Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas has begun to explicitly invoke his Christian faith as a reason why state voters should reelect him in 2014. He’s talked about it in political gatherings back home, and on Wednesday his campaign unveiled an unusual ad in which Senator Pryor cites the Bible as the wellspring of his political values.
“This is my compass, my North Star,” says Pryor, holding his Holy Book as he looks straight into the camera. “It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas.”
Statewide candidates don’t often talk so directly about religion. Pryor is certainly a devout Christian, but he’s now brought this private matter into the public arena. Opponents will surely question his motives. Why has he gone in this direction with an election still 11 months away?
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Our answer to this question has two parts. The first is that he’s in trouble and needs to start the intense part of his campaign with something big.
In 2008, Arkansas Republicans did not bother to field a challenger to Pryor and he ran essentially unopposed. But the political landscape is much different now, and in 2014 he’s perhaps the most endangered member of a small club: red state Democratic senators.
In the past, Arkansas has not been as solidly Republican as many other Southern and border states. But it’s getting there. Pryor’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, was swept away in 2010 and he’s now the lone member of his party in the Arkansas congressional delegation. In presidential politics, the state has never voted for Barack Obama. Sen. John McCain won 59 percent of the vote there in 2008. Mitt Romney took 61 percent in 2012.
Now Pryor is looking at a volatile electoral landscape in 2014. He voted with other senators of his party for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and given that law’s current unpopularity, his chances for a third term might not seem great. Oh, and he’s also facing a well-known GOP member of congress, Rep. Tom Cotton, who’s an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet.
“Bottom line: if the GOP can’t beat this [guy] ... in a conservative state with a Harvard Law grad turned decorated veteran as its nominee, it should disband,” writes Allahpundit on the right-leaning Hot Air website.
But the second part of our answer as to why Pryor is talking about his Bible is that he has a chance. He isn’t buried. He is an incumbent and son of a former three-term senator who remains personally well-regarded in the state, after all.
The national prognosticating Cook Political Report rates his race as “toss-up,” as does University of Virginia political scientist and handicapper Larry Sabato.
Given that, the manner in which Pryor talks about religion is interesting. He’s invoking it as a higher power that essentially trumps partisan loyalty. In that context, he’s saying, how much does the “D” next to his name really matter?
“The Bible teaches us that no one has all the answers, only God does, and neither political party is always right,” he says in his new “North Star” spot.
And Pryor’s votes kind of back this up, in the sense that he’s much more moderate than most chamber Democrats. The National Journal Vote Ratings, which consider all ballots a lawmaker cast in a year, put him at 50.7 for 2012. That means he stood in almost the exact partisan middle of the Senate. That year, only one Democrat, the now-retired Ben Nelson of Nebraska, had a ranking to his right.
His ratings for other years are similar. “Pryor has kept his early promise to maintain a moderate voting record,” wrote Cook Political Report in September.
Will Arkansas voters care that Pryor is professing allegiance to a higher power than the Democratic National Committee? The national political landscape of November 2014, yet unknown, may be what tips this race in the end.
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A “substantial minority” of uninsured Americans say they will ignore Obamacare’s requirement that they purchase health coverage for 2014, according to a new Gallup poll.
Sixty-three percent of people currently without health insurance plan to go ahead and get a policy for next year, according to the survey, which was released on Tuesday. But 28 percent – more than one in four – say they won’t, even though that means they’ll have to pay a fine to the federal government.
“The percentage planning to pay the fine has changed little in the last month, even as the 2014 deadline for having insurance draws nearer,” writes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones.
Age does not appear to factor into this decision. Younger uninsured people were just as likely to say they would, or wouldn’t, get a policy as older counterparts.
But political partisanship did make a difference. Fully 45 percent of Republicans who now don’t have a health policy said they would rather pay a fine than get one. Only 15 percent of uninsured Democrats, and 31 percent of uninsured independent voters, felt that way, too.
“The biggest challenge to achieving universal coverage ... may not be in making Americans aware of the requirement or in getting younger uninsured Americans to sign up. Rather, it may be getting those likely to oppose the law, namely Republicans, to overcome their ideological opposition to the law and sign up for insurance,” writes Mr. Jones.
