THE KENNEDY MYSTIQUE: Rich Lowry notes one of the more fascinating elements of Democratic politics, dating back to, I guess, at least the mid-1970s: JFK worship. But JFK’s politics and policies are, in many respects far to the right of today’s Democrats. As Lowry writes:
The hold JFK has over Democrats is extraordinary. Kerry would be the second consecutive Democratic president yearning to reprise the glories of Kennedy’s 1,000 days. A star-struck Clinton idolized Kennedy before growing up to become himself a young, mediocre president with a weakness for the White House help. John Forbes Kerry shares JFK’s initials, and has had a lifetime fascination with Kennedy. He fought on a Swift Boat in Vietnam, partly to repeat JFK’s iconic PT-109 experience in World War II. Alas, despite Kerry’s bravery, “Swift Boat No. 94” doesn’t have quite the same resonance.
What accounts for JFK’s hold on the Dems? For one thing, he is all there is when it comes to Democratic presidential role models in the past 40 years. No one wants to be the next LBJ, JEC, or WJC. It’s JFK or bust. What do liberals like about Kennedy’s substance? The caution on civil rights? The tax cuts on the rich? The entry into Vietnam? It’s the rhetoric and the image–those gorgeous pictures of Kennedy with Jackie–that make for much of the appeal.
The JFK wannabes know the centrality of image to Kennedy’s magic. Between Kerry’s expensive haircuts and Edwards’s hair-sprayed bangs, my guess is that no presidential ticket in the history of the planet has cared so much about personal grooming. When the ticketmates travel together, there will probably be stiff competition for the mirror and hair products. Teresa herself has gotten into the act, recently pronouncing herself “sexy”–an odd boast for someone auditioning for a job that usually involves reading to schoolchildren.
Richard Nixon was well-known for his strategy campaigning as a conservative, but governing like a liberal. In many respects, JFK worship is the liberal equivalent.