While doing some post-surgery R&R in Hawaii last month, I ran across a five-month-old article by Richard Reeves, a noted JFK biographer, on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

That’s why I love the local newspapers in Hawaii as well as the lifestyle of the Sandwich Islands. They’re always a little behind and in no hurry to catch up.

Here are some excerpts from the L.A. Times’ article with Reeve’s comments and observations on Kennedy’s three years in the White House—what he was; what he wasn’t.

“In a recent national Gallup poll, Americans rated Kennedy as the greatest president since World War II, with 74% of respondents ranking him an outstanding or above-average president. Ronald Reagan was second with 61%, Bill Clinton third with 55% and Dwight Eisenhower fourth with 49%.

“But Kennedy’s death also exposed some less enthusiastic realities.”

What Kennedy accomplished:

  1. Able to avoid war in the Cuban Missile Crisis
  2. Prevented a regional conflict in Germany
  3. Negotiated a nuclear test ban with Russia
  4. Gambled U.S. could overtake the Soviets early lead in space exploration
  5. Changed the way primaries were won by nominees, diminishing the influence of party bosses

Where Kennedy failed:

  1. Legislative setbacks – half-hearted attempt to pass civil rights legislation
  2. Started and escalated the Vietnam debacle
  3. The planning of the “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba
  4. His deeds never quite matched his soaring rhetoric

Reeves summarizes the Kennedy years in the following:

  1. Historians and scholars do not rank Kennedy with the top tier of presidents (as Americans did in the Gallop poll)
  2. Kennedy was a compartmentalized man with much to hide and comfortable with secrets and lies
  3. Personal popularity obscures lack of accomplishments
  4. In general, the picture has evolved from a charismatic young president who inspired youth around the world to a deeply flawed man whose oratory outstripped his accomplishments.

Sounds almost like Kennedy has an identical twin in the current White House.

He probably had in Ted Sorenson and staff, the greatest speechwriters of any president.

My personal take on John Kennedy included: A meeting in a small group with Ted Sorenson in the White House. He was about my age. One of Kennedy’s principal aides. I was overwhelmed with how bright he was.

Kennedy wrote a book titled “Profiles in Courage” but was reluctant to take a stand during the McCarthy episode.

I was totally underwhelmed meeting in a small group with Teddy Kennedy (who was about my age) during John’s presidential campaign.

The weekend of his assassination was the most emotional draining of my life. I could not stop watching the television.


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