Press-Republican

FYI...

November 28, 2013

Five myths about John F. Kennedy

(Continued)

FAIRFAX, Va. —

While he was more conciliatory after the Cuban missile crisis, JFK's early Cold War rhetoric was so hawkish that Reagan and other Republicans later quoted him at every opportunity to buttress their fight against communism. And Kennedy was so hesitant and timid about civil rights that he frustrated the movement's leaders at virtually every turn until finally articulating a vision for equal rights in June 1963.

3. Kennedy was determined to land Americans on the moon.

That's how we recall it, because of JFK's blunt declarations to Congress and the public beginning in May 1961, yet Kennedy actively considered alternatives. He actually wanted to send astronauts to Mars but had to be talked out of it because it was so impractical. Once he lowered his sights to our lunar satellite, Kennedy continued to have doubts because of the cost. "Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon?" he asked NASA Administrator James Webb in September 1963.

Kennedy even approached Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev about ending the superpower space race and establishing a Soviet-American partnership for a moon landing. Khrushchev responded favorably, and JFK mentioned it in his fall 1963 speech to the United Nations. His order to NASA to "make it happen" fell by the wayside in the next administration.

4. After the assassination, Lyndon Johnson adhered to JFK's agenda.

Johnson capitalized on Kennedy's memory and cited JFK more than 500 times in public speeches, statements and news conferences - more than any other president except Bill Clinton - as he tried to shepherd his own agenda to congressional passage. LBJ sought to out-Kennedy Kennedy.

Take Johnson's signature project, the War on Poverty. Right before JFK left for Dallas, an aide, Walter Heller, met with the president and proposed a program to combat poverty. Kennedy would consider signing off only on a pilot program in a few cities; he wanted no big-spending, budget-busting welfare subsidies. Heller met with LBJ the day after the assassination to revisit the issue. Johnson, with his hardscrabble background, loved the idea and immediately countermanded Kennedy's cautious approach: "That's my kind of program. It's a people's program. . . . Give it the highest priority. Push ahead full tilt."

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