Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Little Revisionist History

Let's step away from Georgia for a minute and dip into the tepid pool of national Presidential politics.

While the Georgia left is all a-ga-ga over Rep. Jack Kingston's (R-Lalaland) loopy performance, David Frum played historian on Bill Maher's show friday night.
People compare him to John F. Kennedy and one of the things that's interesting about the comparisons is John F. Kennedy...was immediately tested by America's adversaries and immediately failed those tests.
One of those "tests" was the Bay of Pigs which is hard to argue was not a failure. But the other one was the Cuban Missile Crisis which to call a failure is laughable.

Kennedy actually faced Russian destroyers cruising off the coast of Florida with nukes, cowboyed up in real life, looked the bad guys in the eye and said, no.

Hardly the failure of a limp wristed liberal.

The myth spinning of "Kennedy as a failure" is usually left to the realm of late night wacko radio shows, but we can now see it is being trial ballooned as a mainstream Republican talking point.

It might be worrisome if the whiff of desperation didn't make it so laughable.


Jim V. said...

The amount of money that the right invests to put these ideas into public discourse is huge. Ideas that Reagan was the best president ever, Carter was the worst president ever, Kennedy and FDR were failures, do not happen by accident.

EHT said...

When discussing Kennedy's policies regarding Cuba many U.S. textbooks only mention the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis....more often than not they leave out Operation Mongoose which was basically a covert program to destabilize Cuba. Pierre Salinger has written that JFK intended to mount an armed invasion of Cuba but it was put on hold once the missiles were spotted.

In order to teach the whole truth teachers have to detour from the textbook and get into actual primary sources, diaries, and journals. While many of my colleages do this, a high number aren't willing to go the extra mile because of time constraints and the looming test. They simply don't feel they can deviate from a prescribed program. The pressure brought upon classroom teachers to be at a certain place by a certain date also help to fuel the concept of the type of revisionist history you mention. Important people, events, etc. are cut from the curriculum leaving gaping holes in a student's knowledge. The revisionist whether they are from the left or the right is more than happy to step in and fill the void. At any rate...it's very frustrating for me. :)

Unknown said...

I found that exchange on Maher quite interesting. Maher is among the only talking heads that challenges these guys on what they say as he did Frum and Kingston.

Jump ahead 40 years, will the right be all "George W Bush was the best President ever"? Thankfully, I won't be around to have to challenge that...

Rusty said...

Looking back as someone who didn't live through that time and only has history books, polemic missives and Wikipedia to go by, Kennedy to me is a bundle of contradictions.

He did a lot of undeniably great things. There are also many, many valid criticisms to be laid on him, but I don't think "limp-wristed liberal" is one of them. Hell, a lot of people would call him a neo-con today for his whole-hearted support of the Truman Doctrine. From his 1961 inaugural address:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

I, for one, would be scared shitless if I heard George W. Bush say that. I might even threaten to move to Canada.

Anonymous said...

GRIFT SAID: "Kennedy actually faced Russian destroyers cruising off the coast of Florida with nukes, cowboyed up in real life, looked the bad guys in the eye and said, no."

ME: Uh, no, he didn't. Kennedy actually blinked first, by agreeing to swap the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev actually got what he wanted.

But because Khrushchev couldn't announce the removal of the U.S. missiles, it seemed at the time like a victory for the U.S. Kennedy was made to look like the unflinching hero since the Soviets turned around and left Cuba with their nukes in tow.

But like the rest of his "accomplishments" (e.g. civil rights), the Kennedy mystique of steely-eyed resolve during times of crisis is just that: a myth. If the truth of his secret deal with Khrushchev had been known at the time (and if his life wouldn't haven't been cut so short, so tragically) Kennedy's term as President would be seen as fairly mediocre.

And if the myth of Camelot weren't so strong, modern-day bloggers wouldn't be channeling Arthur Schlesinger with their hagiographical accounts of Kennedy "cowboy[ing] up in real life, look[ing] the bad guys in the eye and sa[ying], no."

griftdrift said...

Well Karl, the cowboy I was alluding to was not some Schlesinger fever dream but rather another President who despite never facing a crisis like Kennedy is credited with "winning the Cold War".

But you're right. Ultimately Kennedy found a diplomatic solution to remove us from the brink. Perhaps current politician could learn a lesson.

