not understood much about U.S. or global economics, but rather followed blindly the general Reaganomics tax-cut mantra, squandering the U.S. budget surplus he inherited rather than use it to pay down the national debt. He also started two wars whose enormous costs he did not include in the U.S. budget. Republicans, for reasons that cannot be fathomed, miss the truer lesson of Reagan’s economic policy: it nearly bankrupted the nation. Forced to confront his economic failure and presented with no other viable choice, Ronald Reagan signed in 1982 The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, enacting the highest tax increase in American history, and left office with double the national debt he inherited. Today, Republicans simply ignore that part of the story, cutting, cutting, cutting no matter what happens to the economy, no matter how dire the consequences.