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LBJ, Saint
February 10, 2012 3:30 PM   Subscribe

JFK, Monster?

Some vignettes of semi-consensual sexual humiliation from Camelot.
posted by grobstein (114 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It was a dare, but I knew exactly what he meant. This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex. I don't think the President thought I'd do it, but I'm ashamed to say that I did."

the article doesn't say what the article says it says.

not that he wasn't an asshole - i'd be more surprised if an american president were a decent chap.
posted by facetious at 3:34 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's odd, I always thought The New Republic seemed to have a lot of love for the Kennedys.
posted by koeselitz at 3:35 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this where I say I wish my friends were the kind of monsters that would... No? Alright then.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:37 PM on February 10, 2012


Er – yeah, and facetious is kind of right. I don't think it would be right to call John F Kennedy a fine and moral man, but calling this blowjob thing a "poolside ritual of humiliation" kind of smacks of "sex is dirty and gross and anyone who does it is rightly instantly ashamed and dirty and wretched."
posted by koeselitz at 3:39 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


the article doesn't say what the article says it says.

If the President of the United States 'dares' a 19-year-old intern to do something, we can't really apply regular guidelines for whether or not the intern consents to doing so.

Although I do have a problem when the author says, "I can't imagine [Bill Clinton] ever doing anything like this." Last week I probably would have said the same thing about LBJ.
posted by muddgirl at 3:39 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er – yeah, and facetious is kind of right. I don't think it would be right to call John F Kennedy a fine and moral man, but calling this blowjob thing a "poolside ritual of humiliation" kind of smacks of "sex is dirty and gross and anyone who does it is rightly instantly ashamed and dirty and wretched."

Right. Because sex being dirty and gross is what's wrong with the most powerful man in the world telling his subordinate employee to give oral sex to someone while he watches.
posted by The World Famous at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [33 favorites]


koeselitz: This is how Alford describes it:
Alford believes that Kennedy showed "his darker side ... when we were among men he knew. That's when he felt a need to display his power over me."
It doesn't sound like Alford would describe it as "this blowjob thing."
posted by muddgirl at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


muddgirl: “If the President of the United States 'dares' a 19-year-old intern to do something, we can't really apply regular guidelines for whether or not the intern consents to doing so.”

This also seems very true. Hrm.
posted by koeselitz at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gosh, not LBJ. JFK, Jr.

Too many acronyms.
posted by muddgirl at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the more I think about it, the more ugly this seems. Ech.
posted by koeselitz at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder why someone with vast wealth and power would go to the trouble of running for President, rather than just enjoying his vast wealth and power. But then I remember this sort of thing and I stop wondering.
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on February 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


How is the first anecdote in that essay not rape?
posted by winna at 3:45 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Last week I probably would have said the same thing about LBJ.

What's this about LBJ?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:46 PM on February 10, 2012


According to Robert Caro, LBJ used to dictate notes to his aides (including his chief of staff) while taking a shit with the door open.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:46 PM on February 10, 2012


Wow... this is some pretty old mud to sling....
posted by HuronBob at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's this about LBJ?

The question is its own answer.
posted by unSane at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to Robert Caro, LBJ used to dictate notes to his aides (including his chief of staff) while taking a shit with the door open.

He used to pee on the Secret Service men's shoes. He gave press conferences while urinating in front of the reporters. He had a buzzer installed in the oval office so that the secretaries could warn him when the First Lady was on her way, so that he could get off whoever he was banging and pull his pants up. LBJ was a complete bastard.
posted by The World Famous at 3:49 PM on February 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Like I said, too many acronyms.

I did just hear an amusing story about Lady Bird Johnson.
Fun side note: when you come to the end of the trail, you’ll find a pair of restrooms. In the 1960′s, Ladybird Johnson was given a tour of the Reef Bay Trail by the a park ranger. Upon reaching the end, she asked where the bathrooms were – and was politely directed toward the bushes. Johnson later donated the money to create these restrooms.
posted by muddgirl at 3:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


winna: “How is the first anecdote in that essay not rape?”

