In "What's to Like About JFK?" I cited humorist Art Buchwald's maudlin poem about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, as an example of how captivated Americans were by JFK. Two lines from the second stanza stuck in my mind:
We weep for our children and their children and everyone's children.
For he was charting their destinies as he was charting ours.
And so were Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bushes I and II, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Did any American ask them to? No. Like John F. Kennedy, they, too, just assumed it was the proper function of government to establish national "goals" and the natural role of the office of president to "lead" us to them. To chart our destinies.
But, where to? What were those goals? What precisely was the nature of the destination?
The problem I've had with virtually every presidential address I've ever heard or read and that was made in the 20th and 21st centuries, aside from their content, is that they've been fundamentally authoritarian in nature. "I'm here to lead, and this is where we are going, or ought to go. No kicking and screaming, please, there's a good fellow." The presumptive role of presidential "leadership" has always been abrasive to my sense of having a choice in my own destiny, and not that of anyone else's, and especially not the plans of a "leader." I don’t want someone, and especially not the government, "charting" my destiny.
Few questioned the propriety of a president setting himself up as a kind of executive Scout Master prepared to lead his Cubs on a non-stop crusade to "do good." Too many Americans were susceptible to JFK's emotion-appealing rhetoric and felt a zing in their hearts when he turned on the charm, donned the mantel of "leadership," and began pointing in a multitude of directions.
On March 9, 2007, the late Ted Sorensen, JFK's principal speechwriter, special counsel and adviser, endorsed Obama for president in 2007, worked in Obama's 2008 campaign, and even provided assistance on Obama's inaugural address. Sorensen claimed that he and JFK collaborated closely on speeches. But Sorensen, a liberal, would not have written anything that JFK would have had reservations saying in public; however, JFK would not have much disagreed with anything Sorensen wrote.
Sorensen says, in this video, comparing JFK with Barack Obama, that Obama, among other things,
"…has that same spirit, that same desire, to call to public service, especially the young people, all the citizens of this country, to live up to that great title, 'American citizen.'"
When Sorensen died in October 2010, the Associated Press published an effusive obituary that all but canonized the speechwriter, as well. Sorensen's career with JFK began in 1956.
Of the courtiers to Camelot's king, special counsel Sorensen ranked just below Kennedy's brother Bobby. He was the adoring, tireless speechwriter and confidant to a president whose term was marked by Cold War struggles, growing civil rights strife and the beginnings of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam.
Some of Kennedy's most memorable speeches, from his inaugural address to his vow to place a man on the moon, resulted from such close collaborations with Sorensen that scholars debated who wrote what. He had long been suspected as the real writer of the future president's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Profiles in Courage," an allegation Sorensen and the Kennedys emphatically - and litigiously - denied.
In short, what "they can do for their country." Except that, in Obama's case, it is an issue of what he is doing to it.
Brian Marquard, in his November 1st, 2010 Boston Globe article on Sorensen's death, wrote:
“I think Ted became the most important adviser and, on balance, I think he was the best of the brightest and best,’’ said Harris Wofford, a former US senator from Pennsylvania who had served as an adviser to Kennedy. “He also knew what John Ken nedy thought. They had an extraordinary relationship. It would be hard to know where one person’s thoughts ended and the other began.’’
Officially, Mr. Sorensen was special counsel to the president, a role he reprised with Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Sorensen worked so closely with Jack Kennedy, however, that he became widely regarded as the president’s alter ego, liberal conscience, and intellectual confidant. Kennedy sought Mr. Sorensen’s counsel at every key juncture, from campaigning for the White House to guiding the country through perilous times such as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.
By Mr. Sorensen’s description, the two were as one as they drafted turns of phrase Kennedy made famous. Scholars in decades since have parsed sentences and scoured records while trying to deduce who wrote which words.
A number of conservative weblogs and online news outlets have paid compliments to President John F. Kennedy's vaunted anti-communism and virtually enshrined him in the pantheon of American leaders and presidents, simply because of his hostility to the Soviet Union.
JFK's friendliness with the welfare state is ignored by them. Had he lived to have a second term in office, doubtless he would have accomplished at least half what Lyndon B. Johnson, his successor in office after his assassination, accomplished in establishing a full-scale welfare state.
Nowhere in his speeches as a senator from Massachusetts, as a presidential candidate, and as president is there any indication that he was opposed to welfare state legislation. Sorensen, the son of a progressive liberal politician, was one, as well. He and JFK could not have worked so effectively together had there been a fundamental difference in their political thinking. One was Tweedledum, the other Tweedledee.
Out of the 2,256-word Dallas speech (almost twice as long as JFK's inaugural address), the term freedom occurs eleven times, while leadership occurs eight times. For what is leadership leading to? What would JFK's goals have been? No one seems to have ever questioned his role as a "leader," but what would he have led us to? The phrase from Art Buchwald's tearful "We Weep" poem from November 1963, "charting our destinies," bothered me, because it is the antithesis of freedom. The presumption needed to be challenged.
The undertone of the Dallas speech, which focuses on America's military deterrence capabilities, is off-putting because it communicates something other than a concern for the country's safety and survival. That undertone is: The country is mine to manage and to set in the right direction (whatever direction that might be, which is certainly, given JFK's liberal credentials, not in the direction of freedom), and I expect you to do your part.
None of the steps discussed by JFK in his undelivered speech would have been necessary had President Franklin D. Roosevelt been receptive to invading Europe through the Balkans, as Churchill had advocated in order to cut off the Red Army (before it had even broken out of Russia), to securing a surrender of the Nazi government in return for joining an Allied effort to oppose Stalin and his designs on Eastern Europe (a surrender German generals had sent unacknowledged feelers to Roosevelt about), or even to giving aid and succor to the very real anti-Nazi underground in Germany, an underground which reached into the highest ranks of the Wehrmacht.
