Socialist Worker

JFK: a true precedent of a president?

Issue No. 1"

“DADDY, DO you think Nixon did it?”

Everybody old enough can apparently remember where they were when John F Kennedy got shot. But few, I suspect, can remember exactly what they said on hearing the news.

Thanks to my father, my utterings as a young child went down in family folklore.

I can still remember the event, which happened 40 years ago this week.

I can still remember the Irish newsreader on RTE breaking down in tears as he reported it. I can still remember a nation going into shocked mourning.

The election of JFK is the earliest political memory of my life.

Kennedy, of Irish Catholic stock, descendant of those who fled famine and poverty, up against the evil Prod, Nixon.

Our boy was young, good looking and articulate, with a beautiful wife and children, and his glamorous “Camelot” entourage.

Their boy was a shifty, sweaty, ugly guy who, like all TV and movie baddies of the time, had stubble and eyes that averted the camera’s gaze.

What’s more, our boy won! OK, so maybe a Catholic couldn’t be king or queen of England (or marry them) or prime minister of Britain, or even get a job in Northern Ireland, but we now had one of our own as the president of the US.

With his death we lost our man, and “a generation”, we are told, “lost its innocence”.

How ironic, then, that the anniversary of the death of this “most popular of presidents” should take place against a background of huge, angry protests against the visit of one of the most repulsive and hated of US presidents.

Corrupt and reactionary

And yet behind the tan, smiles, pretty wife and liberal image lies a truth that nobody would have dared contemplate at the time.

For this was a president who oversaw the acceleration of the arms race, and took the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

Prior to that he had supported a bunch of right wing Cuban fanatics in an attempt to restore a corrupt and reactionary regime in Cuba in the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

He had approved of plots to assassinate Cuba’s leader Castro (ironic, in a “chickens coming home to roost” sort of way.)

Although he has never been the president identified with the horror that was Vietnam (Johnson and Nixon have always taken that rap), he was the one who started the whole process in earnest.

Even his great liberal credentials in tackling segregation in the Southern US states do not bear close inspection.

Although he did clash with Southern state governors, he repeatedly sought compromise, and allowed the FBI to spy on civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Finally, as for the good Catholic boy image, apparently his sexual appetite would make Bill Clinton look like Cliff Richard.

This last aspect of his life may have cost him dear.

It has occurred to me that this man, who was the first and only Catholic president, should be prime material for canonisation.

Given the predilection for the nasty but dotty ground kisser in the Vatican to create saints every other day, surely Saint JFK should be a formality.

I suspect the reason he is not is not the nukes and plots thing—rather the sex thing.

Which when you think of it is a shame. After all, given the assortment of self flagellators, fanatics, fantasists and fascists who’ve gained the John Paul nod into sainthood, surely there should be room for one fornicator.

St John of Comealot might be apt!

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Sat 22 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1"
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