Funny, that other cowboy President I alluded to also dealt arms to a known enemy to solve a diplomatic tangle. The only difference is his solution was a direct violation of U.S. law.

Maybe if Kennedy had turned a few Russian cities into radioactive glass certain people would now perceive him as man enough. Then again maybe not. After all Max Cleland gave three limbs in service to his country and in some circles he's not considered patriotic enough to be a leader of this country.

But hey. If you and Frum and others think attacking the legacy of a President still revered by most of the country have at it.

I won't be betting on you being a winner.

Bill Gillespie said...

My name is Bill Gillespie, and I'm Jack Kingston's election opponent in 2008. Here Jack goes again, seeking the spotlight and spending the taxpayers time politiking instead of serving the people of District 1. Jack is in Congress for one purpose: to represent the people of South Georgia, fighting for what's best for our region and America. He is not there to campaign for President. Partisan publicity stunts like this interview only waste taxpayers' money and make South Georgia look bad. This is no surprise though. For several years now Jack has put his political party and special interest friends ahead of the people he represents. As Congressman, all my energy will be focused on serving South Georgia and putting the people first. Visit my website to find out more: www.billforgeorgia.com

Anonymous said...

Karl is leaving out one important fact...that the missles that Kennedy agreed to remove were outdated anyway and had been scheduled to be removed ANYWAY. So Kennedy gave up NOTHING to the Soviets and in fact it is Khrushchev who "saved" face with this deal, not Kennedy. There is a reason why Khrushchev was not well liked after this whole thing went down, because he truly walked away empty handed.

griftdrift said...

Maybe next we'l hear how Carter put us at a strategic disadvantage by giving up the Panama Canal.

Anonymous said...

GRIFT: "Maybe if Kennedy had turned a few Russian cities into radioactive glass certain people would now perceive him as man enough."

ME: The point isn't that he failed to use force in Cuba. The point is that his backing down first told Khrushchev that Kennedy wasn't a man who would challenge Soviet aggression in other parts of the world. In other words, if Kennedy wouldn't use force and, instead, would actively look for a way out when the Soviets threatened the U.S. in its own back yard, then Kennedy definitely wouldn't challenge Soviet moves in Eastern Europe and Africa. That's what Khrushchev was trying to see when he openly put missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev knew that he would have to take the missiles out of Cuba before he ever put them there. He was just trying to see to what lengths Kennedy would go to make him do it.

My point also wasn't that "[finding] a diplomatic solution" is a bad option to have. My point is that when diplomacy is your only option, that is, when you completely rule out force no matter the circumstances, then you've let the other side win. Regimes like the Soviet Union view a diplomacy-only policy as weakness. And when you're perceived as weak, your adversaries are quick to take advantage. That's why half of Europe had to spend an extra half century living under tyranny because of the accomodations of U.S. presidents.

Reagan certainly wasn't perfect but his tougher stance on Soviet expansion sent a strong message that the U.S. may use force against the Soviets. In fact, the Soviet leadership actually thought Reagan was a little crazy, and that his rhetoric wasn't mere sable-rattling but rather warmongering. This, coupled with the huge military buildup, is what led to the Soviets coming to the negotiating table in the mid-80's.

I wish more people understood this last point.

Anonymous said...

GRIFT: "But hey. If you and Frum and others think attacking the legacy of a President still revered by most of the country have at it."

ME: Let's try a thought experiment.

Imagine that Nixon had won in 1960. Nixon handles the Cuban missile crisis exactly as Kennedy did. Nixon blockades Cuba, issues some stern public warnings, works diplomatic backchannels to see if Khrushchev would strike a deal. A deal is struck, with the U.S. taking missiles out of Turkey but only on the condition that the move would be kept secret.

Now, imagine all of that, but with Nixon in the Oval Office. Certainly plausible, right? Nixon was an anti-communist, but a realist on foreign policy, just like Kennedy. So it's not extraordinary to think he would broker a similar deal that Kennedy did.

So now, ask yourself. Would Nixon be lauded as a hero who "cowboyed up in real life, looked the bad guys in the eye and said, no."

That's what I'm talking about when I lament the Kennedy myth. If you'd like to talk about his overinflated legacy on civil rights, I'll do that too.

griftdrift said...