Reducing the number of uninsured US residents is one of the primary goals of the president’s signature health law, whose formal name is the Affordable Care Act. One way it aims to accomplish this goal is to simply require it. The law contains an individual mandate directing that most Americans get health insurance or pay a fine.
For 2014, the fine is $95 per each uninsured adult and $47.50 per each uninsured child, up to a maximum of $285 per family, or 1 percent of family income minus personal exemptions, whichever is greater.
Gallup estimates that 17 percent of the US population does not have health insurance right now. If 28 percent of these say they won’t get coverage for next year, that means a minimum of 5 percent of the population will remain uncovered in 2014.
When next year rolls around, the actual number is likely to be much larger. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 percent of Americans won’t have health insurance in 2014, despite Obamacare’s mandate.
And this 14 percent figure excludes the millions of illegal immigrants in the US, who aren’t eligible for Obamacare subsidies intended to help middle- and lower-income citizens afford policies.
As the fines get steeper in coming years the percentage of uninsured Americans will slowly shrink, according to CBO. By 2017 it will plateau at 8 percent of US citizens.
Why won’t the Affordable Care Act reach its goal of universal coverage? Partly, it’s because there are many exceptions to the individual mandate. Prisoners serving time in jail don’t have to get health insurance, for example. People undergoing difficult life circumstances, such as divorce or homelessness, are exempt. You don’t have to get coverage if the lowest-priced “bronze” plan available through your local ACA exchange marketplace would cost you more than 8 percent of your income.
Plus, there are people who just won’t go along with the federal government’s requirement, as the Gallup poll shows.
HealthCare.gov is working much better. There seems little dispute about that. On Monday, 1 million people successfully visited the Affordable Care Act website, for instance, though some people had to hold on a waiting page while those further along in the process finished applications for coverage.
“Site stable, faster for users,” claimed the official HealthCare.gov Twitter feed on Tuesday morning.
Lower-income Americans made eligible for Medicaid under the terms of the ACA are also flooding into that safety net program. On Tuesday, the administration released a report saying that nearly 1.5 million people signed up for Medicaid in October. Enrollment was up 16 percent in states that agreed to the ACA’s terms for Medicaid expansion.
Is victory at hand? That’s what the White House seems set to say. On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama will appear with people who have benefited from the law, according to officials. It’s unlikely he’ll use the event to wring his hands over the flawed rollout of his signature domestic achievement.
But perhaps he should. At the least he might need to avoid sounding too sunny. That’s because it’s the front end of HealthCare.gov, the part consumers see, that’s much improved. The back end, which transmits the details of enrollees to insurers, is better as well, but it still has problems.
More ominously, those glitches may be retroactive. The enrollment records for one-third of the people who have signed up for insurance since HealthCare.gov opened for business contain errors, according to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post. That means they might not get the coverage they’re expecting to begin on Jan. 1.
“The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies,” write the Post’s Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin.
Insurance executives have been warning of this scenario for months. At issue are 834 enrollment forms, which the government website is supposed to send insurers every night to inform them of their new customers.
HealthCare.gov had problems with 834 form accuracy from the day the website opened. But the administration made fixing the front end a higher priority to try and dampen consumer anger.
A pivot to 834 fixes came later. In recent days, more than a dozen software bugs affecting the forms have been fixed. One big problem, which affected the proper entry of Social Security numbers, accounted for 80 percent of 834 problems, according to administration officials. That’s one of the things that has been straightened out, they say.
But insurance industry officials are still worried. Their nightmare is that sometime in January they’ll have to face angry consumers who think they’ve properly enrolled, but haven’t.
Does the White House “think that big customer service issues come January, if the ‘834’ back-end enrollment problems are not fixed by then, will be blamed on the insurance industry and not the administration?” writes Bob Laszewski, a consultant to the industry who has warned of this problem for weeks.
Enrollment for 2014 will remain open through March 31. At this point it is uncertain whether 7 million people will obtain insurance next year through the ACA’s insurance marketplace exchanges, as the Congressional Budget Office predicted when the law passed.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday said his firm is working on ways to deliver small packages via drones. That’s right: Amazon “Prime Air” may eventually have thousands of robot flying machines buzzing through neighborhoods across America, dropping off everything from shoes to consumer electronics.
