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Sundays With The Christianists: American History Textbooks With The Right Dynamic For the New Frontier
We told you last week that we were finished with the 1950s and moving into the '60s, and we are -- but by a quirk of editing, both of our history textbooks for the Christian school market have shoehorned the Kennedy administration into the very end of their chapters on the Fifties, the better to emphasize what they see as the chaos and degeneracy of nearly everything that happened after November 22, 1963. We can see the thematic logic of that, so keep in mind that as we talk about Kennedy this week, both of our textbooks treat him as a kind of footnote to Eisenhower, a nice-looking fellow who died under unfortunate circumstances and who liberals pay far too much attention to.
Surprisingly, given their insistence on biblical fundamentalism and their publishers' open hostility toward the Church Of Rome, neither book makes much of JFK's Catholicism -- our 8th-grade book, A Beka's America: Land I Love, says only that he was Roman Catholic, while hinting that the fix was in:
Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential election by 118,000 votes—the closest Presidential race of the 20th century up to that time. Some urged Nixon to contest the vote because of illegal voting practices in some Democratic districts, but Nixon declined. With 1/10 of 1 percent more of the popular vote, John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President of the United States.
So yeah, pretty much illegitimate, despite Kennedy's 303-219 electoral votes. Also, spoiler warning: when we get to the 2000 election, Land I Love makes no mention of Al Gore's popular-vote majority, because it's far more important to emphasize that George W. Bush won Florida fair and square.
Our other textbook, Bob Jones University Press's 11/12th-grade United States History for Christian Schools, also avoids any mention of fundamentalists' fears that Kennedy would be a puppet of Rome:
As a result of eight years of service in the Senate (and lots of money from his millionaire father), Kennedy won a close election over Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee. Despite a lackluster record in the Senate, where he had avoided controversies such as McCarthyism and civil rights, Kennedy had impressed the voters with a vigorous campaign ... He also eased doubts about his religion as he became the first Catholic to serve as president.
Little did the editors know that Kennedy's attempts to allay such fears would later make Rick Santorum vomit. (Also worth noting -- a blog by a former Bob Jones University student claims that following JFK's assassination, the school "refused to fly the flag at half-mast for more than a few days ... and this stunt made the South Carolina papers." We couldn't find any more solid verification of that, but would love some documentation.)
As for Kennedy's governance, both books hit the major points -- in foreign policy, both bemoan the fall of Cuba to Castro (surprisingly, they do at least label mention Fulgencio Batista a "dictator" rather than suggesting he was a swell guy). They differ slightly on the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion; where U.S. History simply says that in not stopping Castro, Eisenhower and then Kennedy "accommodated the further spread of communism, in violation of the spirit of containment," Land I Love goes for more direct airing of grievances:
In April 1961, an American-trained force of Cuban freedom fighters invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy promised to give these brave men American air cover and support, but at the last minute he backed away from his promise. The invasion failed, and Kennedy lost much public support. Conservatives became concerned that Cuba could be used as a launching pad for Communist attacks on America.
And those attacks never came, but they certainly could have, which is the main point.
The Cuban Missile Crisis gets similar treatment; the emphasis is far more on "firm stand" than on "brink of nuclear annihilation," though the latter does at least get mentioned. Neither book is altogether happy with the outcome; Land I Love likes how JFK was all manly and stuff, but adds a coda that undercuts all that standing tall:
President Kennedy remained firm, and the United States, thanks to wise military planning and economic prosperity, had a clear weapons advantage over the Soviet Union. Kennedy forced the Communists to stop sending nuclear weapons and to remove the nuclear weapons already in Cuba. In return, he promised that no American President would ever invade Cuba and deliver it from Communist control.
Wotta wimp. Also, too, the book tosses in a bit of pure mythology, saying that as a means of reducing future tensions, the U.S. and USSR instituted the Washington-Moscow hotline (true), and that "this hot line included the 'red phone,' to be carried wherever the President went" -- not so true; to avoid errors of instantaneous translation, there never was a phone, and the book seems to have conflated the hotline with the nuclear "football," the briefcase full of launch codes that travels with the president. On the up side, they don't claim American presidents have a telephone in their shoes.