Well we have now entered weirdsville now, bubba.

Kennedy did actually create a military blockade of Cuba and he used more than harsh words. So maybe our definitions of force are different.

Whereas your boy Reagan did outspend the Soviets into a death spiral but does anyone remember his other eloquent show of force? That's right children! He invaded and island best known for its spices and questionable medical degrees.

The memories of Grenada get me so excited I feel the need to pop Heartbreak Ridge in the VCR and blow a load in my pants.

And no. I don't want to discuss civil rights with you. I've already had my daily vomit quotient thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Back away from what Kennedy did or didn't do, David Frum's point, to me, seemed to be that if we elect someone who is seen as lacking foreign policy experience, our enemies will test us. That point itself is simply ridiculous. First of all, on that score, Kennedy is a lot more like McCain than Obama -- a Navy war heros with time in the Senate. Second, history just doesn't bear this out. The only president we've had with that experience since Nixon was the first Bush, and it sure didn't scare off Saddam Hussein. Reagan talked tough, but that didn't stop terrorists from driving a truck bomb into Marine barracks, and Bush's tough talk didn't stop 9/11, and it sure isn't stopping the attacks in Iraq now. Frankly, it's just a dumb thing to say.

Anonymous said...

GRIFT SAID: "Well we have now entered weirdsville now, bubba. [...] I've already had my daily vomit quotient thank you very much."

ME: Grift, we don't know each other, but I think we know a couple of people in common. And it was my understanding that you're a decent, intellectually honest guy.

So I have to admit that it takes me aback somewhat that you've reacted the way you have.

If my reading of history is different then yours', okay fine, then debate me civilly. But I seem to have touched some nerve with you that was completely unintended.

Perhaps my tone comes across differently than I meant for it too, but looking back at my posts I cannot see where I would provoke you to the point of calling my argument "vomit." In fact, I never said anything personal at all, beyond the weak Schlesigner jab. My argument was, in fact, strictly argument.

I think we can see this with your response to my thought experiment. If you had carefully read it, you would've noticed that I said we should imagine that "Nixon handles the Cuban missile crisis exactly as Kennedy did", which includes the blockade Kennedy ordered.

This may be conjecture, but it appears you were so dead-set at lashing back that you failed to carefully read my post and grasp my point. My reading of history is not far-fetched. In fact, most non-liberals see it the way I do. We may be wrong, but to view the Kennedy years as we do is not necessarily "weirdsville."

When I chimed in at the start of this post, my hopes were to engage in a serious discussion with a serious, smart, center-left blogger who is generally well respected.

But your reaction to my argument is more in line with the anti-intellectual, name-calling Bushitler crowd. This goes completely against the good things I had heard of you.

griftdrift said...

Ahh Karl. Appealin to my ego. Always a good tactic Karl.

Apparently our mutual friends didn't also inform you that I frequently use snark and sarcasm. I make no apologies for my style. But if you prefer a more gentle style I'll entertain you for the moment.

Look here's the real deal. Much like Rusty I have a pretty realistic view of Kennedy. His record is at best mixed.

However, to argue that somehow he failed in the moment of crisis when dealing with Kruschev is ludicrous. He did not wimp out. He did use force. He brought us to the absolutely brink and as I pointed out he found a way out. And as someone else pointed out his way out involved giving up something that in no way weakened the U.S. stance.

Not enough time to go into the Nixon thing. But I will say I believe he would have been admired. Just as many so called liberals have admiration of Eisenhower. It was only years later when the demon of Nixon's ego overwhelmed the many good things he did and we came to know him as a man possesed by a horrible monster.

And I think your wrong about non-liberals view of Kennedy. Now we are talking about Jack here and not Ted.

My grandmother, member of a Freewill denomination (those would be the people that broke away from the Southern Baptist because they were too liberal), spoke with quiet tones of admiration for Kennedy to her dying day.

In my opinion comparisons of Obama to Kennedy helps him a helluva lot more than hurts him. If Frum and Kingston and others would rather joust at the windmill of the Kennedy legacy, selah. I just think its a loser and a true sin of political desperation.

