nedy and Reagan is largely superficial,rndue in part to the fact that most politicalrnfigures since Kennedy, v-hate’er theirrnprofessed beliefs and parties, have beenrninfluenced by his political stle and strategyrnand in part to the fact that most politiciansrnwho got elected president duringrnthe Cold War generally won by campaigningrnon much the same platform —rnthat they would cut taxes, maintain militaryrnpower and security, and smack downrnthe Russkies if they stepped out of line.rnMoreover, Mr. Podhoretz’s claim thatrnthe Kennedy myth “wildly exaggeratedrnthe liberalism of its leader” is perhaps intendedrnto reformulate the image ofrnKennedy himself as an icon usetid forrnneoconservatives — more useful thanrnReagan, who is today largely forgottenrnoutside the conservative cheerleaderrnsquad. But whatever Mr. Podhoretz’srnpurpose is making this claim, he is simplyrnwrong, and wrong in a way that suggestsrnthat he has totally failed to understandrnsome of the major contours of Americanrnpolitical culture today and how JohnrnKennedy helped shape them.rnIt’s true the Kennedy administrationrnaccomplished little in the way of legislation,rnfederal programs, or foreign policyrnachievements and that most of what wasrnaccomplished politically in the earlyrn1960’s was the work of the Johnson administrationrnafter Kennedy’s death, hirnthat sense, you can’t blame the liberalismrnof the Great Society on Kennedy, thoughrnthat’s a bit like saying you can’t blamernLenin for the crimes of Stalin. Leninrnmay not have committed the samerncrimes, but he had no objection to doingrnso and would have done so had he felt therninclination or possessed the power.rnThere is virtually nothing the Johnsonrnadministration ever did in domestic orrnforeign policy that John Kennedy wouldrnnot have wanted to claim for his own administration.rnBut the deeper sense in which Mr.rnPodhoretz is wrong is that he missesrnthe major impact that Kennedy had. Ifrnhe accomplished nothing else, JohnrnKenned}’—or at least the spin arhsts, cosmeticians,rnhairstylists, speechwriters,rnghostwriters, and just plain con menrnwhom the Kennedys have always employedrn—effected a profound and enduringrnchange in the popular culture ofrnAmerican politics. He did so in part byrnhis (so I’m told) authentically charmingrnpersonalit}’ and wit, in part by the socialrnand intellectual sophistication he affected,rnand in part by the informality he artfullyrnsynthesized with the sillv and ponderousrnsonorities that he habituallv unbosomedrnin his orator}’. The changernKennedy effected was the popularizationrnof utopianism as a serious premise ofrnAmerican politics, and the carefully craftedrnSuperman image of war hero, athlete,rnpatrician, historian, intellectual, statesman,rnCatholic, and family man that hernprojected was designed to legitimize andrnnormalize the utopianism he preached.rnThe image suggested that the utopia herndemanded and into which he sought torndragoon the nation was neither unattractivern(JFK’s personal charm) nor unpatrioticrn(war hero) nor unmanly (athlete) norrnachieved at the expense of American institutionsrn(family and faith) nor unletteredrn(intellectual, historian, Harvardrngraduate) nor low-class (patrician) butrnrather one fully in harness with Americanrntradition, aspirations, and good taste.rnKennedy, in short, manipulated thernimagery of conservatism to legitimizernutopianism. That is why the ArthurianrnCamelot, a manly and martial utopia,rnwas such an appropriate metaphor for thernUtopian vision that Kennedy and his crewrnwanted to project.rnIt is precisely because he was successfulrnin doing so that the virus of utopianismrnsoon came to shape the Great Societyrnas well as the New Left (to whomrnKennedy remained a martyr) and hasrnnow infected the bloodstream of Americanrnpolitical culture to the point that it isrnall but impossible for any Americanrnpolitician to succeed unless he endorsesrnit. Lyndon Johnson’s drippy and pedestrianrnpolitical rhetoric simply took forrngranted the legitimacy and desirability ofrnthe grand Utopian designs that Kennedyrnhad unleashed. Reagan himself regurgitatedrnmuch the same vision in his rhetoricalrnindulgences of the “City on a Hill,”rnan image of millennialist utopianism directlyrnderived from a gnostic New EnglandrnPuritanism, and the neoconservatismrnthat has by now all but displacedrnthe pre-Kennedy conservatism of RobertrnTaft, Joe McCarthy, and the young BarryrnGoldwater has also absorbed it to the degreernthat most of its younger exponentsrnare not even aware that utopianism andrnconservatism are not compatible. Today,rnall politicians are supposed to see “visions,”rna term unmistakably connected tornutopianism, and to intone neat slogansrnthat encapsulate those visions. One ofrnthe few American politicians who did notrnseem to share this common Utopian orthodoxyrnwas George Bush, Sr., whose distasternfor the “vision thing” betrayed hisrnown, quite healthv ‘iew of politics asrnmere administration. Unfortunately, itrnwas a view that Mr. Bush more likely acquiredrnthrough his cultural illiteracy andrndull sensibilities rather thair any seriousrnreflection on the nature of political manrnand the constraints of the human condition.rnWhatever Mr. Podhoretz’s purposes inrntrying to assimilate Reagan to Kennedyrn(much as Kennedy sought to assimilaternhis own utopianism to the imagery ofrnconservatism and tradition), they canrnachieve no good result. Most of what isrnwrong with American politics today derivesrnprecisely from the monopolizationrnof political dialogue by one species ofrnutopianism or another, and all derive directiyrnand most immediately from JohnrnF. Kennedy. Kennedy’s utopianism wasrnequivalent to a refusal to govern the nationrnin accordance with the rules andrnlimits of conventional politics and isrnclosely related to his whole family’s refusalrnto govern themselves or others byrnthe same rules and limits that constrainrneveryone else — a refusal that may helprnexplain, more than any conspiracy theory,rnwhy so many Kennedys get shot orrndrive off bridges or kill themselves andrntheir wives by flying planes they are notrnqualified to fly in conditions even experiencedrnpilots would refuse to fly in.rnTheir utopianism, in other words, derivesrnfrom the same impulse that generatesrnthe delusion tiiat, because they arernKennedys, they can do whatever theyrnplease, and whatever costs accumidaterncan always be paid by somebody else. Asrnlong as the Kennedys confine the consequencesrnof their impulses to themselvesrnand their families, no great harm is donernbeyond what is visited upon those incautiousrnenough to risk their own lives by associatingrnwith them, but their injectionrnof the Utopian vims into the assumptionsrnand habits of American political culturernhas only contiibuted to the corruption ofrnthe nation’s politics and rendered its citizensrnmore vulnerable to the fraudulericernand dangers that invariably accompanyrnthe enthronement of political fantasy.rnThanks largely to them and the propagandarnorgans that sustain their false legend,rnthe entire nation is now permairentlyrnembarked on a flight into a Utopianrnhaze no less impenetrable than the onernJohn-John encountered last summer,rnguided by pilots no more competent thanrnhe was and no less indifferent to the dangersrnthey invite. crn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn