Jewish World Review July 23, 1999/10 Av , 5759
Nineteenth century French writer Stendhal used the word "crystallization" to describe how we ignore flaws, imperfections, ambiguities, and inconsistencies in people we love. If you take a tree twig, said Stendhal, shove it in a mound of salt and pull it out, the twig sparkles, becoming almost luminescent. The "crystallization" of the twig makes it look beautiful, never mind what is underneath.
America's love for John F. Kennedy, Jr.; his father, former President John F. Kennedy; and the Kennedy family would not surprise Stendhal.
During the coverage of the John F. Kennedy, Jr., plane crash, commentators talked lovingly of the Kennedy family, using expressions like "America's First Family" and "America's royalty," and calling JFK, Jr., "America's prince."
They talked of the Kennedy "curse," the Kennedy "legacy," and speculated aloud what office, if any, JFK, Jr., would have sought, even though John, Jr., never came close to saying "yes" to running for anything.
We love the Kennedys. We love them even though Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, enriched himself by peddling booze during Prohibition. The elder Kennedy relentlessly cheated on his wife, Rose, establishing a bed-'em-up, count-'em- up pattern later emulated by his sons. As a failed ambassador to Great Britain, the elder Kennedy infuriated FDR by appearing "defeatist" in the face of the growing threat of Nazi Germany.
We love the Kennedys. Yet Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Dark Side of Camelot," says that old Joe enlisted the Mafia to help steal the 1960 presidential election for his son. And, President John Kennedy lied to the country about the extent of his physical problems. The President suffered from Addison's disease, a severe ailment that he hid from the public. Hersh writes that the President had repeated reinfections of venereal disease for thirty years, and that he regularly took "feel good" injections of high-dosage amphetamines.
We love the Kennedys. But, President Kennedy, too, blatantly cheated on first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. While Jackie traveled, President Kennedy frequently held sex parties in the White House. And John Kennedy had dangerous liaisons with a mobster's girlfriend, and another with a suspected German spy. We criticize President Clinton's values, yet President Kennedy's behavior gets a pass.
And the Left! Liberals particularly revere Kennedy. Yet, Kennedy governed as a fiscal conservative, and was nobody's leftist, at least as we currently define that term. For example, during the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race, pundits complained of the lack of real ideological differences between the two candidates. And, as President, Kennedy helped jump-start the economy by passing a tax cut! In calling for a reduction in tax rates, Kennedy said, " ... it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low -- and the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now." When Ronald Reagan said it, detractors derisively called it "trickle down." And even John F. Kennedy, Jr., in a 1995 interview with Barbara Walters, said that, were he President, the first thing he would do is push for a "huge tax cut." Apparently, few heard that.
And, what about civil rights? Civil rights groups like the NAACP, near the end of President John Kennedy's life, felt betrayed. They thought Kennedy talked the talk, but failed to walk the walk, refusing to push for broad civil rights legislation. It fell to Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, whom Kennedy hated, to push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968. Yet, on mantels in black homes across America, sit photos of the brothers Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but not Lyndon Johnson. And Hersh writes that John Kennedy demeaningly referred to some countries in Africa as "boogie republics."
President Kennedy also seemed dismissive of what we now call affirmative action. In a 1962 interview, Kennedy said, "I don't think we can undo the past. In fact, the past is going to be with us for a good many years in uneducated men and women who lost their chance for a decent education. We have to do the best we can now ... But not hard and fast quotas ... We are too mixed, this society of ours, to begin to divide ourselves on the basis of race or color."
America loves the Kennedys. But the brief Kennedy administration was short on achievement, and long on style, glamour, vigor, and enthusiasm. Good things, but, his son, "America's prince"?
Yes, we all shed a tear at the death of John Kennedy, Jr. An unpretentious young man,
John, Jr., worked hard to establish his own identity, avoiding the temptation to coast on his
fame, his looks, and his money. And like another doomed icon before him, Princess Di, John F.
Kennedy, Jr., made us smile. And that's quite good
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