Monday, July 10, 2023
#191 / I Shook The Hand That Shook ......
Like some of my earlier blog postings, this one is coming to you thanks to one of those "Little Free Libraries" that are so liberally located around Santa Cruz, California, my hometown since 1971.
The story I am planning to tell goes back to 1960, but I have been stimulated to tell it by my recent encounter with Seymour Hersh's book, The Dark Side Of Camelot. I did pick that book up from the "Little Free Library" pictured below - which is the same "Little Free Library" in which I found a wonderful book about the French Revolution.
Many thanks to Iris Harley for the high quality of her free book offerings! If you want to give her "Little Free Library" a try yourself, direct your steps to Oceanview Avenue - but you'll still need to do some detecting on your own, since this "Little Free Library" isn't right out on the street.
Actually, I have alluded to my story about President Kennedy before, in a much earlier blog posting that I published in 2015. The Hersh book, which convincingly argues that the Kennedy family's involvement in American politics was, from the very beginning, not only "dark," but dangerous and deeply-flawed, has reminded me of my own beguilement with John F. Kennedy. I have reconsidered my early affection since the time of this story, but in 1960 I was fully convinced that JFK was a shining star and an exemplar of the kind of politics we need.
During that year (which was a presidential campaign year), I was a senior at Palo Alto High School, and a student in Mr. Thornton's U.S. history class. I think Mr. Thornton may have supported Richard Nixon, but I came from a family of what my grandfather sometimes called "Yellow Dog Democrats." For those who have never heard this expression, a "Yellow Dog Democrat" is a person who would vote for ANY Democrat, over ANY Republican, even if the Democrat were a "Yellow Dog." Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved my grandparents from homelessness and destitution during the Great Depression, and their gratitude never wavered.
At any rate, during 1960, I was not only coming from a Democratic Party ("Yellow Dog Democrat") family, I was personally inspired by John F. Kennedy. I had read, for instance, Profiles In Courage - attributed to Kennedy, and for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, though it came out later that he didn't actually write that book himself. In U.S. History class, of course, we talked about the 1960 presidential campaign all the time, and my political allegiances were well known to all, including to Mr. Thornton.
Thus, as I reported back in 2015, when I got to hear JFK give a speech in San Francisco, and was able to attend a fundraising dinner before that, and when I was able personally to shake Kennedy's hand at that fundraising dinner, that was one of the highlights of my life (to that point).
I don't know whether I would have made my personal contact with Kennedy known to Mr. Thornton and the class, had Mr. Thornton, himself, not done what he did. Obviously, my teacher knew of the presence of my political hero in San Francisco (pretty close to Palo Alto), and he definitely knew how much I venerated John F. Kennedy. He did not know that I had actually been at Kennedy's speech, and at the fundraising dinner.
So, I was taken aback, when my history class began on the Monday following my encounter with Kennedy, to be summoned to the front of the classroom (without warning) and then ceremoniously told to shake hands with Mr. Thornton. It was kind of a command performance, and so I did, obviously, shake the teacher's hand when commanded to do so.
After I complied, Mr. Thornton said, with great delight, "Well, Gary, you have just shaken the hand, that shook the hand, that shook the hand, that shook the hand of John F. Kennedy."
He smiled broadly. He definitely thought I was going to be blown away by this fact. Of course, unbeknownst to Mr. Thornton, I could accurately respond, as I did: "Well, Mr. Thornton, you have now just shaken the hand that shook the hand of John F. Kennedy."
One of my proudest moments!
The book about the "dark side" of Camelot, by acclaimed investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, makes pretty clear that my adolescent hero worship of John F. Kennedy was profoundly misplaced. I didn't find this out, of course, from that book I just recently picked up in Iris Harley's "Little Free Library." I had already figured that out, a long time ago. Our politics depends not on "the president," I now know, nor upon any "great leader."
Our politics depends on "us." That is what "self-government" is all about. We, ourselves, need to be directly and personally involved in political action.
We had best not forget it!
(1) - https://people.com/politics/why-jfks-aide-decided-to-tell-her-side-of-their-4-affair/
(2) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo