A beautiful mediocrity

But Kennedy had a gift for spinning gold out of goof-ups.

John Kennedy looms large in the American imagination, but not for anything he accomplished in office. He was a handsome and vivacious man whose ascendancy coincided with that of television, a politician who was one part royal, one part movie star. That Americans found his celebrity and his pretensions to aristocracy appealing is beyond argument; however, it does not speak well of our political culture. But as created personas go, JFK was a doozy: He won the Pulitzer Prize for a book largely written by somebody else; his reputation as an intellectual was largely the creation of Arthur Schlesinger; and his family was figuratively and perhaps literally in bed with Joe McCarthy (who dated two of the Kennedy women), but the stigma of McCarthyism has never attached itself to his name. His pathological sexual appetites gave him the reputation of a charming rogue, when the truth is that he was closer to a mid-century Anthony Weiner. He was a veteran with an admirable military record, an unexceptional and difference-splitting senator with an Irish name: But for his celebrity, he would have been John McCain or John Kerry.

Kennedy did not transform the country, but he did transform the presidency – largely for the worse.