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Friday, 19 June 2020 19:31

Trump and Kennedy? Is Politico for Real?

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Jim DiEugenio reviews the history of Politico in supporting the two-party status quo and then dissects sportswriter Peter Keating’s article, “How JFK Paved the Way for Donald Trump,” as uninformed and counter-factual.


Politico was started back in 2007 by two veterans of the Washington Post, John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei. It was reported at the time that Post management, including Ben Bradlee, did not wish to fund an online venture. Therefore, the partners went to Albritton Communications, specifically Robert L. Albritton, for startup costs. The Albritton family had consolidated and salvaged what was left of the Washington Star conglomerate. With the millions on hand, Politico began hiring MSM fellows like Mike Allen from Time, and commentators like Mike Kinsley and Joe Scarborough. Due to sites like Politico, what promised to be an online revolution in journalism was stillborn. Considering what Politico turned out to be, it’s hard to see what people like Bradlee could have objected to.

An example would be the book published in 2008 by Harris and ABC correspondent Mark Halperin. It was titled The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. That book focused on the Bush and Clinton families, father and son, husband and wife, and how they had won election sometimes using each other’s techniques. It also spent time on Karl Rove, in appreciative aspects, as being a smart presidential campaign manager. After the election, Harris and Halperin had custard pie all over their faces, because Barack Obama had won both the primary and the election, with a team not at all owed to either the Bush or Clinton camp. And Rove, since he was forcefully retired due to the Valerie Plame scandal, has not run a presidential campaign since. If nothing else, the book showed just how much Harris had invested in the status quo, i.e. in a very conservative GOP and a centrist/right Democratic Party.

Bernie Sanders campaigning with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

From the above example, one could predict that Politico, like much of the MSM it represents, was intent on being critical of the Bernie Sanders candidacy. This was both before and after he dropped out of the race this year. (Click here and here)

In fact, in surveying the way they headline certain events, it is hard not to write that they almost celebrate the losses of progressive candidates. (Click here for an example) They are also eager to cast many topics, issues, and political races as left vs. right, or center vs. right. (Click here for an example) In other words, the idea is to keep America divided, as Harris tried to do in his 2008 book. Consequently, there is almost no vision, insight, and too little in-depth reporting as to what the underlying truth (or truths) of these matters may be. Media Matters, for example, has frequently been critical of Politico. (Click here for details)

Of course, this quite naturally means that Politico cannot be fair, objective, or honest about the Kennedys. Because JFK, RFK, and Ted Kennedy were trying to get at the underlying truths of many of the problems with America (e.g. race, economic inequality, education, and health care). A good example of this targeting occurred in April of 2018, when the film Chappaquiddick was released. Politico could not just review the film. They used the picture’s release to fill a huge top headline on their site, for two days. Peter Cannelos’ long essay was so negatively tilted that, in reference to the concurrent documentary mini-series The Kennedys, he implied that the series was complimentary to the family. (Click here for a more realistic view) In another example, consider their take on Robert Kennedy. On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, they ran an article entitled “The Bobby Kennedy Myth.” (Click here for the article)

They are at it again; this time concerning John Kennedy. On June 13th, they printed an article by someone named Peter Keating. They billed Keating as an “investigative reporter”. In establishing that credential, they did not say what he investigated. It turns out that Keating is a sports writer. He writes mainly for ESPN, and his central beat is something called sabermetrics. (Click here for an example) If one does not know what that term means, please watch the Brad Pitt film Moneyball. How this area of study made Keating an authority on John Kennedy’s political career escapes this author—as it does probably many others. In fact, it shows that Politico does not mind who authors their Kennedy hit piece articles. They will bend over to cloud the author’s lack of established credentials.

The title of Keating’s essay is “How JFK Paved the Way for Donald Trump.” I am not kidding. Just when one thinks American journalism cannot get any worse, you can rely on Politico to give us a further piece of flapdoodle. What is the point of the article? Keating is trying to insinuate that, somehow, Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for the presidency had something to do with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. To say that this is far fetched is not accurate. To anyone familiar with Kennedy’s career it’s a bunch of horse feathers. The idea is to suggest that somehow Kennedy’s campaign in 1960, particularly the primary, exemplified how Trump could win the presidency in 2020.

