Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama's Internationalism: Echoes of FDR, HST and JFK

Stephen Schlesinger

Author and Adjunct Fellow at the Century Foundation

President Obama gave a speech last week in Moscow that conjures up memories of our greatest foreign policy presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Two lines from Obama's address directly echo the themes and concerns of these three 20th century Democratic leaders.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Look At JFK's Popularity Polls by Debra Conway

Question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Kennedy is handling his job as President?

I've read and heard it claimed that one of the reasons JFK went on his final tour, including Texas, was because his popularity had fallen so severely. In fact, one well-known person in the Dallas research community claimed Kennedy's popularity was even down to 20%. I've tried to find out exactly what was the truth and here are a few examples of what I've found, that while President Kennedy’s popularity polls were on a slow decline by 1963, there is more than enough data to show that one Dallas researcher was wrong.

Beginning with TIME Magazine's article (Jan. 5, 1962) awarding President Kennedy “Time's Person of the Year,”(1) which stated, “In the latest Gallup poll, 78% of the American people said that they approved of the way he is doing his job. But personal popularity, as Kennedy well knows, is not always reflected in widespread support of public policy. To translate popularity into support is the job of the politician — and the job to which Kennedy has come increasingly to devote his time and energy." These statements would prove themselves to be true of Kennedy's presidency as his popularity averaged in the 70s for 1961-1962 during some of the most trying and dangerous situations he faced.

In the St. Petersburg Times, March 1, 1963, there is a story headlined "JFK Popularity Drops Six Points In A Month"(2). The article stated, "In the latest nationwide Gallup Poll, 70% of voters say they approve of the way Kennedy is handling his job as President." Only a few months earlier, in January, it was 76%. "The 6-point drop-off is one of the sharpest declines in Kennedy's popularity during any one-month period since he took office."

What category of voter changed their opinion? The next paragraph makes it clear that the Democrats polled (surprisingly including the Southern Dixie-crats) did not change their opinion at all, “Kennedy has lost ground sharply since January with independent voters, while holding firm among his fellow Democrats.” What caused the loss of confidence? According to the writer it was “a month marked by partisan crossfire over the Cuba situation.”

In fact, in his book Popular Images of American Presidents by William C. Spragens, in the chapter titled "Popular Images of JFK In Polling Data"(3), Spragens wrote “a source told the author that toward the end of his tenure, Kennedy was much concerned about his decline in popularity after the 1962 [midterm] elections...[while] the average popularity rating of President Kennedy was 70 percent. His high point - 83% - was reached just after the Bay of Pigs failure April-May 1961 (after seeing one popularity poll, JFK quipped, ‘Jesus, it's like Ike. The worse you do, the better they like you.’(4) ) while the low was September 1963, just after the Civil Rights March on Washington, at 56%.” Another low, Spragens reminds us, was in October 1962, after President Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba and everyone held their breath for 13 long days. But one month later, November 1962, his popularity was back up to 72%, in January 1963, 75%.

However, the polling of Texas showed a different trend. In the Houston Chronicle, published Nov. 22, 1963 and headlined, "Chronicle Poll Sees Goldwater Over Kennedy; Conservatism Would Carry Republican in Critical Texas Areas" the article claimed, "Sen. Barry Goldwater's conservatism would carry him to a victory over President John F. Kennedy if the presidential election were held today in Texas. If a predictable 2.5 million votes were cast, Goldwater would roll up about 1.3 million to Kennedy's 1.2 million. That would mean a margin of 52 percent for Goldwater to 48 percent for Kennedy, a statewide survey by the Chronicle indicated Thursday. The decisive manner in which Goldwater apparently would take Texas is indicated by comparing his anticipated vote with the presidential vote of 1960, when Kennedy downed Republican Richard Nixon by 46,000 votes for a 51-49 percent margin. General "disenchantment" with the Kennedy administration and an adverse reaction to his civil rights program are the two most frequently mentioned reasons for the President's decline in popularity in Texas. The picture could brighten for Kennedy by voting time next November..." Sadly, the day of this article's publication would be the end of days voters would have a choice to vote again for President Kennedy.

There are many more sources for Kennedy's popularity polls and how they specifically related to the tremendous challenges facing him in the years of his presidency. These are only a handful. An exceptional source is the American Presidency Project for the polls of 1961-1963:
8/29/63 - 62% and 10/09/63 - 58% where Kennedy's popularity leveled off and stayed until his death.

09/10/1963 09/10/1963 56
10/09/1963 10/09/1963 58
11/08/1963 11/13/1963 58

Comparing JFK’s popularity to other presidents, Spragens wrote, “JFK maintains a respectable level in comparison with all his successors.” And “Nonetheless, the average popularity rating of President Kennedy was 70 percent…when seven out of ten Americans look favorably on the president, that is a good showing.” According to records of Kennedy's own polls and the one's that are public, President Kennedy's concern about his popularity and his resulting effectiveness did drive him to campaign trips such as Florida and Texas that Fall of '63.

In conclusion, Kennedy’s popularity polls are pretty easy to follow, as they are based on exactly what TIME Magazine projected, his ability to translate popularity into support by devoting his time and energy. At the end 58% of American voters believed he was doing a good job. He was on the campaign trail as a leader, a strong defender of America, a conservationist and peace candidate. His lovely wife, still grieving over the loss of their infant son, was staunchly at his side. All he needed was time.


1. TIME “Person of the Year 1961”

2. St. Petersburg Times, "JFK Popularity Drops Six Points In A Month” March 1, 1963. See also my “Cuba-CIA-Mafia Timeline” for March 1963: Two-Tracks: JFK and the State Dept. begin their own two-track process towards Cuba. The Republican right adopts the cause of liberating Cuba from Castro.

3. Popular Images of American Presidents by William C. Spragens (Greenwood Press) 1988.

4. President Kennedy: Profile Of Power by Richard Reeves (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group) 1994

5. Houston Chronicle, “Chronicle Poll Sees Goldwater Over Kennedy” Nov. 22, 1963. “Gallup Poll had indicated that 63 per cent of Americans disapproved of the March [on Washington], and that 38 per cent thought he was pushing too fast on integration.” William F. Buckley Jr., National Review, December 31, 1994.

6. American Presidency Project: Presidential Job Approval-JFK

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

JFK’s Unknown Illness

submitted by Holly A. Evanoski

Most people know that JFK had severe back problems. But not many people knew he also had a fatal type of adrenal insufficiency called Addison’s disease. Recently JFK was mentioned in an article about a 10 year old girl that suffers from a form of this same disease.

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Addison’s disease is an endocrine or hormonal disorder that occurs in all age groups and afflicts men and women equally. Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, in some cases, the hormone aldosterone. The disease is also called adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.

Just like Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s, JFK hid his life-long illness. However, FDR was able to hide his due to the lack of televisions. JFK wasn’t so lucky. As a President that went out and met the people face to face as well as doing televised conferences and debates he always had to look his best. Thanks to a regime of medications he was able to cover this ailment so well that no one suspected, not even media personnel.

Over the course of history the health of Presidents has turned into a political issue. The perceived political consequences of disclosing a president’s medical problems have sometimes conflicted with the public’s concern for accountability and openness. Despite this JFK refused to let his illness be known to the world, especially since he was about to become President of the United States. In the wake of the Eisenhower’s several medical issues that caused questions as to whether he could run a 2nd term, the health of the President in the 1960 election became an important issue.

JFK’s case was even put into the Journal of American Medical Association in November 1955. However, no one knew due to the fact that he was only referred to as “the 37-year old man.” During the 1960 Presidential race the JFK campaign denied that he had the disease. JFK’s staff said it was an insufficiency of the adrenal glands due to tuberculosis which wasn’t life threatening and would not impede his chances at wining an election.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

A Kennedy Christmas

The country came to know Caroline Kennedy as its princess during the early 1960s.

As one of the White House's youngest occupants, Kennedy became part of Camelot's myth. But as an adult, Kennedy has carved out her own identity, including editing best-selling books and co-authoring another.

Her latest book, "A Family Christmas," is a collection of Christmas-related poems, prose, letters and other writings most dear to her. The anthology even includes a young Kennedy's Christmas list to Santa Claus and a letter from President Kennedy to a child about Santa's well-being.

Kennedy also visited the Operation Santa Claus, which is an annual program sponsored by the New York Post Office where people can write responses to the letters children send to Santa and the North Pole.

To learn more about Operation Santa Claus contact your local post office and read a portion of "A Family Christmas" below.

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Caroline Kennedy remembers JFK Christmas letter

Caroline Kennedy meets woman who wrote JFK to save Santa Claus

Monday, December 24th 2007, 12:40 PM

Over the years, Caroline Kennedy sometimes wondered about a third grader who wrote to her father, President Kennedy, worried that Russian bomb tests at the North Pole would kill Santa Claus.

Kennedy finally got to meet her during a segment of ABC's "Good Morning America" that aired Monday about Kennedy's recent best-selling book, "A Family Christmas," which includes the letter from an 8-year-old Michelle Rochon.

That girl, now Michelle Rochon Phillips, recounted what prompted her to write the October 1961 letter. She said she sat down to write the letter after hearing her parents talking at the dinner table about nuclear testing at the North Pole.

"I thought well, Santa Claus," she said, according to a transcript of the interview. "And so I ran, sat down at the footstool and wrote the letter."

Then a Marine City, Mich., third-grader, she wrote: "Please stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole because they will kill Santa Claus."

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