Well - in that it does not mention anything about Mimi Alford's feelings or consent at all, it doesn't really give us room to decide if it was rape or not. But the very fact that it does not mention how she felt is distinctly creepy and leads to a lot of questions, I think. It gives a strong and unavoidable implication of rape.
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm actually surprised to be the first one to bring this up, but it would appear that the authors best evidence this claim is "believable" is that the author already thought Kennedy was a fucking asshole before he heard it.
posted by smoothvirus at 3:51 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alvy Ampersand: What's this about LBJ?

Which one? They were ALL LBJ! (Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird, and daughters Lynda Bird and Luci Baines)
posted by filthy light thief at 3:52 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


He used to pee on the Secret Service men's shoes. He gave press conferences while urinating in front of the reporters. He had a buzzer installed in the oval office so that the secretaries could warn him when the First Lady was on her way, so that he could get off whoever he was banging and pull his pants up. LBJ was a complete bastard.

Ah, a fellow Johnson fan, I see.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:53 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


How is the first anecdote in that essay not rape?

I would guess because there's hardly any context provided regarding whether or not it was consensual.
posted by Hoopo at 3:55 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Researching LBJ for my term paper on the history of the presidency was easily the best use of my time in all of college.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:55 PM on February 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


If this woman was a White House intern, and married as she claims, then I find her admission that she not only had sex with the president while she was engaged but also blew someone in front of him just because he asked, and is now ashamed to admit it I think this qualifies as a statement against her own interests which is a good indicator someone isn't lying in many circumstances.

And I think it shows the guy didn't have a lot of respect for women, certainly not his wife. I guess you can imagine details that would it make less demeaning but it sounds like he had this girl perform oral sex on another man just to see if she would do it or to impress this guy by the pool. Either way he sounds like a spoiled dirt bag.
posted by PJLandis at 4:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kennedy should have waited until he had majority votes in both houses of Congress before declaring an oral sex dare.
posted by weinbot at 4:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like how the author drags Clinton in at the end of an article about sexual assault.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:03 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Alternately, it may have LBJ wearing JFK's face...LBJFK
posted by PJLandis at 4:03 PM on February 10, 2012


koeselitz explains my thought process, which I should have made more clear.

Well - in that it does not mention anything about Mimi Alford's feelings or consent at all, it doesn't really give us room to decide if it was rape or not. But the very fact that it does not mention how she felt is distinctly creepy and leads to a lot of questions, I think. It gives a strong and unavoidable implication of rape.

For me, they're both really creepy anecdotes. But that first one was slightly more disturbing to me.
posted by winna at 4:04 PM on February 10, 2012


It was a dare, but I knew exactly what he meant. This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex. I don't think the President thought I'd do it, but I'm ashamed to say that I did. It was a pathetic, sordid, scene, and is very hard for me to think about today. Dave was jolly and obedient as I stood in the shallow end of the pool and performed my duties. The President silently watched.

Really, it sounds like Alford and Powers were both game enough at the time, and then immediately felt shame afterward. That sounds about normal for sex in the twentieth century, White House pool and Presidential peeper aside. Yes, if this is true, Kennedy was being a jerk to both Alford and Powers but I don't think either of them come out of the anecdote looking very moral themselves.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:07 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


They were ALL LBJ!

Not forgetting Light Bulb Johnson ...
posted by carter at 4:08 PM on February 10, 2012


I think this qualifies as a statement against her own interests which is a good indicator someone isn't lying

I personally don't doubt JFK was a total sleaze to her, and don't see much reason to doubt these stories were true, but I'm just not comfortable with the conclusion that sharing scandalous details about sex with JFK in a book counts as "against her own interests". There is an interest for her in selling books here.
posted by Hoopo at 4:11 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


After all the stuff I've read about the Kennedys, I'm sad to say this didn't really surprise me. The one thing I've never thought about any of the men in that family is that they have any respect at all for women as individual people: not their wives, their interns, their random celebrity friends, or anyone else.

LBJ meanwhile reminds me of the stories about Caligula, in particular his dinner parties.
posted by SMPA at 4:11 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder what it's like to be that lady's grandkid and read about how your nana lost her virginity.

Can someone link to these weird LBJ stories you're all referencing?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:24 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've gotten to the point where I simply do not take, at face value, shocking testimonials that are connected to making money. This isn't a moralizing statement, actually, but one of epistemic repsonsibility. I don't know if she's being honest, and if not, I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to people who are not here to defend themselves, and who also do not have money in the game.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:25 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


My understanding of LBJ is that he was just about the biggest, most power-insane asshole on the planet at his time, and that JFK's mythical popularity pushed him into a certain psychosis of needed to be as promiscuous and dismissive of women as possible.