The primary system had been around since the early 1900’s. It had been a reform of the Progressive Era to give the public more of a say in the nominating process, instead of exclusively being the role of the state party leaders. They were not as widespread as they are today, so they were not as definitive. But to say they had no impact at all is simply wrong. For instance, William McAdoo swept the Democratic primaries in 1924 and almost won the nomination. He had to be stopped at the convention, because he was backed by the Klan. It took 99 ballots to get rid of him.

Amazingly, but predictably, the sportswriter completely passes over the 1952 GOP primary. There were four major candidates that year:  Earl Warren, Harold Stassen, Robert Taft, and Dwight Eisenhower. The battle winnowed down to Taft and Eisenhower and it was quite close. But Thomas Dewey, who many thought was going to run, did not. And he ended up supporting Eisenhower through his influence in New York which did not have a primary. To show how far American has come, at that time, many people in the Republican Party thought that Taft was simply too conservative to win. (Richard Bain and Judith Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records, pp. 280-86) In 1956, in the Democratic primary race, Governor Adlai Stevenson won out in the primary season over Senator Estes Kefauver. So to somehow say that Senator John F. Kennedy suddenly discovered the primary season as a way to the White House is simply tapering history.

And that’s not all Keating does to fulfill his agenda. In 1956, there ended up being an intrastate battle in Massachusetts for control of the Democratic machinery for the upcoming nominating convention. Kennedy sensed, correctly, that the state pols—Congressman John McCormack and local hack William Burke—were going to try and block the nomination of Stevenson. Kennedy had supported Stevenson, would end up speaking at the 1956 nominating convention, and then placed him in his administration as representative to the United Nations. McCormack had opposed Stevenson in the primary and actually won by a write-in vote. Mr. Burke boasted about this victory and even personally insulted Kennedy for supporting the losing Stevenson. After that, JFK had no choice but to go after the duo, for both Stevenson’s sake and the personal insult. So, Kennedy, through his proxies, fought this move and, as Dave Powers and Ken O’Donnell have written, it ended up being a “Boston Irish political brawl.” Kennedy was outnumbered on the state committee, but there were enough uncommitted for him to lobby them and turn them to his side. He told Powers and O’Donnell he would call them and even ring doorbells if he had to and he did. At the end, Burke was out. (For a complete chronicle of this episode, see Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye, by O’Donnell and Powers, pp. 124-32)

The idea that this episode taught Kennedy how to control his own delegation is undermined by the facts that Kennedy allowed McCormick to run as a favorite son at the convention and, contrary to what Keating/Sabermetrics writes, Kennedy did not appoint his own man to the state chairmanship. Pat Lynch was so unknown to him that he needed a personal audience with him to remember who he was. (ibid, p. 127) And even then, he still did not accept him. It was O’Donnell and Powers who pushed his candidacy on him.

This was all part of Kennedy staying true to Stevenson, who was the national leader of the party. The idea that the state party, without this, would not have supported him in 1960 when he ran is a bit silly—even for sabermetrics. But Kennedy first really made a name for himself on the national level when Stevenson threw open the vice-presidential nomination to the convention that year. (ibid, p. 134) Although he did not win, most attendees were surprised at how strongly JFK ran.

That is because, unlike Trump, the senator had already been around for ten years. In his valuable book, JFK: In the Senate, John T. Shaw chronicles his entire congressional career. (Click here for a review) And the very next year, Kennedy was going to indelibly imprint himself on the national consciousness with his famous, powerful Algeria speech, which he had been headed for ever since his visit to Saigon in 1951. (See Shaw, p. 101) If you did not know who Kennedy was before that speech, you sure as heck knew who he was afterwards. As Richard Mahoney wrote, there were 138 newspaper editorials printed over that highly controversial speech. The vast majority were negative. (Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa, p. 21) As both Mahoney and Shaw write, this speech made Kennedy the titular leader on foreign policy in his party. (Shaw, p. 110) Partly because he had deliberately singled out and criticized President Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Vice-President Nixon in his speech and said there had to be a different approach to Third World nationalism rather than supporting European colonialism. In fact, Kennedy now made the cover of Time Magazine for December 2, 1957. The story’s title was “Man out Front.” (Mahoney, p. 29)

As the British commentator Alistair Cooke had stated, by his purposeful attack on the White House, Kennedy had positioned himself as the man the Republicans now had to do something about. The presidential hopeful that the GOP now had to scorn: “It is a form of running martyrdom that Senators Humphrey and Johnson may come to envy.” (Mahoney, p. 29) None of this is in Keating’s article. Yet this is the way JFK had now become a national figure.

