"In the general election, Kennedy ran as a war hero. This was ironic. Though he deserved praise for his courage in the aftermath of the attack on PT 109, it had apparently sunk because he had been inattentive as a commander, as (Pulitzer-Prize winning author and historian) Garry Wills long ago pointed out. JFK himself worried that the events could justify either a medal or a court martial. In the end, he got the medal -- after his father used his influence."
Many have written about the less-than-movie-mythical opening scene to the PT 109 saga. But not Matthews, not even to dismiss the claims as untrue or as partisan hit pieces.
As to the second, and the ultimate history-shaping event, a question: Did the Cuban Missile Crisis even have to happen?
Matthews details Kennedy's calm, deft handling of the crisis -- with no interest in whether Kennedy's own recklessness led to it. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama promised negotiations with America's enemies "without preconditions." Why not, asked Obama. Kennedy did it with Khrushchev. Bad analogy. Indeed, the young president did meet with Khrushchev in Vienna -- over the objections of his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, among others. As Rusk feared, it was a disaster. Khrushchev lectured Kennedy and refused to budge on anything. "Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed," an op-ed in The New York Times said:
"Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy (said) the summit meeting had been the 'roughest thing in my life. ... He just beat the hell out of me. I've got a terrible problem if he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts. ...'
"A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. ... And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna -- of Kennedy as ineffective -- was among them."
On Kennedy's signal economic achievement -- making the case for the deep tax cuts passed after his death -- Matthews spends less than a page in a 400-page book.
This brings us to the question of why lefties like Matthews fawn over Kennedy -- as to policy. He was, after all, a religious man and a cold warrior who deepened our involvement in Vietnam. He believed in peace through strength: The bigger and badder the military, the less likely it will be used in war. He advocated deep tax cuts -- and argued that tax cuts mean eventually more tax revenue.
Kind of like ... Ronald Reagan. Odd. Very odd.