At least, that’s the vision Mr. Bezos outlined on “60 Minutes.”
“It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he told correspondent Charlie Rose.
Well, we would not wager against Amazon, given its relentless march toward US retail dominance. And it’s easy to see how the concept would work, in a technical sort of way: Small "octocopter" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying five pounds or so already exist.
The “fun,” however, may be in the eye of the beholder. In urban areas, swooping octocopters might seem a hazard, pigeons with gas-powered propellers. In rural areas, they might be targets for people bored of hunting deer.
“Amazon fine print: ‘Drone delivery unavailable outside urban areas during hunting season,’ ” RedState's Erick Erickson tweeted on Monday.
And the real problem here might be the Feds. The Federal Aviation Administration is working to integrate civilian drones into US airspace. That’s unlikely to be a speedy process. Amazon’s realistic drone-delivery start date might be 2025 or beyond.
That’s if Amazon can satisfy the FAA’s safety concerns at all. The Amazon concept brings drones into closer contact with people than other civilian UAV uses currently under FAA study. Will it be possible to avoid packages dropped from a hundred feet up, buzzing drones snagged on power lines, out-of-control drones plummeting into bedroom windows? Plus, what about privacy and national security concerns?
“The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the [national airspace] is a significant challenge,” the FAA notes in the conclusion of its road map for approval of civilian drone use.
Of course, civilians already fly drones in America. They’re used for everything from land-use planning to photography. Drone development is a big industry. Some 50 companies are working on 150 systems right now. Civilian UAV sales may hit $6 billion by 2016.
But these are generally one-time uses. Many are subject to restrictions, such as a requirement that operators maintain sight of the UAV. Amazon wants something much larger, a sort of UAV cargo airline across the United States.
Currently, the FAA is supposed to finalize drone regulations by 2015. It has already missed some deadlines, however, and the agency may not meet that goal. Furthermore, look at the fine print in the FAA road map, and it’s apparent that Amazon’s plan probably falls into the FAA’’s long-term outlook – meaning it couldn’t gain approval until 2022 or 2026.
The FAA’s concept list of drone uses doesn’t include civilian package delivery, for one thing. (It does contain cargo carriage, but that’s for delivery from one airport to another.)
A perusal of the road map shows that the FAA intends to develop security vetting procedures for UAV personnel. That means Amazon's ground-based UAV pilots would have to undergo some Fed-approved training. The FAA also is working on airworthiness rules. In others words, it intends to provide guidelines for the design and testing of robust UAV structures, as it does now for manned aircraft. That means the nifty Amazon drone seen buzzing on “60 Minutes” might have to reengineered.
And the FAA intends for civilian UAVs to include sense-and-avoid technology to ensure they don’t hit airliners or one another. That’s something that won’t be perfected for years, the agency acknowledges.
“Although research will continue, fully certified [UAV] collision avoidance solutions may not be feasible until the long-term and are deemed to be a necessary component for full [UAV national airspace] integration,” the FAA road map says.
The bottom line here is that Amazon Prime Air might not be operational until Miley Cyrus is playing on oldies radio. That’s led some critics to charge that unveiling the plan on “60 Minutes” at the beginning of the holiday shopping season was really a well-planned publicity stunt.
“[I]t’s all hot air and baloney,” writes James Ball of the Guardian.
Like millions of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers, President Obama did his bit for the economy Saturday.
No, Mr. Obama didn’t join one of those frenzied mobs fighting their way into a big box store. That would have required more than the usual phalanx of Secret Service agents and perhaps a squad of Marines.
Instead, the president chose to highlight “Small Business Saturday,” taking daughters Malia and Sasha to the Politics and Prose bookstore and coffee house, a local independent business not far from the White House.
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Paying by credit card, he left with sacks of books that that included “Harold and the Purple Crayon," "The Kite Runner," and "Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football." (See the full list below.)
“When our small businesses do well, our communities do well,” Obama tweeted. “Join me and visit a small business near you today to celebrate #SmallBizSat.”
Like everybody, presidents try to relax some on Thanksgiving weekend, although there’s still work to do.
There is that turkey to pardon, guests to entertain at dinner (where, reportedly, nine different kinds of pie were served at the White House this year), China and Iran to keep an eye on, HealthCare.gov computers to fix over at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Obamas sat down with ABC’s Barbara Walters for an interview at the White House broadcast Friday night.