For a first-class discussion and detailed revelation of the disgraceful roots of the "Cold War" and the role of Soviet espionage, of the Soviet penetration of FDR's administration, and of the treason of fellow-traveling Americans in the government during his years in office, see Diana West's American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character, a work reviled by Leftists and Neocons alike because it departs from, challenges, and exposes the standard estimate of FDR and the conduct of WWII. See also her The Rebuttal: Defending 'American Betrayal' from the Book-Burners, in which she counters every criticism of American Betrayal and exposes her virulent, smear-happy critics as ambitious censors. The West could have been spared the cost in lives and treasure of the "Cold War" had the Soviet Union been allowed to collapse during or shortly after WWII. Here is tantalizing excerpt from American Betrayal, recreating an event that occurred in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1941:
…It's a good bet State Department office windows were open in those pre-air-conditioning days. Maybe a passerby heard the percussive beats of a manual typewriter as Loy Henderson, a resolutely anti-Communist Foreign Service officer, tapped out a plan for the United States in the increasingly likely, even expected event that Hitler's Germany attacked Stalin's Russia somewhere along a line of battle four or five thousand miles away from Foggy Bottom – as indeed the Germans would do in launching "Barbarossa" the very next day. It was June 21, 1941.
…Finally, should the Soviet régime fall…the sky won't fall, too. This is a cloud-parting concept, revealing beacons of a never-before-glimpsed light. Finally, should the Soviet régime fall…we should let it. Finally, should the Soviet régime fall…an anti-Communist government could take its place after the war….[pp. 244-245, American Betrayal]
Instead, the Soviet régime was propped up by FDR's policies, not least of which was the cornucopia of benefits from Lend Lease, which enabled the Soviets to resist the Nazi invasion, and later to swallow Eastern Europe, replacing Nazi tyranny with Soviet tyranny.
As with his inaugural address in January 1961, the main thrust of JFK's Dallas speech was anti-communist and pro-defense, emphasizing the importance of nuclear deterrence. Still, the Dallas speech echoes a call to arms in the way of committing the country to the defense of freedom. Yet the problem is that JFK never really burdened himself or his rhetoric with a definition of freedom. He used it in a general, insinuative sense, counting on his auditors to fill in the blanks about what freedom is or what it meant to them, basing their understanding of what JFK might have meant by it in an unspoken consensus of what I have described elsewhere of calculated ambiguity.
And his message always was: You exist and have some freedom to make America great, but for no other reason, and I'll decide whether or not you're worthy of praise.
By way of comparison, reading President-elect Calvin Coolidge's inaugural speech of March 1925, one doesn't get the sense that Coolidge is taking charge of everyone's life, or assuming command of the country's destiny. He had no charisma and certainly wasn't photogenic. He was neither a glad-hander nor a philandering playboy as were most of the Kennedy men. Listening to him read on the radio from a script on the "Duty of Government" doesn't give one the impression, either, that he was a man on a white horse ready to save the nation. His principle message to Americans was that the future of the nation as a free country was up to them, not him.
Coolidge's addresses, in print and on radio, contain a mixture of virtues and fatal flaws, but one doesn’t get the sense, either, that he ever talked down to Americans. He did not see himself as a member of some elite group prepared to lead the country out of a desert. The White House page on Coolidge reports:
In his Inaugural he asserted that the country had achieved "a state of contentment seldom before seen," and pledged himself to maintain the status quo. In subsequent years he twice vetoed farm relief bills, and killed a plan to produce cheap Federal electric power on the Tennessee River.
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing: "This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country admirably. It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone.... And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy...."
JFK uttering the word "freedom" meant nothing to him or to Sorensen, and this is clear when one examines their shared political philosophy, because they never define the term. Uttering the word cost JFK nothing. He had fascist designs on the country. He asked Americans what "they can do for their country," and this exhortation echoed Hitler's and Mussolini's asking Germans and Italians what "they could do for their countries." They were demanding that the citizens of those countries recalibrate their lives to live for the sake and glory of the race or the nation.
Remember that Hitler and Mussolini both were anti-communist, and continually fulminated against the Communists, not because they abhorred Communism, but because it was a competing totalitarian ideology, a rival statist political philosophy. JFK asked Americans to recalibrate their lives, too. JFK was a political pragmatist looking for something to do, something to be a "leader" of, but it had to be a collectivist or altruist cause. He was as much a welfare statist as was LBJ and his successors, including Ronald Reagan, but most especially Bill and Hillary Clinton, both Bushes, and now Barack Obama.
Obama, in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic jihadist entities, is following in the policy footsteps of FDR in propping up the Soviet Union, and of Ronald Reagan, whom we should thank for enabling the Taliban and Al-Qada, for once the Islamists had finished defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, they turned their sights and guns on the West.
JFK, in his undelivered Dallas speech, whether he knew it or not, addressed the legacy of FDR's recognition of the Soviet government as a legitimate one and of how he conducted WWII as a virtual valet to Josef Stalin's wishes.
On the other hand, Obama has never much disguised in his banal rhetoric his hostility to freedom. His friendship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its operatives in and out of this country's government, and now coupled with his surrender to Iran in Geneva over Iran's nuclear program, compounds the error made by Reagan in aiding Islamic designs on the West, by further emulating FDR's pro-Soviet policies.
In this light, Neville Chamberlain was not the only appeaser of tyranny, and, as with Chamberlain, peace will not be had in our time.
Barack Obama is also "charting our destinies," in which death by ObamaCare or death by an Iranian-designed nuclear bomb detonated in Israel or the U.S.is the destination.
Obama is no appeaser of tyranny. All indications are that he is its friend and ally.