I attended the Kennedy Legacy Dinner held last month by the Ventura County Democratic Party. Prominent Democrats were there such as former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, Westlake Village; State Sens. Fran Pavley, Agoura Hills; and Hannah-Beth Jackson, Santa Barbara; State Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, Thousand Oaks; environmentalists Tom Steyer and RL Miller; and California Democratic Party Vice Chair Eric Bauman.
Awards were presented to noble citizens who work to make America a better place for everyone, not merely the top 1 percent. They keep Kennedy’s legacy alive.
Kennedy’s legacy is chiefly in civil rights. He saw that many Americans were in the Middle Ages socially and economically, exacerbated by racial injustice. He proposed voting-rights and civil-rights bills and programs to provide healthcare to the elderly and the poor. These became law only after his lifetime due to conservatives’ obstruction. There are many theories why he was assassinated, but Republican hatred is at the bottom of almost all.
Kennedy’s vision put a man on the moon, and his legacy includes the space program and its spin-offs. Things we take for granted go right back to JFK: satellite communication, cell phones, GPS, solar panels, artificial limbs, water purification, freeze drying, disposable diapers, invisible braces, CAT scans, LEDs, to name only a few. Today, ravaged by Republican trickle-down economics and conservatives’ science denial (even as they use their cell phones), America is a timid, frightened nation, bereft of vision. Despite nonsense about American “exceptionalism,” NASA has become a shadow of its former self.
Implicit in Kennedy’s legacy is the New Deal’s bedrock assumption that concerted action improves the common good. This common-sense idea goes back to the Romans, with their roads, aqueducts and forums, yet America needs to be constantly reminded of it. Famously, he told Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Under Kennedy, the average citizen had some say in government. There was a contagious optimism, in strong contrast to the cynicism brought in by Nixon Republicans. Today, it is assumed that only the very wealthy, who can buy access to politicians, have any say in public affairs. They have rigged the game to suit themselves, relentlessly, by degrees, ever since Ronald Reagan’s time.
Kennedy set up the Peace Corps and left a legacy of hope. Note especially that the American Dream was still alive and well. Economic success was open to everyone, not merely the top 1 percent. Young people really could put themselves through college without being crippled with debt. The working class really could make it to the middle class. Succeeding Republicans destroyed the American Dream, with smiles on their faces but malice aforethought in their hearts, purely to enrich those at the very top. They took America back to the inequality of the Gilded Age.
Kennedy’s intelligence and calmness avoided a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The military wanted to bomb the missile sites the Soviets were installing in Cuba. He ignored them. We are still alive. Let that sink in for a moment. In his place, Donald Trump would have ended life on this planet. Eyes popped out at his first daily briefing when he asked why we could not use nuclear weapons in Syria.
Kennedy did not hesitate to threaten force when justified. The Soviets threatened to occupy West Berlin in 1961. He promised a military response. They backed down. Kennedy fought in World War II. Trump dodged the draft, claiming that a tiny pimple on his toe rendered him unfit.
President Obama rekindled Kennedy’s legacy of hope, and that is why conservatives hate him. Wisely, he avoids open cars. Remember that he took office when the global economy was collapsing and we were losing 800,000 jobs a month during the Great Recession. He devised an economic stimulus package and squeaked it through the Senate with the help of moderate Republicans (a dying breed).
Although the stimulus was small — economists wanted double — it was a success and produced a recovery, slow at first but then gathering momentum. Unemployment today is at a record low. Note, however, that no temporary stimulus or central bank intervention could cure the deep structural problems in the American economy ravaged by 35 years of Reaganomics. Republican propaganda, spread by our brainless media, left Americans believing that the stimulus was a failure.
Obama’s legacy is also the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare was a conservative idea, proposed by the Heritage Foundation and first signed into law by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Health insurance coverage — and profits — are at record levels, yet Republicans have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to hate it. Go figure.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Stupidity is not a handicap in politics.” He could well have said, “Stupidity is an advantage in American politics.” Sadly, we do not have John Kennedy to prove him wrong.