PROMISES KEPT: John F. Kennedy's New Frontier by Irving Bernstein

PROMISES KEPT: John F. Kennedy's New Frontier

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Here, Bernstein (A Caring Society, 1985, etc,; Political Science/UCLA) convincingly argues that JFK was a successful President. Emphasizing Kennedy's intellect, energy, and ambition, and stressing the inert nature of the American political system in its transition from a relatively conservative society to the liberal society of the 1960's, Bernstein claims that Kennedy accomplished a great deal as President. He contends that the young leader made significant progress in civil rights, reduction of taxes and stimulation of the economy, aid for education, and the projection of American good-will abroad in the Peace Corps, and that he fought hard for other reforms as well, such as the minimum wage (successfully) and Medicare (unsuccessfully). Kennedy, Bernstein argues, would have been a great President had his tenure not been cut short by assassination. However, the author may be overemphasizing the impact of Kennedy himself on the period. In the field of civil rights, Bernstein's own account shows a cautious Kennedy, pulled along reluctantly by Martin Luther King and anxious not to disrupt his political ties to southern conservatives. Moreover, Bernstein mentions the Bay of Pigs debacle only briefly, does not discuss Kennedy's rapidly growing involvement with the Vietnamese dictator Diem, and fails to note the President's personal ties to organized crime figures. Despite those caveats, Bernstein's conclusion that Kennedy was an important catalyst in this period of reform is ultimately persuasive.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press