- Ross Douthat: What is it with liberals and their worship of the mediocre-at-best presidency of John F. Kennedy?
- Jonathan Chait: What is it with liberals and their dissatisfaction with the actually-quite-impressive presidency of Barack Obama?
- David Atkins: Actually, liberals have quite legitimate grounds on which to be dissatisfied.
- Steve Kornacki: By the way, liberals aren't any more prone to eating their own than conservatives are.
I thought that the Douthat piece was convincing. Or am I looking at things through smoke-colored glasses?
I'm sympathetic to a lot of his points, but I'm not quite so quick to dismiss JFK. Yes, he was "evasive on civil rights," but with good reason! Most northern Democratic leaders (including Adlai Stephenson) throughout the 50s had been evasive on civil rights, largely because they worried about causing the southern wing to defect. And then LBJ was more aggressive on civil rights and the southern wing defected. In the long run, history has been kinder to LBJ's approach, but one can certainly appreciate JFK's caution on the topic.
Also, Douthat says JFK "barely avoided a nuclear war that his own brinksmanship had pushed us toward." Well, yeah, but it's not like JFK was the only one playing brinksmanship at the time. I don't know that the missile crisis was inevitable, but everything I've read about it suggests that JFK handled it remarkably well and surprisingly coolly (especially given that he was a hawk who was quite literally on speed at the time).
So I certainly agree that JFK's legacy far outpaces his actual accomplishments, and that had he survived 1963 we still would have been embroiled in a war in Vietnam. But I'm not so quick to give him an F.
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