He addressed the problems with the Affordable Care Act website, and what this has meant for his own plummeting poll numbers,
"I've gone up and down pretty much consistently throughout," Obama told Ms. Walters. "But the good thing about when you're down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up."
As for Obamacare, he said, “I continue to believe and [I'm] absolutely convinced that at the end of the day, people are going to look back at the work we've done to make sure that in this country, you don't go bankrupt when you get sick, that families have that security.”
"That is going be a legacy I am extraordinarily proud of,” Obama said.
Looking ahead to the time when he’s an ex-president, Obama said the family decision on where to live – they all count Chicago as their home town – may depend largely on daughter Sasha, who’ll be a high school sophomore. (Malia will be in college by then.)
"You know we gotta make sure that she's doing well ... until she goes off to college,” Obama told Walters. “Sasha will have a big say in where we are.”
Meanwhile, there was more presidential work to do between Thanksgiving Day feasting on Thursday and “Small Business Saturday” shopping.
For Obama, that was a 40-minute visit with activists fasting in a tent on the National Mall, protesting congressional inaction on immigration, some of whom have had nothing but water for two weeks.
A White House statement said Obama thanked the hunger strikers "for their sacrifice and dedication and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform."
Then it was off to Politics and Prose.
According to the White House, here’s the list of books Obama purchased for gifts as well as for his own reading:
“Half Brother” by Kenneth Oppel
“Heart of a Samurai” by Margi Preus
“Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo
“Jinx” by Sage Blackwood
“Lulu and the Brontosaurus” by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
“Ottoline and the Yellow Cat” by Chris Riddell
“Moonday” by Adam Rex
“Journey” by Aaron Becker
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Red Sparrow” by Jason Matthews
“Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra
“The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance” by David Epstein
“Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football” by Nicholas Dawidoff
“Ballad of the Sad Cafe: And Other Stories” by Carson McCullers
“My Antonia” by Willa Cather
“Ragtime” By E.L. Doctorow
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
“Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka
“All That Is” by James Salter
“Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
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Does it matter what President Obama calls his health-care reform law? That question arises because he’s seemed to shift his references in recent days. Previously, he’d embraced the label “Obamacare,” saying it reflected the fact that he did indeed care about uninsured Americans. But as Politico notes, that term now seems to have fallen into White House disfavor.
Instead, the administration appears to again prefer “Affordable Care Act” (ACA), which reflects the law’s full name, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” That’s how Mr. Obama has been referring to it in public. Democratic Party talking points now emphasize the “Affordable Care Act” phrase.
“Calling it the Affordable Care Act has advantages for Democrats seeking to defend health care reform while still criticizing the bungled White House rollout,” Politico’s Reid J. Epstein wrote last week.
Think this is just a minor tweak, or maybe the media are reading too much into the president’s rhetoric? We’d say that’s highly unlikely. Administrations poll voters on the use of one word or another all the time. Indeed, that’s a technique used throughout US politics.
“It’s a truism in politics that labels matter,” Gallup’s editor in chief Frank Newport writes in his blog on survey techniques.
To show this, Gallup ran a poll that tested different ways to refer to the health-care law. The results showed that the name had at least a marginal effect on respondents’ opinions.
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Gallup’s test went like this: Some people were asked whether they approved of the Affordable Care Act that had been signed into law by Obama. Some were simply asked if they liked the 2010 law that had changed the US health system. A third variant asked if respondents liked “Obamacare.” A fourth asked if they liked the “Affordable Care Act,” with no mention of Obama at all.
That last version polled the best. Using that question, Gallup found that 45 percent of respondents approved of the ACA and 49 percent disapproved.
In contrast, the version that referred only to “Obamacare” polled worst. Only 38 percent approved of Obamacare per se, while 54 percent of respondents disapproved.
“These results suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to shift to Affordable Care Act as their label of choice and to avoid using Obamacare would appear to be a branding strategy that works in the administration’s interest,” Mr. Newport writes. “Clearly, all else being equal, the words ‘Affordable Care Act’ engender a modestly more positive reaction than the term Obamacare.”
