As far back as I can remember I had an affinity for John F Kennedy. He was president when I was born. I was sitting in a high chair when my parents heard he had died, tragically. Later, in 7th grade, I made a shrinky-dink pendant with his face on it (I also made a Roosevelt one for my mom and a Wilson one for my Grandma).
A few weeks ago Barbara Walters and the ladies of The View interviewed Mimi Alford, author of Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. Ms Alford was a 19 year-old White House intern in 1962 when she was seduced by President Kennedy. Barbara Walters chided Ms Alford for coming out with her story, worried about the effect it could have on Caroline Kennedy, the President’s only living child (I say “child,” but obviously she’s now grown). Barbara also chided Ms Alford for making money off her book and from her experience with a public figure.
What Barbara Walters failed to remember before deciding to figuratively wag her finger is that in her own 2008 autobiography (which presumably she wanted to profit from) she revealed her own affair with the married Senator Edward Brook (R-MA).
I wonder how much thought Barbara gave to her story’s effects on the Senator and his family.
Ms Alford reveals in her book that not only did she have an 18-month affair with JFK (reportedly beginning on her 4th day on the job, in Jacqueline Kennedy’s bedroom), but also that Kennedy once asked her to fellate a White House staffer while they were all in the White House swimming pool.
It was a dare, but I knew exactly what he meant. This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex. I don’t think the President thought I’d do it, but I’m ashamed to say that I did. It was a pathetic, sordid scene, and is very hard for me to think about today. Dave was jolly and obedient as I stood in the shallow end of the pool and performed my duties. The President silently watched.
This part bothers me even more than the affair/cheating part, or even JFK using his considerable power to take Alford’s virginity. Does it bother you, as well?
I had to figure out why this stuck in my craw.
And this is what I’ve come up with: In the pool episode, the President’s actions became not just about sex, a universal human drive (no, I’m not excusing President Clinton or Governor Schwarzenegger or Tiger Woods or Ashton Kutcher or…) but about power. About authority. About Kennedy’s absolute misuse of power and authority.
I began to think in terms of a power imbalance. Is this a fair comparison, in terms of the gap between the former and the latter in each case?
a 17 year-old student and her 45 year-old male teacher
a 19 year-old intern and The President of the United States
One could argue that despite the fact that the 19 year-old is of adult age, she would be even more overpowered by THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES than a 17 year-old would be by a teacher. Yet we call the first a sexual predator annnnnnnd…….we revere the second.
What if such a book had come out about Nixon or Ford or Carter or one of the Bushes? They all seem too bumbly or boring for such salacious buzz. But if it had, what would the public’s reaction be? Would a legacy be tarnished?
None of them (knock wood) have had the reputation-polishing fortune of serious misfortune. When someone has been victimized (read: murdered), perhaps we forgive them foibles we otherwise might not.
What do you think explains the fact that JFK’s reputation has not been marred — his good looks, his horrific death, his beloved family, the time that has passed, or something else? Are you bothered by the book’s allegations? Does it change what you think of Kennedy and his presidency?