Posts Tagged ‘JFK’

JFK: The Measure of the Man …

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

The following is a reprint of a column I wrote 10 years ago. I am re-posting it today on the 60th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy because of its significance in my life and because of the times we live in. Would things have been different if Kennedy had lived to continue serving? I have no way of knowing. I’d like to think the answer is yes. Joe Biden is the oldest elected president this country has ever had. Kennedy was the youngest. They share the same dedication to protecting our democracy. I continue to celebrate Kennedy on the birth date I share with him and I honor his memory on the anniversary of the day he was taken from us. A day history was altered forever.

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

 The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.” 
      Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.
     As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.
     That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions. Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, now retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

   “He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t. I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success.

     I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles. Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

     So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud. And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues.

      So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza? Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

     It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

     The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning. For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born. 

A Birthday Tribute to JFK’s Life (cont.)

Monday, May 29th, 2023

(Updated to reflect the passage of time.)

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Ten years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 106th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Six years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “… Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column six years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by five days (May 24). Belated happy 82nd birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at 2F762D3F-A272-4CCA-9C0B-DEA9C6B2D949Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 94th birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

    

Marianne or RFK Jr.? Not over ‘Old Joe’

Thursday, May 4th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. … challenging Joe Biden

Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. … challenging Joe Biden

  Be careful what you wish for, they say. They were on to something.

     A while back, I wrote a column expressing my desire (hope, wish) that the 2024 presidential election not be a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. America needs to move on, I said.

      Trump is a totally incompetent, lying fascist who has seriously damaged American democracy, I said, and Biden is a competent, concerned, experienced public servant, who saved America from four more years of Trump. I still stand by all that.

      But I also noted that Biden would be 82 should he decide to run for president again in 2024, which he has now said he plans to do. That would make him 86 in the last year of his term. America’s oldest president.

        Seeing no relief from the Republican Party save for younger, nouveau fascist versions of Trump (no spring chicken either, he will be 77 next month), I said Democrats needed some new, younger, more vibrant candidates for president. Thanks, Joe, but America needs it, I said.

       I meant maybe an experienced governor or senator or a re-energized version of Vice President Kamala Harris.

       I did not mean Marianne Williamson or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. So far, that’s what we’ve got.

       Yes, both are younger than Biden, but both do qualify for Social Security benefits. Williamson, although she is 70, possesses considerable energy and appeals to a segment of younger voters. They know her on TikTok. An author, she also is not shy about challenging more mainstream Democrats, like Biden, about what she sees as their lack of urgent commitment to progressive goals.

    She has a point. She also has zero chance of winning the Democratic nomination, never mind the presidency.

     Kennedy, 69, is a different matter. His strongest weapon is his family name and history. But RFK Jr. does not stir the masses the way RFK Sr. did and he’s definitely no JFK. Time has also dimmed some of the vote-getting power of the Kennedy name.

     Son of the assassinated New York senator and U.S. attorney general and nephew of the assassinated president, this Kennedy is basing his campaign for the Democratic nomination primarily on the reputation he has gained as the most aggressive, best-known, anti-vaxxer in the country.

    That sounds like a terrific issue for a Republican. In fact, it probably will be. Fortunately for the country, but unfortunately for Kennedy, most Americans do not share his vigorous, scientifically discredited opposition to vaccines.

    Still, some recent polls put Kennedy drawing almost 20 percent among Democrats and Williamson up to 9 percent. While a bit surprising, since neither can be considered a mainstream candidate, that support is not a serious threat to Biden. And some Democratic voters may not know much about Kennedy beyond his lineage. Time will tell.

    Significantly, those same polls also show a solid majority of Democrats saying they would prefer that Biden not run again (too old), but that runs up against the overwhelming sentiment among Democrats (and many independents) that, if Trump is again the Republican presidential candidate (too scary), they would run barefoot over hot coals to vote for Biden again if he’s the Democratic candidate.

     That’s apparently what he’s banking on.  Vote for steady, experienced, moderate, sensible Joe over erratic, clueless, power-hungry, dangerous Trump — or any other Republican promoting fascism. The Biden campaign message is that he will save democracy now for the younger, more energetic Democrats who follow him to improve on a little later. Be patient.

     In certain context, it makes a lot of sense. Like it did in 2020. It’s Yogi Berra’s “deja vu all over again.”

     Such is the unfortunate state of politics in this democratic republic three years shy of its 250th birthday.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

A Birthday Tribute to JFK’s Life (cont.)

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

(Updated to reflect the passage of time.)

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Ten years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 106th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Six years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “… Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column six years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by five days (May 24). Belated happy 82nd birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at 2F762D3F-A272-4CCA-9C0B-DEA9C6B2D949Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 94th birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

    

To Live and Die in America

Monday, April 25th, 2022



 The world in 500 words or less 

By Bob Gaydos

Maybe it’s just me, but…

Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust.” He says he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust.” He says he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

— New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau fined producers of the film, “Rust,” $139,793 — the maximum amount — and issued a stinging criticism of safety failures in connection with the fatal shooting of a cinematographer and wounding of the director during the filming of the movie. Actor/producer Alec Baldwin, who fired the fatal shot, says he was told the gun was safe. He is probably not through with the courts and may rue the day he lost his gig playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

— South Carolina has given the phrase “pick your poison“ a whole new meaning. Unable to procure the drugs to administer lethal injections to Death Row inmates, the state now offers electrocution or firing squad as the available means of meeting your maker. A recent candidate appealed both the sentence and method as cruel and unusual and a court has postponed his date with destiny. There have been only three firing squad executions in the U.S. since 1950, all in the state of Utah. Why is that not surprising?

— The reason South Carolina had to stop using lethal injections for executions is that pharmaceutical companies apparently forbid the sale of their products for that purpose. Wish they showed the same concern for some of their drugs that are killing people who are not on Death Row.

— Prescribing fatal overdoses of fentanyl for 25 seriously ill patients would seem to be taking the doctor-playing-god thing a bit too far. Then again, a jury in Columbus, Ohio, had no problem with it, acquitting Dr. William Husel of murder charges in a trial involving 14 of those deaths. Putting people out of their misery did cost Husel his job when the hospital fired him and 26 other employees who went along with his unorthodox treatment protocol. Why it took several years and so many fentanyl-induced deaths has yet to be answered.

— The judges who selected this year’s winners of the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award got it perfect. Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, was an obvious choice and eminently deserving, but the perfect selection was Rep. Liz Cheney, the only Republican in Congress with the guts, conviction and public name recognition to meaningfully stand up to the Trumpers spreading the stolen election lie and trying to treat the Jan. 6 insurrection as something other than a failed coup attempt. Forcefully defying the powers who can impact your political future takes moral courage, especially for Republicans today. I think JFK would applaud the choice. And, while I don’t share a lot of political views with Cheney or her father, Dick, I believe the former vice president should be proud of his daughter and her stout defense of the truth. Ironic, huh?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Biden Wields a Sharp Verbal Dagger

Sunday, January 9th, 2022

By Bob Gaydos

President Biden, aiming his verbal dagger at Trump and Republicans.

President Biden, aiming his verbal dagger at Trump and Republicans.

“Wow! I wish I wrote that.”

I doubt I ever said anything close to that after a Joe Biden speech in the past, but then, no Joe Biden speech has ever been anything like that of a few days ago commemorating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S.. Capitol.

The phrase that caught my attention and drew my envy came near the end of his speech. It was stark and clear and powerful. It summed up, in effect, a new Joe Biden in the White House:

“I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.”

Again, wow. The fact that Biden was speaking of a former American president, not a potential foreign adversary, made it all the more powerful. No president has ever spoken this way about a former president.

The sentence summed up a paragraph that left no doubt as to where this president stands today: “I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year from today. But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.”

“Who wrote that?” I wondered. Biden said it and clearly meant it. But all presidents have speech writers who have the unique, not easy, task of putting words into a president’s mouth that are both comfortable to be spoken and sound natural to the ear.

Obviously, presidents have veto power over what is in their speeches. And politicians, including Biden and his predecessor as president, have been known to vary from the speech text, But the “dagger at the throat of democracy” phrase was the perfect partnership of a speech writer and a president delivering an unmistakable message to the world. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

If Biden didn’t write it, he said it (with conviction), so he forever gets credit for it, much like JFK, a gifted public speaker, is credited for some memorable lines written by Ted Sorensen. Sorensen knew well the mind and mood of his boss, who was a pretty good writer himself.

