I attended elementary school in what was a fairly liberal town, Palo Alto, California. Well, better stated, the cultural and educational elite were "liberal," the town itself, before the dot com revolution in which Palo Alto played such a central role, was a middle class town full of war vets, largely apolitical and decidedly old fashion social conservative sorts. Except at election time, politics did not play a big role in most people's lives. The federal government was seen as a benign but remote presence. We generally had no idea who was a Republican and who a Democrat.
Our family had a huge three-level house that dated from the beginning of the twentieth century, and which my immigrant parents had bought in 1957 for the shocking amount of $12,000 (note: according to Zillow, the current value of that house exceeds five million dollars--alas!) Our immediate neighbor, a burly, gruff Marine veteran, severely injured on Iwo Jima, walked with a pronounced limp and harbored an intense hatred for all things Japanese. Across the street, we had a rarity, a family who had fled from Communist China by way of Hong Kong. A little further down the street, my best friend lived. His dad worked as an engineer at an aerospace firm; his English mother, a wonderful and kind lady, had suffered polio as a child, also had a limp, and cheerfully drove a small odd-looking British-made Ford Anglia. I liked going to his house when his British grandfather would visit. He came straight out of central casting complete with an elaborate white handlebar mustache, proper manners, hearty laugh, and an accent that recalled the valiant stoic Brits in those war movies to which I had become addicted. My own English was mediocre, and he, unfortunately, could not understand anything I said. My friend had to play interpreter.
The school, fairly rare for those days, was racially integrated and even had a black principal. One of my teachers was married to Felix Greene, British journalist, Communist "fellow traveler," and cousin of Graham Greene. Felix worked at that time for the San Francisco Chronicle, was a big fan of and apologist for Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and, later, Castro, and had some sort of visiting gig at Stanford. In the 1960 elections, the teachers came out for JFK in almost total unanimity, and made no secret of it. They were enthralled by his youth, status as a "war hero," speeches, accent, James Dean/Steve McQueen coolness, and his emphasis on education. In contrast, Nixon seemed dour and unexciting. Looking back, I can see that many of those teachers we now would call "liberals," or "progressives," or more accurately "socialists." Readers might have some other labels, as well.
On November 22, 1963, in Miss Sarzin's fifth grade class we had just finished watching a documentary film about the islands of the South Pacific. Miss Sarzin was packing up the 16mm projector when two older kids ran into the room. They dashed up to Miss Sarzin and whispered to her. I remember her gasping, and saying, "No!" She froze with the projector cord in her hand. In walked the vice-principal, another of those tough no-nonsense WWII vets who announced, "Children, the President has been shot." He went to the front of the room, turned on a large radio, and left. We could hear the announcer, growing ever louder as the set warmed up, saying over and over, "The President is dead. The President is dead." Behind me, my friend Charlie tearfully said, "I wish he'd stop that!" We sat stunned. For once, there was not a sound in the room. We were sent home where we watched hour after hour of television coverage of the unfolding story in Dallas. Convinced WWIII would commence presently, my mother frantically and unsuccessfully sought to call her mother in Spain to "warn" her--placing an international call was a major undertaking back then, especially on the eve of WWIII.
JFK's assassination, understandably, left a deep impression on Americans alive at the time. Television, if nothing else, ensured that. One would think, however, that getting assassinated would not guarantee one getting idolized. I remain intrigued and puzzled by the generally high regard Americans continue to have for JFK (here, for example.) He, after all, was an incompetent. Even his war record was marked by incompetence and dereliction of duty. His affair with a known German spy in Washington DC, and his inept handling of his PT boat, which resulted in it getting rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, should have meant a court martial. His father's political connections, however, and JFK's, admittedly, brave leadership of his shipwrecked crew, avoided that fate and got him a medal for "Life Saving," not, however, one for valor as his father wanted--the Navy would not go that far. He had an undistinguished career in Congress and, eventually, became a Chauncey Gardiner President.
He made a hash of the anti-Castro policy inherited from Eisenhower; got outplayed by Khrushchev at his first summit meeting; nearly got us into WWIII, for real, with his bungling of the October Missile Crisis which ensured Castro's survival, again; made a mess of our Vietnam policy, arrogantly having the leader of South Vietnam assassinated; and began a reform of our immigration laws which resulted in the disastrous 1965 Immigration Act that turned our focus from Europe to the Third World. He was regularly consorting with all sorts of questionable women which left him open to blackmail; used powerful pain-killing drugs; and kept the parlous state of his health a secret.
JFK, however, was the first modern "liberal" president. He was the father of the "liberalism" that now runs and ruins our country. His administration saw the melding of Hollywood and Washington, from the dishonest hack hagiographic PT 109 movie to the mixing it up with Sinatra, Lawford, and, of course, Monroe. It was the new liberal royalty. They had the pretty wives dressed by French designers. They had gone to the fancy schools, and earned the fancy degrees. They were true sophisticates who knew the world, and had a vision of a better one and a plan to lead us there. They looked so good, so smart, so educated, so photogenic, so, so . . . well, so unlike the stodgy, grey, and serious Eisenhower, Nixon, Dulles, etc. The journalists ate it up, protecting him and covering for his lies and deceptions. They, too, wanted to play with and be like the cool kids.
The current disaster we have in the White House is the child of the Kennedy era. He represents the rebirth of the demand for coolness and hipness as the primary qualifications for the most important job in the world. As was discovered by the abandoned Cuban freedom fighters on Playa Giron; by our veterans of Vietnam as well as by the people of South Vietnam; by our people in Benghazi; by our friends and allies around the world; and now by millions of ordinary Americans watching as their health insurance plans collapse and their jobs go away, there is a real world price to be paid for making hipness and coolness the requirements for the presidency. That is the legacy of JFK and the modern day liberals who so admire him.