Sunday, August 29, 2010


A review of John Fiske’s History of the United States (1895)

(Rating 5 of 5)

One of the greatest little treasures that I have in my book collection is a 115-year history book, simply entitled the History of the United States. The book is written by a man named John Fiske. John Fiske is a man with an agenda. He is very upset, because when he lived and wrote this book, the 1890s; there was tendency, especially after 1876, to speak of 1776 as the beginning of our nation at the expense of the colonial period. Something that he seeks to rectify with this book, which does cover the colonial period with great detail. There is a tear in the cover which, while tragic, does seem to revel that it was made with recycled paper, the inside of the cover looks like it was once a page in dictionary. The book was written for teachers to help with their classes and the end of each chapter is filled with advice on how to best relate the material to the students.

The book starts with a map of the then 'modern' United States showing the time zones as they existed back then, and each of the forty-five states have the date in which they entered the Union. The book's written part begins with discussion on the last presidential election 1892: Grover Cleveland vs. Benjamin Harrison, round 2. He discusses the then homogenous nature of the United States, which was not entirely true but was a lot truer then than now. Not surprisingly there is a good deal of racism in the book, and although it is not hateful racism it is there. For example, when discussing slavery, which he condemns as evil and immoral—which is not surprising because it was stopped in his lifetime—he states that there was 'not a job a slave could do that white person could not do better.' He then goes on to explain how slavery was not only morally wrong, but economically inefficient. I do fell after reading his work, that if knew Fiske personally I could probably point out to him some his racial bias in his work and perhaps he might have addressed them. For example, replace the 'white' with 'free' and his economic anti-slavery argument is upheld.

Fiske engages in a lot of presentism, he judges events by standards of the late 19th century. He often lets you know his personal opinion on all sorts of matters. He thought King Charles II of England was nothing short of an idiot, whose only good trait was he was not as dangerous as his father, King Charles I.

I will give the man credit for his ability to explain things that are very complicated by simplifying them and laying out the facts for his reader to follow along. A good example is how he explains the reason behind the British response to the American cause of 'no taxation without representation.'

“There was then going on in England a hot dispute over the very same business of 'no taxation without representation,' and it was a dispute in which the youthful king felt bound to oppose Pitt to the bitter end. Let us see what the dispute was.

In such a body as the British House of Commons or the American House of Representatives, the different parts of the country are represented according to population. For example, to-day New York, with over 5,000,000 inhabitants, has thirty-four representatives in Congress, while Delaware, with about 170,000 inhabitants, has only one representative. This is a fair proportion; but as population increases faster in some places than in others, the same proportion is liable to places than in others, the same proportion is liable to became unfair. To keep it fair it must now and then be changed. In the United States, every tenth year, after a new census has been taken, we have the seats in the House of Representatives freshly redistributed among the States, so that the representation is always kept pretty fair. A hundred men in any one part of the country count for about as much as a hundred men in any other part.

Now in England, when George III, came to the throne, there had been nothing like a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons, for more than two hundred years. During that time, some old towns and districts had dwindled in population, and some great cities had lately grown up, such as Manchester and Sheffield. These cities had no representatives in Parliament, which was up-surd and unfair as it would be for great states like Missouri to have no representatives in Congress. On the other hand, little towns and thinly populated districts kept on having as many representatives as ever. One place, the famous Old Sarum, had members in Parliament long after it had ceased to have any inhabitants at all!

The result was that people could not get representation in Parliament by fair means got it by foul means. Seats for little towns and districts were simply bought and sold and such practices made political life at the time very corrupt. Parliament did not represent the people of Great Britain; it represented a group of powerful persons that could buy up enough seats to control the majority of the votes.”p.192-3

A very good explanation if there ever was one. I like the comparison to 'modern' New York and Delaware. Imagine only ten million people living in New York State!

In the table of contents the Civil War is followed by 'modern events.' To him the Civil War was like Civil Rights Struggle for my parents, something that he lived through and had firsthand knowledge of, but was too young at the time to really appricate. As big Union man, I love Fiske's introduction to the Civil War.

“About this time for the sake of conciliation, several northern states either modified or repelled their personal liberty' laws. In general, the attitude of the North was such that the seceders cherished a strong hope of accomplishing their purpose without war. A great many people in the North seemed ready to surrender almost anything to avoid bloodshed. All sorts of weak suggestions were made by men usually bold and firm and there was no telling what might have happened but for one man, the gentlest but most unflinching of men, who was prudent enough to make the last stage of his journey to Washington in secret, because rumor had threatened him with assassination on the way. When Abraham Lincoln took his place at the White House, it soon appeared that the distressed ship of state had a firm hand at the helm.”p.367

At the end of the book is a phonics section to help the reader pronounce the names and large unfamiliar words. There is also a good index section and a suggested reading list to help you further expand your knowledge. The whole is a classic; it is marvelous reading about our 'new' Statue of Liberty.' In the end I would like to share my 'favorite' passage, it is about something that is very bad but I love his take on the whole thing.

“The attention of the English began to be turned towards America soon after 1560, early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. About that time the famous sailor Sir John Hawkins, began kidnapping negroes on the coast of Guinea and bringing them to the West Indies to sell them to the Spanish colonists for slaves. Very few people in those days could see anything wrong in slavery; it seemed as proper to keep slaves as to keep cattle and horses. When Hawkins was made a knight, he took as part of his coat-of-arms the picture of a captive negro bound with a cord. Hawkins was an honest and pious man, but he actually felt proud of his share in the opening of the slave trade, as a profitable trade for England. In our time nobody but a ruffian would have anything to do with such a wicked an horrible business. Changes of this sort make us believe the world is growing to be better then it use to be. But improvement is very slow.”p59-60

It is very slow, sometimes too slow, but he is right as humanity grows it does change for the better, we hope.

