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Brennan Armknecht

Mr. Widenhofer

AP United States History

21 May 2018

President Evaluation: John F. Kennedy

Due to John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy successes, economic plans for success for the

current time and the future, as well as advances in the domestic sphere, and the aura of charisma

he carried, John F. Kennedy was an above average president.

An important facet in evaluating a president is determining what factors contribute to said

evaluation. Though the means of measurement is subjective for every person, this evaluation is

broken up into four factors. First, the Foreign Policy of the President. This evaluates the

efficaciousness of the President in global affairs during their time in office. Second is the state of

America’s Economy during the time of the presidency. Third, the domestic action that took place

during the presidency. Lastly, the X factor. This encompasses a plethora of things. If there is

something unique or interesting about the President, then it is counted towards the evaluation.

John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy is the most notable facet of his presidency. JFK was

inaugurated in 1960, a time of great turmoil and turbulence. America was at the peak of the Cold

War; and the success of Sputnik and the development of cutting edge Soviet weaponry, the

American public was starting to show signs of fear towards the USSR. Kennedy responded to

this with a stern policy on communism. This was in contrast to previous president Dwight D.

Eisenhower who Kennedy felt did not approach this problem with enough attention. Kennedy

wanted a fast and flexible response to the Soviet Union’s plans, as opposed to Eisenhower’s

plan, which heavily depended on brinksmanship. This sternness on the Soviet Union is
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recognized in his 11961 address, reflecting the flexibility Kennedy wanted when dealing with the

Soviets.

“In 1961 the world relations of this country have become tangled and complex. One of our
former allies has become our adversary–and he has his own adversaries who are not our
allies. . . .

We increase our arms at a heavy cost, primarily to make certain that we will not have to
use them. We must face up to the chance of war, if we are to maintain the peace. We must
work with certain countries lacking in freedom in order to strengthen the cause of freedom.
We find some who call themselves neutral who are our friends and sympathetic to us, and
others who call themselves neutral who are unremittingly hostile to us. And as the most
powerful defender of freedom on earth, we find ourselves unable to escape the responsibilities
of freedom, and yet unable to exercise it without restraints imposed by the very freedoms we
seek to protect.”

This quote embodies the goals of Kennedy’s foreign policy, remain stern against the

Soviets as well as contain and decimate Soviet influence. Oddly enough, Kennedy’s first major

foreign policy actions were marred with failure. This is evident in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion

in 1961. Kennedy gave the ok for Cuban groups against Castro to launch an invasion into

mainland Cuba. When plans went awry, Kennedy refused to lend USA air support of the Cuban

invaders and they were captured. This was a blow to the USA, as people soon realized his was a

USA organized invasion. This made Kennedy seem inexperienced and indecisive, two things he

felt he could eliminate during his time as president. The next shortcoming in Kennedy’s foreign

policy is the Berlin Wall situation. This is an example of Kennedy’s “tough on communism”

approach not paying off. In 1961, Khrushchev tested Kennedy, stating that he intended to take all

of Berlin, stating that there was only a 5% chance of a war. Kennedy refuted, stating that it was

more than 5%, leading Khrushchev to build a wall in East Berlin. Kennedy’s skipping of

negotiations landed him in some sticky situations.


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Kennedy also had great success in his foreign policy endeavors. One of Kennedy’s

greatest accomplishments was the establishment of the Peace Corps. This organization’s goal is

to socially and economically develop other nations. The Peace Corps still exists today and has

portrayed America in a positive light for decades. Another success of JFK is his passing of the

Limited Nuclear Test Ban in 1963. In spring 1962, President John F. Kennedy, British Prime

Minister Harold Macmillan, and Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union were wrestling with a

formula for a nuclear test ban agreement. Kennedy told a press

conference that if an accord were not reached soon, "the genie [might

be] out of the bottle." 2On May 29, the Washington Post reported that

thirty-four senators led by Senator Hubert Humphrey and Senator

Thomas J. Dodd, had proposed a ban on atmospheric and underwater

testing. A limited Test Ban Treaty was finally ratified in September

1963, the first limitation on the production of nuclear weapons. The

political cartoon by Herb Block, details the perspective on this

agreement. The last issue in JFK’s foreign policy is the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis. This was

a 13 day standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, who had missiles pointed at

us form Cuba. After tense negotiations, Kennedy was able to diffuse the conflict. This would

factor more on the overall evaluation, however, if the United States had not had missiles in

