Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "JFK"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Can I just say, I was quit surprised to see President Lyndon Johnson at the number 6 spot. I must say your evidence for supporting him in that position includes Civil Rights, and well not much else. And to further on that, if it had not been for JFK's stance on Civil Rights, his speech of June 11, 1963, and most importantly his assassination, Civil Rights legislation would have taken years to accomplish. I hardly find it accountable to lay it all on LBJ's shoulders for the passage of that bill!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t want to have this answer be an indication that I’m going to answer every message I have received on the Presidential rankings and/or debate or justify each individual ranking, but I do want to quickly make a point on this.

First of all, I never said that LBJ was 100% responsible for the passage of either the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act — credit belongs to the activists, to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, to the moderate Republicans who offset the opposition by the Southern Democrats, and to many other people and politicians, including JFK. But it was Johnson, his political skills, and his mastery of legislative government who got the legislation through Congress and signed it. It was Johnson who saw that there was political value in using the national mood following Kennedy’s assassination along with the events of the Civil Rights Movement to recognize that the time was right to get the legislation passed. I don’t mean that he felt the time was right to grant equal rights — he had frequently noted that the time for action had long passed — but that, politically, the stars were aligned for actually being successful at getting something done. John F. Kennedy was a good leader with fantastic political skills, but he was overly cautious — especially with civil rights — and when it came to legislative success, Kennedy had not proven himself. Not as a member of Congress, and not as President.

President Kennedy did make an important and influential address on civil rights on June 11, 1963. His then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson made a speech that was quite similar on equal rights and race less than two weeks earlier, on Memorial Day, at Gettysburg. Is it possible that this was a coordinated roll-out of the Kennedy Administration’s civil rights policy or purely a direct response to the President taking command of the Alabama National Guard and order the desegregation of the University of Alabama when Alabama Governor George Wallace stood at the door to protect segregation? Sure, that’s possible. But considering how little Kennedy involved Johnson in policy, I doubt that it was coordinated, and even if it was, the President would have been out in front on the issue, not the Vice President.

So, is it possible that LBJ’s speech forced the issue? Vice President Biden spoke out on his support for same sex marriage in 2012, and it resulted in President Obama having to speak out and note that his position on the issue had evolved and that he now supported same sex marriage, as well. Obama and his staff didn’t want to have to cross that bridge yet, especially prior to the 2012 election, but they had to act because the VP acted. Perhaps the incident at the University of Alabama gave President Kennedy a reason to make that speech on June 11, 1963 and clearly state his position on civil rights because his Vice President — a man who was as Southern as the South gets — was out in front of him on the issue and had forced his hand.

On civil rights, John F. Kennedy believed the right things, but he was extremely cautious about actually taking the dramatic actions that were needed. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement openly criticized him for this. And while the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were originally worried about LBJ and weren’t sure if they could trust him, especially once he assumed the Presidency, if you could ask any of them today who did more for civil rights or who they would rather have fighting for them when it came to actually achieving their goals, I am convinced their answer would be Lyndon B. Johnson.

In closing (I said this would be done quickly, but I got carried away), if you’re going to disagree or debate with me or anyone else (which is totally cool…seriously, I have no issues with that) and you’re going to bring up the other person’s “evidence”, you should definitely be solid when it comes to the main facts — I ranked LBJ at #5, not #6. That’s a big one, especially since you’re bringing up his positioning in my rankings. I hope that doesn’t like a petty attack at your comments because that’s not my intention and it’s why I’m sticking it at the end after my explanation. It’s just that with something like that, you’ve gotta come correct, for lack of a better phrase. Also, I didn’t list every accomplishment or every failure of every President in my rankings because I barely had the time and energy to do what I did do; going even deeper into would have resulted in every entry being 6,000 words long. Lyndon Johnson achieved more than just civil rights — few Presidents had more domestic accomplishments than President Johnson. But, let’s just say that civil rights was his “only” accomplishment — imagine gigantic quotation marks surrounding the word “only” — if civil rights was the “only” thing that LBJ achieved, isn’t that enough? Ask John Lewis or Dorothy Cotton or Joseph Lowery or Andrew Young or Diane Nash or C. T. Vivian how important the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were, and see what they thought about LBJ’s accomplishments.  

JOHN F. KENNEDY

35th President of the United States (1961-1963)

Full Name: John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Born: May 29, 1917, 83 Beals Street, Brookline, Massachusetts
Political Party: Democratic
State Represented: Massachusetts
Term: January 20, 1961-November 22, 1963 (Assassinated)
Age at Inauguration: 43 years, 236 days
Administration: 44th
Congresses: 87th and 88th
Vice President: Lyndon Baines Johnson (1961-1963; Assumed the Presidency upon Kennedy’s death)
Died: November 22, 1963, Trauma Room 1, Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, Texas
Age at Death: 46 years, 177 days
Buried: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 14 of 43 [↓2]

I rank JFK much in the same way that I rank Ronald Reagan.  I’ve written before that I believe John F. Kennedy is often overrated, and that is not out of any disrespect for his legacy, but from looking at what he actually accomplished (and had time to see through) during his brief Presidency.  Kennedy was a cautious politician, which isn’t necessarily a weakness, but there are times when people can no longer accept being patient about immensely important issues and demand action, and I think Kennedy was perhaps too cautious about moving forward on Civil Rights.  His strength was in the soaring speeches and inspirational vision that was carried through by his successors in his memory following his tragic assassination.  There will always be questions about “What if?” with JFK.  Would he have fought for Civil Rights like LBJ?  Could he have done it?  Would the difficult mission to put a man on the moon have been completed without his legacy to fuel it?  Those are questions we cannot definitively answer.  His vision was set many of these things into motion; his memory drove them across the finish line. What would the result have been if Kennedy had lived and it required his political skills to achieve those goals.  One thing can never be doubted: JFK’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis — tough, reassuring, and handled brilliantly through back-channel negotiations with the Soviets at the same time that we took steps that led us closer to turning the Cold War hot than anything else in history — was remarkable and he should be recognized for what he did in October 1962. It was Kennedy’s charisma, his young family, and the unique aura spotlighting him which forged his connection with the American people, particularly those who were of JFK’s generation rather than Dwight D. Eisenhower’s generation. And it was the shocking manner and sudden impact of his death which created a legend and froze John F. Kennedy in time as he was and as the American people wanted him to be. Because JFK was tragically, violently, and publicly robbed of his life and time, the foundation of his legacy was built on the fact that we focus on his unrealized potential rather than his missed opportunities.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS:
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  14 of 38 (tied with John Adams)
1990: Siena Institute:  10 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  12 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  8 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  12 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  15 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  6 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  11 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  15 of 40

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If LBJ didn't arrange the Kennedy assassination then why were Nixon Lodge Goldwater and half of everyone else convinced that he did?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Ummm…they weren’t.

When you can provide me some solid, definitive evidence that proves that Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge, Barry Goldwater, and “half of everyone else” were “convinced” that LBJ arranged the assassination of JFK, I’ll go ahead and start considering your theory.

More importantly, who is “everyone else”? Because if “half of everyone else” is convinced that LBJ planned JFK’s assassination, it seems like that would get more play in the history books and, oh, I don’t know, maybe be mentioned in LBJ’s biography somewhere before getting to signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I mean, “everyone else” sounds like a lot of people — in fact, it sounds like literally everyone on the planet in addition to Nixon, Goldwater, and Lodge — so if half of everybody on the planet was “convinced” (not “suspicious” or “curious”, but “convinced”!) that LBJ was culpable in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, you’d think that more people would mention it.

Then again, maybe you’re right and “half of everyone else” — literally billions of people — believe what you believe, but they just don’t want to say it out loud because it’s fucking ridiculous and they don’t want to sound like idiots.

When you provide that solid, definitive evidence, however, I’ll be the first person in line to shake your hand and apologize for my naivete. I don’t like being wrong about things, but it’ll be really cool to have communicated with the one person who had the genuine proof of a conspiracy that NOBODY has been able to deliver in the 50 years since November 22, 1963.  

John [F. Kennedy] was great, but all John had was the press. He was still an elitist; he didn’t like the rope line. This guy [Bill Clinton] loves the rope line — and the rope line loves him.
Gerald Ford, on the differences between John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton
Do you know what I think of history? The more I used to read of history, the more I thought — when something is written down, does that make it history? — the things they say? But Jack loved history so…History made him what he was. History…Everybody kept saying to me to put a cold towel around my head [when she went to witness Lyndon B. Johnson take the oath of office on Air Force One before leaving Dallas after JFK’s assassination]…later, I saw myself in the mirror; my whole face spattered with blood and hair…I wiped it off with Kleenex. History. I thought no one really wants me there [as LBJ was being sworn in as President]. Then one second later I thought, ‘Why did I wash the blood off?’ I should have left it there, let them see what they’ve done…If I’d just had blood and caked hair when [photographs were taken of LBJ’s inauguration with Jackie standing next to him]. Then later I said to Bobby, ‘What’s the line between histrionics and drama?’ I should have kept the blood on.
Jacqueline Kennedy, to author Theodore White, in an interview just one week after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 29, 1963

The Sacramento Bee, November 22, 1963

My grandmother has a dirty, dusty, spider and bug-infested little shed that is full of junk that I’m positive she doesn’t need and am pretty sure she wouldn’t even want if she took a minute to see what is actually in there. Half the time, she just leaves the door to the shed wide-open to the elements.

She asked me to go in there today to get a box that she needed, so I did, fully expecting to be killed in a collapse of shifting boxes of crap or complications from the venomous bite of some terrible, gross spider.

Inside the shed was a large barrel full of various stuff like unopened kitchen appliances that have never been used and three — yes, three — old Direct TV receivers. As I was digging through the barrel to find what she needed, I stumbled upon something just randomly folded up and shoved into the barrel with everything else. I have no idea how it has survived as long as it has and can’t understand how it hasn’t been heavily damaged, torn to bits, or eaten by monsters. But, somehow, in my grandmother’s federal disaster area of a shed, I found THIS:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forbears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
John F. Kennedy, Commencement address at Yale University, June 11, 1962
Asker Anonymous Asks:
I am currently writing an essay for my history class on JFK. I am trying determine why the united states hailed him as American loyalty in the "Camelot" sense through his presidency and the legacy he left. What suggestions could you make for this topic?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

A lot of that is due to JFK’s charisma, his young family, his visible extended family, and, of course, his assassination.  The sudden, shocking way that he died instantly romanticized the way that he lived and since JFK was frozen in time and never got any older than 46 years old, there was a fairy tale legend (with a tragic end, of course) attached to his life and legacy.

However, one thing that is often overlooked is the role that Jacqueline Kennedy had in shaping JFK’s legacy and that might be a topic to explore.  It was Jackie who first attached the Camelot mystique to JFK when she mentioned that JFK loved the Camelot musical and especially appreciated the lyric, “Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief, shining moment/That was known as Camelot”.  It was actually a pretty brilliant piece of public relations by Jackie, and I don’t think it was accidental.

Asker kaiyves Asks:
Re: The telling-people-in-1937-that-JFK-would-become-president question-- would most people have been surprised to hear that a Catholic would be elected President given how big of a deal was made over it in the 1960 election?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, I think it would have been surprising to people in 1937 because the first Catholic to be nominated for President by a major party — Al Smith — had only been nominated a few years earlier, in 1928.  Smith lost the 1928 election badly to Herbert Hoover (Popular vote margin: 58%-41%; Electoral vote margin: 444-87).  Smith’s loss to Hoover wasn’t solely because of his Catholic faith, but it certainly played a part in his defeat, especially in parts of the South, which was solidly Democratic at the time.  In 1928, Smith had to battle claims that he would be a pawn of the Pope and rule with the Vatican’s guidance — allegations which Kennedy had to face to lesser extent (but still had to face) in 1960.

The Catholic issue doesn’t seem like as big of an issue to us today until we look at the fact that a Catholic wasn’t nominated for President by a major party until Smith in 1928 and that only one Catholic (JFK) has ever been elected President.  And Joe Biden is the first Catholic Vice President in American history. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
How do you we would view JFK and Lincoln differently if they hadn't been assassinated?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I doubt we would romanticize them as much as we do because if they had lived, they wouldn’t have been frozen in time.  They would have continued their journeys and they would have been at risk of failing since they weren’t suddenly snatched from the scene.

JFK would have been reelected in 1964, but I don’t think he would have beaten Goldwater as decisively as LBJ did.  Would JFK had passed the legislation that LBJ pushed through Congress?  I don’t think so.  He might have tried, but he didn’t have the same political skills that LBJ did.  Would the mission to land on the moon have been completed by the end of the 1960s without the beloved memory of a popular, assassinated President there to fuel it?  I think it could have faced some political challenges without the Kennedy legacy attached to it, but that legacy was powered by JFK’s death, not his life.

As for Lincoln, H. W. Brands addresses this issue in his must-read biography of Ulysses S. Grant, The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant In War and Peace (BOOK | KINDLE):

"Had Lincoln lived, the war’s end would have forced him to answer questions he had avoided amid the fighting.  He would have been required to say whether emancipation implied citizenship for the freedmen; whether citizenship entailed suffrage; how far political equality, if it came to that, demanded social equality; and who would enforce the rights of African Americans against the resistance the assertion of such rights must inevitably invoke.  In short, he would have been required to specify what reconstruction meant.  The task fell instead to Andrew Johnson."

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were polar opposites in the things that they believed and the way that they led, but the point is that we just don’t know how Lincoln would have handled Reconstruction.  We hope that he would have showed magnanimity and protected the rights of freedmen, but Lincoln’s assassination robbed us of the opportunity to see how he waged peace, so we only know him as a wartime President.

