Friday, February 24, 2012

JFK's political acumen: near the top of the heap

I recently discussed Mimi Alford's allegations concerning President Kennedy, noting that if true, these new details do a great deal of damage to what remains of the Camelot myth. But I also note that, despite his flaws as a person, Kennedy's achievements are--and will always be--the stuff of greatness. Kennedy himself was a formidable politician and intellect, that can also not be denied.

To that end, it is fascinating how small bits of information, details of activities, and even short conversations can often provide the most compelling evidence with regard to a person's capabilities and even intelligence. Consider this phone call between President Kennedy and General Godfrey McHugh:



The background of the call: it was mid-1963, Kennedy was President and Jackie was pregnant. Otis Air Force base--located on Cape Cod--was a potential location for delivery, if the First Family happened to be in the area when it was time. Given the possibility of such a development, officials at the base--wisely, they believed--decided to prep a delivery room for Mrs. Kennedy, just to be safe. Somehow, the press got wind of this and reporters from the Washington Post were actually allowed to view the room and even take pictures for a story on the "special" delivery room. Shots from this story are in the YouTube video, above.

And that brings us to the phone call. President Kennedy was furious when he saw the story in the Post. The first thing he did was give both barrels to Arthur Sylvester, press officer for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara:
I'd just like to send that goddamn furniture back…to Jordan Marsh in an Air Force truck this afternoon with that captain [who made the furniture purchase] on it...What about transferring his ass out of here in about a month?…for incompetence, not for screwing us. And that silly fellow who had his picture taken next to the bed, I'd have him go up to Alaska, too.
Clearly, Kennedy saw the incident as a PR nightmare. But there more there than just that. From the phone call in the YouTube video:
Did you see that fella's picture by the bed. And did you see that furniture they bought from Jordan Marsh? What the hell did they allow reporters in there for? Are they crazy up there? Now you know what's going to do…any Congressmanis going to get up and they'll say, "If they can throw away $5,000 on this, lets cut them another billion dollars. You just sank the Air Force budget. They're crazy up there. Are they crazy? That silly bastard with his picture next to the bed. I want to find out who paid for that furniture and I want itto go back to Jordan Marsh. Then I want that incompetent fellow who had his picture taken next to Mrs. Kennedy's bed, if that's what it is. He's just a silly bastard. I wouldn't have him running a Cat House. I hope they're not all incompetent. Is that the way they are throwing money around over there. You better look into it, especially after you told me it wouldn't cost a cent.
Look carefully at what Kennedy is saying. He's not upset about the arrangements being made, per se, he's upset that they not only became public knowledge, but that officials used them for a photo op. He doesn't want the furniture sent back because he really thought it was too extravagant and/or a waste of money, but because he's been forced to play it that way; he anticipates the potential responses from the story and immediately adjusts his perspective accordingly. And he doesn't suffer fools at all, let alone not gladly.

This really is an impressive display of political acumen on Kennedy's part, something that our current politicians should take note of, learn from. I doubt Kennedy would have allow his press secretary to make the White House look foolish on two successive occasions. And he--Kennedy--wouldn't have inserted his foot down his own throat by spewing the talking points of his ideological adversaries.

The politicians of today: pale shadows of those from the past?

Cheers, all.

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