The New York Times has a review of this book still on file!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


A review of Julian Thompson’s Call to Arms: Great Military Speeches (2009)

(Rating 2 of 5)

This is a book about great speeches made by famous military leaders written by a general who fought in the Falklands War. This book features speeches by from Alexander the Great to the first Gulf War. Some of these speeches are not really ‘speeches’; most of the sections of this book are just mini-biographies of various military commanders and statesmen. Some articles feature whole speeches while others do not. I found many the articles lacking in certain respects. For example, I do not know how someone could write an article on George Patton with an emphasis on military speeches and never mention his most famous quote: 'No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country!' Nevertheless, there is a lot of great imagery in this work: various pictures and paintings that are very enjoyable. I would recommend this book to anyone with a strong interest in military propaganda.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


A review of Mark Bowden’s The Best Game Ever (2008)

(Rating 4 of 5)

This book is not about one game, despite its title, rather it is about the world in which the game was played. It is played in Dwight D. Eisenhower's America where people are discussing sputnik and the Rosenburgs. Where if you were a black player, playing for the Baltimore Colts, you had to play in a city that was segregated. The modern Civil Rights Movement, which would led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was just getting started, but in this place that still seemed too far away.

In the 1950s baseball is the national pass time and basketball is in second with the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell being totally dominant. Football was not really new, it had been around for over half a century, but it was still evolving. The book captures this evolution and those who had made it so. Coaches, players and commissioners, all who had a hand in creating the modern game are featured in this book. The two personalities that stand out the most are Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry.



This Championship game would be played at Yankee stadium because the Giants were not important enough to get there own stadium. It would be the first ever NFL game to go into overtime. The two teams were the Giants and the Colts, who as a Patriots fan I despise both making it in some ways a difficult book for me. Nevertheless I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about this era in the history of football.

{Video is from the NFL Greatest Films series}

Saturday, August 21, 2010


A review of Bob Woodward’s Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate (1999)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Bob Woodward, who with his partner, Carl Bernstein, brought down the Nixon Administration with their exposes of Watergate. Twenty-five years later, Bob Woodward would take a crack at the legacy that Nixon left behind on the presidency itself and how that institution would have to cope with restrictive laws and scrutiny that it did not have in the past. The book examines how the five presidents who followed Nixon have had to handle that terrible legacy. It is also however, a strong indictment on the very existence of the Office of the Independent Counsel that was created in response to Watergate.


(President Richard M. Nixon)

Woodward begins with Gerald Ford the immediate successor who, after already making history by being the nation's first appointed vice president, becomes President on the moment of Nixon’s resignation. The first major crisis he would have to deal with would be rather or not he, President Ford, should pardon Nixon, who did not want to admit to doing anything wrong. The new President would have a hard time with new national mood, which was very sensitive to any perceived abuse of executive powers. Woodward's analysis is that Ford suffered from only having run in campaigns no bigger than a Michigan congressional district. Every other president, even former 'accidental presidents,' had to at least campaign in one national campaign. Ford was unique in the fact that he did not have the experience coming into the presidency, which made it difficult for him to function.

(President Gerald Ford)

“As the years have passed, I have become more and more convinced that Ford made the correct decision in pardoning Nixon. Nixon had already paid the political death penalty of resignation, and for Ford a pardon was the only way of ending the public and media obsession with his predecessor's future. The problem in the pardon was in Ford's execution. To be successful, the pardon required elaborate orchestration. The public, Congress and the media needed to be prepared. Ford should have mustered all his sense of decency to explain his actions to the public. He should have seen the danger and avoided the discussions of the pardon with Haig. He should have required Nixon to sign a statement admitting his guilt and release it with the pardon.”p.37

In 1977, Jimmy Carter replaced Gerald Ford under the promise he would never lie to or deceive the American people. That was a promise he could not keep. Worse, Carter in signed into law the Ethics in Government Act that was intended to clean up government and prevent future President Nixons, and was a disaster. Failing to understand that the Founding Fathers always knew that man like Nixon would come along, and thus created a system of checks and balances and a free press within the Constitution, the U.S. Congress and President Carter decided to that another 'President Nixon' should be made impossible. The law would allow what would be later called an Independent Counsel, to become a fourth branch of government. The Carter Administration would pay dearly as investigation after investigation would go on for months at a time.

(President Jimmy Carter)

“The shadow the two-month Lance scandal cast was long, deepening the alienation Carter felt toward the Congress, the media and Washington. The implicit promise that he would never allow a repetition of the national Watergate embarrassment was in question. Carter realized he had somewhat ostentatiously sought high ethical and legal standards but was quick to seek exception for a friend.” p.61

The book takes a small detour to discuss Theodore Olson's brave fight against the Act. Olson, who after this book was written would go on to argue for George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore and is now trying to overturn California's ban on gay marriage, fought an independent counsel all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. Morrison v. Olson was one of the most wrongly decided cases in history, but Justice Scalia* had a powerful dissent that hopefully may become the majority opinion if the Supreme Court ever had to review a case like it again.

(Theodore Olson)

“Olson found immense comfort in Justice Scalia's dissent, which said the dispute was about one thing: 'Power.' Since Article II of the Constitution vest all executive power in the president, including the power to investigate and prosecute crimes, Scalia wrote that the law modified the Constitution. 'How much removal of presidential power is too much? Many countries of the world get along with an executive that is much weaker than ours—in fact, entirely dependent on the continued support of the legislature. Once we depart from the text of the Constitution, just where short of that do we stop?' The prospect of an independent counsel turned loose was 'frightening...One must grieve for the Constitution,' Scalia argued.” p.94

In his section on Ronald Reagan, Woodward skips right to the last quarter of Reagan's presidency when the Iran-Contra affair was heating up. Judge Lawrence Walsh, who would be the Independent Counsel assigned in this case would carry on his investigation for six years, long after Reagan left office, and did not stop until President Bush pardoned most everyone. Walsh even had Reagan under oath when he was clearly severely affected by his Alzheimer's disease creating a pathetic and sad show.

(President Ronald Reagan)

“Walsh respected what Reagan had done so far as president. He did not sense public anger with Reagan, as had been the case with Nixon. He decided to move carefully. He would try to make cases against North and Poindexter, and then see what developed. He had no plan to prosecute Reagan, although many in the White House, Congress and the media assumed he was moving to lay the grounds to impeach the president. Walsh suspected that President Reagan knew about the diversion of millions of dollars from the Iran arms sales profits to his beloved contras. But he couldn't project precisely where he was taking his investigation. 'I sort of move as I feel,' he said. His style was to be deferential to the president, but not to his men.” p.131

George Bush would have to deal with many scandals during his own presidency. One was the Savings and Loans scandal involving his son, Neil Bush, and the author was Walsh investigation of Iran-Contra that he inherited from his predecessor. Reading this book over decade after it first came out, I am a little amused by Woodward's reasoning for George Bush's problems. According to Woodward, Bush lacked the killer instinct that most politicians have. I find this interesting because his son, President George W. Bush, clearly did not lack that instinct.