I don’t see how much more of a contrast with Donald Trump that could be. By the time of the 1960 primary, Kennedy had been in office for 14 years. He was a prominent member of the senate not just through his high profile in foreign affairs, but also because of his service with his brother Robert on the Senate rackets committee and their opposition to Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. And there was no real brilliance, Keating’s word for it, to his 1960 primary campaign. It was pretty fundamental in its planning. Kennedy got in early, had a good manager in his brother Robert, and spent a lot of money in defeating Senator Hubert Humphrey. But even here, Keating gets it wrong. As everyone but Keating knows, the man Kennedy was worried about was Lyndon Johnson. He wasn’t quite sure he could beat the Senate Majority Leader. So, he sent RFK to Texas to sound him out. Johnson told Bobby he was not going to run. This is something that even Chris Matthews knows. (See Bobby Kennedy, pp. 162-63) This assured JFK, since he thought that if either Stu Symington or LBJ won, it was going to be the same old Acheson/Dulles Cold War foreign policy all over again. (Harris Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 37) As we have seen, Kennedy had charted out a different course that had put him near the forefront of the leadership in his party. This, as we have seen, was an important motivation for his running that year.

But for whatever reason, Johnson did get in the race. He announced on July 5th, which was a week before the convention opened. To this day, no one knows why Johnson waited so long to announce his candidacy. But the amazing thing about it is this:  entering just one week before, he amassed more delegates than every other competing candidate combined. And it was not really close. In fact, Johnson’s late candidacy was so strong that Bobby Kennedy now had to switch tactics. He now had to pull out all the stops in order to make sure his brother won on the first ballot. He placed his agents on the floor to make sure no one was going to switch their votes to LBJ. Since if it went beyond a first ballot, there was a real danger that Johnson would outlast Kennedy. (Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and his Times, pp. 213-15) Again, how does this resemble the Trump coronation in Cleveland? Who is to say that if Johnson had gotten in early, with all of his Texas backers, he might not have won?

President Trump’s photo-op in front of the historic St. John’s Church

In comparison to this, Trump never held any political office before his run for the presidency. And, in large part, that is the issue that he ran on. The public in 2016 was so sick of the political establishment on both sides that they voted for Trump and almost voted in Bernie Sanders. It was a different political universe in 2016. But further, as anyone with any knowledge of recent political history understands, the primacy of the political primaries was not forged in steel until after 1968, due to the famous McGovern-Fraser reforms. (Click here for details)

Johnson could not have done what he did after those reforms. They were established partly as a result of what happened to RFK’s constituency after his assassination. Those changes eventually ended up mandating that each state have a primary or a caucus. The man who commandeered this new system, thus setting an example which has been mimicked by many, was Jimmy Carter in 1976. I, for one, am not convinced Trump would have made it without McGovern-Fraser, for the simple reason that almost all of the GOP establishment was opposed to his candidacy.

Military presence in Washington, D.C.

As the reader can see, there is no real efficacy to Keating’s article. It is just a part of the Harris agenda. And it’s not possible to fail to take note of the timing. As everyone knows, the Trump presidency, to put it mildly, has now confronted some tough times. Between COVID-19 and the George Floyd shooting in Minneapolis, things have gotten quite rocky. And between his denial of the first and his rather inept staging of a Bible pledge in Lafayette Park, he has not reacted well to either one. The Trump ally, Senator Tom Cotton, has tweeted that the Floyd protesters should not just face combat troops, but death from the skies: “Let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division.” And if that were not enough, Cotton then drew up his own battle order: “And, if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry—whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.” We all know what “no quarter” means do we not? (Fintan O’toole, NY Review of Books, 7/23/20)

Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach confronting Governor George C. Wallace