This shouldn’t be that surprising. Presidents can be polarizing. Lots of political science research shows that personal involvement on the part of a US chief executive makes political opponents view an issue in a more negative light.
We’d also note that even the best-case scenario in that Gallup poll shows that opinion of the ACA is more negative than positive. That probably reflects both the public’s long-felt wariness about the law and the continued negative publicity from its problematic rollout.
[Updated: 7:45 p.m. Eastern time] President Obama met with actors and animators at DreamWorks in Glendale, Calif., on Tuesday, including banjo player/comedian Steve Martin, who is the voice of a villain in an upcoming film. In remarks afterwards Obama stressed the importance of the movie industry to the US economy.
“In a global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody is creativity,” said Obama.
Why DreamWorks? CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is a longtime Obama friend, supporter, and fundraiser, so we’ll go with that. However, we’ll also note that the White House rejects such a direct connection. Mr. Katzenberg’s past support for Obama, it says, has no bearing on the locale.
“DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in southern California,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, according to the Associated Press.
But cash is clearly a central purpose of the president’s current two-day swing through Los Angeles. He’s spending lots of time raising money from Hollywood liberals.
Obama attended two fundraisers on Monday, one at the home of former Lakers great Magic Johnson, another at the home of media mogul Haim Saban. On Tuesday he’s hitting another cohosted by Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the sitcom “Friends.”
Obama’s not running again, so the money’s not for his own political coffers, of course. It’s for the Democratic Party as a whole and for a party fund that donates to House and Senate Democratic candidates.
Variety has good figures on the estimated attendance and ticket prices at these events. Mr. Johnson expected about 160 guests, paying from $2,500 to $15,000 a ticket. Using the highly scientific method of just picking a number in between, we’d say the average guest paid $8,000, which would roughly lead to a haul of $1.3 million.
The Saban party had 120 guests at $16,200 a ticket. That’s $1.9 million. The “Friends” fundraiser was expected to draw 30, at $32,500. That’s another $975,000.
Altogether, that’s an estimate of about $4.175 million in Democratic Party money raised. Not bad for delivering a couple of speeches in a city that’s not getting hit by a cold storm, as Washington is.
Of course, Republicans have long tried to use the Democrats' Hollywood connection against them. This election cycle, a "super PAC" associated with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is already running a Web ad hitting Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes for her Hollywood support.
“Why does Alison Lundergan Grimes take money from Obama-backing Hollywood celebrities who don’t share our Kentucky values?” the ad concludes.
And Hollywood does seem pretty liberal if all you are looking at is the actual stars. The invaluable political-money research group Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) analyzed the political contributions of the 2013 Academy Award nominees, for instance, and found them overwhelmingly directed toward Democrats.
Nominees and their families have made more than $3.6 million in federal political contributions since 1990, but only $4,000 of that went to Republicans, according to CRP. (That $4K came from film director Steven Spielberg, if you’re interested.)
But when tracking political money for a particular industry, it’s always good to look beyond the individuals. Hollywood in a corporate sense spends its political money differently. In the 2012 election cycle, the PAC of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), film’s D.C. trade arm, gave slightly more money to Republicans than to Democrats, according to a CRP estimate. And it gave $100,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group led by conservative Grover Norquist.
The MPAA “is a savvy Washington organization. Its chairman and CEO is retired Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), but by no means does it support only liberals,” according to CRP.
If it works out as advertised – reining in those capabilities while easing economic sanctions on Iran – it could be a big win for President Obama as he bottoms out (he hopes) in public opinion polls grading his competency, effectiveness, and trust.
But it’s also a major challenge for him, with Republicans and many Democrats (not to mention this country’s most politically powerful ally – Israel) skeptical if not downright derisive of the agreement.
So how do Americans feel about this effort to reduce what Israel sees as an “existential threat” to its existence, a threat made by a country that once considered the US to be “the Great Satan?”
For now, it seems, most Americans back Obama on the Iran nuclear deal.
A CNN/ORC International poll in late September found that “three-quarters of Americans say they favor direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran in an attempt to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons.”
"Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “This is nothing new for the US public – in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran.”
That poll didn’t look at the latest agreement, just at the subject of negotiating. More recently (this past week), CNN polling shows majority public approval for the type of agreement just worked out.