(President George H.W. Bush)

“Bush's political skills were interpersonal—the chummy heads of state club he managed so well and loved even more. Struggle, name-calling, digging into a motivation or person's life deeply offended him. He generally didn't make noise or protest. He had built his career as the patron of other Republican presidents, turning setbacks into opportunities. Nixon had rescued him from defeat in 1970, after he had lost the Texas Senate race, appointing him United Nations Ambassador. Ford had made him director of central intelligence, his first major executive post and one with mystique. Reagan had selected him to be vice president after he lost the nomination.

Bush had played by the accepted rules of the Republican Party and gentlemanly restraint had served him well. But the same qualities that had helped Bush reach the presidency hurt him once he became president. He had not acquired the political skills that many politicians develop through struggle and adversity.” p.223

The book then turns to President Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the book's publication and who over half this book is about. President Clinton would face the worst attack on the institution of the presidency since Andrew Johnson was impeached. In fact, Clinton would share that legacy with the first President Johnson. The attack on Clinton was in part his own fault, not just for his foolish behavior, but also because he did not let the Ethics in Government Act expire when he should. Not that the President was not warned.

(President Clinton)

“In any form, Nussbaum was opposed. 'Here is an institution I understand,' he told Clinton. 'It is evil. They have one case. They have unlimited resources. They have no time limit. Their entire reputation hinges on making that one case.'

Nussbaum recalled for the president that when he had worked as a prosecutor, he had many cases going, often simultaneously. If one didn't work out he could turn to another in the stack. The process naturally drew the prosecutor's attention to the most obvious and important crimes—the ones with the best evidence. In contrast, an independent prosecutor closed the office only when no crimes were found. It becomes a magnet for allegations, Nussbaum said. The office might as well be an advertisement for people to bring in dirt. The Justice Department is at least accountable to the president in a sense on a president's side, he argued. The Justice Department would at least receive and evaluate allegations with a presumption of innocence. An independent prosecutor can and often does operate with a presumption of guilt, he maintained.” p.234-5

Clinton would endure an assault on him and his presidency that none of the Founders could have imagined. The President found himself being degraded and humiliated in a way no president should have gone though. His personal sins were exposed in ways that had nothing to with the government. Clinton would be impeached and acquitted. After the public uproar the Office of the Independent Counsel would be abolished, hopefully for good. Although, this book was published prior to that great event happening.

(Ken Starr)

“During the pre-Lewinsky phase of the Whitewater investigation, from 1994 to early 1998, the Clintons and their attorney David Kendall reacted too many times as if the scandal were Watergate. They seemed to be hiding. Scrambling for cover, the Clintons and their lawyers played their parts too well. The forest is full of wolves, Kendall said. The forest is full of wolves, Kendall said. He believed that some of Starr's deputies were so hostile and aggressive that they had to be beaten into the ground. He had a strong case after 1996. But earlier, in 1994 and 1995, the president, Kendall and Starr should have worked out an arrangement to end the investigation at any reasonable cost. The prolonged investigation became an abuse in itself. Starr's decision to send a massive narrative of the Clinton-Lewinsky sexual relationship to Congress as part of his impeachment referral was pathetic and unwise. His determination to continue the marginal investigations and prosecutions after he had essentially completed his Clinton inquiries made no sense. Starr had lost his way.” p.515-6

This is book is a fascinating look into American Government of the late twentieth century. It no longer has the same 'feel' when it first came out since it is becoming more history than news. Since this book was written we have had two presidents and I find it difficult to envision a Starr-like investigation into a president in the era of the 'War on Terror' and that is good thing. If a president is ever again impeached, let it be for a real reason.

*Who I disagree with on many things.

{Videos taken from YouTube}

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A review of Conrad Black’s A Life in Full: Richard M. Nixon (2007)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Conrad Black's biography of President Richard Nixon is an incredible book. We tend to look at people, things, and events retroactively basing the past on the affairs and knowledge of the present. This is especially true with President Richard Nixon, the only president in U.S. History to have resigned his office and leave in absolute disgrace. Even presidents who are overwhelmingly voted out of office do not leave so tainted. Yet, Nixon was not incompetent; in fact, he was extremely intelligent and capable person. In many ways Nixon was very good president, he was extremely effective despite having an opposition Congress; his foreign policy achievements were amazing and has one of the best environmental records of any president. Then there is Watergate, the 'cancer' that doomed a presidency. After Watergate people's view on Nixon not only changed for the present but the past. The 'Checkers Speech' in 1952, went from Nixon successfully defending himself from a smear to one he 'got away' with. In the Nixon/Douglas 1950 Senate election, people remember Nixon's 'hateful' attacks on Helen Gahagan Douglas, but Douglas's attacks on Nixon are forgotten, including the fact that Douglas was the first one in that campaign to go dirty. Alger Hiss must have been innocent. If Nixon was revealed to have cheated on third-grade assignment, it might be said that particular cheating incident was sign of things to come. Black, however, chooses to show Nixon as someone who started out as an honest public servant and transformed into a man who would obstruct justice for political ends.

Black begins with Nixon’s ancestry, which is typical with biographies, then going through his childhood growing up in California where he was heavily involved in his local Quaker community. He grew up in a strong Republican household, although he was a personal admirer of President Woodrow Wilson. Nixon would serve his country in the United States Navy in World War II, and he would also get married and start a family.

(The Nixon clan)

Nixon goes up like a rocket in his political career. He begins by defeating a popular incumbent named Jerry Voorhis to earn a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He would serve for two terms earning a reputation as a strong Anti-Communist, but not a crazy like Senator McCarthy. In 1950 he ran against Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas for the California Senate seat, in what was one of the most attack filled campaigns in history, and won.

(Congressman Jerry Voorhis)

(Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas)

Nixon would be crucial to securing the California delegation of the 1952 Republican Convention to Eisenhower. This would earn him a spot on the ticket. Nixon would redefine the vice presidency, making it a major office that would represent the United States on important assignments and fill in for the president when needed.