As for the JFK anecdotes here, they are creepy as fuck, and I have no reason to believe they are untrue, but I'm not going to read implied rape into the first one, simply because the author wrote it in such a way as to specifically imply rape while leaving out any confirming details which, if they were present, the author surely would have brought up.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:27 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


She wasn't the one who broke the story. It was pulled out of her by a reporter after a biography which did not specifically name her mentioned it. An entire 40 years after the fact. I think we can give her the benefit of the doubt on this one that she isn't doing it for the money.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:29 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


The whole question of consent becomes more than a little unclear when the power disparity is that skewed, and it's isn't possible to get much more skewed than that. A young lady has made it, in a professional capacity, to the White House. Four days later the President wants her. She can say no, and assume that her plans for the rest of her life as she then understands them to be over. Or she can say yes. Technically this is consent. But it shouldn't happen, and I have no problem broadening my definition of rape to include something like this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:31 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


An entire 40 years after the fact. I think we can give her the benefit of the doubt on this one that she isn't doing it for the money.

50 years, even.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:31 PM on February 10, 2012


Well, the biography was in 2003. I had 50 years originally too. But yeah, now it has been about 50.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: “50 years, even.”

Closer to 40, actually. This happened ten years ago; the book was finally published in 2003.
posted by koeselitz at 4:34 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


LBJ used to dictate notes to his aides (including his chief of staff) while taking a shit with the door open.

Must be that diet of Texas beef.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:47 PM on February 10, 2012


It's truly remarkable how many people think "the old days" were better in any measurable way.

...rather than, say, worse in every possible way. Presidents included.

It's pretty much become my shibboleth; if you think anything was better in the past, you're a moron and I should ignore you.
posted by aramaic at 4:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


This didn't surprise me at all. JFK took enough drugs to kill a horse.

To fight the pain, Kennedy took as many as 12 medications at once, taking more during times of stress.

The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine that combats infections.


And he was a drinker. Dared a 19-year-old to give someone a blow job? Dude, he had nukes. We're all lucky to be alive.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:54 PM on February 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


I think the ecosystem was better a few thousand years ago.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:54 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Music was definitely better in the past.
posted by jonmc at 4:56 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, I liked the past long before any of you fuckers did.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:59 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


As Cool Papa Bell indicated, I was just thinking I'd be amazed JFK could even get it up for a quickie with a press secretary, given the elephantine doses of drugs he was taking.

I'd still put "averted World War III" in his win column, though.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:59 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having been surrounded and associating with "strong women" my entire life, I have to remind myself how utterly terrifying this must have been back then. Was simply saying "No" to JFK even an option?

What might the repercussions have been? A nice date-rape later in the evening? Some surprise sex?
posted by snsranch at 5:00 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, you know, as far as JFK being a monster though, he did allegedly kill men's hats in fashion...
posted by Samizdata at 5:05 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Was simply saying "No" to JFK even an option?

The article & interview in The Smoking Gun (linked in the original article) seemed to portray the interns/press secretaries as so many giggling groupies, just waiting for a chance to say "yes."
posted by ShutterBun at 5:10 PM on February 10, 2012


Noah Chomsky, monster. Check. Some hacks with an agenda say so. JFK monster. Check. It's the TNR speaking against form so it must be true. Obama, a monster for not closing down Guantamano. Check.
MeFi used to have better standards than this.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:11 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


MeFi used to have better standards than this

No, it didn't. Check out a bunch of random posts from previous years.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:15 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Noah Chomsky, monster. Check. Some hacks with an agenda say so. JFK monster. Check. It's the TNR speaking against form so it must be true. Obama, a monster for not closing down Guantamano. Check.

