Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Appeal and the Abuse

Of power, that is.  Some things never change.

I've held off commenting on the revelations via book and book tour of Mimi Alford, the then 19-year old White House intern who had an affair with JFK while he was president.  Although, from what I've seen and read, I wouldn't exactly describe their relationship as an affair.  According to her, they never kissed.  For him, she was a very young, pretty, adoring, vulnerable, and easily available sexual release.  For her, he was an older, experienced, handsome, and very powerful man.  If the potential for mutual attraction in that sounds like the stuff of a fairly familiar story, it's because it is.  And in John Kennedy's case, as we have come to know, the story is almost tediously familiar.

I grew up admiring JFK along with just about everyone else because we were supposed to, right?  But as I came of age, I noticed that neither my mother nor my father shared in the general public adulation.  And they weren't right-wing Kennedy haters either.  In fact, neither ever showed much interest in politics at all.  It's just that they weren't into hero worship.  In my mother's case, it came mostly from her Christian faith, "All have sinned...."  My father, on the other hand, was just a natural cynic.

Anyway, as a teenager I once asked my dad what he thought of the Kennedy presidency and he just shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn't say because he wasn't the president long enough to make a serious judgment.  (Historians could learn an important thing or two from that.)

But JFK is the less interesting part of this story.  Why, fifty tears after the fact, is Ms. Alford telling us all of this now?

Is she trying to make a buck?  Is she starved for attention?  Is she trying to atone?  Settle scores?  If so, with whom?

I'm afraid none of these reasons are good enough for me.  What about her own family, aren't some things best kept to yourself?

Truly we live in a tawdry age.    


  1. Sage, I would say this in Ms. Alford's defense -- she was outed in 2003 by Robert Dallek in his "JFK: An Unfinished Life", and then by the 'NY Daily News' who identified her by name and filled in some of the details. In that sense, her family was exposed to this story without her consent, or certainly without any intent to profit on her part.

    I can understand trying to tell your version of the story both for her family but also for the entire nation. I'm glad she did it -- this was a reckless President who slept with an East German spy and a Mafia moll, along with this teenager and countless prostitutes. This President was out of control, and represented a national security risk. It's apparent that JFK enjoyed exercising a certain amount cruelty and humiliation that came with his power; i.e., asking a teenager to engage in oral sex with a White House aide while he watched. By telling this story Alford did a service to the nation and to history, since the Kennedys have been manipulating history for 50 years, and it has had a terrible impact on our country and its politics. The guy was a zero when it came to character, and despite the desperate arguments of Clinton and Kennedy supporters, character in the presidency matters. Thankfully, this story is now on the record, and hopefully it will help put Kennedy in his proper place.

  2. Please don't mistake my comments for in any sense a defense of JFK. (I know you don't.) His behavior was, well, indefensible, despite the best and continuing efforts of the uncountable Kennedy apologists in both academe and the media. (Listen to Chris Matthews, for example)

    It's just that by now the record of his behavior in this respect is both well known and beyond dispute. So, I wonder, what's the point?

    It is true that she puts a very human face on the story, and, with the always accompanying photos, a very young girl's face in fact. I'll concede that as she's still alive to make her confession does serve to make the record more true because it's more real and less abstract, no longer mere words in mostly unread history books and biographies. And because he was the President of the most important country on earth and not just some run of the mill rich and powerful man, I suppose that's important.

    Still, I can't imagine myself coming clean in the same way. To my family and friends because someone else had already spilled the beans, perhaps. But to the country, to the world? I dunno?

  3. I understand your point.

    This story really resonated with me, perhaps because for a time I was a minor cog in the Kennedy myth-making machine. The story has yet to be told of the massive manipulation of history by the Kennedy family allied with progressive historians and their amen choir in the media. To see Doris Kearns Goodwin and Chris Matthews talking about this last week almost made me ill. Perhaps this will be my next book. FYI: if this book is published, I will be requesting asylum in the Sage's fortified bunker.

  4. You, and your family, are always welcome. We can use help jerking meat and canning and digging that cement pond.