(Ike and Nixon)

“Nixon's inestimable services in bringing the Republican Party out of isolationism and reaction and ending the McCarthy era, and the undoubted value of some of his foreign travel, have been recounted and have no precedent in the prior history of the vice presidency. He conducted most of the administration's reelection campaign of 1956, and he performed impeccably when Eisenhower's indispositions required him to be more or less an acting president. Nixon effectively succeeded Walter Bedell Smith as 'Ike's prat boy,' the designated assistant in charge of the dirty work. Nixon performed these odious and thankless tasks admirably, even when Eisenhower sawed off the limbs he had sent him out on, especially the more spirited attacks on Democrats. Eisenhower rewarded Nixon's loyalty, discretion, efficiency, and suppression of his own dissent with an uneven pattern of appreciation and aloofness.” p.426

(Nixon as Vice President)

Black goes over the colossal errors in judgment that Nixon made over the election of 1960. Although, Black's analysis is good, I have to take issue with his claim that Nixon was at a disadvantage because of Kennedy's Catholicism. Kennedy was clearly at the disadvantage and Black's own critique of Nixon campaign even supports this more than undermines it. The years in which Nixon plotted his comeback are well covered by Black in the following chapters.

(Kennedy and Nixon)

In the chaotic year of 1968, Richard Nixon would emerge as the Republican Nominee for the second time in his life. This time Nixon was facing Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had also lost against Kennedy in 1960 in the Democratic primaries. It was the first time since 1800 that a sitting vice president ran for president against one of his predecessors*. Nixon would be the more aggressive and victorious candidate; he was able to position himself as the sensible alternative to both Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, the Dixiecrat candidate. He was not going to turn the clock back to segregation but he was against some of the more unpopular ideas such as busing. Nixon would win the White House and take office on January 20, 1969, the same day he would left if all had went as planned in 1960.

(Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey)

Nixon would go on to have an incredible first term as president. Desegregation would increase dramatically in the South, the economy was in good shape, and there would be incredible achievements in foreign policy. Nixon would re-establish a diplomatic relationship with China and introduce triangle diplomacy in dealing with the great Communist powers. Although, there were sour points during the first term, such as the increase in the Vietnam War with its expansion into Cambodia**. I also have some issue with the way Black discusses the situation in Chile. Although he is right to point out that Salvadore Allenee was hardly hero of democracy, he does tend to sweep Pinochet's atrocities under a rug.

(Nixon as President)

Nixon would go on to be triumphantly reelected in 1972 over Senator George McGovern. Senator McGovern would be humiliated in the election as Barry Goldwater was eight years prior, securing Nixon for a second term.

(Senator George McGovern)

“Richard Nixon was now only the tenth person to win two consecutive contested elections to the presidency of the United States. He was a widely admired and even popular figure, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had, by any measurement, been a very effective president. He was a personally sensitive, and often generous man, and he understood the loyalty of the White House staff. But his somber and morose nature took possession of him, especially when it would have seemed that he had a right and a reason to celebrate. He cheered up in crises, was let down by victory, and the few things that excited him caused him childlike pleasure. His best friend was a man with whom he exchanged few words, and his love of solitude was extreme, especially for one of the most energetic and durable politicians in the country's history. All these factors made his achievements as a public man the more remarkable. Very strange things were about to happen, but Richard Nixon was already a very considerable president and statesman.” p.845

Then his presidency came tumbling down, the Watergate conspiracy would change forever the way the nation viewed its government. The fact that Nixon was dumb enough to record everything helped assure his downfall. Black chronicles the tragedy that would be taught in every civics class for generations to come. The only drawback is the author of this work is currently in prison and he has a strong present bias against the judicial system and prosecutors in general. He constantly lets the reader know his personnel feelings about modern grand juries, prosecution practices, and deal-making for testimony.

“Of course the Democrats and some of the media were guilty of hypocrisy. Arthur Schlesinger and Henry Steele Commager, distinguished but partisan historians, revered the strong presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, and John F. Kennedy, but found Nixon, facing a hostile Congress, 'imperial.' As Nixon pointed out in a memo to Halderman, Kennedy had impounded more funds, installed more wiretaps, and engaged in more illegal surveillance than he had; and Truman had pushed the theory of executive privilege beyond anything he had done. Bobby Kennedy had bugged the Kennedy's own vice president, Lyndon Johnson, who duplicated that liberty with his vice president, Hubert Humphrey. But they had not meddled in criminal prosecutions as Nixon was doing, especially not prosecutions involving their own staff and campaign workers.” p.874

Nixon infamously resigns his office and leaves the capital. Black covers the drama of the early Ford Administration that dealt with the pardon that President Ford gave Nixon. The rest of the book deals with Nixon's post-presidency, that would involve some more comebacks and a new legacy.

(President Gerald Ford)

I highly recommend this book. It is a great and detailed look into the life of one of our most complicated presidents, Richard M. Nixon. Despite his personnel flaws, Conrad Black, is an extremely talented historian with a brilliant narrative.

*In 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson challenged his own president, John Adams. President Adams had served as vice president under George Washington.

** The expansion would be stopped, not by the President, but a resurgent Congress.

{Videos taken from YouTube}

Saturday, August 14, 2010


A review of Irwin and Debi Unger’s LBJ: A Life (1999)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Irwin and Debi Usher wrote this book about our thirty-sixth president. They tell the tale of a man who would spend a life in politics fighting for the poor and underprivileged, yet would involve the nation is one of the bloodiest and stupidest wars in its history. The late Tim Russert once described him as the victor of a thousand battles who was ultimately beaten in the end. The story of Lyndon B. Johnson is one of tragedy and triumph.

Johnson was born in 1908, the year William H. Taft was elected president, his grandfather and father; both named Sam Johnson, were fighters for the common people. The Ushers tell a story of a Lyndon Johnson who followed his father's career in the state legislature very closely, watching him do politics and fight for benefits for the common people. In some ways, the reason why Johnson would go off to Washington so early in his career, is he had already experienced a career in Austin by being so close to his father.

(Campaign poster for young Lyndon Johnson)

Johnson would first go to the U.S. Congress as a congressional aide before winning his own seat in 1936. Johnson was a very eager young new dealer, the tall skinny Congressman from Texas was on very good terms with the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR would refer to Johnson as 'his boy' in Texas. His time in Congress was interrupted by World War II. LBJ would serve as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy.

