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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekend Reader: JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation Of A Man And The Emergence Of A Great President

Weekend Reader: JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation Of A Man And The Emergence Of A Great President

This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you JFK’s Last Hundred Days by American historian Thurston Clarke. The president’s last 100 days took place during a pivotal time in American history: Kennedy was in the process of implementing progressive policies domestically and internationally during the Cold War and Vietnam. In JFK’s Last Hundred DaysThurston describes the timeline of this period through a very personal look into the president’s policies and personal life. Thurston doesn’t entertain conspiracy theories, but focuses on what JFK did for America — improved immigration policy, focused on civil rights, moved to amend relations with the Soviet Union, and pushed for Medicare, among many other accomplishments.

 You can purchase the book here.

Sunday, November 17-Monday, November 18

Palm Beach, Tampa, Miami

As they were driving to the West Palm Beach airport on Monday morning, Kennedy told Torby Macdonald that the weekend had been “really living,” and one he would never forget. The weather had been perfect, windless sunny days followed by clear nights. On Saturday afternoon they had sat on the patio in swimsuits watching the Navy-Duke football game. He had bet on Navy and after winning had insisted that Powers and Macdonald fetch their wallets and pay up. On Saturday evening he sang “September Song” and talked endlessly about von Braun’s prediction that the United States would beat the Russians to the moon. On Sunday they had gathered on the patio to watch the Bears play the Packers, and again he won the wager. The weekend reminded Macdonald of the months before the Second World War, “when there was nothing of moment on anybody’s mind.” The only jarring note came when he and Kennedy were swimming together and began discussing how they both feared being incapacitated by a stroke, as their fathers had been. Macdonald asked Kennedy how he would like to die. “Oh, a gun,” he said. “You never know what’s hit you. A gunshot is the perfect way.”

While Kennedy was enjoying the weekend pleasures of the average middle-aged, middle-class American male, his programs and initiatives were moving forward.

During a speech at the New York Economic Club, McNamara announced that a major cut in defense spending was “in the works,” calling it “a fundamental strategic shift…not just a temporary slash.”

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The Associated Press reported that “the withdrawal of 1000 U.S. servicemen from South Vietnam will start Dec. 3, Major General Charles J. Timmes announced today. The men are to depart by the end of the year, leaving about 15,500 troops in the country.”

Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Anthony Celebrezze presented the administration’s case for Medicare to the House Ways and Means Committee, describing it as “legislation to provide health care for the elderly under the Social Security program.” It was necessary, he said, because “the best that private insurance has been able to do to solve the dilemma of high costs and low income is to offer either low-cost policies with inadequate protection or more adequate policies that are priced out of reach of most of the aged.” The committee was not expected to vote on Medicare that year, but as the hearing progressed, the prospects for favorable action appeared to be improving.

Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach announced that the administration was “hopeful” that the civil rights bill would reach the House floor by mid-December and be passed by Christmas. The New York Times editorialized that even if this timetable was not met, its postponement into 1964 “would not necessarily be fatal.”

Walter Heller received a memorandum from Under Secretary of Agriculture Charles Murphy responding to his request to provide recommendations for “Widening Prosperity,” the new title of the president’s antipoverty program. Murphy wrote that because of the difficulty of “proposing any dramatic new legislative program to attack poverty in a time of tight budgetary restrictions,” he suggested waiting to launch it until the fall of 1964.

Jim Bishop and Pierre Saligner happened to dine at the same Palm Beach restaurant on Saturday evening. Salinger told Bishop that Kennedy was eager to read his book. It struck Bishop as odd that he should be so insistent on seeing the manuscript but promised to rush it to the White House.

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  • Allan Richardson

    If he had signed DOMA they certainly would have!

  • dtgraham

    I think everyone is aware by now that the Great Society and the Civil Rights Act were JFK initiatives that were in the works at the time of his death. Not sure about the Voting Rights Act but it may have also been on his mind, and he surely would have moved on it by 1965, whether it was or wasn’t. Lyndon Johnson was in complete philosophical agreement and pushed through JFK’s legacy, to his enormous credit.

    That decade was the absolute zenith of American progressivism. When I think of the 1960’s I think of the peace movement, the counter-culture, hippies, love-ins, bed-ins, make love not war, feminism, Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights, the war on poverty, and on and on. It was a simply remarkable time, without precedent, in terms of social upheaval, led and promoted by such influential and charismatic leaders as MLK, Malcolm X, JFK and RFK.

    It should have continued, but too many leaders of the movement were killed before lasting and permanent structural changes to the culture could take effect. I’ve likened the 1960’s as a decade that gave birth to something great, but died early, leaving an orphan that couldn’t survive. The pivotal year, when it would all begin to unravel, was 1968. Nixon, instead of RFK, became President and the Southern Strategy would arise during his tenure along with the Christian political right. It was the beginning of the America that was to come.

    Now imagine Bobby Kennedy in the Oval Office, meeting with great African-American leaders like Martin Luther King to discuss ways to do all of the right things on issues like race and poverty, not to mention ending Vietnam and curbing excessive militarism. These were issues that were also near and dear to Kennedy’s heart and he would hardly have had to be talked into it. Imagine if that had gone on until into the late 1970’s. I suspect America would be a very different place today.

    • browninghipower

      I don’t think the American Progressive Movement has ever survived the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcom X. .. ever… We’ve been neutered, scared, bought off, silenced, bullied, beat by an organized, well-funded, patient, ruthless, right wing fascist, religious operation that has stopped at nothing to take control of America by any means and attempt to utterly destroy any and all strengths and legacies of the Progressive Movement. And we allowed it. We allow it still. They kill doctors; they attack women; they kill black children; they proudly proclaim their hatred for anyone not White Male/Christian; they threaten with violence; they have brought back a police state with a vengeance and a violence I haven’t seen since the 60s. And we have until recently sat quietly with heads bowed. And we’re still to fucking compliant. The wealthy Progressives still will not sully their hands with real investment in Media; they will not help us fight back in any meaningful way. I don’t know where it’s all going. I used to have faith in the Pendulum Theory of History, but I’m no longer so confident. If America does ever regain any domestic balance and sanity, I don’t know when it will happen. I fear for my children.Happy Sunday.

      • dtgraham

        Ouch! That hurt to read. What got me thinking about all of this was such an interesting question and premise that Bill Maher put to Martin Short one night on Real Time. No need to go into it but it got me thinking about the historical fork in the road that American politics took and how the nation arrived here.

        The Republicans have played a long game and have done this at a micro level, slowly working their way outwards. Very well funded groups have worked to ensure that the local dog catcher is a Republican in certain states, although they seem to have focused on the judiciary at every level. They’ve got the electoral districts so rigged in so many of the states now that they’re likely to control the federal Congress for a long time. I understand that there’s a lot of loose talk from them of changing the rules in these states to elect a President by the number of congressional districts he/she has captured, instead of the popular vote. If that happens it’s game over, especially when you consider there’s also some talk of having State legislatures simply appoint a Senator instead of the voters deciding.

        The problems are three pronged as I see it:
        i) Citizens United opening up ‘corporations are people’ and unlimited money in elections.
        ii) The party in power at the State level running the elections, making the rules, and setting the districts.
        iii) The gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which now exacerbates nbr. ii).

        Those are fairly intractable problems and I share your concern about the pendulum swinging back any time soon.