I'm a little confused by this comment. Are you saying you don't think the term "monster" properly applies to JFK, regardless of the truth of these particular anecdotes? Or are you saying that you don't believe these particular anecdotes are true? What about all of the other accounts of JFK's sexual exploits while President? Do you not believe those, or do you just discount them? Or is it the word "monster" you've got a problem with?
posted by The World Famous at 5:30 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kennedy didn't just have a thing for Social Register girls; he had a thing for humiliating Social Register girls

This is what it's all about. Irish Catholic Boston boy, raised in resentment, rich but disreputable New Money, suddenly powerful enough to fuck over, literally and figuratively, the old line WASP hegemony. She wasn't a person; she was a way to get back at the bastards who had hated him since high school.
posted by Fnarf at 5:32 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there other vignettes here, or is it just this one about the dare and the blow job? Because, if a regular non-president guy dared me to give a dude oral sex, it would be completely my choice whether or not to take the dare. With the president ... I don't know. You're already in bathing suits at the pool, so there's a level of informality in the situation that suggests to me you have every right to think up a different way of relieving Mr. Powers' tension. Or to decline to relieve his tension at all.

I don't know. Asking a woman to give another dude oral sex doesn't seem so terribly humiliating to me. And I'm not saying it wasn't humiliating for this particular woman, but I am saying that the mere act of making lewd suggestions isn't necessarily evil. It's the power differential that is problematic.

Making your aides take dictation while you're on the toilet, on the other hand, is completely disgusting. I've often wondered if there are any photos of LBJ's Oval Office bathroom anywhere.
posted by brina at 5:39 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


rapist monster getting back at people who hated him in high school. This thread is a bit over the top with the projecting. I mean this sounds like the plot of Legend of the Overfiend.
posted by Hoopo at 5:40 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


What president would make the worst porn star?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:47 PM on February 10, 2012


doesn't seem so terribly humiliating

Whether or not it was humiliating for Alford, JFK contributed to (or created) a work environment that treated women as sexual objects, to be used at a whim. And that sucks.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:54 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


a work environment that treated women as sexual objects, to be used at a whim. And that sucks.

Absolutely, it does. But in this thread I see a lot of speculation and presentism. And I'm not saying what happened was right, I'm not saying it was wrong. I am saying I don't have all the information and that historical context is important.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:58 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


She does say he dared her and she didn't think he expected her to do it.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that the article involves some seriously crappy editorializing (using the word "monster" is pretty dumb, alone). But I think it's absolutely fair to call someone out for their role in the bias and oppression of a group of people, even if it's historical—which the article does a bad job of, in the middle of zomg monster sex times. It's especially fair to call a someone out if that person has been sainted by some (which is, also, dumb).
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:10 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


She does say he dared her and she didn't think he expected her to do it.

Regardless, those facts would make the easiest Title VII lawsuit victory in the history of the statute.
posted by The World Famous at 6:12 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


... JFK contributed to (or created) a work environment that treated women as sexual objects, to be used at a whim....

That was of the era. That was life back then. There was no concept of a non-hostile work environment. That was the Playboy era, the Rat Pack era. It was within the norm for powerful men to treat non-wife/mother/daughter women as sexual objects. Particularly true of certain "career girls."
posted by madamjujujive at 6:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not everyone in that era participated in that norm. Kennedy didn't have to do so, nor did he have to epitomise it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:22 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've got a private little conspiracy theory I've been building in recent years that there's a manual or process for men of great power, that includes deliberate indulging of some heinous sinful habit & somehow harnessing something from it to gain personal power, charisma or confidence. There's just too many scandals involving (mostly) men at the very top of society to explain away with simple coincidence. I dream that one day somebody will discover & publish the book that contains that secret formula & then all our deepest fears can be exorcised at once.
posted by scalefree at 6:25 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


The article & interview in The Smoking Gun (linked in the original article) seemed to portray the interns/press secretaries as so many giggling groupies, just waiting for a chance to say "yes."

Oh, well, I guess it's fine then.
posted by lunasol at 6:30 PM on February 10, 2012


Kennedy didn't have to do so

Nobody had to do so, it was abhorrent and ugly. I am merely giving context. Sexual harassment lawsuit back then? No such thing. I don't know if Kennedy was any worse or any better than his powerful peers of that time, it was not a good time for women.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:34 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've got a private little conspiracy theory I've been building in recent years that there's a manual or process for men of great power, that includes deliberate indulging of some heinous sinful habit & somehow harnessing something from it to gain personal power, charisma or confidence. There's just too many scandals involving (mostly) men at the very top of society to explain away with simple coincidence. I dream that one day somebody will discover & publish the book that contains that secret formula & then all our deepest fears can be exorcised at once.

