A New Generation
John F. Kennedy and a New Generation, by David Burner, discuss his presidency with regards to his youth, style and courage, as opposed to his actual achievements. Many people feel that Kennedy’s term was full if image boosting events and lacked substance and outstanding accomplishments. Kennedy appealed to the public with his style and looks. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, appealed to certain groups which formed the solid support of the family’s power. Many groups, such as Jews, blacks, blue-collar democrats, Hispanics, and Asians supported him because he “represents a partial fulfillment of a national promise that Americans even of recent immigrant background might reach for wealth, homes, education for their children, or an ideal of justice” (Burner 1). Like Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fireside chats, JFK made the voters responsive to the “air of easy confidence” he portrayed (Burner 48).
In 1960, Kennedy ran for the presidency with Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, against Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The debates between Nixon and Kennedy were televised. Burner believes that “Nixon’s biggest error turned out to be agreeing to this series of four debates” (Burner 53). Nixon appeared dull and unattractive, while Kennedy performed with maturity and style. He pledged to “get the country moving again” with his New Frontier policy (Kennedy et al 597). Kennedy won by a narrow margin and became the youngest president elected to office, as well as the first Roman Catholic accomplishments was the formation of the Peace Corps, which sent young American volunteers abroad to help less developed nations raise their standard of living. This organization did more than combat the Cold War, it created nations. Although this
was an important organization, many feel that it was created to maintain the support of the younger American and to add to his image as a people pleaser.
The space programs were another successful accomplishment ok JFK. Unlike Eisenhower who was “unworried about the missile race with the Russians,” JFK promoted a multi billion dollar project to land a man on the moon (Burner 38). In response to the launching of Sputnick, many Americans feared Russian superiority. They began to reflect on American systems, and believed that they were inadequate to train scientists and technicians. The students lacked and “appetite for achievement” (burner 43). JFK satisfied the people in 1969, when two American astronauts tackled the task and waled on the moon.
The Civil Rights movement has been an opening for years. President Eisenhower dealt with an issue in Little Rock, Arkansas, which required federal troops to address a segregation in schools. Yet, Burner believes that Kennedy’s civil rights had a “tone which was superior to that of the Eisenhower years” (Burner 126). Kennedy supported blacks to earn their votes. He supported the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit in, and the desegregation of the Coast Guard Academy. Also, when Martin Luther King got arrested, JFK called his wife, Coretta, to show his concern. It is believed that this was done for support during his campaign and to help the civil rights issue.
Kennedy did not take a firm stand on the civil rights issue. He needed the support of the African-American’s votes, but he also knew that the votes of the white southerners was just as important. He spent over “two years in the White House before proposing any civil
rights legislation” (Burner 115). Again, we see an example of Kennedy trying to make everyone happy, rather than doing what is needed to be done. The administration tried to solve this crisis by creating two Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, which weak and accomplished little. Kennedy did not want to make his view clear because he feared the results would be a loss in some of his little support.
John F. Kennedy’s handling of foreign policy was of little substance. The Bay of Pigs ordeal was handed down to him from Eisenhower. Kennedy has been assured by CIA agents that the American forces that had been training to invade Cuba could bring down Communist Cuban President Fidel Castro down from power. He had doubts on this issue, which he did not express, but agreed to go through with it. The invasion on April 17, 1961 was based on the idea that “because communism was totalitarian, the people who lived under it yearned for freedom and would revolt at the first opportunity” (Burner 72). This was not the case, which shows that if Kennedy had more substance, he would have expressed his doubts and thought more about his options. The abrupt failure of the invasion at the Bay of Pigs inn personal embarrassment for president.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was another one of Kennedy’s stylish foreign affairs. Soviet Khrushchev placed missiles on Cuba that were aimed at U.S. JFK devised the Executive Committee, which advised him. Obviously, he was unsure of himself and his decision. He threatened the Soviets with the result of WWII if they attacked the U.S. missiles were drawn, and JFK promised that the U.S. would never invade Cuba. He feared appearing weak, consequently risking war, and strongly so quickly.
I believed from reading the book, that JFK’s only major accomplishments were the Peace Corps and the space program, with his foreign issues full of flaws and mistakes. From my understanding his looks and elegance, with the aid of the television, sold himself to the public. He enlightened the people with his image, and I believe he changed the stereotype of a president, but he did not create much change in the United States. This book helped me understand better John F. Kennedy’s relations ships with other political representatives.