The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, June 03, 2004

KENNEDY AND JOHNSON

This Matthew Yglesias post on the "myth" of JFK started a very invigorating debate in the comment thread about the relative merits of Kennedy and Johnson.

The debate isn't really tilted either way, as interesting arguments are made in favor of (and against) the legacies of both presidents. The major sticking points in the debate are Kennedy's handling of Cuba (both the crisis and the botched invasion), the Diem coup (and its meaning regarding our future plans in Vietnam), and the weight of LBJ's domestic program and whether or not Kennedy receives any credit for it, or his own program when he was in charge.

Given that my primary source on this is the Donald Sutherland scene from JFK, I am reluctant to dive too far into this one.

Oh, wait. Blogs are free-for-alls, so it doesn't matter. Okay... but I'll keep it limited to a couple thoughts...

--It has always been my understanding that the civil rights portion of Johnson's domestic program was an extension of (and tribute to) steps taken especially by Kennedy (James Meredith, for example). It's the same as the moon landing. Nixon was president at the time, but what we remember president-wise is Kennedy presenting the idea to the American people.

--LBJ's 'Nam conduct is a deal-breaker for me. The Gulf of Tonkin and the opportunism that followed is a matter completely removed from any Kennedy policy. (Side joke: Just like LBJ, George W Bush has brought us a large war and a large Medicare bill! Though I don't think LBJ deceived congress as to its cost.)

--At the time of his death, Kennedy was still a very good-looking man, and yes, that contributes to his allure. If he had lived long enough to see the graying of his hair, he would have looked like a slightly-more-presentable version of Bill Kristol, and we just can't have that.

--I was negative 17 years old when Kennedy was assassinated, so I'll stop there. Once again, here's the link.

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