Afterwards, Alford says she was “deeply embarrassed,” and as she climbed out of the pool she “could hear Dave speak in as stern a tone as I ever heard him use with his boss. ‘You shouldn’t have made her do that,’ Dave said. ‘I know, I know,’ I heard the President say. Later, a chastened President Kennedy apologized to us both.” Alford believes that Kennedy showed “his darker side … when we were among men he knew. That’s when he felt a need to display his power over me.” Kennedy didn’t just have a thing for Social Register girls; he had a thing for humiliating Social Register girls. He also had a thing for humiliating his fellow Irishman, Dave Powers.
Maybe Kennedy wasn’t this much of a creep all that much (though Alford also tells of him once forcing her to take an amyl nitrite “popper” in Bing Crosby’s living room). But the poolside ritual of humiliation is not easy to reconcile with any kind of worldly tolerance for Kennedy’s peccadilloes. Perhaps the fairest conclusion to make is that Kennedy did some good things in his public life (and also some bad), but that he was capable of monstrous cruelty that’s hard to forgive and also hard to equate even with that of successors like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon (or with any in his less polished younger brother Ted, whose own private life had plenty of dark moments but whose public accomplishment ultimately outshone JFK’s). Clinton shared many vices with President Kennedy, but I can’t imagine him ever doing anything like this. I don’t usually say this about scandal stories, but Alford’s tale ought to occasion further reassessment of a president we already knew to be morally compromised.