“A majority of Americans support an interim deal with Iran that would ease some economic sanctions on that country in exchange for concessions on Iran's nuclear program,” CNN reported. “A CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday indicates that 56 percent of the public would favor an international agreement that would impose major restrictions on Iran's nuclear program but not end it completely, with 39 percent opposed to such an agreement.”
Not surprisingly these findings break along partisan lines, polling director Holland points out, “with two-thirds of Democrats favoring a deal along those lines but only 45 percent of Republicans agreeing with that view.”
Also this past week, while negotiations were underway in Geneva, a Washington Post/ABC poll asked this question: “Thinking now about the situation with Iran, would you support or oppose an agreement in which the United States and other countries would lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons?”
By a 64-30 percent margin, a clear majority of those surveyed agreed with the premise of the question, which is the essence of the deal just worked out.
Again there were differences in party registration, but most Republicans (57 percent) and Independents (63 percent) agreed, as did Democrats (72 percent).
“This new poll, then, could free up members of Congress in how they approach the negotiations, giving them a bit more political space to support a deal that has such wide popular support, despite the political risks,” writes Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher. “That could be a significant asset for the Obama administration in making any nuclear deal happen.”
The next six months should show whether this kind of public opinion significantly helps Obama make his case.
John F. Kennedy was a voracious reader. In part this was due to the ill health that led to many invalid days in bed as a youth. He was often stuck in hospital stays for tests and treatment. Visitors would remark that the thin, young patient could hardly be seen behind the books piled around his pillow.
Adult visitors were sometimes surprised at how many of those books were serious histories.
“I was very impressed, because at that point this very young child was reading ‘The World Crisis’ by Winston Churchill,” said a friend of father Joseph P. Kennedy who saw JFK in the Mayo Clinic in 1934.
Throughout his life Kennedy loved what today might be considered dusty tomes. He read most if not every book Churchill wrote. In an article for Life Magazine in 1961 he listed as among his favorites Churchill’s million-word-long biography of ancestor John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough.
Churchill said he undertook Marlborough’s life to rescue his reputation from the smears of past historians. Perhaps the young Kennedy was thrilled by Churchill’s recitations of Marlborough’s many military victories.
“It is the common boast of his champions that he never fought a battle that he did not win, nor besieged a fortress he did not take,” wrote Churchill.
As he got older, another book Kennedy cited often was John Buchan’s memoir “Pilgrim’s Way,” published posthumously in 1940. A British aristocrat, Buchan had served in the Boer War and World War I. He later rose to be governor general of Canada. “Pilgrim’s Way” is something of an elegy for the many friends and promising youths swept away in the Great War’s trenches.
One of those was Raymond Asquith, son of the British Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, who died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Buchan had known Asquith in school and admired him, and in “Pilgrim’s Way” he wrote: “He loved his youth, and his youth has become eternal. Debonair and brilliant and brave, he is now part of that immortal England which knows not age or weariness or defeat”.
Kennedy marked this passage in his copy of the book, writes historian and journalist Nigel Hamilton in his “JFK: Reckless Youth.” Asquith was the clever son of a powerful man, light-hearted and high-spirited in college, as was Kennedy.
“Did Jack identify with Asquith?” wrote Hamilton.
JFK gave Jacqueline Bouvier a copy of “Pilgrim’s Way” when courting her. It was meant to explain to her what sort of person he was.
“Jackie . . . was captivated. . . None of the young men touted by her mother had ever done anything like that,” writes author Barbara Leaming in her book “Mrs. Kennedy.”
Kennedy also gave Jackie Lord David Cecil’s “The Young Melbourne,” which describes the early years of a man who became Britain’s Prime Minister from 1834 to 1841. It delves deeply into the world of Whig aristocrats of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, men who moved constantly between episodes of high political seriousness and intense pleasure, notes Leaming.
As President, Kennedy pushed the works of Ian Fleming, creator of British agent 007, James Bond. He listed Fleming’s “From Russia with Love” as one of his favorites on his Life Magazine list.
Fleming, of course, famously served himself in British intelligence during World War II. Reportedly Kennedy met Fleming at a dinner in 1960 and asked him how he might rid the US of troublesome Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Fleming told him to convince Castro that his beard attracted radiation, which could cause him to shave it and lose his iconic revolutionary identity.
