The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CNHI Special Projects

November 17, 2013

Five myths about John F. Kennedy

FAIRFAX, Va. — Most everyone who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remembers where they were when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. JFK was the youngest elected U.S. president and the youngest to die. The fascination with him is never-ending: There have been hundreds of books, TV specials and films about his New Frontier, as well as the enduring controversy surrounding his assassination. Let's debunk some of the most pervasive myths.

               

1. The JFK-Nixon TV debates propelled Kennedy to victory.

               

The four televised debates were the great innovation of the 1960 presidential race, and Sen. Kennedy's impressive appearance and performance at the first one on Sept. 26 gave his campaign a jolt of energy. But Vice President Richard Nixon stepped up his game in the remaining three, especially the final one on foreign policy, a longtime strength of his.

While polls were much less frequent in 1960 than today, Gallup has enough data to show that the JFK-Nixon matchup was close throughout. From mid-August onward, the candidates were essentially tied, before and after the debates. Any boost Kennedy got from the first debate disappeared before Election Day.

President Dwight Eisenhower, still quite popular, campaigned for Nixon in the campaign's closing days, contributing to the photo finish in the popular vote: 49.72 percent for Kennedy, 49.55 percent for Nixon; out of about 69 million votes cast, JFK won by about 119,000. Sure, the debates were memorable and precedent-setting, but they barely moved the election needle.

               

2. JFK was a liberal president.

               

This view is widely held today, both because Kennedy is now associated with the civil rights movement and because his legacy is lumped together with those of his late brothers, the much more liberal Bobby and Ted. (The brothers followed Jack's moderate lead while he lived, but both became more openly progressive later on.) In reality, JFK was a cautious, conservative chief executive, mindful of his 1964 reelection bid after the squeaker of 1960. He was fiscally conservative, careful about spending and deficits, and sponsored an across-the-board tax cut that became President Ronald Reagan's model for his 1981 tax cut.

While he was more conciliatory after the Cuban missile crisis, JFK's early Cold War rhetoric was so hawkish that Reagan and other Republicans later quoted him at every opportunity to buttress their fight against communism. And Kennedy was so hesitant and timid about civil rights that he frustrated the movement's leaders at virtually every turn until finally articulating a vision for equal rights in June 1963.

               

3. Kennedy was determined to land Americans on the moon.

               

That's how we recall it, because of JFK's blunt declarations to Congress and the public beginning in May 1961, yet Kennedy actively considered alternatives. He actually wanted to send astronauts to Mars but had to be talked out of it because it was so impractical. Once he lowered his sights to our lunar satellite, Kennedy continued to have doubts because of the cost. "Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon?" he asked NASA Administrator James Webb in September 1963.

Kennedy even approached Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev about ending the superpower space race and establishing a Soviet-American partnership for a moon landing. Khrushchev responded favorably, and JFK mentioned it in his fall 1963 speech to the United Nations. His order to NASA to "make it happen" fell by the wayside in the next administration.

               

4. After the assassination, Lyndon Johnson adhered to JFK's agenda.

               

Johnson capitalized on Kennedy's memory and cited JFK more than 500 times in public speeches, statements and news conferences - more than any other president except Bill Clinton - as he tried to shepherd his own agenda to congressional passage. LBJ sought to out-Kennedy Kennedy.

Take Johnson's signature project, the War on Poverty. Right before JFK left for Dallas, an aide, Walter Heller, met with the president and proposed a program to combat poverty. Kennedy would consider signing off only on a pilot program in a few cities; he wanted no big-spending, budget-busting welfare subsidies. Heller met with LBJ the day after the assassination to revisit the issue. Johnson, with his hardscrabble background, loved the idea and immediately countermanded Kennedy's cautious approach: "That's my kind of program. It's a people's program. . . . Give it the highest priority. Push ahead full tilt."

The Vietnam War is an even better example. No one knows for sure whether Kennedy would have fully disengaged from Vietnam after his reelection, but almost no one believes that JFK, a wary incrementalist, would have committed 535,000 troops to Southeast Asia as Johnson did.

