50 Years since and 100 Years since

We passed a couple of milestones in American Presidential Memorials.  The 50th Anniversary of John F Kennedy’s inaugural and the 100th Anniversary of Ronald W Reagaon’s birth.  Two men who are revered beyond the point they deserve, and two models for our polar partisan shaped Cult of the Presidency.

A question was asked by a political magazine blog at the time of Kennedy’s milestone — I think it was the American Prospect — Why is it someone whose presidency was so thin in accomplishments gets so haloed?  The answer lies in part with his marketing.  Consider, for instance, that one of the attributes the public always gae him in polls was that of “Good Family Man” — which may or may not be the case, but I’m guessing had there been less television coverage of his endless touch football games and more for his endless philandering, the public’s attitude would have shifted somewhat.  Then again, perhaps some hintings of the latter did him some good — the better to focus on his “Vigor”.

His Inaugural Address was delivered on a frigid cold day.  His predecessor was all bundled up, sensibly you can say, with long overcoats.  Kennedy welcomed a contrast by wearing just his suit and jacket.  He got away with it where William Henry Harrison didn’t — partially because he really was young and vigorous and partially because his speech was shorter and more succint — oriented as it is to the key soundbytes about “Torch” passed to “born in this century” and all that.

Kennedy also preceded before the Great Unravelling, before suspicion of the government exploded and was shown to be justified.  He never had to face the music, as did Johnson and Nixon, and so the cynical state machinery was not yet laid bare.  Thus, Johnson’s accomplishments can be conveniently shoved in to the public mind as Kennedy’s — because Kennedy is not holding the baggage that Johnson had to hold.

The answer to the question of Reagan, as I have suggested a time or two here, lies in answering “Who else have you got?”  Every generation of partisan has the need to revamp their reverred president — the Democrats managed to sneak away from the Jackson — Wilson axis and get to the Roosevelt — Kennedy axis.  Carter got the problem of the Republicans correct in his nomination acceptance speech — to paraphrase, Reagan is quoting a bunch of Democratic Presidents, because otherwise he’s left quoting Nixon and Hoover. 

I do slide a bit with the conspiracy theory / Left axis who charge that, for instance, the Tri-Lateral Commission was set up to curb the booming Democracy that was coming out of the 1960s protests and floodlights on State Secrecy.  Under this strageum, of course, one of America’s Greatest of Presidents was… Gerald Ford.  For no other reason than he was under a tight perimeter against public opinion forged against public distaste of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  It was also here that America hit its largest vault of permissive attitudes in “lifestyles”, and if this tended toward a sleazy construct like the suburban key-swapping party, at least it’s better than the government being mobilized in a Virtue Campaign.  Reagan came in to restore State Perogatives in matters of State Secrecy (nobody since Kennedy could quite get away with) and Virtue Policing, and the Republicans revere him for it.

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