(President Roosevelt was an important patron for young Congressman Johnson)

(Johnson family, all LBJs)

In 1948 he would fulfill a prophecy his grandfather made when he was born, that he would be a U.S. Senator. Johnson would take to the Senate like a fish to water. In only two years, he convinced his colleagues in the Democratic caucus, after the massive defeat in the 1952 presidential election that saw the Democrats lose of the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time in twenty years, to make him the new minority leader. Two years later, he had the Democrats back in the majority and for the first (and only) time in the history of the U.S. Senate the body had a ruler. Johnson would be the master of the Senate, whatever came out of that body during the next six years had to have Johnson's approval, and if it did not it was dead on arrival.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, a little accomplished senator from the state of Massachusetts, shocked the world by winning the presidential nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention. Johnson would end up joining the ticket, to the horror of Bobby Kennedy, and was probably the most important pick a presidential candidate had ever made in regards to a running mate and was crucial to Kennedy's narrow victory over Richard Nixon.

“When it came to Congress he felt like a powerless outsider among the people he had once so successfully dominated. And he could barely bring himself to help Kennedy in the legislative area, where his services would have been most appreciated. 'Johnson pulled back...after that caucus,' related a Kennedy aide. 'He hadn't expected it, and it made him reluctant to approach senators.' At the weekly White House breakfast meetings for legislative leaders, Johnson was uncharacteristically silent. He looked tired and tense, giving his opinion only when specifically asked by Kennedy to offer one, usually mumbling his answers.” p.261

(Johnson was unhappy under President Kennedy)

Johnson was miserable as vice president; he was not a Kennedy insider and was not close to those who were. He was no longer allowed in the Senate caucus and was at times utterly miserable. Johnson and President Kennedy got along enough but Johnson was at a career low. In Dallas, on November 22, 1963, while campaigning, the President of the United States was assassinated in front the nation on live television. On Air Force One, Johnson was sworn in as the new president. Assuming the role of mourner-in-chief, Johnson led a grieving nation. With the martyr ghost of JFK at his side Johnson would get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. The Republicans would nominate the extreme Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Johnson would slaughter him in the biggest landslide elections in our nation's history.

(Sworn in on Air Force One)

“There were still pestiferous amendments to get out the way, 115 in all. All told there were 106 Senate roll-call votes on the bill. It was clear that the real battle was over, however, when at one point, Richard Russell was speaking and Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy cut him off, telling him his time was up. Dick Russell had never been treated so rudely before. As Russell took his seat, he had tears in his eyes. Finally, Dirksen came up with a 'revised' bill, one that almost a duplicate of the strong measure the House had passed in February. The one proviso that diluted the bill somewhat was the 'Mrs. Murphy's clause,' exempting from nondiscrimination provisions boardinghouses with no more than five rooms to rent. Nine days after cloture was invoked, the Dirksen bill passed the Senate, 73 to 27. On July 2 Johnson signed into law the most comprehensive civil rights act in the nation's history.” p.311

(Johnson as President)

Johnson would unveil his 'Great Society' programs in a revival of New Deal polices that would see the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson's programs would become as important as Roosevelt's New Deal reforms in the 1930s. However as the war in Vietnam escalated, Johnson sent more and more troops in, feeling that doing anything else was appeasement. Facing a hostile right and an increasingly dissatisfied left—that had very little appreciation for what had been accomplished but was really concerned about what had not. Race riots that were occurring that became worse after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy that June killed the hopes of the Democratic Party in the election of 1968.

“In truth, his advisers' views did not entirely conflict with Johnson's own inclinations. The president's understanding of twentieth-century history, especially the abysmal appeasement chapter of Munich, would not allow him to surrender part of the Free World to Communist subversion without a fight. Shortly after the Ann Arbor speech, Johnson discussed American policy in Southeast Asia at a news conference. In Vietnam, he said, he would be guided by four principals: One, 'American keeps her word.' Two, 'The issue is the future of Southeast Asia as a whole.' Three, 'Our purpose is peace.' Four, 'This is not a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.'” p.319

(The President and First Lady)

Johnson having already declined to run for another full term sat back and watched his vice president, Hubert Humphrey; lose the presidency to Richard M. Nixon. On January 20, 1969, Johnson was replaced as president by the man who he had replaced as vice president eight years earlier. Johnson entered his post-presidency extremely unpopular; he went back to Texas to work on his ranch. He watched the party he loved make the serious mistake of nominating George McGovern, who was beaten nearly as badly in 1972 as Goldwater was in 1964.

(The death of Robert Kennedy made Nixon's win that much easier)

Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973 had he served another term as president then he would have lived only two days after the term ended. I highly recommend this book about President Johnson; the Ungers do an incredible job telling the story of a complicated president.

{Videos taken from YouTube were produced by the University of Virginia}

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MLK the human being

A review of Marshall Frady’s Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life (2002)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those Americans like Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and FDR, who, to me, were far too perfect to be interesting. When we learn about these people in grade school, we are taught about how awesome and nice they were to the point they become rather dull. When I got older and I started to read more about these people, I discovered their true greatness. King was probably the greatest American never to hold public office, yet, had had an effect on this country similar to that of Franklin Roosevelt or John Marshall. Unfortunately, like many great leaders of our past, King’s legacy now clouds the image of who the man was. When I read King's Autobiography, I felt I had come to a greater understanding of him as a person and his perspective on himself. Reading Marshall Frady's Martin Luther King: A Life has given me more of a clear image of who the man was and times that he lived. Frady's King is a man who, like all men, is flawed human being. Here he is presented as Oliver Cromwell once said 'with warts in all'. But even the 'sins' of Martin Luther King are very minor when compared to other American icons, and King clearly paid for them more then he should have in his war with J. Eager Hoover. The United States of America today is a very different place then it has been because King was a major player in his era.

In my very last post I had gone over some of the details of King's life and not wanting to be extremely redundant, I thought I would just go over what were, for myself, the highlights of this book. One of things America has learned since the sixties and seventies have become more history then memory for an entire generation of people, was the war between the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and Director of the FBI.

(A wife greets her husband)

J. Edger Hoover was a legend in the United States in the area of crime fighting. In 1924, Hoover was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation, which was the predecessor of the FBI, and he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935. He would still be the Director when he died in 1972. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency and with instituting a number of modern innovations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories. Hoover’s efforts had put a huge dent into organized crime operations during his tenure. If he had stuck to actual criminals, his legacy would be untouchable as some of his legendary G-Men were. However, convinced through very little evidence-and much more racism and paranoia-that Civil Rights organizations were communist plots against the government and he would have to stop them. He would go out of his way to wage an irrational campaign against them.

