74th birthday anniversary came and went...


June 01, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

JOHN F. KENNEDY'S 74th birthday anniversary came and went this week with hardly a notice. The family probably has mixed emotions about that.

On the one hand, they like to keep the murdered president's name and accomplishments before the generations that came after him. On the other hand, they have come to expect nothing but bad publicity and insults whenever a Kennedy attracts attention.

In a new biography, JFK is described as irresponsible, self-indulgent, neurotically promiscuous, lacking intellectual, moral or philosophical vision, interested in winning elections only because he enjoyed winning, not because he really cared for the offices he sought, interested in power only because he enjoyed exercising it, not because he enjoyed achieving the goals power made possible. He lacked "integrity, compassion and temperance," writes Thomas A. Reeves in "John F. Kennedy: A Question of Character."

Phew! I guess that all may be true, but I think sometimes that JFK the president is being lost sight of behind these studies of JFK the man. He wasn't the greatest president, or even, probably, a great president at all, but he was a good one, and I can't think of any other president who served only three years who did as much as he did.

Also, I agree with something Judge Charles L. Weltner suggested in a network television show last Wednesday. The Kennedy presidency was an exciting time in politics, and JFK, whose "character" we knew much less about at the time, was an inspiring national leader.

Judge Weltner (Georgia Supreme Court) was a freshman in the House of Representative from Atlanta when JFK was assassinated in 1963. He voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was the only member of Congress from the Deep South to do so. He also showed his character two years later when he refused to abide by a loyalty oath and support Lester Maddox, his Democratic Party's pistol-packing segregationist nominee for governor. Weltner left Congress and never came back.

On JFK's birthday Wednesday, Weltner was awarded the 1991 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. This award was initiated by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation last year. The award takes its name from John F. Kennedy's 1957 book, "Profiles in Courage," a study of elected officials who had put principle above popularity. A recipient of the award is expected to be someone "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations."

I would say also that Charlie Weltner displayed "abiding loyalty" to his region. As events since 1964 have shown, the politicians who had the courage to act to end segregation ushered in a booming golden age of economic development and positive politics in the Deep South that would not have been possible otherwise. Thanks to Weltner, what was impossible before 1964 is very possible now. A Georgian can be elected president. Too bad it was never him.

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