In reality, when asked, Americans generally have two answers: (1) he was an heroic PT boat captain in World War II (who managed to get his vessel sunk), and (2) he was assassinated.
(Okay, he said something memorable in his inauguration speech.)
And that's about it.
(Yes, the economy expanded admirably in the early 60's but he had little to nothing to do with that phenomenon.)
So it's kind of heartwarming to see history being revised. To make it accurate. Finally.
Thomas E. Ricks, writing in Foreign Policy magazine:
Was John F. Kennedy the flat-out absolute worst U.S. president of the 20th century?Presidential polls weren't then what they are today. But it can be noted that Kennedy's popularity soared after he was killed. And that popularity even carried over to his successor - Lyndon Johnson - who was far more leftist than were the American people but who had ... walked with JFK. Until Vietnam became too much for everyone to stomach and he left the White House in disgrace.
As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.
Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam.
I think his track record kind of makes even old Herbert Hoover look good. [link]
And then, of course, there were the books written - long after Kennedy's body was lain to rest - by his close friends - about the man's bigger-than-life life.
Does all this make John F. Kennedy a bad president? Hard to say. But the case can be made (and is - see above).
This much is fact: There is no good reason - assassination doesn't count - to consider him one of the great ones.
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* The header comes from the title to a book I read many years ago about George Washington: The Man In The White Marble Toga.
** I'd put the general consensus that Bill Clinton, as president, was a political genius in this category too. Clinton, after all, is the genius whose only real legislative accomplishments when in office were both Republican initiatives - welfare reform and a balanced budget. And, being the political genius that he was, managed - through his own efforts - to lose majorities in both the Senate and the House to the GOP (a feat not accomplished by any Republican president in the previous forty years), and to be impeached for being less than a genius when it came to how he treated his young, female employees. Such the genius. Just exactly what a president would have to do to be considered a political doofus is unclear considering.