(J. Edger Hoover in his early days)

“While King still had no inkling of it, there had in fact commenced what was to become a prolonged shadow war between him and Hoover. Though it would take place mostly out of the public eye, the two of them were to be looked into an elemental conflict as figures reflecting—more, virtually embodying—two poles of the American character: that ethic lasting Plymouth's starch-collared society of probity, discipline, righteousness as a matter of a ruthless cleanliness of behavior, this rectitudinousness in schizophrenic tension with an unrulier urge lasting from the frontier, a restlessness with authority and convention, a readiness for adventure in exploring the farther, windy moral opens of life. Since assuming power as director of the FBI in 1924, Hoover had not appreciably changed his notion of what should be the character of the nation—sedate, sober, orderly, and properly segregated, like his FBI—and he had ever since applied all the energies of the institution he had created to keeping it that way, to preserve the plainer America of his nostalgias against alien contamination and the subversions of more diverse cultural weathers. By the fifties, he had become for much of the country—this stubby, pluggish, stern little pug-bull of a man with a cauliflower pallor and flat, blunt face—a kind of totem figure of law and uprightness. In the process, he had consolidated the FBI into perhaps Washington's greatest private preserve of official power ever, his intelligence files holding even many in the halls of government in fear.” p.81-2

(J. Edger Hoover at the height of his power)

The book also discuss the famous March on Washington in 1963. It discusses the event, the organizers, its purpose, and even some of the people who did not want it to proceed, including President Kennedy. Kennedy sometimes gets criticized for this but that is with hindsight being twenty/twenty. It is a great testament to those marched that day that not one act of violence occurred. Had there been a riot, it might have been a huge set-back for the movement. Fortunately the march was completely peaceful.

(King rallying the crowd)

“The mass pilgrimage into Washington had been entrepreneured by movement patriarch A. Philip Randolph, in concert with other leaders like King, and despite his crankiness about the SCLC's ascendancy after Birmingham, Roy Wilkins, to demonstrate the expanse and spirit of the movement with a colossal rally to appeal to Congress for passage of the public accommodations bill presented by Kennedy. The president himself, however, was more than a little edgy about it all, trying to dissuade the march's organizers with warnings, in a conversation with them beforehand, that thousands of demonstrators converging into the capital could be seen by Congress as an attempt at mob intimidation, resulting in their all losing the legislation he'd introduced, many on the Hill already looking for a pretext anyway to avoid supporting it. King offered the observation he had put to Birmingham's ministers: 'Frankly, I have never engaged in any direct-action movement which did not seem ill-timed. Some people thought Birmingham ill-timed.' To which the president rejoined, with a small smile, 'Including the Attorney General.'” p.121-2

There is a focus on King and his main competitor of ideas in the African-American community, Malcolm X. Frady discusses how King and Malcolm came from two very different walks of life.

“They were, King and Malcolm, really projections of two entirely different cultures. King's was a ministry congenial to his mostly churchly, respectably middle-class black constituency, eager to join in a coalition of purpose with the nation's white liberal establishment. But Malcolm was a prophet of another America, having arisen out of a childhood of cold miser that could not have been more unlike King's snugly privileged upbringing, and the vicious and gaudy hustler society of the black underclass in those mammoth ghettos of the North's 'great cities of destruction,' in E. Franklin Frazer's phrase. Such inner exiles lived without any sense of connection to the rest of the country, bereft of that sense of their individual worth without which 'they cannot live,' as James Baldwin wrote during the time, and 'they will do anything whatever to regain it. That is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose.'” p.129

(This famous picture shows the two famous leaders meeting, they were together only for a brief moment)

As time went on a new battles emerged, King would go on and face new challenges as younger and more militant generation were rejecting his message of love for a Black Nationalist ideology that he was completely repulsed by.

“Yet King was to cast himself against all this anyway. He may have arrived with Birmingham and Selma at his apotheosis as the Mosaic figure leading his people out of the old Egypt of their bondage in the South, but with this grander aspiration 'to confront the power structure massively' on a national scale, he was entering full into his tragic arch.”p.169

There is also discussion of his last uncompleted mission in which he was going to challenge the great economic forces of our nation, a mission that he would be slain before he could truly begin.

“Thus, in the summer of 1967, King announced what would be the most expansively radical adventure of his life: a national movement called the Poor People's Campaign. It would mobilize into one wide popular front not only blacks but all the country's disregarded and outcast—poor whites, Hispanics, Native Americans—in a great Gandhian crusade that would challenge the nation's entire custodial complex, not just its corporate citadels but its central institutions of government, to free the destitute of America from their generational ghettos of hopelessness.” p.194

I highly recommend this work it is a great and fascinating look into one of the greatest leaders of any age. This book captures the highs, lows, battles one and battles lost in a career that challenged and changed a nation, the American Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.

{Video is from YouTube}

Monday, August 9, 2010


A review of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998)

Edited by Clayborne Carson

(Rating 5 of 5)

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is an incredible work; however one needs to remember that it is not a real autobiography. Like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, it was written after he died. It was assembled by the editor, Clayborne Carson, who went over King's papers both public and personnel and edited his work into a biographical format. The book received the endorsement of Coretta Scott King in 1998. The book is a brilliant piece of literature. Carson is careful to let the reader know what the material is and is not edited. When he takes Dr. King’s words directly and unaltered he puts them in italics, so the reader knows for certain that he is getting pure primary material.

(Martin Luther King Jr.)

King is a combination of many influences though out his life, he begins by talking about his boyhood growing up in the segregated south, where his father was a preacher in the local church. Martin Luther King, Sr. was a take-no-crap-from-anyone type of guy, which was hard for a black man in the segregated south. His mother, Alberta Williams, he describes as being more of a gentle soul whom a lot of his patience would come from. As the Pastor's son he had a type of special status within the local community. He describes his first experience with racism at the age of six when his white friend told him that his (the white boy’s) father would not let them be friends anymore because he was black. As the book goes on King discusses his education and how the works of different scholars and philosophers had upon his world view, whether Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi.

(King's parents Martin Sr. and Alberta.  Like her son Alberta also became a martyr.)