Power is in aphrodisiac, as well as a force which by definition creates imbalances between people as to their options at any given time. And the people who are particularly good at seeking it will generally be charming, entitled, and living a life which is free of consequences.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:35 PM on February 10, 2012


JFK, Monster

The first thing that I thought of when I read this was "wow, that is an interesting idea for a sequel to Jesus Christ, Superstar."
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:44 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Monster? Is that the word now? Seriously. Human, sure. Fallible. Sure. Imperfect, sure. Wrong, sure. Blank blank blank sure. But monster? What the fuck?
posted by Splunge at 6:46 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obama, a monster for not closing down Guantamano. Check.

seriously who DOESN'T torture innocent children once in a while
posted by DU at 6:49 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


He was not only the president but a man she was close to. He dared her, she said she didn't think he expected her to do it but she did. He hurt her by suggesting it, she wanted to hurt him by doing it. These are two people engaged in a relationship power play.We have a bystander used as a prop. Could this man have refused? This is a psychodrama where nobody comes out intact.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:53 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was of the era. That was life back then. There was no concept of a non-hostile work environment. That was the Playboy era, the Rat Pack era. It was within the norm for powerful men to treat non-wife/mother/daughter women as sexual objects. Particularly true of certain "career girls.

To get a clearer understanding of the realities of this era for females, re-watch 'Dr. Strangelove,' the Kubrick masterpiece. It's all there.
posted by Galadhwen at 6:56 PM on February 10, 2012


seriously who DOESN'T torture innocent children once in a while

Seriously, I mean, we're calling "going to work" with cheese graters and lemon juice torture now, what the hell. Smart mouthed brats.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:58 PM on February 10, 2012


hey they were all consenting adults, amirite?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:05 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


stinkycheese: "She does say he dared her and she didn't think he expected her to do it."

No - she says she doesn't think he expected her to do it - now, with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight and reflection. That seems pretty different to me.
posted by koeselitz at 7:31 PM on February 10, 2012


The JFK sex anecdote with one of the highest creep factors for me is the one about him, at a party, having sex at one point in the evening with a woman, and at another point with that woman's daughter. (I've never been sure that this isn't just myth -- can a MeFite confirm?)
posted by anothermug at 7:54 PM on February 10, 2012


JFK took enough drugs to kill a horse.

No wonder he died young.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:58 PM on February 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


For more tales of JFK poolside orgies, masked threesomes, nude photographs, etc., see Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side Of Camelot.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:12 PM on February 10, 2012


President Tucker Max.
posted by mobunited at 8:12 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Making your aides take dictation while you're on the toilet, on the other hand, is completely disgusting. I've often wondered if there are any photos of LBJ's Oval Office bathroom anywhere.

To me, the tales of LBJ addressing his aides from the commode is a fascinating example of power wielded with absolute nonchalance. It's far more interesting to me, psychologically, than any tales of presidential sex shenanigans. The idea of a leader so confident in his own status that he would conduct business in person while taking a shit is a higher order of self-assuredness.
posted by jayder at 8:18 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's just too many scandals involving (mostly) men at the very top of society to explain away with simple coincidence.

It's not a coincidence or mystery or conspiracy at all. People who love the adrenaline rush of power also love the adrenaline rush of doing scandalous things. The more power you get, the more scandalous things you can do.
posted by desjardins at 8:26 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've got a private little conspiracy theory I've been building in recent years that there's a manual or process for men of great power, that includes deliberate indulging of some heinous sinful habit & somehow harnessing something from it to gain personal power, charisma or confidence.


This stuff wasn't even scandalous at that point in time though, that's the thing. In any event, of course people who are driven to want power and wealth are also driven to have lots of sex as well. But at the same time, lots of women want to have sex with those guys as well.

Anyway if you read the thing with the blowjob, she specifically said she didn't think the president thought she would do it, so obviously that implies it would have been OK for her not to do it.

People regret sex all the time, I don't think every instance of regrettable sex means the person you had sex with was a "monster".
posted by delmoi at 8:42 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we do some quick googling here, guys? If you read the Guardian write-up of this book, there are a great deal of additional details regarding this situation that come to light. Most specifically, Alford herself says that while her first time wasn't anywhere near love-making, it was "not non-consensual." Are those of you assigning "rape" (wow) to this anecdote trying to claim that, regardless of what Alford herself says, you know best?