And much like Ronald Reagan, another gifted speaker, is remembered for some lines written by his speech writers.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.“ Ronald Reagan via Peter Robinson, head speech writer at the time and clearly tuned in to his boss’ tone and mood.

Biden’s speech was also notable for its direct, no-nonsense blaming-without-naming of Donald Trump for the attack on the Capitol and the Republican Party for continuing to breathe life into the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Presidents don’t usually attack former presidents or another political party, but Biden rightly identified this as a unique time in history.

The moment called for leadership and Biden and his speech writer delivered it. Daggers? They brought their own to the fight for democracy.
(Note: Vinay Reddy is listed as head of the White House Office of Speechwriting.)
rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

On Growing up with Real Presidents

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021
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RJ Photography

By Bob Gaydos

There’s something about Donald Trump that has always puzzled me. It’s not the fact that millions of Americans could and still do bow at the feet of this inveterate grifter. For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that there are a lot of people shuffling through life in this country unknowing, uncaring and unapologetic for their behavior. Also racists.

     They are here, they listen to Fox “news” and I don’t expect most of them to change or go away. It’s a free country, even for bigots.

      No, what has had me stumped for five years is that so many Americans have carried on as if Trump is just a little anomaly in the history of this nation. No big deal. When can we go to the movies again?

       For me, Trump has been a major threat ever since he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. It wasn’t just that I knew how slimy he was; it felt just so wrong for him to even be involved in this democratic process. We’re talking about president of the United States of America, for Pete’s sake, I said to myself over and over. What is Trump doing in this? It’s almost a physical reaction for me. It lasted through his whole presidency. Why are all those people on Wall Street behaving as if this is just another 9 to 5 interlude? This man is an insult to the presidency.

         That’s how I felt. Still do, although the election of Joe Biden has eased my concerns considerably. More to the point, 

for the purposes of this column, I think I know why I’ve had such a strong reaction to Trump. Why I never used the word, “president” with his name attached to it. Why I took it so personally.

          I was lucky.

          That’s what history tells me. Or rather, a bunch of historians. Some 142 noted historians were surveyed by CNN for the cable news network’s latest rating of American presidents. It does this whenever there’s a change in administration. Trump somehow managed to not finish last. More on that in a bit. What struck me most, personally I guess, is that the historians rated an era that included my first 28 years alive as the best stretch of presidents in the history of America.

          Wow.

           It started with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 (I was born in 1941) and continued through Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1969. FDR was Number 3 on the list, behind Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Ike was fifth, Harry was sixth, JFK was number 8 and LBJ ranked 11th.

           Richard M Nixon (number 31) ended my personal winning streak of presidents and it was mediocrity or worse, in my opinion, until Barack Obama in 2008. But boy, those first 28 years! No wonder I resented Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I was spoiled and didn’t know it. I grew up with mature, responsible men as presidents, men who put their country ahead of their party and certainly ahead of themselves. Men who surely had their faults, but who each in his own way inspired confidence that he was always trying to do the best for all Americans. That’s what president did, I thought. Made us feel we had the right person making difficult decisions. Made us feel confident about the future. Made us proud to be Americans.

           FDR created the social fabric we take for granted today. Truman steered us steadily through the end of one war and into another while maintaining his touch with average Americans. Everybody seemed to like Ike, the war hero who warned us of the military/industrial complex. JFK, the orator, had his photo hung in virtually every Catholic family’s kitchen, alongside The Last Supper. He dreamed of going to the moon and gave us the Peace Corps. When he was assassinated, LBJ took up the tough fight for the Equal Rights Act and wrestled it through the resistance of southern senators. He knew how Washington worked. 

            Nixon lowered the bar before resigning. Ford didn’t do much as a fill-in. Carter was sincere but disappointing. Reagan got rated 10th by the historians, but I think he should trickle down several spots despite his affable communications skills. Bush senior was unimpressive, Bill Clinton was sporadically effective (he balanced the budget!) and George W. Bush, installed by the Supreme Court, was a disaster. I actually wept with pride when Barack Obama, the first black American president, addressed the crowd in a park in Chicago on his election night. We’re back, I thought.

             And then came Trump.

