THE STUMP APRIL 9, 2012
Peggy Noonan, in her weekly column in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition, this one headlined, “Oh, For Some Kennedyesque Grace”:
The other day an experienced and accomplished Democratic lawyer spoke, with dismay, of the president's earlier remarks on the ObamaCare litigation. Mr. Obama had said: “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” He referred to the court as “an unelected group of people” that might “somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”
It was vaguely menacing, and it garnered broad criticism. In the press it was characterized as a “brushback”—when a pitcher throws the ball close to a batter's head to rattle him, to remind him he can be hurt.
The lawyer had studied under Archibald Cox. Cox, who served as John F. Kennedy’s Solicitor General, liked to tell his students of the time in 1962 when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Engel v. Vitale, a landmark ruling against school prayer.
The president feared a firestorm. The American people would not like it. He asked Cox for advice on what to say. Cox immediately prepared a long memo on the facts of the case, the history and the legal merits. Kennedy read it and threw it away. Dry data wouldn't help. Kennedy thought. What was the role of a president at such a time? And this is what he said: We're all going to have to pray more in our homes.
The decision, he said, was a reminder to every American family “that we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity,” and in this way “we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of our children.” He accepted the court's decision, didn’t rile the populace, and preserved respect for the court while using its controversial ruling to put forward a good idea.
It was beautiful. One misses that special grace.
Mimi Alford, in her newly released memoir about her time working as an intern in the Kennedy White House, as a 19-year-old rising college sophomore:
Dave Powers [a top Kennedy aide] was sitting poolside while the President and I swam lazy circles around each other, splashing playfully. Dave had removed his jacket and loosened his tie in the warm air of the pool, but he was otherwise fully clothed. He was sitting on a towel, with his pants leg rolled up, and his bare feet dangling in the water.
The President swam over and whispered in my ear. “Mr. Powers looks a little tense,” he said. “Would you take care of it?”
It was a dare, but I knew exactly what he meant. This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex. I don’t think the President thought I’d do it, but I’m ashamed to say that I did. It was a pathetic, sordid, scene, and is very hard for me to think about today. Dave was jolly and obedient as I stood in the shallow end of the pool and performed my duties. The President silently watched.
Noonan must not have heard about that bit, though everyone was talking about it just a few weeks ago. Or, who knows, maybe such a scene still qualifies someone—in some vague, ineffable way—as possessing “that special grace.”
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