JFK: The barbarian king

“What have I become?” — Nine Inch Nails

In hindsight it might be seen that the most treacherous moment, well described in David and Julie Eisenhower’s Going Home to Glory, was when Eisenhower tentatively handed over the keys to John F. Kennedy. Fifty years later the Kennedy legacy continues to descend. But what I found most revealing in Mimi Alford’s memoir of our most auspicious beginning at war’s end was in The Washington Post’s Reliable Source column. The part about the partying at Bing Crosby’s house in Palm Springs, where JFK urged her to try amyl nitrate (“I was his guinea pig”). It brought to mind the food testers in barbarian regimes hundreds, thousands of years back.

But these events to which Alford speaks, which should now include Dave Powers, whose job it says was “to find her an abortion doctor when she briefly feared she might be pregnant,” and my own Boston family should by now be considered the twisted aberrations of an ethnic political cult. The wanton sexuality inspired a generation and legitimized similar behavior in the Clinton period. In America, what’s good for the white-glove Boston gentry is good for trailer park. And 20 years hence when more Clinton stories come out, that will be considered a cult as well.

These new accounts by Alford reveal nothing new. They tell us what we as people united only by war and football have come to accept, and to some degree, they tell us what and who specifically have poisoned us. For we have become used to the neurotic, the obscene and the squalid and have come now to accept it and to universally be part of it.

We in Boston then were probably most concerned with the war between Catholics and Protestants that we’d engaged in these first hundred years since we got here and which still echo today in Kennedy v. Bush. But it is worth going back to the beginning and the great Canadian production “The Tudors” will bring a shortcut. Contention first rose between the Catholic wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the next one, the Protestant reformer Anne Boleyn, and this would shake the world these 500 years.

Eisenhower’s America was well beyond it; he was from the plains, Kansas and Texas, and turning it back to Catholic and Protestant families of Massachusetts as compatible as “Angry Birds” seemed curiously a step back in time. Now with JFK it becomes clear that we had not transcended the Tudors’ contentions and the struggle of Henry and his good friend Charles, duke of Suffolk, to rise above barbarism.

The need, and the need in all of history that is good, is to manage the barbarism. That is what all the current vampire stories are about. The sexual escapades of Henry VIII actually draw sympathy in this, in the first days of the English-speaking people just leaving the forest. Those of JFK and Clinton do not, because there was no struggle.

But what is striking in the first episode of “The Tudors” is when Henry takes a mistress right under the eyes of his wife, Catherine. Before they plunge into the bed he asks her face to face: “Do you consent?”

In our time, do we even ask?