JFK's Womanizing: Why Americans Just Don't Care

Marie: as you so brilliantly convey in your piece, JFK's extracurricular behavior directly undermines the image of the doting family man for which he is beloved. Why do you think those who still revere him are so willing to overlook this?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:24

Caitlin Flanagan: I don't know! I think the allure of all the things we want him to stand for must be very powerful. If we want to believe something strongly enough, we will believe it.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:25

NC: Are there any believable reports of illegitimate children from Kennedy's numerous affairs?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:25

Caitlin Flanagan: No. We the recent book by Mimi Alford reports that he had an abortionist (as doctors who performed abortions were than called) in his rolodex and had functionaries who could put a pregnant woman in touch with him.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:26

Lockwood: America's general opinion toward casual sex is seeming to get more liberal with the waning of religion influence. Birth control and other contraceptives are more widely accepted. But when it comes to our politicians, we seem to have gotten more conservative. Scandals are blown up and looked down upon (i.e. Edwards etc.) . Is this a sign of the media's gain in power or that we really aren't much more liberal when it comes to sex? Also harry, shut up.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:27

Caitlin Flanagan: Lockwood, we must be nice to Harry! He's in the grips of an Internet addiction.

You are so right - it's something I'd love to write a piece about. The only people we seem to expect to live a Ward and June Cleaver existence are our politicians - who, because of the very nature of the job, are the least likely to manage it. Although they do themselves no favors by constantly presenting themselves as family people of the century.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:29

heather: It comes up with both Clinton and Kennedy (and that ubiquitous French president comparison): why should we care? With Kennedy, is part of it that he got such a big boost out of his wife's popularity and his family man image? Is it that the public itself feels cheated? Clinton's harassments are probably more problematic from a feminist perspective, but Kennedy's philandering tends to provoke a more raw, emotional response.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:29

Caitlin Flanagan: Clinton certainly got a pass from a lot of feminists for his alleged behavior toward women - so maybe politics really are at the heart of all of this.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:30

atlantis: How do we know we can believe Mimi Alford's account? How can we be sure which JFK stories, if any, to believe?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:30

Caitlin Flanagan: Great question - when we were preparing the piece for publication we talked a lot about whether or not to believe Alford. But, as I note in the piece, even the most die-hard JFK supporters have given up doubting the women who have come forward - further investigation always reveals that they are telling the truth. In her case, there is enough evidence to support her story that no one has posed a serious challenge to it.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:33

Alex: Do you think the uncaring attitude of most people is somehow related to Jackie's icy demeanor or anti-feminist stances? Or the fact that she was seemingly in the habit of picking men who were destined for power or had an extremely large amount of money? Perhaps because Jackie looked to these things for security and acquired them so easily, we don't feel sympathy for her?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:33

Caitlin Flanagan: I think Jackie enjoyed a tremendous amount os sympathy from the American public, certainly at the time of the assassination.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:35

atlantis: Do you think Obama could ever get away with the stuff JFK got away with? He's a pretty charming guy.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:37

Caitlin Flanagan: God no!
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:37

Alex: Certainly at that time she had sympathy, but with the writings of Gore Vidal and others and the Schlesinger recordings, there was less sympathy right?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:40

Caitlin Flanagan: The Schelssinger recordings leave one with a very sympathetic attitude toward Jackie - Caroline Kennedy made the decision to release them, and she would never do anything that would hurt her mother's image or legacy. The comments I quoted about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement are the shocking parts of the conversation, and to Caroline's credit she left them in. But other than that the tapes contribute to her legacy.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:42

atlantis: Although, no one seems to talk about how JFK's philandering would have affected his popularity if it had come out while he was actually president? For that matter, if Clinton had been assassinated in office, would we have cared that much about Lewinsky revelations if they came out today?
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:43

Caitlin Flanagan: You're probably right about that.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:43

gwendolyth: Did you have any personal inspirations for writing this piece, (ie. family members, friends).
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:43

Caitlin Flanagan: One of my sons, when quite young, did a school report on John Kennedy. It was, perforce, an uncritical report, and a lovely one - I realized anew how appealing the Kennedy myth is, and how easily I fell back into it. The experience helped to inspire me to write the essay.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:45

Scott Kinder-Pyle: Jackie's push for the "fable" is actually very damaging, I think. Rather than honestly confronting issues of character, she trained a generation or so that image is everything... In postmodernity we're still recovering.
Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:47

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