Promises Kept

Promises Kept : John F.Kennedy's New Frontier

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Since the death of John F. Kennedy, the early hagiography has given way to a sharply critical, revisionist portrait that depicts a mediocre president whose domestic program was a dismal failure. Kennedy was a man of words, not of deeds, one critic wrote, and his achievements "were less significant than James K. Polk." But in Promises Kept, eminent historian Irving Bernstein argues that "the revisionists are dead wrong." By 1963, Kennedy had become a very effective leader and, if he had not been assassinated, there is no doubt that his whole program would have been enacted by 1965. In this brilliant reassessment of the Kennedy years based on primary sources, Bernstein vividly recreates many of the major political and social confrontations of the early '60s, especially the burgeoning struggle for civil rights. He describes the 1961 Freedom Ride bus trip that headed south to defy Jim Crow (James Farmer and six other blacks were horribly beaten when the bus arrived in Birmingham) and the violent riot on the campus of Ole Miss where a young James Meredith, with the backing of Kennedy's Justice Department, the National Guard, and the U.S. Army, became the first black ever to register at that bastion of the Deep South. Bernstein also examines Kennedy's determined fight to push through education aid bills, raise the minimum wage, establish Medicare and revitalize the American economy and create full employment. Kennedy survived the early stumbles of inexperience, Bernstein concludes, to become a master of legislative politics. By November of 1963, he had forged a working relationship with a hostile Congress and made the breakthroughs that would lead to the tax cut, the Civil Rights Act, federal aid for education, and Medicare in 1964 and 1965. A provocative new account of Kennedy's domestic achievements, Promises Kept is the first of a two-volume study of the social and economic reform programs of the 1960s. When complete, it will be a signal contribution to our understanding of recent American history.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 351 pages
  • 157.48 x 238.76 x 33.02mm | 975.22g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195046412
  • 9780195046410

Review Text

Here, Bernstein (A Caring Society, 1985, etc,; Political Science/UCLA) convincingly argues that JFK was a successful President. Emphasizing Kennedy's intellect, energy, and ambition, and stressing the inert nature of the American political system in its transition from a relatively conservative society to the liberal society of the 1960's, Bernstein claims that Kennedy accomplished a great deal as President. He contends that the young leader made significant progress in civil rights, reduction of taxes and stimulation of the economy, aid for education, and the projection of American good-will abroad in the Peace Corps, and that he fought hard for other reforms as well, such as the minimum wage (successfully) and Medicare (unsuccessfully). Kennedy, Bernstein argues, would have been a great President had his tenure not been cut short by assassination. However, the author may be overemphasizing the impact of Kennedy himself on the period. In the field of civil rights, Bernstein's own account shows a cautious Kennedy, pulled along reluctantly by Martin Luther King and anxious not to disrupt his political ties to southern conservatives. Moreover, Bernstein mentions the Bay of Pigs debacle only briefly, does not discuss Kennedy's rapidly growing involvement with the Vietnamese dictator Diem, and fails to note the President's personal ties to organized crime figures. Despite those caveats, Bernstein's conclusion that Kennedy was an important catalyst in this period of reform is ultimately persuasive. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Irving Bernstein

About the Author Irving Bernstein is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. His works include The Lean Years, Turbulent Years and A Caring Society--an acclaimed trilogy on the American worker in the era of the Great Depression.show more

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