Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. President(s)

Monday is President's Day. What used to be two paid holidays for government employees is now one. Lincoln and Washington's birthday have been replaced by a generic President's Day. What it means I don't know and really don't care except that I do not have to go to court and there will be less traffic to curse at. Now might be the occasion to examine the most famous presidential birthday party of all time. I always admired JFK. And to a lesser extent Bill Clinton. Anyone who aspires to the most powerful office on earth not to do great things but to use the office as a resume enhancer to corral women into the bedroom gets a big plus in my book. JFK presents an interesting phenomenon in American politics and culture. Some presidents can pull off stunts that would destroy the careers of others. Ronald Reagan was accused of taking long naps every afternoon. He never denied it. In fact, in one of his farewell addresses, he basically admitted it and laughed it off. And the country laughed with him. Clinton was a philanderer and got away with it because everyone with half a brain knew it and factored that into their support of him. Bush I and II could give speeches as if they were talking backwards. Such verbal syntax would make Clinton a laughingstock. And so it goes. But JFK was different. Granted, the press was a little more circumspect back then and much more centralized. The news was filtered through a few large newspapers and three TV networks. And the doyens of journalism loved JFK. But still. Take a look at the above video. Kennedy's brother in law(and pimp to Hollywood whoredom), Peter Lawford, introduces an obviously drugged and drunk Marilyn to sing birthday kudos to the prince of Camelot. Imagine a wasted Madonna or Haile Berry seductively crooning birthday wishes to Obama in a public forum. Ain't gonna happen. But Kennedy pulled it off. And he did it with class and a sense of style that leaves me green with envy. I was not mature enough in 1962 to remember the relationship between the public perception of political leaders and the reality of many of their lives. The TV presidency still had lots of baby fat so the dark side of almost universal exposure had not caught up with the hagiography that it initially spawned with JFK. The great majority of Americans did not believe their political leaders engaged in such shenanigans. JFK led a duplicitous life in an era of noblesse oblige and got away with it. Call it hypocrisy or whatever but the sharp demarcation between the public and private was not a bad thing. Would our country have been better off if Ike had spent the Fall of 1952 deflecting rumors of himself and Kaye Summersby? Or if FDR with Lucy Mercer? I don't think so. Well, the myth of JFK lives on. Wherever you are Jack, you might want to tap God on the shoulder and thank him for the fact that you were born in 1917 and not 1950. Running for president in these times with your baggage would have been one hell of a "profile in courage."

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