This is all deeply problematic to me. I appreciate conversations which revolve around consent, and I agree it is a difficult subject, with no bright lines and many exceptions. However, there is a point when this devolves into taking agency away from the women you are trying to "protect." Alford was 19-years-old, and a college student. She was not a child, nor was she incapable of saying no. Is it troubling that JFK used her without a second regard? Of course it is! But how many other men and women use people to fulfill their own selfish desires? How many of those people are more powerful than the people they sleep with?

I also agree that the term "monster" is ridiculous, and turns this article into a polemic rather than a discussion. Is he monstrous for using his considerable charm, wealth and political position to get in the pants of countless women? I would argue that, if we are using monstrous in the way it is intended, he was behaving as many in his place would behave, and in a way that would likely be lauded by his social circle rather than decried.

As someone above said, there is a great deal of "presentism" in this thread. The fact is, as horrified as we might be now, JFK was operating within a very specific culture (one that is alive and well today, as much as many of you might like to pretend otherwise), one that rewarded men like him for this kind of behavior, and which even encouraged it. Furthermore, what bearing do his amoral proclivities (or anyone's amoral proclivities, for that matter) have to do with his role as President? I would argue that our obsession with the titillating private lives of politicians is part of what's wrong with our entire electoral process, and this falls firmly under that camp.
posted by nonmerci at 8:45 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I maintain that it's problematic to even talk about 'consent' when we're talking about a relationship between the most powerful person in America and an intern who works at his pleasure, as it were. This is NOT the same thing as saying that 'Alford was raped.' It's acknowledging the fact that, in a situation like this, Alford's wants, needs, and desires were largely immaterial. If we are judging Kennedy in the context of his culture, what about Alford? What happens to pretty young New England socialites who turn down a Kennedy, I wonder?

Is he monstrous for using his considerable charm, wealth and political position to get in the pants of countless women?

Noah's thesis was that JFK was not a monster for being a womanizer - he was a monster for being cruel to people, men and women. For using them. Those are two different things.
posted by muddgirl at 8:56 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Furthermore, what bearing do his amoral proclivities (or anyone's amoral proclivities, for that matter) have to do with his role as President?

Are you asking why it might not be ideal for the most powerful man on the planet to not only lack any moral compass, but to be actively engaged in an ongoing effort to cruelly and thoughtlessly take advantage of the weak in order to satisfy his basest instincts? Why, I can't imagine any reason.
posted by The World Famous at 9:07 PM on February 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, if this is true, Kennedy was being a jerk to both Alford and Powers but I don't think either of them come out of the anecdote looking very moral themselves.

What's "moral" or "immoral" about a blow job itself, even when the President's watching? If either party didn't want to give or receive, there would be something immoral in the other person being OK with that and going ahead anyway. But surely the morality question here starts before the blow job incident and centers on his having total power over her and her career, and extends to "why did he think that would be funny?" It sounds like he's rubbing it in that he doesn't care who she has sex with and sort of implying that he is powerful enough and personally disinterested enough to provide women for his friends from his, you know, woman stable, which is kind of an asshole move in a relationship where one person is the most powerful boss in the Western Hemisphere and the other is one of the interns. By way of contrast, while picking an intern was a scummy move on Clinton's part, it's hard to imagine him pulling this kind of messed-up mind game stuff on her.

It's kind of amazing that the speed didn't get the better of this guy during, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
posted by Adventurer at 9:18 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Powerful man sexually degrades subordinate...news at 11.

I don't know why anyone finds this particularly surprising or shocking. Pretty much every president that's served during my lifetime, excepting Carter, has been a "monster". I mean being a monster is kinda a prerequisite for the office isn't it? I also find it darkly humorous that some of you here seem to think that problems like this have been expunged from this brave new world of ours, ie comments like: "It's truly remarkable how many people think 'the old days' were better in any measurable way...rather than, say, worse in every possible way. Presidents included."
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:29 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


nonmerci: "Furthermore, what bearing do his amoral proclivities (or anyone's amoral proclivities, for that matter) have to do with his role as President?"

