Just as Barack Obama readies for his historic transition into the White House, and the nation is swept up in the optimism and hope born from the promise of social change and governmental reform that he brings, we are reminded once again of the president with whom he is most compared: John F. Kennedy.
Friday, January 2, 2009
But not, alas, in a good way.
After all, Kennedy was the one who defied conventional wisdom that said a Catholic would never be elected president. He not only won, but also changed the direction of the country with his grand vision of personal equality, humility, responsibility and service. His "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" line (from his inaugural speech, Jan. 20, 1961), is still in the Top 5 of my favorite soundbites. For now, Obama promises the same kind of inspirational leadership.
Obviously, stories of the not-so-admirable side of JFK have been circulating in the pop-culture consciousness for decades: His possible ties to organized crime, his questionable performance in the Oval Office, his penchant for sexual dalliances, etc.
But these stories were more like additional chapters in the man's life, hardly his entire story. He was lucky enough to be president before key social changes took root that brought down Bill Clinton's presidency: the invasive, prying eyes of the media, combined with the public's insatiable appetite for titillation, combined with a hypocritical expectation of "pure" behavior for our public servants.
Now comes news from the New York Post that a new book coming out will portray Kennedy as a sex addict, a "compulsive philanderer", with lurid details of many of his affairs.
Well, it had to happen sometime: Those stories were just waiting to come out; if not now, when? Our icons should not be impervious to revision, especially when it is warranted. And in this day and age, it's actually kind of "hip" to come out as a sex addict. So, maybe this book won't destroy his image after all -- maybe it will add a new kind of luster to it!