Twice now I’ve heard Ted Cruz on the telly try to insinuate himself into the aura of John Kennedy’s legacy. Once in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts and once in neighboring New Hampshire---New England of all places! —he’s quoted JFK as though they were ideological mind mates and he even tried to imitate Jack’s accent with actor-wannabe failure. More preposterous, he claims Kennedy would be a conservative Republican if he were alive now. Really? Can you picture two politicians more polar and unlike in every way?
Not a fair question, I realize. Most of you probably were not even of voting age when JFK was with us. I was. And I met him. Once. Our encounter was less than five minutes in length, but long enough for me to recognize the walking embodiment of charisma. It was May 1960. JFK, then a Senator from Massachusetts, was campaigning for the presidency; I was a graduate student in UCLA’s School of Journalism and assigned by my editor at the department laboratory paper, the California Sun, to interview him. (I had fewer than five interviews under my belt, none of them great successes.)
Kennedy arrived in mid-afternoon at old Kerckhoff Hall (long since gone) and stepped out of his limo with a faint and guarded smile. I was there among 10 or so students to meet him, steno pad and Lindy pen in hand.
His savvy eyes settled on me, expectant. “Senator, what do you think of the U-2 incident?” I asked, referring to the hot story of the month, in which Francis Gary Powers’ spy plane had been shot down over Russia, and Khrushchev had scuttled a summit in Paris with Ike. About as dumb an opening question as I could have come up with.
“What do you think?” he shot back with the hint of an engaging smile.
“Well I would...” and I blabbed on how I feared we were courting a nuclear war for the five minutes it took us to reach Royce Hall, where he was to speak. He nodded goodbye. I looked at my pad. Nada. I had blown the assignment. I walked away wondering what explanation I would give my editor for my total failure. (Later I was told that Kennedy mentioned student concern over the U-2 incident in his address.)
On the positive side, I had a new hero, not to mention heartbreak not far off.
When I think on it now, at 83, part of me—the optimistic part of me—died on November 22, 1963, when I was thirty. The sense of loss still painfully remains of what might have been. It’s been a race to catch-up with hope ever since. Which explains why I react with anger to a far right-wing Cuban-Canadian Baptist Narcissist from Texas pretending to have an affinity with my hero, who was Cruz’s opposite in virtually every way.
I can’t refute Cruz in a column this size, so I will dig deeper into his nonsense here next week, when I have the space and time. In the interim, what better way to counter Cruz’s crazy claim than have JFK speak for himself?
This is excerpted from his memorable defining speech of September 14, 1960:
“What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label ‘Liberal?’ If by ‘Liberal’ they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of liberal. But if by a ‘liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties—someone who can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘liberal,’ then I am proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal’....
“I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or a set of fixed platform promises as an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood all human life deserves.
“I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and so creative and so free and so responsible, that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate.... But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a special obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends, but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.”
You sign on to all that, Ted?
(To be continued in the next blog entry.)