The World Famous gave a good answer to this above; however, if you really want to know, in detail, how John F Kennedy's "amoral proclivities" were massively disruptive to his role as president of the United States, read the Seymour Hersh book somebody recommended above. In short: yes, this stuff, all taken together, really had a very large bearing on whether he was able to do his job.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on February 10, 2012


I'm not sure why Timothy Noah has decided that Alford's account represents the final straw that delineates the transformation of Kennedy into a "monster," and why Kennedy's use of his position of power in the serial sexual coercions and manipulations of Judith Campbell Exner, Mary Meyer, Flo Pritchett, Priscilla Wear, Jill Cohen, Marilyn Monroe, and other women was any less monstrous. It strikes me as odd that for Noah, the pre-existing knowledge that "I knew that he was a compulsive, even pathological adulterer" and "I knew he treated women like whores" was somehow not information that rose to the level of presidential monstrosity.

At the same time that everyone's tut-tutting over Alford's memoir, Chris Matthews' "biography," Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, is a best-seller. He writes that Kennedy "saved us really, kept the smile from being stricken from the planet." He asserts that Kennedy was a transformative American savior: "From the black-and-white world in which we'd been drifting we suddenly opened our eyes, feeling alive and energized, and saw Technicolor." Monster or not, JFK still sells, almost 50 years after he was shot. We definitely adore and cherish our monsters, no matter how much we tear them to shreds.
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also:

nonmerci: "Are those of you assigning 'rape' (wow) to this anecdote trying to claim that, regardless of what Alford herself says, you know best?"

Maybe you can read back over the thread and tell me where any of us said that. I distinctly remember us talking lucidly about the fact that the article linked above made the situation sound like rape.
posted by koeselitz at 9:45 PM on February 10, 2012


Regardless of whether JFK was a rapist, can we at least all agree he was a shitty lover?

unbuttoned her blouse, touched her breast, pulled down her underwear, dropped his pants, climbed on top of her, and fucked her.

Seriously, Mr. President, foreplay.
posted by formless at 9:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fair enough, koeselitz. Having read the Guardian review before this unfortunate piece, I had a different perspective coming into this thread shaped by the quotes I read from Alford herself.

I stand by my comment, and I continue to believe that someone's unfortunate creepiness, or tendency to take advantage of others (unfortunately prevalent traits in powerful politicians), should not have bearing on how we view them as politicians as such. There is no harm in saying, "Wow, JFK sure was reprehensible, and he treated women like sexual objects." I do not take issue with this. I *do* take issue with people claiming that someone is in a non-consensual situation when they themselves have stated that this is not the case. Again, my problem with the early stages of this thread--and some of the responses to what I view as a thoughtful comment on my end--is the apparent desire to remove agency from the woman in question and from women in general.
posted by nonmerci at 9:59 PM on February 10, 2012


It strikes me as odd that for Noah, the pre-existing knowledge that "I knew that he was a compulsive, even pathological adulterer" and "I knew he treated women like whores" was somehow not information that rose to the level of presidential monstrosity.

Noah writes (or wrote) for Slate.
posted by jayder at 10:08 PM on February 10, 2012


Ah. That explains it.

Wait, what? Why does it matter that he's worked for Slate?
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on February 10, 2012


What's "moral" or "immoral" about a blow job itself, even when the President's watching?

JFK and Alford were both married to other people who, we shall presume, were not privy to their affair. Powers presumably knew of the affair, so he consents to a blowjob from a woman he knew was 'twice taken', if you will - and then he bawls JFK out about it post-BJ (some time after finishing his part in the proceedings presumably).

Forget about "you didn't have to make her do that", how about "you don't have to make her do this" present tense? There's a saying about a standing prick having no conscience.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:16 PM on February 10, 2012


I don't think Alford was married at the time. In the interview with her coworker, the interviewee says "she is now married." (The interview took place in 1964)
posted by ShutterBun at 11:44 PM on February 10, 2012


Noah writes (or wrote) for Slate.

Problem with this as a zinger is that the quadruple-punch layoff of Noah (one if their best), Jack Shafer, June Thomas, and Juliet Lapidos was both symptomatic of and a reason why Slate has become so frequently dumb and irritating.

