Watching the recent government shutdown debate, I tried to imagine how Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs disaster—the invasion of Cuba with a small surrogate army in April 1961—might have played out in today’s Benghazi climate. How long would it be before a national chorus of critics arose, demanding his impeachment? Can you imagine the wall-to-wall, channel-to-channel, blog-to-blog tsunami during the 12 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962? That’s when Kennedy had arguably his finest hour as commander in chief, cooling off potentially catastrophic war fever with imaginative diplomacy.
Also in October 1962, Kennedy sent U.S. troops to Oxford, Miss., to ensure that James Meredith could enroll as the first black student at the University of Mississippi. The troops were met by violent and jeering crowds, but coverage of the riot was largely confined to the evening news and daily newspapers. Now the campus would be surrounded by satellite-television trucks, sending out nonstop commentary and speculation as long lines of officeholders and activists stood by, eager to have their say.
The virtual town square has been wired and expanded—but the question remains whether more voices make for a healthier political climate.