             An insult to the American psyche. A symbol of the decay of one of our two main political parties. And the fourth(!) worst president in American history. Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson James Buchanan — they rated worse than Trump. All I can say is I’m glad I didn’t live through their presidencies if they were worse than Trump. But history evolves over time and it is not too much to hope that he will ultimately bottom out.

             In the meantime, though, I am glad to know that I am not in some way weird for regarding the Trump administration as more than an anomaly in politics. I grew up with presidents who could read and speak with intelligence, who respected science, who had the respect of other world leaders, who did not lie with every waking breath, who did not divide Americans with angry insults and threats, who understood the Constitution and the obligation of presidents to serve the people, not vice versa.

           I grew up with real presidents. Trump dishonored the office.

History is on my side.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

           

A Birthday Tribute to the Life of JFK

Saturday, May 29th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Eight years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 104th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Four years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “,,, Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column four years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by three days. Belated happy birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 92nd birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

    

How I Came to be Called an ‘Enemy of the American People’

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

By Jeffrey Page

The Fake President

The Fake President

In late 1963, I was working a go-nowhere job for an airport shipping firm when I got an important phone call from George Trow, the night managing editor of the New York Post, telling me that the copyboy’s position I’d applied for was available.

Was I still interested, he inquired.

“When should I report,” I asked. Easy answer, my having been raised in a newspaper-reading family and believing that newspaper reporters and editors were important people.

Thus, a career began in those hazy distant days.

And oh yes, Mr. Trow said as he cleared his throat, the shift began at 1 a.m., and the pay was $48 a week. I was getting $65 at the airport. I took the job at the Post. One a.m.? $48? My father was aghast.

This was two months after the JFK assassination. The work at the Post was menial: I re-filled paste pots, I took coffee and sandwich orders from the night staff, I kept the reporters well-supplied with copy paper for their stories and the copy editors well-supplied with sharp pencils to edit stories and write headlines. I ran galley proofs and page proofs back and forth between the composing room and the copy desk.

Menial yes, but, it turned out, the start of a 42-year adventure. I worked for several dailies. At each of them we delivered to readers the information they needed, the scores of the sports events they had bet on, the features they enjoyed, some columnists they admired and others they loathed.

In my newspaper decades I covered some presidential campaigns. I wrote a great deal about transportation. Late in career, I got a general column. I interviewed the great Cesar Chavez. I went to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Once, I found myself sitting across from Ray Charles who was in town to publicize a singing jingle promoting a new game in the New Jersey Lottery. Charles looked miserable and I had no idea what to ask this genius now reduced to singing commercials late in his career. I filed four dull paragraphs; it was enough.

There were thousands of other stories about politics, about people with interesting careers, about crime. I even found the abandoned creamery in the Catskills where Patricia Hearst spent a year in hiding.

Nowadays the voice in the Oval Office refers to what he has determined to be “Fake News,” which, if I understand it, means any news our Fake President doesn’t care for. An example: He really doesn’t like to be reminded that he drew nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in last year’s election.

In addition to slandering the press as a purveyor of “fake news,” Trump maligns the entire news industry by labeling the press “enemies of the American people,” which is a lie.

By attacking American news gathering this way Trump forgets where he gets the right to speak his own fake mind in any newspaper he might someday choose to publish. He seems to forget a lot, such as the fact that the press is one of only two occupations specifically protected in the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, it says in the First Amendment. (The clergy has such protection as well.)

The need for a vibrant First Amendment has become more and more apparent in the months since Trump took office. Perhaps more than ever it has become clear that our democracy’s survival depends on a free and unfettered press.

A lot of people have fought to defend the United States Constitution. The Fake President was not one of them.

Would Trump dismiss Jefferson as a fake revolutionary? After all, it was Jefferson who uttered the familiar line that if forced to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without a government he would prefer the latter.

Happy Birthday to Me, Dylan and JFK

Monday, May 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he’s literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it’s not the sound of Dylan’s unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.

That would be Kennedy’s, with his distinct Boston accent. I’ve been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I’ve known the Dylan connection. That’s because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.

That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.

Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.

If Dylan’s message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy’s was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.

Four years ago in this blog, writing “The Measure of the Man II,” I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, “The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?’’ That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.

I also wrote, “I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin’. I’ll meet you at 100.

rjgaydos@gmail.com