Bill Maher suggests in the above video that JFK was a "cooler" President than Ronald Reagan. He cannot seem to manage this without coarse disparagement of Sarah Palin.
What is Maher missing in his JFK / Reagan comparison? Well, almost everything.
First off, he does not seem to have any awareness of the many traits that JFK and Reagan shared. Both were white, heterosexual males of Irish descent. Both were American Presidents and that alone puts them in a very exclusive club. Both were gifted speakers. Both men could look good in a suit and liked to pal around with Frank Sinatra. Both men were accomplished in the nearly lost art of letter-writing. Both men had a sense of humor. Both men had highly unsatisfactory fathers, though JFK's enjoyed more material success. Both began their political lives as New Deal Democrats who worshipped FDR. Both were fervently anti-Communist Cold War warriors. Both cut marginal tax rates thereby stimulating the economy.
Both supported a strong US defense posture. JFK launched the Navy Seals which proved to be pretty cool in 2011 when they got Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Reagan used SDI as a massive bluff which helped to win the Cold War. Genrikh Trofimenko, a high ranking official in the Brezhnev era, declared, "Ninety-nine percent of the Russian people believe that America won the Cold War because of your president's insistence on SDI." Source: Reagan and Thatcher: A Difficult Relationship, Richard Aldous, 2013). That is still pretty cool even today.
Both men made significant and costly mistakes in deploying American military support -- Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba (1961) and Reagan in sending the Marines on shore in Lebanon (1983).
Reagan's blunders with the Iran/Contra scandal nearly destroyed his administration. Kennedy's blunders in his dealings with Khrushchev nearly destroyed the world. The only time the US has ever gone to Def-Con 2 was during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. Afterwards, Che Guevara, of the million T-shirts, told a British journalist that, had the Cubans controlled the missiles on the island, he would have authorized a launch. That would have been totally "uncool".
Both men chose for their running mates Texans who had served honorably in the US Navy during World War II. Both respective VPs were elected to a single term.
There were also differences small and large.
|JFK Plaque, National Museum of the Pacific War|
As Commander-in-chief, JFK escalated our involvement in Vietnam raising the number of U.S. Military advisers from 800 at the time of his inauguration in 1961 to over 16,000 by the time of his assassination in Dallas in 1963. (Source: A Vietnam War Reader, Michael Hunt, 2010). JFK's administration collaborated in the assassination of the Diem brothers who were our allies in South Vietnam. Very Uncool.
Reagan, on the other hand, presided over a period of peace and prosperity. Much cooler.
JFK teed up Vice President Johnson for a catastrophe in Vietnam that would cost over 50,000 American lives. JFK said "we will bear every burden" and we bore many burdens through the 1960s. That was kind of "uncool".
|Ronald Reagan, Grosvenor Square, London|
Reagan teed up his Vice President H.W. Bush for a final, peaceful victory in the cold war. Reagan went to the Berlin Wall and said, "tear down that wall" and the wall came down. The absence of "duck and cover" in our world today remains totally cool.
At the end of the day, Ronald Reagan was a successful President and a much happier man than JFK; the martyred JFK remains to history a well-polished question mark.
Special thanks to Lois Walker for directing me to Maher's video.
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