King discussed meeting his future wife, getting married, and the hard decision to go back to the segregated South. King would take the ministry at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and from there he would build an activist base. He encouraged his membership to register to vote and to join the NAACP. When the now internationally famous Rosa Parks refused to get from her seat, she started a movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott did not even start out as a movement to end segregated bussing, just as a movement for more fair treatment. It was not until the outrageous response by those in power backed by the majority of the white community that caused the movement to push further. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a form of nonviolent protest that was inspired by the Mahatma Gandhi and Christian doctrine.

(Coretta Scott King)

“As the days unfolded, however, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence. I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating thought the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom. About a week after the protest started, a white woman who understood and sympathized with the Negroes' efforts wrote a letter to the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser comparing the buss protest with the Gandhian movement in India. Miss Juliette Morgan, sensitive and frail, did not long survive the rejection and condemnation of the white community, but long before she died in the summer of 1957 the name of Mahatma Gandhi was well known in Montgomery. People who had never heard of the little brown saint of India were now saying his name with an air of familiarity. Nonviolent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.” p.67

(Mahatma Gandhi)

After victory was achieved in Montgomery, King became internationally famous. This was both a blessing a curse at the same time. A blessing in the way he was now able to carry his message to a much larger audience, but a curse in the way that it set some impossible standards for him to meet in future struggles. King would travel the world eventually going to India, the home of his idol. He was very pleased by what he saw when he got there.

“That night we had dinner with Prime Minister Nehru; with us as a guest was Lady Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Mountbatten, who was viceroy of India when it received its independence. They were lasting friends only because Gandhi followed the way of love and nonviolence. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.” p.125

At home things were heating up, as the fifties, which had seen some very positive developments such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Brown v. the Board of Education, rolled into the sixties things were going to began to move at a much faster pace. Also, 1960 was a presidential election year, with two candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon were trying for the nation's top job.

“With Mr. Kennedy, after I looked over his voting record, I felt at points he was so concerned about being president of the United States that he would compromise basic principles to become president. But I had to look at something else beyond the man—the people who surrounded him—and I felt that Kennedy was surrounded by better people. It was on that basis that I felt that Kennedy would make the best president.

I never came out with an endorsement. My father did, but I never made one. I took this position in order to maintain a nonpartisan posture, which I have followed all along in order to be able to look objectively at both parties at all times. As I said to him all along, I couldn't, and I never changed that even after he made the call during my arrest. I made a statement of thanks, and I expressed my gratitude for the call, but in the statement I made it clear that I did not endorse any candidate and that this was not to be interpreted as an endorsement.

I had to conclude that the then known facts about Kennedy were not adequate to make an unqualified judgment in his favor. I do feel that, as any man, he grew a great deal. After he became president I thought we saw to Kennedys—a Kennedy of the first two years and another Kennedy emerging in 1963. He was getting ready to throw off political considerations and see the real moral issues. Had President Kennedy lived, I would probably have endorsed him in 1964. But, back at that time, I concluded that there was something to be desired in both candidates.” p.150

(Kennedy and Nixon who both sought King's support in 1960)

As the battles raged on they moved to a new and more dangerous front, Birmingham, it was here that a great amount of the famous images of dogs and people attacked with high pressure water hoses were captured. In this fight King would be imprisoned and while in jail, he had been criticized by a letter written by a group of white clergy. King responded with his famous 'Letter from Birmingham Jail.'

“First I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers the a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive which is the presence of justice, who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal that you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” p.195

(King in Washington)

“You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of 'somebodiness' that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist movement groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammed’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible 'devil.'” p.196-7

As his work continued things started to change. King’s main rival as the primary leader in the struggle for civil rights, Malcolm X, was becoming more popular. The primary difference between the two men was that Malcolm X was an advocate for violent resistance. In some ways he was a help to King, because he represented what the alternative to King's message was. However, as a proponent of violence, he attracted it in kind and otherwise alienated members of the white community who might have otherwise been sympathetic.

“Malcolm X came to the fore as a public figure partially as a result of a TV documentary entitled 'The Hate That Hate Produced.' That title points clearly to the nature of Malcolm's life and death. He was clearly a product of the hate and violence invested in the Negro's blighted existence in this nation. He, like so many of our number was a victim of the despair that inevitably derives from the conditions of oppression, poverty, and injustice which engulf that masses of our race. But in his youth, there was no hope no preaching, teaching, or movements of nonviolence. He was too young for the Garvey Movement, too poor to be a Communist—for the Communists geared their work to Negro intellectuals and labor without realizing that the masses of Negroes were unrelated to either—and yet he possessed a native intelligence and drive which demanded an outlet and means of expression. He turned first to the underworld, but this did not fulfill the quest for meaning which grips young minds. It was a testimony to Malcolm's personnel depth and integrity that he did not become an underworld czar, but turned again and again to religion for meaning and destiny. Malcolm was still turning and growing at the time of his meaningless assassination.” p.267

(Malcolm X)

As time went on the rise of Black Nationalism, which was abhorrent to King, was growing stronger. Even though the Civil Rights Movement had achieved incredible success, the Civil Rights Act in 1964 had been passed and was breaking down the wall of legalized segregation, some felt unsatisfied. The 'black power' movement, King felt was trying to undo what he had achieved. King began to envision a 'poor people's campaign' that would use the strategy of Civil Rights Movement to achieve economic justice for all citizens of all races. How successful he would have been is unknown because that is where his story untimely ends.

{Video was posted by MrCarlosBarrera on YouTube}

Saturday, August 7, 2010


A review of Robert Dallek’s An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 (2003)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Robert Dallek's biography on John F. Kennedy is very well titled. It is a work that leaves you a little unsatisfied. Not because Dallek did a bad job, quite the contrary it is a very good book, but in the end you just feel like you watched a really good movie that ends suddenly and very incomplete. There is a lot of huff made in comparing Kennedy to President Lincoln, in the years they were elected, names of their vice presidents/successors, etc, etc. However, it is important to note the major difference of Lincoln serving a full term plus, and Kennedy's dying at the start of his re-election bid. Lincoln's story climaxes at the Gettysburg Address and concludes at his second inaugural, when he is later murdered by John Wilkes Booth, the mission that he started had already been completed beyond his, Lincoln's, wildest dreams. The Union had been saved and slavery, which he wanted to put on the path to destruction, was destroyed; Lincoln had fulfilled his place in history. Kennedy had been able to complete a good deal of the ground work that he needed to accomplish in his historic mission. The bill that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been proposed to the Congress; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had stated was the most powerful civil rights legislation ever proposed by a president. To help settle some of the political damage that it was going to cause in the South, Kennedy went to campaign in Dallas, Texas where he would lose his life.