Eastern Europe. Regardless, the ability shown by Kennedy to resolve this Crisis and the

precedents in foreign policy that it set were a success. Kennedy effectively laid out the blueprint

to stopping communism while improving relations with the Soviet Union. Under situations of

massive duress, he was able to diffuse the situation. This makes Kennedy an above average

president.
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JFK was equally involved in the economy as he was in global affairs. This was partially

because it was absolute necessity. JFK took office during America’s fourth great recession since

WWII. Because of this, economics was a large concern of Kennedy. Kennedy developed an

economic plan to pull America out of recession and help the economy in the future. This

included: Lower Taxes, Unemployment Protection, Increased Minimum Wage, and a Rebirth of

Business and Housing Sectors. This policy was so strong that the recession only faded after one

year of his presidency. This opened the doors for round two of Kennedy’s economic plan: ensure

long term growth. JFK directed federal agencies to move forward in their budget spending,

poured money into infrastructure, instituted more food Stamps and Employment offices, and

asked the Federal Reserve to buy treasury notes. The combination of all of these factors allowed

the economy to strengthen and would remain this way for years to come. JFK’s economic policy

is severely underrated. He was able to achieve his two major goals involving economics, making

him an above average president.

JFK also had a plan for great domestic reform. However, a split Democratic Party in

congress made it hard for Kennedy to get his reforms passed.

Kennedy passed his “New Frontier” plan which included Civil

Rights, Healthcare, Equal Pay, Tax Cuts, and Urban/Rural

Reform. All in all, this plan was very solid. However, the majority

of it never got through congress. One interesting thing to note is

that almost all of JFK’s plans would get passed by future

presidents. So, when one argues that Kennedy did not do anything

for the domestic sphere of America, it is important to remember

the precedents set by Kennedy. Pictured above is JFK giving a


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proposal to Americans on Medicare. This is important because it shows how ahead of his time

JFK was as far as his policies go. His proposals got mixed results. JFK’s appeal for federal aid to

schools was blocked because of concerns that parochial schools would receive aid as well, citing

JFK’s religion. No progress was made for Medicare. JFK’s department of urban affairs was

blocked due to Southern Democrats believing that he would elect a black president of this

department. Finally, his income tax plan was passed after his assassination. JFK had great plans

for Domestic affairs in his presidency. Even though he made little progress, he set the bar for

future presidents and today, almost all of these plans are in place. Though he found little success

in his run as president, the precedent he set carries value, making JFK an above average

president.

The last metric used to judge a president is the X Factor. This is something that

distinguishes the president in a positive light. Abe Lincoln had a knack for telling stories during

tense moments, Ronald Raegan had the presence of a Hollywood actor on the podium, and

Millard Fillmore had nothing. The point being, certain presidents had an aura about them that

resonated with the people. There is no better example of this than JFK. JFK had a way with

words as well as charisma. During some of the tensest moments in American History, JFK was

able to keep Americans calm. This was embodied during the 1960 Presidential Debate and JFK’s

inaugural address. The 1960 debate pitted JFK vs. Richard Nixon and was the first televised

debate. The interesting part of this debate is that those who watched it on TV said Kennedy won,

while those who listened to it on the radio said that Nixon won. This is an ode to JFK’s ability to

shine in front of the camera and his charisma to flow. JFK also had a way with words. 4This is

embodied in his inaugural address, seen below. The quote that embodies this way with words is,

“ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
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This way with words paired with Kennedy’s charisma make Kennedy’s aura a big

strength in his presidency. JFK’s ability to diffuse tense situations and create a sense of comfort

contribute to Kennedy’s above average ranking.

Therefore, due to Kennedy’s stern foreign policy, strong economic policy, precedents set

in domestic affairs, and his charisma and way with words, John F. Kennedy was an above

average president.
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Works Cited

1
Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President's Office Files. Speech Files.

University of Washington address, 16 November 1961

2
Block , Herb. “How About One More Try?” Washington Post , 29 May 1963.

3
Knudsen , Robert. Medicare Statement . Washington DC , 17 July 1962.

4
Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President's Office Files. Speech Files. Inaugural

address, 20 January 1961

Kennedy's Foriegn Policy.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State,

history.state.gov/departmenthistory/short-history/jfk-foreignpolicy.

“John F. Kennedy: Domestic Affairs.” Miller Center, 10 Apr. 2018,

millercenter.org/president/kennedy/domestic-affairs.