The Corner

WFB on JFK

Forty-seven years have passed since the Kennedy assassination. Back in 2003, WFB weighed in on JFK’s legacy, and about how we remember him:

It is pointed out, even by the school of political thought least anxious to associate itself with low taxes, that JFK called for tax reduction — which he did, though it was left to Lyndon Johnson to consummate the proposal. Civil Rights is adduced, and it is true that Mr. Kennedy came eloquently to the cause — after hearing Martin Luther King give his great speech, and weighing the implications of it. He arrived finally (sooner than I did) to the cause of equality under the law, but was a recruit to it, spurred by others. It was only in the summer of his last year that he turned to the subject of a Civil Rights Bill. In Vietnam, he engaged the Communist aggressors intending two things, the first, to abide by George Kennan’s long-standing doctrine of Containment, the second, to challenge the evaluation of him by Khrushchev as a “pygmy.” That was the character reading by Khrushchev, who proceeded, after their personal encounter in Vienna, to build the Berlin Wall, and to send missiles to Cuba. Maybe, if Kennedy had lived, he’d have reversed the course he took in Vietnam, adopted by his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who continued to press the doctrine of containment. But it is asking too much, at eulogy time, to compliment a dead man on the grounds that you feel certain he’d have proceeded, if he had lived, to undo what he did when alive. I can think of any number of reforms I would myself undertake, after I am dead.

What I said to the interviewer was that the legacy of John F. Kennedy is his sheer . . . beauty. I have visited yurts in Mongolia, adobe huts in Mexico, and rural redoubts in Turkey and seen framed pictures of John F. Kennedy. He was all-American, splendid to look at, his expression of confident joy in life and work transfiguring. Add to this that he was slaughtered, almost always a mythogenic act, and what we came to know about the awful physical afflictions he suffered, making his appearances as a whole, vigorous man, the equivalent of seeing FDR rise from his wheelchair and play touch football.

That is why JFK is worshipped, which word exactly describes the attitude we have toward him.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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