NYT's Brooks: JFK's Utopianism & Martyrdom Hurt the Presidency - 'Politics Can't Live Up to That Mirage of Religiosity'
In the weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, media members across the fruited plain have largely gushed and fawned over the former president's legacy and grandeur.
New York Times columnist David Brooks offered a rather unique take on PBS's News Hour Friday saying that Kennedy's utopian vision of what a president can do, along with his subsequent martyrdom, diminished the office because "politics can't live up to that sort of mirage of sort of religiosity" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Well, it's -- we -- we -- today is a day for both of you when we -- the whole country looks back to President John Kennedy.
David, you know, so much has been written about this over the last days. Certainly, today, we have been thinking about it all day long. How did this country change, or did it change, as a result of his presidency and his assassination?
DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Well, I think the whole presidency really peaking, if you want to say, the martyrology of John F. Kennedy on this day 50 years ago changed the way we define presidents and politics really.
If you go back Eisenhower, if you go back to his farewell address, which was I think three days before the Kennedy inaugural, it's a very limited sense of what government can do, and it should be balanced. We should suspect bigness. We should just try to balance interests. It's a very modest sense of what government can do.
Kennedy comes in with that inaugural, and promises to bear any burden, pay any price, to end disease. It becomes much more utopian. And that sort of utopian sense that politics can really transform life is underlined by his charisma, the charisma of an office, and then it's underlined even more by the martyrdom, and by the mystique of Camelot that grows up.
And politicians since, presidents since, including Reagan and including Clinton and including Obama, have tried to strike that Kennedyesque tone that they are the charismatic leader who can really transform everything.
And, to me, the perverse effect of that, of sort of the enlargement of politics, has been subsequent disappointment when politics can't deliver that sort of Camelot dream again and again, whether it's -- whether it's Obama or whether it was Kennedy himself. And so it's perversely, I think, inflated politics, created a much more image-conscious politics, but then led to disillusionment, as politics can't live up to that sort of mirage of sort of religiosity.
I rarely say this, but Brooks is quite right.
Conservative author Ann Coulter is known to say that Democrats love their politicians - especially their presidents - while Republicans just respect them.
Listening to what people have said about Kennedy the past 50 years you would think he literally walked on water.
I've heard people glowingly speculate that if Kennedy hadn't have been assassinated, he would have ended Vietnam as well as the Cold War making the U.S. and the Soviet Union strong allies.
Now consider the Messianic treatment a largely inexperienced and unqualified junior senator from Illinois got during the 2008 presidential campaign and still receives today from certain quarters.
Conservative author and constitutional lawyer Mark Levin says our Founders and Framers never wanted this for the presidency. The Commander-in-Chief wasn't supposed to a king nor was he supposed to be treated like one.
Government - and certainly the president! - were supposed to have as little impact on our lives as possible.
Sadly, folks such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed all that.
As such, I would suggest to Brooks that Kennedy wasn't the first president to offer a utopian vision of what he could do for the citizenry. However, his martyrdom did indeed set an unreachable bar for his successors.
That of course won't stop the left and their media minions from continuing to present their candidates as the next Messiah.
Heck, most of Brooks's colleagues at the Times as well as the folks on MSNBC still think this president is.
Glad to see someone at the Gray Lady isn't addicted to the Kool-Aid.
A previous version of this piece referred to Kennedy's predecessors rather than successors. It has been corrected