As O’toole continued, that was not just bombast, because seven hundred soldiers from the 82nd Airborne did go to Washington. They were in the streets of the capitol, as were the low-flying helicopters and sand-colored Humvees. (ibid) And recall, the demonstrators in Lafayette Park who got tear gassed and clubbed were peaceful protesters. This makes for a vivid and continuing comparison with President Kennedy—which Keating does not mention. During the days of the civil rights demonstrations, Kennedy never wanted to call out troops. If needed, his graduated policy was to go from federal marshals, to the National Guard, with federal troops only called in as a last resort. And this was in aid of the civil rights cause and against the right-wing forces opposing them. For example, when governors Ross Barnett and George Wallace refused to uphold court orders to integrate, respectively, Ole Miss and the University of Alabama, Kennedy relied on federal marshals, only calling in troops—at Ole Miss—when the organized rightwing demonstration to stop James Meredith from registering grew violent. At Alabama, in addition to the National Guard, he had 3000 troops in reserve to oppose the 900 state troopers and police that Wallace had summoned to the scene. Kennedy had the National Guard handle the Alabama conflict.

John F. Kennedy’s historic civil rights speech

As I have demonstrated with facts, President Kennedy did more for civil rights for African Americans than any president since Lincoln. And it was not even close. He did more than Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Truman combined in about one tenth the time. As O’toole writes, for Trump to say that he has done more in that cause than anyone since Lincoln, completely overlooking Kennedy, that is just self-promotion as well as being ahistorical. (For the evidence, click here and scroll to the chart at the end) It is startling that Trump could somehow miss Kennedy’s 1963 civil rights speech, which JFK made right after his confrontation with Wallace. But alas, Trump is the president who said there were good people on both sides at Charlottesville. In a phone conversation with Dick Gregory during the Birmingham crisis, Kennedy referred to the rightwing racists as “bastards”. In fact, some make the argument that Trump’s policies have exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on the African American community. (Click here for details)

It’s even more shocking that Trump can say this at a time when, as Alan Mcleod has written in MintPress, “A record 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance, with millions losing their employer based healthcare plans and around a third of the country not paying its rent.” In the midst of this, working class Americans get a $1,200 check, while the Federal Reserve has given about $4.25 billion to big banks and corporate America. As Mcleod further wrote, the fact that the very upper class has risen in riches so rapidly signifies that their wealth “is barely connected to productive forces anymore and has more to do with how much wealth one can take from public coffers.”

In reaction to all this, the man who President Trump is starting to resemble is Richard Nixon. As O’toole notes, on June 2nd, Trump issued one of his sparsely worded tweets: “SILENT MAJORITY!” If the reader recalls, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets against the Vietnam War, Nixon used that phrase in a November 1969 speech. It was specifically about the war. Nixon was appealing to “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” to stand with him against the demonstrators. That brief message echoes Trump’s earlier tweets in which he requested that his followers “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” and then save your great 2nd amendment. It is under siege.” (Click here for details) How can anyone not interpret this as a call to the rightwing militias to bear arms, if they have to, in order to stop the COVID-19 lockdowns? That appeal to armed extremists has also provoked confrontations with George Floyd protestors. (Click here and here for details)

August 28, 1963 - 300,000 people peacefully demonstrating for justice and jobs

Richard Nixon was expert at dividing Americans along political fault lines:  Vietnam and his Southern Strategy on race. JFK tried to unite those of different races and classes. One great example being his sponsorship of the March on Washington. (See Irving Bernstein, Promises Kept, pp. 113-17) Kennedy was the first white politician to approve of this rally, on July 17, 1963. He then assigned his brother to make sure it came off perfectly and no extremists would upset it in any way. The Kennedys then got UAW chief Walter Reuther to bus in union workers, so the attendance would be both large and diverse. As many have said, that demonstration was probably the high point of post-World war II liberalism. It followed by two months, what many consider the greatest presidential civil rights speech since Lincoln.

Make no mistake; none at all. Politico wants us to forget all about an example, so long ago, when a president and his brother were actually leading the country on civil rights. For me, it’s pretty transparent:  that is what the publication of this piece of malarkey is really about. It’s to throw sand in your eyes in hopes the public doesn’t notice how far we have fallen.

Peter Keating should be ashamed of himself.


Addendum:

Click here or on the image below to see just how far Trump will go to polarize the racial issue:

Last modified on Saturday, 20 June 2020 17:56
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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