JFK’s memory should be one of reverence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Synciated Columnist

March 17, 2001

WASHINGTON – Driving along the Potomac at night, I regularly look for that little flicker of light just below Robert E. Lee’s mansion. It’s the Eternal Flame marking the grave of John F. Kennedy, set among the thousands of others who died in this country’s service.

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That hallowed ground of Arlington Cemetery is guarded day and night in respect for those of every rank and service who fell doing their duty.

JFK was one of them, of course. He rose to public notice in World War II when he risked his life saving the crew of his PT boat after it had been rammed in half by a Japanese destroyer. He won his place in history through his cool-headed resistance to a Soviet missile base in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. He died a casualty of the Cold War at the hands of a pro-Castro zealot.

For this, Kennedy deserves the respect due a patriot, the reverence due a leader fallen in battle. The memory of his public service deserves, at the very minimum, his compatriots’ protection from desecration.

I refer to the TV ad campaign, aired by a group of Republican political "consultants," which exhumes Kennedy’s voice and image to champion the Bush tax-cut proposal.

Where do we go next with this ghoulish stuff?

Will we hear Kennedy’s heroic "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech played at a neo-Nazi rally? Will we hear Ronald Reagan’s salute to Afghani "freedom fighters" used to justify the current Kabul regime’s demolition of ancient statues of Buddha? Will we hear diehard Russian communists playing FDR’s words of friendship from WWII?

Senator Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy have asked the creators of the TV ad to stop exploiting her father’s 1962 speech to the Economic Club of New York.

"It is intellectually dishonest and politically irresponsible," they said in a letter to the pro-Bush group, "to suggest that President Kennedy would have supported such a tax cut."

But the Kennedy family argument that the two tax cuts differ in both design and circumstance is, to any decent person, unnecessary. The fact that the brother and the daughter, the recognized keepers of the hero’s flame, want the ads pulled should be sufficient.

Had events gone otherwise, their intervention would not have been needed.

Had Jack Kennedy not been the tough, vigilant anti-Communist he was, he might not have stood so strong and true when Nikita Khrushchev tried building his missile base 90 miles from Florida. He would not have incurred the hatred of a pro-Castro zealot named Lee Harvey Oswald. He would have been here today, at a seasoned 83, to defend his record and expound his views.

But had he not been the great American he was, his would not be the treasured memory the other side now tries to desecrate.

Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner’s Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC and MSNBC cable channels. The 1999 edition of "Hardball" was published by Touchstone Books.  

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