Dallek's story begins with the history of the two families that would create John F. Kennedy, the Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds. Joseph P. Kennedy marries Rose Fitzgerald the daughter of Mayor John 'Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald uniting their two families. They would name their second son after his maternal grandfather. Everyone in the family expected a lot of John's older brother, Joe, Jr., who John was very close to growing up. His other brothers were far too young for him to have much of a relationship with. Kennedy's youth, although blessed with wealth, was cursed by a lack of health; he was always ill and spent a great deal of time with doctors. Throughout the whole misadventure Kennedy would maintain good humor about his situation.

(Joseph P. Kennedy)

(Rose Kennedy)

“More puzzling medical problems punctuated Jack's second year at Choate. In January and February 1933, 'flu-like symptoms' plagued him, as well as almost constant pain in his knees. 'Jack's winter term sounded like a hospital report,' a fiftieth-anniversary remembrance of his attendance at the school recounted, 'with correspondence flying back and forth between Rose Kennedy and Clara St. John [the headmaster's wife]. Again, eyes, ears, teeth, knees, arches, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, Jack needed attention.' X-rays showed no pathology in his knees, and so his doctor attributed his difficulties to growing pains and recommended exercises and 'built up' shoes.” p.34-5

(The Kennedy family)

Nevertheless he would through sheer determination, get himself in shape enough to join the Navy and serve as a P.T. boat captain. He would famously captain the PT-109 and would get his most of his crew to safety when an enemy destroyed their boat. Unfortunately, for the Kennedy family they would suffer two tremendous tragedies during the war. The first, which took place before JFK's command, was his sister Rosemary's botched lobotomy that took her personhood. The second was the death of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. who was killed on a secret mission.

(Lt. Kennedy as captain of the PT 109)

(Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., killed in action)

(Rosemary Kennedy personhood stolen by doctors)

When the war was over JFK, began to pursue his own political career, his father's ended the moment he misjudged the political situation of World War II, going as far to praise the German Dictator Adolph Hitler. The young Kennedy, however, was going to rise and rise fast. Kennedy wrote a book, Why England Slept, in which he separated himself from his father's opinion of World War II. He would be elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1946. There he would befriend another freshman Congressman, named Richard M. Nixon. A pure status-type of politician Congressman Kennedy became bored of the House and, in 1952, ran for the United States Senate against the incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge II, whose grandfather for whom he was named, helped bring down Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations proposal. Kennedy would win and would enter the Senate that would soon be ruled by an all-powerful majority leader named Lyndon B. Johnson. Kennedy's eight years in the Senate were rather unremarkable but he did find the time to write, or at least be the leader chief editor, for the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy changed history by running for president, not just being the first Catholic to win the office, but he changed the way presidents were nominated. Kennedy took the primaries more seriously than any candidate in the past; enough so that when the convention started Kennedy was able to capture it on the first ballot. The master of the Senate, much to the suffering of the candidate’s younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was going to be on the ticket for vice president. Kennedy would go the general election facing his old friend Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Together they were going to participate in the first televised presidential debates. Nixon seemed to win on substance but Kennedy would win on style. When Election Day, came Kennedy would prevail in one of the closet elections on record and would take office on January 20, 1961.

(President John F. Kennedy)

“In the final analysis, the most important question is not why Kennedy won but why his victory was so narrow. Harry Truman was amazed at the closeness of the race. “Why, even our friend Adlai would have had a landslide running against Nixon,' he told Senator William Benton of Connecticut. Given the majority status of the Democrats, the discontent over the state of the economy and international affairs, and Kennedy's superior campaign and campaigning, he should have gained at least 52 or 53 percent of the popular vote. Everyone on his staff had predicted a victory of between 53 and 57 percent. The small margin shocked them. What they missed was the unyielding fear of having a Catholic in the White House. Although about 46 percent of Protestants voted for Kennedy, millions of them in Ohio, Wisconsin, and across the South made his religion a decisive consideration. It was the first time a candidate had won the presidency with a minority of Protestant voters.” p.296

(The President and his First Lady, Jackie Kennedy)

Kennedy's presidency has been described as Camelot and there certainly was that feel. A new young President and his family had moved into the White House and things were going to be different. Kennedy's administration would change the nation in a number of ways; this presidency saw an increase of national support for NASA and the moon program. In addition, there were some real highs and lows of the Cold War. The botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was a national embarrassment but more importantly President Kennedy saw us through the scary Cuban Missile Crisis.

(President Kennedy revels the First Pet to his two excited young kids)

“The Peace Corps proved to be one of the enduring legacies of Kennedy's presidency. As with some American domestic institutions like Social Security and Medicare, the Peace Corps became a fixture that Democratic and Republican administrations alike would continue to finance for over forty years. It made far more friends than enemies and, as Kennedy had hoped, convinced millions of people abroad that the United States was eager to help developing nations raise standards of living.”p.340

President Kennedy with Vice President Johnson)

(Attorney General Robert Kennedy)

(The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. played a role to the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations similar to that of Fredrick Douglass during the Lincoln Administration)

On Civil Rights, like Lincoln a hundred years before him, he would be pressured from all over the political spectrum, to the advocates on the ground he was too slow and to conservatives he was too fast and radical. The first two years of his presidency, Kennedy wanted to move slowly though executive actions rather then fight for legislation. Later the President began to take more forceful action on that front, but he not live to finish the job. That would be carried on by his successor President Lyndon B. Johnson*.

(A son's final farewell)

Assassination creates secular saints. When Lee Harvey Oswald, murdered the President on November 22, 1963, Kennedy's martyred image would aid the new administration in establishing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It would continue to be an asset for President Johnson as he established the Great Society. Dallek does an incredible job detailing these events, and I strongly recommend this book.

*That is something Lincoln did not have, his replacement, President Andrew Johnson, caused all sorts of problems during his incompetent stay as the nation's chief executive.

{Videos taken from YouTube}