Historian Paul Johnson wrote this about the President: “. . . the media did everything in its power to build up and sustain the beatific myth of [the President] . . . the media protected him, suppressed what it knew to be the truth about him, and if necessary lied about him, on a scale which it had never done even for Franklin Roosevelt.”
Johnson looked back at the President’s political history, beginning with his college years. He revealed the fabrication of the President’s curriculum vitae. He asserted that his college thesis was actually written by several people. Years later, both of the President’s books were written by uncredited ghost writers, and people who suggested that this was the case were threatened with lawsuits. The President’s first book became a best seller only because thousands of copies were purchased by “friends,” usually never read, and then hidden in some secret location.
Johnson wrote that after a decade of living in relative obscurity, the President decided to run for the U.S. Senate. By any standards, it was an ugly campaign that used innuendo to destroy his opponent and lots of cash to buy votes and endorsements. The editor of a major state newspaper was given a “loan” of a half-million dollars to guarantee his support. Johnson wrote, “[The President] certainly knew about that one, and . . . later admitted, ‘You know, we had to buy that paper or I’d have been licked.’”
After winning the Senate seat, the President, with the help of advisors, began to reinvent himself. Johnson wrote that a new personality began to emerge, “calculated to appeal to liberals, intellectuals, ‘civilized people.’” One writer was hired to write a book about him. Ghost writers began to pen articles with the President’s name on them and submit them to various magazines, journals, and law reviews. Johnson wrote, “The willingness, then and later, of intellectuals and academics of high repute to participate in the promotion of [the President] is worth noting. Self-deception can only go so far: some of them must have known they were involved in one of the biggest frauds in American political history. As one of his biographers puts it, ‘No national figure has so consistently and unashamedly used others to manufacture a personal reputation as a great thinker and scholar.’”
If the President had truly been a man of great ideas, he would have quickly distinguished himself as a leader in the Senate. But he had bigger fish to fry, and the daily tedium of a building a resume as a senator held little appeal for him. Instead, his goal was the White House, and he was anxious to get there. Johnson wrote, “By the time [the President] was in the race for the Democratic nomination, then the White House, he was–or rather his people were–developing certain themes, especially the stress on youth, glamour . . . and sophistication, including an apparent intellectual elegance.” These themes, and tons of “spread-around” money from mysterious sources, paid huge dividends. The older senator running against him for the nomination fought valiantly, but, in the end, could not overcome the dashing, young opponent.
In the race for the White House, again the President faced an older, seasoned candidate. Physically, there was no contest. The youthful Democrat, who often was photographed playing his favorite sport, looked lean and fit, while his Republican opponent struggled with physical problems that were obvious to the electorate.
And when the President was faced with a religious issue that could have derailed his campaign, the press circled the wagons and dismissed the controversy as a “distraction.” Johnson wrote, “The shift in power in the media . . . enormously helped [the President], and his team reinforced their advantage by assiduous courting of media personalities and by making (him) available for TV on all occasions . . .” One veteran journalist who covered the campaign said that being transferred from the Republican campaign to the Democrat campaign “was as if one were transformed from leper and outcast to friend and battle companion.”
We know, of course, that the President won the election. But immediately there were many accusations of voter fraud. Johnson wrote, “In Illinois, (the Republican) carried 93 of the state’s 102 counties, yet lost the state by 8,858 votes. This was entirely due to an enormous Democrat turnout in Chicago, under the control of the notorious Democratic city boss and mayor . . .” Amazingly, the President’s margin in Chicago was 450,000 votes. Johnson concluded, “[T]he evidence was overwhelming that fraud was committed on a large scale . . .” The fraud was so obvious that even the two-term lame duck Republican president urged his defeated comrade to legally challenge the results. But his friend did not want to create a “constitutional nightmare” and so simply accepted the results.
What can be learned from this? Primarily, that history often repeats itself. For this short history is about John F. Kennedy. I know. Many of you were thinking about the current President. I apologize for leading you in that direction, but you have to admit that the similarities are striking. Striking and disturbing. In the words of Sonny and Cher, “The beat goes on.”