How did I manage to beat a guy like this by only a hundred thousand votes?
John F. Kennedy, wondering to aides about the close results of the 1960 election between him and Richard Nixon

On November 8, 1960, millions of Americans went to the polls in what would become one of the closest Presidential elections in American History:  John Fitzgerald Kennedy versus Richard Milhous Nixon.

That morning, Kennedy voted in Boston and Nixon voted in Whittier, California.  The candidates had spent months canvassing the nation, working to get every last vote — and every last vote was needed.  For the past several weeks, Kennedy and Nixon had criss-crossed the country, debated one another, and been working non-stop to be elected the 35th President of the United States.

After they voted that day, there were results to monitor, precincts to watch, election day problems to take care of, and many other things to worry about.  Imagine being on the cusp of the Presidency — with a 50/50 chance of being elected the next President of a superpower in the grip of the Cold War, with the threat of Communism and nuclear weapons hanging over your head, and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people pinned on either your victory or defeat.  Imagine being in the position of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960.  What would you do? 

John F. Kennedy put the control of his campaign in the hands of his younger brother, Bobby, and then took a nap.

And Richard Nixon took a road trip to Mexico.

Once Nixon voted that morning at a private home in a quiet Whittier neighborhood, he had been scheduled to head to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where Bobby Kennedy would be assassinated eight years later) for the Election Day vigil and the long wait for the returns which would indicate whether he would be moving into the White House or facing an early retirement. 

Nixon was finished voting by 8:00 AM and hopped into his black Cadillac limousine to be driven to the Ambassador.  Several blocks away from the polling place, Nixon ordered the limousine to stop.  Along with a military aide and a Secret Service agent, Nixon jumped out of the limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Nixon took the LAPD officer’s place, got behind the wheel and ditched the press which had been following him.

Driving to La Habra, California, Nixon made a quick visit with his mother, making sure she had voted for her son in the Presidential election.  Nixon drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with no specific destination.  He stopped for gasoline in Oceanside and told a gas station attendant — startled to see the Vice President of the United States on a joyride on the very day that he stood for election as President — “I’m just out for a little ride.”  Nixon confided that it was his only source of relaxation.

As the group of four men, with Nixon in the driver’s seat, reached San Diego — over two hours away from Nixon’s campaign headquarters at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel — Nixon pointed out that he hadn’t been to Tijuana in at least 25 years.

As David Pietrusza wrote in his recap of Nixon’s road trip, “Richard Nixon — the ultimate control freak — was winging it on the most important day of his life.”  Not only that, but the sitting Vice President of the United States and the man who many Americans were choosing to become the next President, impulsively decided to leave the entire country while those voters were still at the polls.

In Tijuana, Nixon and his party headed to a restaurant called Old Heidelberg.  Despite the fact it was owned by a German, Border Patrol agents told Nixon that it was the best place in Tijuana for Mexican food.  Joined at the last moment by Tijuana’s Mayor, Xicotencati Leyva Aleman, Nixon, his military aide, a Secret Service agent, and an average LAPD officer ate enchiladas in Mexico while John F. Kennedy took a nap in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

When Nixon’s press secretary Herb Klein was asked about the missing candidate, he had to tell reporters that Nixon often took some private moments on hectic days such as Election Day.  Really, though, Klein had no clue where Nixon was, eventually admitting that the Vice President was “driving around without any destination”. 

After lunch in Tijuana, Nixon and his companions headed back north towards the United States border crossing.  The LAPD officer took over driving duties as Nixon sat in the convertible’s passenger seat.  A shocked Border Patrol guard shook hands with the Vice President and asked the man who was currently on the ballot for the Presidency, “Are you all citizens of the United States?”.

Nixon and company drove to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which Nixon called “one of my favorite Catholic places” on the day he faced the only successful Catholic candidate for the Presidency in American History.  Nixon took his three companions on a quick, informal tour of the Mission.  “For a few minutes, we sat in the empty pews for an interlude of complete escape,” Nixon later recalled.

The missing candidate and his three road trip buddies arrived back in Los Angeles before the election results started rolling in.  Nixon had to explain his trip to reporters who had been searching for him all day.  “It wasn’t planned.  We just started driving and that’s where we wound up.”

In his Memoirs, Nixon didn’t go too far into explaining why he escaped on Election Day, but a paragraph about that day is pretty illuminating:

After one last frenetic week, it was over.  Since the convention in August I had traveled over 65,000 miles and visited all fifty states.  I had made 180 scheduled speeches and delivered scores of impromptu talks and informal press conferences.  There was nothing more I could have done.

Except escape to Mexico while JFK slept.