U.S. History is actually a bit more critical of the notion that the missile crisis was a U.S. victory:
most Americans viewed the crisis as a clear-cut American triumph. What the public did not know was that Kennedy had secretly agreed to remove a number of missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviet concession. That secret deal and Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Castro’s Cuba showed the president’s willingness to accommodate the Communists and to tolerate a Communist foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
That concession on the missiles, of course, is a standard conservative critique of JFK, and ignores the detail that the Jupiter missiles based in Turkey were obsolete and were soon to be retired anyway. So yes, Kennedy: soft on communism.
On domestic policy, U.S. History doesn't have much to say beyond suggesting that the "New Frontier" sounded idealistic but lacked real substance; the book notes that some of JFK's economic policies were "marked by a conservative bent," such as his expansion of trade with Europe, the space program's boost to the aerospace industry, and of course the 1962 tax cut. U.S. History also notes that liberals were impatient with the pace of Kennedy's action on civil rights, and sums up Kennedy's presidency with this dismissal:
His death in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 brought an end to an administration that was more symbol than substance.
Land I Love will have no truck with such shilly-shallying, however, explaining in a text box that JFK was a liberal, and helpfully reminding young readers once more of the only two positions in American politics:
A liberal in American politics is a person who believes that the government should have more control over people’s lives, that the government through taxes should provide more of people’s needs, and that Biblical, traditional values are not strong considerations. A conservative is a person who believes that the government’s main responsibility is to protect people and property from crime and from foreign invaders, give people freedom to handle their own economic responsibilities, and conserve the traditional, Biblical standards of right and wrong upon which America was built.
Land I Love tells us that the New Frontier mostly involved the expansion of welfare programs, which are very bad indeed:
Because it is human nature to try to get something for nothing, many people took advantage of government handouts. As the number of welfare recipients increased, the government had to borrow more and more money to fund welfare programs.
Money for government welfare programs comes from taxes paid by working citizens; thus, millions of employed Americans faced even higher taxes. Though welfare programs of the New Frontier spent large amounts of money trying to solve the problems of poverty, many people remained locked in poverty and remained dependent on government money.
And if you think they're conflating the New Frontier and LBJ's "Great Society," you are of course completely right. In any case, the main thing to remember is that by slightly raising taxes (no, the Kennedy tax cut doesn't get a mention here), the government stole good people's money and went into debt, which simultaneously "made the economy suffer" and "created a false prosperity."
And finally, there's the Peace Corps, which U.S. History simply says was "a government project designed to send skilled volunteers overseas to help underdeveloped nations," but which Land I Love makes clear was also a disastrous Big Government boondoggle:
By 1965, there were 10,000 Peace Corps volunteers working in 46 countries. Unfortunately, some Peace Corps volunteers also introduced state-sponsored birth control, distrust of Christian missionaries, disregard for private property, and dependence on government socialism.
Many Peace Corps workers served in Latin America. Following up on FDR’s Good Neighbor policy President Kennedy also established theAlliance for Progressin 1961. Every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Communist Cuba, joined in an attempt to encourage democracy and investment in Latin America. Kennedy believed that poverty made these countries vulnerable to Communism. The United States spent several billion dollars on this program, but progress was slow. Foreign aid could not solve the spiritual problems which lay at the root of Latin America’s economic and political difficulties.
Say, do you kids ever get the sense that if Land I Love can't find anything else to explain world events, it just defaults to "spiritual problems"? We are beginning to think this may be the case! But yes, the silly liberals didn't recognize that Latin America really needed Bibles and guns, lots and lots of guns. We'll get back to that theme in the chapter on the 1980s, of course, when Ronald Reagan helped with both.
Next Week: Hippies, rock music, and -- you guessed it -- spiritual decline.
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