FLOTSAM & JETSAM: The real Kennedys

Friday, September 09, 2011

The real Kennedys

Sam Smith

Over the years, I have restrained myself from writing what I really thought about Jackie Kennedy. Now with the release of an interview made shortly after her husband’s death, we know that she considered Martin Luther King “terrible,” so I feel that I can now admit that I thought of her as a pretentious, narcissistic caricature of whom she wanted desperately to be, namely the queen we thankfully never had. When the assassination of her husband brought that dream to the end, she married again, this time for the money.

Writes the NY Daily News, “Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy described King as ;phony’ and ‘tricky’ . . . Kennedy, in one of seven Q&A sessions with former JFK aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., said King had mocked her slain husband's funeral Mass and its celebrant, Cardinal Richard Cushing. ‘He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and said he was drunk at it,’ Kennedy recounted. ‘I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, 'That man's terrible.'"

King was far from perfect but there is no choice between Jackie Kennedy and the civil rights leaders. Further, it’s worth remembering that her husband tried to stop the protest that included what would turn out to be one of the greatest speeches in American history, delivered by King.

More revelations on the Kennedys have been reported by Rick Klein of ABC News: “President John F. Kennedy was so ‘worried for the country’ about the prospect that Vice President Lyndon Johnson might succeed him as president that he'd begun having private conversations about who should become the Democratic Party's standard-bearer in 1968, Jacqueline Kennedy recalled in a series of oral-history interviews recorded in early 1964.

“’Bobby told me this later, and I know Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, 'Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?’ she said.

“The president gave no serious consideration to dropping Johnson from the ticket in 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy recalled. But he did have some talks about how to avoid having Johnson run for president in 1968, at the end of what would have been Kennedy's second term, she said.”

History would show that while Kennedy’s administration was largely devoid of significant achievement (excepting postponing our Nixon years), LBJ’s was in league with the New Deal as the most positively productive administrations in our history.

One reason this is not generally understood is because with Kennedy we learned to regard the presidency as a form of show business rather than politics. Television had introduced us to the idea that how one looked and talked was more important than what one did. It is a major reason why Rick Perry is leading the GOP pack at the moment.

LBJ, on the other hand, was a classic political scoundrel, unjustifiable in personality, integrity or style, but amazing in getting things done.

This conflict was far too complicated for the new television age of politics, so we just settled in to choosing our future based on style rather than on achievement.

And it was the Kennedys who introduced us to this curse.