Now back to my style and what not. My vomit comment comes from having to hear the same tired arguments over and over again. Especially when it comes to demonizing myths of both sides. Liberals are wimps - Republicans are cowboys blah blah blah. And as you can see I plead guilty as well. And the thought of wading into a such a load subject as civil rights based on that tone makes my gag reflex go into overdrive. So it was nothing personal.

Maybe you are a reasonable guy. I don't know. I don't know you and the only thing I can base my judgment on are the context of your written word. So change my mind. Rolling our tired saws like "Bushitler" are not likely to do this.

And here's a word of advice Karl. Next time don't bring a pedanti knife to a rhetorical gunfight.

Anonymous said...

GRIFT SAID: "However, to argue that somehow he failed in the moment of crisis when dealing with Kruschev is ludicrous."

ME: I never argued that Kennedy failed, Frum did. I don't agree with Frum that Kennedy failed time and again in foreign policy. I am arguing that Kennedy's actions, while perfectly defendable, and in some instances the right thing to do, are not worthy of HERO-WORSHIP.

I'll set out a few examples.

Kennedy was handed the Bay of Pigs plan from Eisenhower; he didn't plan it and perhaps wouldn't have thought of it on his own, but he okay'd the invasion. But then he got cold feet, and refused to follow through with the planned American airpower that would've given the Cuban force cover. They were subsequently slaughtered. Kennedy's indecisiveness told Khrushchev that the U.S. would be afraid to act.

But Kennedy doesn't get much blame for this failure because he gave a good apology afterwards.

Kennedy then met with Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. It was the leaders' first meeting, and Khrushchev was eager to size up his new American counterpart. Khrushchev came away unimpressed. Kennedy could hardly sit at the table throughout their talks because he was in such pain from a back injury. He was pale and sweating and he had to take periodic shots just to stand the pain. Khrushchev thought he was a joke, not the picture of "vigor" that Kennedy projected to the world. Kennedy also was feckless at this meeting, only wanting to talk about Laos and a test ban treaty, even though Khrushchev had been signalling for months that he was going to seal up Berlin.

Khrushchev then decided to test Kennedy in Berlin later in 1961. After WWII, the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union descended on Berlin and subsequently agreed to divide the city into different sectors that would be run by the different powers. But there was one condition: the Soviets couldn't partition their sector from the West's sectors. It was a non-negotiable point.

But what did Khrushchev promptly do a month after his Vienna meeting with Kennedy? Partition the city by throwing up the Berlin Wall. Before Vienna, Kennedy had publicly stated that if the Soviets partitioned Berlin it would be seen as an act of war. But Kennedy's poor showing at Vienna (including his avoidance of the issue when the two sides met), plus his handling of the Bay of Pigs, told Khrushchev that he was all talk. Khrushchev then built the wall, and there was a tense standoff between the West and the Soviet Union.

But since Kennedy didn't lead the U.S. into war, the Berlin Crisis is hailed as a success, even though the Wall sealed Eastern Europe for another four decades.

Then we come to the Cuban missile crisis, which I've already talked about.

I know this post had been long, and perhaps pointless in your mind. But I'll try to sum it up the best I can: Kennedy is given far too much credit for "avoiding war" when it was, in fact, his perceived weakness which prompted Soviet aggression in the first place. In other words, Kennedy shouldn't be lauded for salvaging a mess that his previous actions helped cause. He did the right thing at the time, but only because he screwed things up so much previously.

griftdrift said...


All those points are certainly arguable.

But ultimately in the end game (the missle crisis) Kennedy showed the Soviets and the rest of the world that U.S. would not bow under that pressure.

At least you don't agree with Frum.

And I certainly don't fall into the category of hero worship. I was just using a bit of rhetorical flourish.

See? Nice as a peach.

Anonymous said...

I'd also just like to add that nowhere in my discussion have I resorted to some Sean Hannity-style of "liberals are wusses and unpatriotic" argument.

So, it's pretty much a strawman for you to say you won't deal with my argument because I've "[r]oll[ed] ou[t] tired saws." I mentioned "Bushitler" only because of your anti-intellectual description of my argument as "vomit." The rest of my argument is serious, and should either be countered or admitted.

If I'm willing to concede that your point about Kennedy was argued in good faith, then why can't you?

griftdrift said...

I think I did.

Careful. I'm starting to feel un-nice again.

Rusty said...

This article is worth a read.