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“Cruz Wants The Mantle Of Camelot”: Why Do Conservatives Keep Talking About John F. Kennedy?

A day before Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas got an earful of Bronx jeers for his rightwing views on immigration and “New York values,” he summoned up the ghost of liberal icon John F. Kennedy to signal that his was a lofty, aspirational campaign not unlike one mounted by the youthful candidate for president way back in 1960.

“The American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack,” Cruz said, quoting JFK during his acceptance speech in Wisconsin, where he had trounced his main primary rival, front-runner Donald Trump. “We are not here to curse the darkness but to light a candle that can guide us from darkness to a safe and sane future.”

Cruz, who has slowed the potty-mouthed Trump’s momentum towards the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland this summer, has pulled out other high minded phrases from the fallen crown prince of Camelot (and also from Winston Churchill) while on the stump.

In Massachusetts, the nation’s bluest state, he contended that Kennedy was “one of the most powerful and eloquent defenders of tax cuts.” He even contended: “JFK would be a Republican today. There is no room for John F. Kennedy in the modern Democratic Party.”

Unremarkably, Cruz’s commentary elicited angry blowback from Democrats, notably Jack Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK’s Grandson, who labeled the senator’s rhetoric “absurd” in an article for Politico Magazine in January. Schlossberg also denied Cruz’s assertion that Kennedy, who would be 98 years old if he were alive today, supported limited government.

“(Kennedy) created new federal programs with ambitious goals, such as the Peace Corps,” Schlossberg wrote from Tokyo. “He did not spend his years in the House and Senate devoted to obstructing the opposition. He certainly did not lead an effort, as Cruz did, to shut down the federal government to score political points and deny health insurance to millions.”

Cruz, of course, is hardly the first Republican to invoke JFK’s name, image and age on the campaign trail. As noted by many a political junkie, Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, George H.W. Bush’s pick for vice president in 1988, spoke of Kennedy when defending his inexperience during a debate with Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentson, his much older Democratic counterpart and running mate of unsuccessful presidential hopeful Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Bentson famously put down Quayle with scathing disdain: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”

These days, Michael R. Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York since 1988, which was founded in 1962 with support from conservative icon William F. Buckley, doesn’t believe that Cruz’s praise of JFK is a deviation from conservative orthodoxy. “There’s no problem with Cruz (invoking) JFK,” he told The National Memo in a telephone conversation. “Reagan invoked JFK on tax cuts,” added Long, who also noted that Kennedy’s legacy crosses party lines: “He was an inspirational person who brought a lot of hope to a lot of Americans. Probably some conservatives voted for him because of his love of America.”

It appears that Cruz’s use of Democratic imagery is his attempt to sell what is otherwise a far-right candidacy to voters from both parties as well as independents. Last summer, Cruz told PBS host Tavis Smiley that his campaign was “modeled” after President Obama’s successful 2008 primary campaign with its emphasis on social media. Others don’t quite agree with that assessment

“While Cruz may hope to attract Democratic votes, I can’t think that’s his primary motivation,” said David Birdsell, Ph.D., Dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs in an email to this reporter. “Kennedy was known as a great speaker, Cruz fancies himself a great speaker too. Kennedy was the youngest person elected to the presidency, Cruz is only two years older than Kennedy was. Cruz wants the mantle of Camelot, but the garment doesn’t fit well and he suffers in the comparison.”

Birdsell, who believes Canada’s Justin Trudeau is far more “genuinely Kennedy-esque” than Cruz or Quayle, does regard the Texas senator as a political pro who has recognized the quality of Obama’s field operation. “He obviously loathes Obama but has the perspicacity to know there was something to learn from his campaign. That reflects well on Cruz, and the quality of his own field operation is the single most important reason he’s in second place. Lesson learned.”

Cruz, however, hit a roadblock in the Bronx this week for his hardline views on immigration and had to cancel a meeting at a charter school after students threatened a walkout. State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., a conservative Democrat who is also a pastor at a Bronx pentacostal church, hosted a sparsely attended event for him at Chinese-Dominican restaurant in Parkchester that also drew a few shouting local protestors.

Diaz, whose more liberal son Ruben Diaz, Jr. is the Bronx borough president and labels Cruz a hypocrite, said that he may also “do something” in the Bronx for Donald Trump, whose views are similarly loathed by many in the hispanic community.

“We’ve got to do something about the 12 million undocumented immigrants,” said the elder Diaz. “I want to build a wall to make America great again,” he added with a laugh, echoing Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, has put himself in the same league as Ronald Reagan on the issues, while his admirers have invoked Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson to describe his bellicose bloviating.

As for Trump’s purported allegiance to Reagan’s policies, Michael Long of the Conservative Party dismisses that notion. “He doesn’t come close to Ronald Reagan. He’s more like a populist candidate. Trump has brought a different style to this campaign that’s different from anything I’ve witnessed in my entire life.”


By: Mary Reinholz, The National Memo, April 11, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, John F. Kennedy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Lessons Of November 1963”: People Come And Go, Strong Institutions Endure

Most of us who were alive 51 years ago remember exactly what we were doing the moment we heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. That day in Dallas significantly changed my perspective on the presidency and American institutions.

I had just returned to my desk at the then-U.S. Civil Service Commission when I noticed that Shirley, our office secretary, was crying. She told me why. Nothing could have prepared us for that weekend in November 1963.

How do you get your head around the news that the president of the United States has been assassinated? Killed in broad daylight on a Dallas street. A president we looked up to, the titular head of an almost mystical family who was leading us into a New Frontier. Gone. Without any warning, gone.

That afternoon, sitting in front of a TV screen and holding my firstborn, 18-month-old Rob, I joined the rest of the nation and cried. It was the first of many tear-filled moments that stretched over several days.

The scenes, the heart-wrenching scenes: the night arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, the funeral procession to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

That period of mourning was interrupted by a shocking scene in the basement of the Dallas police station: the entire nation an eyewitness to Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby.

More had happened, however, than I realized at the time.

The assassination changed expectations.

The dynamism and beauty that had come to be called the New Frontier ended. John F. Kennedy died in Dallas. But the American presidency did not die with him. The president’s heart stopped, but the nation’s never missed a beat.

At 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, the 35th president of the United States was assassinated. At 2:38 p.m. CST, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States, an oath of office administered by a federal judge under the authority of the Constitution.

U.S. armed forces worldwide continued their daily troop counts, assembled in units of varying sizes, policed their surroundings, cleaned weapons and trained. The Army’s day continued to end with “Taps.”

The lights stayed on at the Capitol.

Government carried on.

That was the lesson of five decades ago: People — revered and reviled, weak and powerful — come and go. Strong institutions endure.

America remained on course in the midst of that tragedy at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.

Nov. 22, 1963, teaches us that no political figure is indispensable in this country. No one person carries the nation. And it was no time for partisan politics.

That lesson needs to be borne in mind today.

What kept us on course in ’63 was respect for law and a reliance on a regular order that requires abiding by established rules and procedures, starting with the Constitution.

If ever there were a time when political encroachment or power grabs by the opposition could have developed, it was following the sudden death of a president. That did not happen.

In retrospect, we witnessed the fulfillment of George Washington’s wish for America during that sorrow-filled weekend 51 years ago. The country remained on a path which “gain[ed] time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.”

And today? What of today’s capital? “Government shutdown,” “legacy of lawlessness,” “obstructionism,” “gridlock,” “impeachment”?

W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” comes to mind:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; . . .

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, November 22, 2014

November 23, 2014 Posted by | American History, Federal Government, John F. Kennedy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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