The Right Cried Too
Part of last week's grief was for J.F.K. the "conservative."
By Arnold Weiner
AUGUST 2, 1999: During the week of July 18th the news media were focused entirely on the tragedy befalling John F. Kennedy Jr. Even Rush Limbaugh spent the first four days of the week talking almost exclusively about the circumstances involving J.F.K. Jr.
In fact, Rush spent most of the week disagreeing with many of his own fans, who were outraged at the media attention the tragedy was receiving. Limbaugh defended the decision of the Clinton administration to utilize the military to look for the wreckage and the bodies. Some on the political right expressed outrage at the media attention and accused the left of somehow availing themselves of the coverage to create support for policies which they imagined the era of President Kennedy represented.
I find this view lacking in substance. If there was linkage to the early 1960s and nostalgia about it, it was not because of support for policies that people perceive the current Kennedy family to have supported.
The early '60s were actually a continuation of the '50s. All of the counter-cultural social trends of the past 35 years -- secular humanism, abortion-on-demand, gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and bilingualism -- did not begin until sometime in the mid-'60s.
Let's not forget that all of the social legislation of the 1960s was under Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" rather than John Kennedy's "New Frontier." In fact, the policies of the Kennedy administration, compared to those of the Johnson administration, seem quite conservative.
For example, in 1962 the Kennedy administration stimulated the economy by cutting taxes on business. That sounds like something that Ronald Reagan would do (in fact, did do).
During the 1960 presidential election John Kennedy actually campaigned to the right of Richard Nixon, lambasting the Eisenhower administration for supposedly allowing a missile gap with the Soviet Union and for permitting the rise to power of Fidel Castro.
As a senator, John F. Kennedy had a rather conservative voting record. In fact, in 1954 he was the only Democratic senator who did not vote to condemn the supposed excesses of Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade.
The bottom line is that John Kennedy and the era fit quite well; both represented traditional cultural values.
In a recent Gallup poll, Americans listed John Kennedy as the greatest American president since World War II, with Ronald Reagan as Number Two. Even though one was a Democrat and the other was Republican, there wasn't much difference in their support for traditional American values and institutions.
I would go so far as to say that people are nostalgic about Kennedy because they are nostalgic about the values that the early '60s represented. Most people I know have nothing but contempt for the assault on America's culture that began after President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
I think it is arguable that most people desire a restoration of the old American culture which came to flower in the '50s and early '60s and that this fact explains much of the emotion experienced by the nation over the recent tragedy.
People cried when John F. Kennedy Jr. died for many reasons, including that of simple human compassion. But many of them surely cried also because they missed the "America That Was," the lost one that this well-spoken, well-dressed, politically moderate young man with his distinguished name reminded them of.
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