Tags: Thurston Clarke | JFK | LBJ | compartment

Thurston Clarke Makes the Case for JFK's Greatness

By    |   Tuesday, 26 November 2013 12:13 PM

Historian Thurston Clarke appeared recently at the legendary Washington, D.C., bookstore Politics & Prose to present his book "The Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President."

This article will discuss Clarke's thesis, a critique of this thesis and his remarkable theory that JFK intended to drop LBJ on the ticket in 1964.

Clarke explained that he based his project on an appreciation for JFK's elusiveness, passion for secrecy and penchant for compartmentalizing friends and aspects of his life.

He quoted JFK speechwriter Ted Sorenson as saying that no one saw the whole picture of JFK.

Therefore, Clarke said, he decided that if JFK's life was compartmentalized, he would have to examine all of the compartments. As he developed his argument, Clarke documented a politician whose philosophy and leadership style were constantly evolving and who was virtually obsessed with how his administration would be judged by history.

Clarke found that JFK had adopted a much bolder liberal course, including a program of cooperation with the Soviet Union in quest of arms control and a joint mission to space, and a commitment to move aggressively to enact civil rights legislation.

I would offer a more cynical and contrarian view that is informed by later experience with a series of presidents who managed to achieve the office with a minimum of preparation and who would lead the nation in a series of "great leaps forward" in a fruitless, even destructive, quest for personal glory. President Obama and his Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act is merely the latest example of this.

Near the end of his remarks, Clarke presented in tick-tock fashion evidence that in the days before his assassination, JFK was laying the groundwork to dump LBJ from the ticket.

The most persuasive pieces of evidence were notes from JFK's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who Clarke suggested was not the ditzy lady who is often portrayed, but someone who had graduated from George Washington University at a time when it was unusual for women to earn a college degree, and who had attended law school for two years, which was more than JFK had done; the fact that LBJ was not invited to the first planning session for the 1964 campaign; and a statement by Jackie Kennedy to historian Arthur Schlesinger that JFK was "terrified" at the prospect that LBJ might one day become president.

Clarke refrained from taking the next logical step and opining that perhaps LBJ decided to launch a preemptive strike. In waxing eloquent about the standing Kennedy has achieved as one of the greatest presidents, Clarke neglected to mention that JFK was going to Dallas because his administration was floundering. Chillingly, Clarke referred to JFK having asked whether Lincoln would have been considered such a great president if he hadn't been assassinated.

This is not to give undue credence to any theory as to who killed JFK, but over the years the public has struggled with the Warren Commission report. I discarded it from the outset, because its stated purpose was to allay the suspicions of the public.

In a poll taken many years ago, there was a conspicuous division between those who believed there was a conspiracy and those who thought one man had acted alone. Interestingly, 2 percent of respondents thought LBJ had done it, and 2 percent didn't realize JFK had been president.

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Historian Thurston Clarke appeared recently at the legendary Washington, D.C., bookstore Politics Prose to present his book The Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President.
Thurston Clarke,JFK,LBJ,compartment
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 12:13 PM
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