Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Catch of the Day

Via Friedersdorf, John Tierney rips into Kennedy family (successful) efforts to keep RFK's papers, including his Attorney General papers, secret. I love this:
We are just coming off one of our periodic paroxysms of hagiographic hype about the Kennedy family.  (I may have more to say about this in a future post.) Some of what we've seen in recent weeks is perfectly legitimate -- observance of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration as president and the passing of Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver.  But in the past month we've also been treated to widespread news reports about the death of Teddy Kennedy's 13-year-old dog, Splash; weepy commentary about how this month marks the first time in sixty years that there hasn't been a Kennedy in Congress; and Camelot-coated ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy's swearing-in as Attorney General.  (Really?  The 50th anniverary of a cabinet officer's swearing-in? Please.)  This sort of thing is orchestrated by the Kennedy family and their legion of acolytes and media flacks. 
I know a lot of liberals find the hype surrounding Ronald Reagan to be annoying, but it's really nothing compared to Kennedy worship -- and, as Tierney suggests, it doesn't come close in terms of buy-in by the press. Well, at least outside of the GOP partisan press. 

On the other hand, I found the personal post-professional reputation campaigns by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter even more annoying. And at least Ted Kennedy was a terrific, first-rate Senator, who used the Kennedy hype to help him in getting a huge amount of work done. Still, I'm glad that nepotism and dynastic politics appears to be at least to some extent diminishing, Mitt Romney notwithstanding. At least until the GOP feels its safe to go back to another Bush, that is.


  1. I found the personal post-professional reputation campaigns by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter even more annoying.

    I don't quite understand this comment. The main thing that Nixon and Carter both did, as far as I can see, is stuff they liked doing anyway: talking and writing books about grand strategy in Nixon's case, and in Carter's, writing books, promoting house-building in the developing world, and carrying on various special diplomatic missions (normally with the approval of the Administration of the day, if I understand correctly). If they had retired from top corporate jobs and done these same things, would that be a problem? Is there some reason ex-presidents should be less free than anyone else to pursue the projects that interest them?

    Maybe you're referring to an ex-president's special ability to mobilize supporters on his behalf even in retirement. Well, again, they're prominent public people, and prominent people usually have cheerleaders and apologists. Did Nixon and Carter take advantage of this to any greater degree than any other high-status individuals? I mean, of all the things to be annoyed by in American politics and the American class system, what in particular is annoying about these guys?

  2. I agree that it's harder to understand why people still talk so much about the Kennedys than it is to understand references to Reagan; I expect it'll diminish as people my age, who never had the "cool" Kennedys to apotheosize, take over more cultural institutions. But look, the Kennedy thing is entirely a cultural phenomenon. I don't think it's correlated with any particular brand of politics at all. The only people I ever hear citing JFK as a political role model are Republicans noting that he cut taxes. And the people who are into the Kennedys qua Kennedys tend to care least by far for the sole legislatively productive brother. -- So to compare it to Reagan worship, which is political and polemical to the core, isn't wholly illuminating.

  3. This very strong and vocal Kennedy backer (much more for JFK and RFK than for the mixed-bag Ted) is also in favor of full disclosure of govt documents, unless some valid n.s. or privacy argument can be made, which I'm not sure MK has quite made.

    And allowing so far only writers like Evan Thomas and Rbt Dallek (neither hagiographers of the Kennedys let alone Bobby) access (maybe, we don't know the whole story from them yet) doesn't quite seem sufficient, though one could understand it if the vast majority of other requests arriving at MK's desk came from the sort of sleazy writers who've made a fair-sized cottage industry of Kennedy-trashing books that have only an occasional familiarity with the historical facts.

    That said, it's unlikely any undisclosed documents are going to reveal an RFK hit order on Castro -- both Kennedys drew the line at assassinations of foreign leaders -- or anything remotely consistent with the silly author the Boston Globe writer cited indiscriminately (Waldron) in re JFK ordering up a Dec 63 invasion of Cuba. Unsubstantiated nonsense (it was only one of many Pentagon contingency plans, and never sent to JFK for his approval), which no major principle in the n.s. chain (Mac Bundy or McNamara) was ever aware of. But again authors of well-pubbed but false books about dead public figures need never worry about libel suits and are free to make up whatever they think will sell books.

