THE KENNEDY PROMISE: The Politics of Expectation by Henry Fairlie

THE KENNEDY PROMISE: The Politics of Expectation

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In every Democratic political convention since 1956, mutters Fairlie darkly, one Kennedy or another has represented ""not the hope of a few, but a national expectation"" -- an expectation of remaking the world in the American moral image, a self-righteous yearning to get the country moving toward its unfulfilled global mission, a sparking of the boundless spirit of Manifest Destiny. Everything about the Kennedys -- their style, their rhetoric, their advisers, their policies, their haircuts -- was (and still is) cleverly engineered to exploit the so-called ""Politics of Expectation"" which feeds on missile gaps, produces missile crises, promotes Grand Designs, proclaims New Frontiers, creates Peace Corps, and appeals to citizen-sacrifice in the name of the glory of national purpose (""Ask not what your country can do for you. . .""), all a monstrous charade designed to encourage the people ""to expect too much of their political institutions and of their political leaders."" The bulk of Fairlie's analysis (he's an English observer, several leagues behind, say, a D. W. Brogan) centers on JFK's ""Unfinished Presidency"" and to a lesser extent RFK's ""Unachieved Presidency,"" but dearly this is a warning about the surviving, as yet unacronymed Kennedy. Fairlie does a reasonably good job holding to his thesis, even though it does require a lot of straining at times, such as selective quoting from young John's Why England Slept; and the frequent comparison of Kennedy the President with Roman emperors is a mite bitchy and the comment that Walt Whitman Rostow's stages of growth theory resembles Winnie-the-Pooh logic seems a trifle nasty. But the book does not come apart on unfair analogy or bitchiness or nastiness; rather, it is Fairlie's misunderstanding of the facts of American foreign policy since World War II which represents the serious failure -- i.e., the Kennedys' ""imperial"" policies differed only tactically, not philosophically, from those promulgated or advocated by the Cold War vision of Truman, Eisenhower, Dulles, Nixon, et al. What seems to bother Fairlie most is not Kennedy imperialism or ""splendour of design,"" but that they were so noisy -- so unBritish -- about it. And that is shallow indeed.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1972
Publisher: Doubleday