               

5. Fifty years later, we know everything we'll ever know about Kennedy's assassination.

               

Even a half-century later, we don't have the complete story of the assassination. This is because many government documents remain classified and hidden. Reputable groups and individuals have estimated that there are 1,171 unreleased CIA documents concerning Nov. 22, 1963. The Center for Effective Government has even claimed that there may be more than 1 million unseen CIA records related to Kennedy's assassination. No one can close the book on this subject without examining them.

The Assassination Records Collection Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, requires that all remaining documents about the Kennedy assassination be released by Oct. 26, 2017. The next president will rule on any requests from the CIA and other agencies that materials be withheld or redacted after 2017. Under the law, the president can do so only if there is "identifiable harm to military, defense, intelligence operations, or conduct of foreign relations, and the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure."

In addition, new technologies applied to hard evidence remaining from Dallas may yield fresh insights and conclusions. Recently, for instance, my research team used advanced audio analysis of a Dallas police recording from Nov. 22 to debunk the conclusion of the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations that the recording proved that there were two shooters in Dealey Plaza.

As Kennedy said only a month before his death, "Science is the most powerful means we have for the unification of knowledge." The scientific method may be our best hope to answer lingering questions about that awful day in Dallas.

        

 

1
Text Only
CNHI Special Projects
  • Electric-grid attack fuels sniper-versus-hacker threat debate

    U.S. energy regulators' efforts to harden the power grid against snipers and terrorists are fueling a debate over whether they're diverting resources from other threats, like cyber attacks.

    March 14, 2014

  • VIDEO: Oklahoma high-speed chase ends in crash

    Authorities in Oklahoma City, Okla. say a man who stole a pick-up truck led police on a high-speed chase reaching nearly 120 miles per hour before crashing into a mini-van and two other vehicles.

    March 14, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-03-14 at 12.39.21 PM.png Spring Madness: 3 apps to help manage your schedule

    Spring is imminent, and as you welcome the warmer weather, it's time to start thinking about home maintenance, school events and everything else you put off during the winter. These three apps will help you manage your schedule, no matter your organization style.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140309-AMX-SNAKES094.jpg Researchers tackle mystery of how some snakes can fly

    Flying snakes sound like creatures from a bad B-movie, but these serpents are elegant gliders that have evolved a special skill that sets them apart. In two new studies, engineers have used simulations to try to decipher how the wingless reptile manages to remain airborne despite its lack of flight appendages.

    March 11, 2014 2 Photos

  • ERIC-HOLDER.jpg Holder: Heroin deaths an 'urgent and growing public health crisis'

    Attorney General Eric Holder, calling the rise in deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an "urgent and growing public health crisis," is outlining a series of efforts by the Justice Department to combat the epidemic.

    March 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • plane-skydiver.jpg VIDEO: Skydiver, pilot treated after midair collision

    A pilot practicing take-offs and landings got tangled up with a skydiver in Polk County, Fla., but amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

    March 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • missing-plane.jpg In this tech age, how can a plane go missing?

    Call 911 from the side of the road, and GPS satellites can tell dispatchers exactly where to send help. Airline passengers have access to detailed maps that show exactly where they are during their journey. Hop onto WiFi, and somehow Google knows whether you're logging on from Lima or London, and will give you detailed suggestions about what to eat.

    March 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 10.45.45 AM.png VIDEO: Penguin sweaters save birds trapped in oil spills

    A wildlife group in Australia is inviting volunteers to knit sweaters for the penguin population it conserves, because it says the sweaters can actually save the lives of birds caught in oil spills.

    March 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Most deadly fraternity scraps initiation for new members

    Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest U.S. fraternities and the deadliest, said Friday it will ban the initiation of recruits, citing the toll that hazing has taken on its newest members.

    March 10, 2014

  • VIDEO: Michigan woman's death, mummified body hidden by auto-pay for six years

    The mummified body of a Michigan woman was discovered in the backseat of her car approximately six years after her death. The body was only found after the bank that foreclosed on the home ordered work on the property.

    March 10, 2014

Elections
Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

Should the city of Clinton appeal the open records violation ruling that will cost taxpayers $40,600?

Yes
No
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.