Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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JFK’s Ailments Revealed

Historians of American politics are abuzz this week about revelations by Robert Dallek in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly regarding John F. Kennedy’s health. For years there had been allegations that Kennedy, after running in 1960 as the candidate of youth and "vig-ah"--implying that Eisenhower’s heart condition disqualified him from serving in the country’s highest office--was in poor health himself. Dallek’s research shows that JFK actually suffered from a wide range of ailments, including colitis, Addison’s disease, recurrent urinary-tract infections, and what would be diagnosed today as osteoporosis--the last brought on by the cocktail of medications he took daily to treat his other problems.

Dallek, writing in the tradition of court historians such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., portrays this as "a story of iron-willed fortitude in mastering the difficulties of chronic illness." I see it differently--while Kennedy was undoubtedly courageous, he was clearly in no condition to serve as president. That his health was successfully kept from the American people has to count as one of the greatest electoral swindles of the 20th century. When will the Camelot myth finally die? Perhaps not until the baby boomers pass from the scene....

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