Kennedy also admired Ernest Hemingway. In the opening of his own book “Profiles in Courage,” JFK quoted Hemingway’s description of courage as ‘grace under pressure’.
The two men never met. But after Hemingway’s death in 1961, the Kennedy administration arranged for his widow Mary to enter Cuba, despite the travel ban in place. Once there she retrieved personal papers and other items from Hemingway’s Cuban villa Finca Vigia, which they had fled during Castro’s revolution.
She later donated Hemingway’s papers to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum. There’s a Hemingway room in the JFK Library’s Boston waterfront building.
He didn’t do much in terms of passing legislation. The big civil rights and tax-cut bills associated with his name were actually pushed through Congress by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Partly that was because Kennedy did not actually have that much time in the Oval Office, serving as president only a thousand days.
He’s remembered as the hero of the Cuban Missile Crisis, resisting the advice of many security officials to destroy the Soviet launchers with military force. But Kennedy’s approval of the Bay of Pigs invasion at the beginning of his term was a mistake that might have led Cuban leader Fidel Castro to accept those launchers in the first place. And Kennedy escalated US involvement in Vietnam, increasing the number of US advisers in the country from a few hundred to 16,000 while opening the spigots of military and political aid.
Then there’s his womanizing. In recent decades, credible reports of his many mistresses have cast his personal life in a far different light.
But despite all this, in Gallup polls Americans have named Kennedy as the most outstanding US president of the modern age ever since the firm first asked that question in 1990.
In the latest Gallup poll, released this month, nearly three-quarters of respondents said Kennedy will go down in history as an outstanding or above-average US chief executive.
Other pollsters have produced similar results. A new Hart Research survey conducted for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found respondents rated JFK as the best president of those elected since 1950.
On a scale of 1 to 10, respondents rated Kennedy as a 7.6, on the mean. Ronald Reagan was second at 6.9 and Dwight Eisenhower third at 6.8.
Well, for one thing, Kennedy’s reputation started off high. He’s not just popular in retrospect. He was extraordinarily popular while in office.
His average job approval rating from 1960 through 1963 was 70 percent, according to Gallup. That’s 5 points higher than the number for Kennedy’s predecessor, Eisenhower, and much higher than the average approval for all JFK’s successors.
Second, Kennedy’s image of youth and energy has echoed down the years. His charisma comes through, even in black-and-white photos. He was, and remains, a president Americans believe stood for real hope and change.
The Hart survey asked respondents to write a brief impression or feeling about JFK’s most significant attribute. “A great man, a good family, youthful, energetic, relatable” was the most common response.
Asked to pick from a list of words that symbolized the mood of the country in 1963, a plurality of 37 percent of voters today pick “changing,” according to the Hart results. Thirty-six percent picked “young/youthful.”
Third, the revelations about women do not appear to have affected his reputation as president. That’s implicit in his continued popularity among voters. It’s explicit in Hart findings. The firm asked voters if reports of Kennedy’s extramarital relationships had affected their view of his presidency. Forty-four percent said it made them feel less of him as a person, but not as a president. Thirty-six percent said it made no difference either way.
Only 17 percent of adults said it made them view JFK in a more negative light on both personal and political grounds.
Finally, Kennedy’s untimely end may play a part in his popularity. He’s become enshrined as a martyr, particularly in Democratic households. But William McKinley was another popular, energetic president cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He faded from the popular mind in a way JFK has not.
Maybe it’s because Kennedy, even now, so embodies that era's palpable sense of freshness and promise. The youngest man elected to the presidency, Kennedy smiles brightly in those photos from Dallas from before his fateful turn near the Texas School Book Depository. On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Americans were upbeat about him and about the nation, points out Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center. Fully 82 percent thought America’s power would increase in 1963. Sixty-four percent said business conditions were good.
“The mood of America then had few parallels with the modern era,” writes Mr. Kohut.
Today, we yearn for that time before Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle shots took America’s innocence. Some of that is baby boomer nostalgia for their past youth. But polls show those too young to remember JFK’s assassination view him almost as positively as do their elders.
“We will always see Jack and Jackie in the majestic black presidential limousine, smiling, waving, bathed in adulation and glorious sunshine,” concludes Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and author of the “Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.”