    Not that a full disclosure with little by way of blockbuster scandals will ever satisfy the Kennedy bashing crowd. This group still will find a way to either ignore what doesn't suit them or misinterpret that which can be twisted -- as they've done for 20 yrs re NSAM 263 detailing Kennedy's VN withdrawal policy.

    The only people I ever hear citing JFK as a political role model are Republicans noting that he cut taxes.

    Let's see: just considering all the Dem pres'l nominees since 1972, I'd say all, with the probable exception of Jimmy Carter (but not his mother), would or did state that JFK was a political role model. Bill Clinton famously of course. Obama -- well, he seems almost to have as much love for Reagan as admiration for JFK. But we can partly forgive him since he's been influenced by 20 yrs of nonstop RR propaganda in the corp media and from the publishing industry with only a small 5% (those darn extremist liberals mostly) opposing the Mt Rushmore view of Ronnie.

  4. I probably shouldn't shoot my mouth off in ignorance here, but would we perhaps be better off with another round of nepotism in the GOP? My underinformed impression of Jeb Bush is more positive than my impression of any announced or probable GOP candidate.

  5. Brodie, thanks for the correction, and perhaps I misspoke. I meant that JFK's policy imprimatur isn't something Democrats aggressively claim for themselves (or their particular factions) as Republicans do for Reagan. As to Clinton's interest in Kennedy and Obama's lack thereof -- that's the kind of generational movement I'm talking about, I suppose, and I think it'll get more pronounced pretty soon. Obama doesn't remember JFK's assassination, but I'm sure he was aware of RFK's at the time, and certainly he would have been surrounded by people who cared. To someone who's forty years old or under right now, it's all legend.

  6. I agree that 'the Kennedy thing' is cultural, lacking the specific ideological content of Reagan hagiography. [Disclaimer that I'm old enough to remember his assassination.]

    But what I wonder about is the quoted predicate that We are just coming off one of our periodic paroxysms of hagiographic hype about the Kennedy family.

    We are? I saw mention of the 50th anniversary of JFK's inauguration, but I must have blinked and missed the paroxysm of hagiographic hype.

  7. Jonathan, I was wondering if you could write or link to a post explaining your dislike for Jimmy Carter. I have been reading your blog for a year or so, and I can't once remember you actually elaborating on this point, just assuming we all know your reasons. I assume there was some major post in the past where you explained this, but I haven't been able to find it.

  8. Rick, agree that the "paroxysm of hagiography" re the Kennedys is somewhat overstated. In fact, I saw as much uncritical worshipping -- especially in the liberal media and blogs -- about the 50th anniv of Ike's MIC remarks as I did about Kennedy's Inaugural.

    No liberal however bothered to mention what Ike told JFK just 2 days later re the need to send in combat troops to Laos, nor what Ike told LBJ 4 yrs later about the need to not lose VN to the commies lest all of SE Asia go communist.

    Further re alleged Kennedy hagiography: not only is the sleazy, false THC-originated movie about the Kennedys, more fiction than fact, still going to be shown somewhere and including in foreign markets, but in a couple of years, for the 50th of the assassination, actor-producer Leonardo DiCaprio is working on a movie based on the Waldron-Hartmann semi-fictional book about the fictional JFK plan to invade Cuba in late 1963 (along with the authors' silly The Mob Did It assass'n theory).

    That's some curious Kennedy hagiography going on out there.

  9. Anon 9:01,

    Sorry, it took me a while to get to this, but:


    As long as I'm here...Brodie, whatever the case is for or against JFK, it's just not the case that the anti-Kennedy stuff out there is anywhere close to the amount, and the cultural heft, of the pro-Kennedy stuff. Which is reflected, of course, in the silly-high ratings that JFK gets in popular opinion surveys (he's generally a top-5 president in such surveys).


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