I'd rather read him on Nixon. It's hard not to be good on Nixon, but he's really excellent on Nixon.
posted by Adventurer at 12:06 AM on February 11, 2012


I don't think it was a matter of hooking his bro up. I think it was a matter of demonstrating his control over Alford and Powers. He caused them both to perform. Powerful men don't just have control over women, they have control over men too. If Alford had no choice, did Powers have any more of a choice?
posted by Ad hominem at 2:09 AM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


scalefree: I've got a private little conspiracy theory I've been building in recent years that there's a manual or process for men of great power, that includes deliberate indulging of some heinous sinful habit & somehow harnessing something from it to gain personal power, charisma or confidence.

I believe Mr. Show figured that out back in the 1990s.

Regarding LBJ:

"During a private conversation with some reporters who pressed him to explain why we were in Vietnam, Johnson lost his patience. According to Arthur Goldberg, LBJ unzipped his fly, drew out his substantial organ and declared, 'This is why!'"

Source.
posted by dhens at 2:42 AM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Problem with this as a zinger is that the quadruple-punch layoff of Noah (one if their best), Jack Shafer, June Thomas, and Juliet Lapidos was both symptomatic of and a reason why Slate has become so frequently dumb and irritating.

He may have been one of their best, but he was also instrumental in crafting their house style, which I call Slate Cute™, and this article is definitely Slate Cute™.
posted by jayder at 2:43 AM on February 11, 2012


Seriously, Mr. President, foreplay.

What do you think his first term was?
posted by unSane at 6:20 AM on February 11, 2012


This stuff wasn't even scandalous at that point in time though, that's the thing.

Of course it was. You think he would have won the White House if the good people of Eisenhower America had known the extent of his nonsense?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:25 AM on February 11, 2012


The Entertainment Weekly review of Alford's book sure makes it sound like rape... it also gives a little more background on Alford.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:42 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


nonmerci: "I *do* take issue with people claiming that someone is in a non-consensual situation when they themselves have stated that this is not the case. Again, my problem with the early stages of this thread--and some of the responses to what I view as a thoughtful comment on my end--is the apparent desire to remove agency from the woman in question and from women in general."

Thanks for taking my point; but having thought about it, I'm not exactly sure that's what is going on here. I do not have the book, although at this point I may get a copy just to be clear on what happened, so I'm working from the quotes and descriptions in the articles linked here so far. However, this seems like a complex situation. It is not strange to feel as though it was rape.

I mean, this is a fairly big issue, to be clear. What you're asking is for us to take a woman at her word when she says bluntly 'no, it was not rape.' You say that to do otherwise is to take away her 'agency.' But is this really what you would do in all cases - take a woman at her word on this? I ask you because I think there are situations where women (and men) minimize the abuse they've been victims of.

I guess what I mean is -

If a friend of mine came to me and said, as Alford apparently does in her book, that "he had maneuvered me so swiftly and unexpectedly, and with such authority and strength, that short of screaming, I doubt if I could have done anything to thwart his intentions" - well, I would say: wow - you were raped. And if she said to me 'oh, but I didn't mind, it was consensual,' I would tell her that if he didn't actually stop to find out if she consented at all, then it was rape; and that such a man could likely be even more cruel in the future if she let him.

What would you do in such a case? Do you really believe that all women who say "oh, I wasn't actually raped" were not actually raped? I have a hard time accepting that. People who have been through trauma can go through a lot of different stages in dealing with it, but denial seems like a pretty common one.
posted by koeselitz at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Alford had no choice, did Powers have any more of a choice?

Ken O'Donnell might have had no choice in the same situation, but Dave Powers was no sycophant. Other than Bobby, Dave was the one person who could stand toe to to with JFK. He may have acquiesced to the dare out of loyalty, or "hey, free blowjob," but it certainly wasn't out of fear of reprisal.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:28 PM on February 11, 2012


Correction: I take that back about Ken O'Donnell. His situation would have been about the same as Powers. If anything, he probably would have been even more vocal in reprimanding JFK afterwards, if he felt like it.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:37 PM on February 11, 2012


Ken O'Donnell might have had no choice in the same situation, but Dave Powers was no sycophant. Other than Bobby, Dave was the one person who could stand toe to to with JFK. He may have acquiesced to the dare out of loyalty, or "hey, free blowjob," but it certainly wasn't out of fear of reprisal.

Men will do a lot of things when in the company of other men.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:43 PM on February 11, 2012


He may have been one of their best, but he was also instrumental in crafting their house style, which I call Slate Cute™, and this article is definitely Slate Cute™.

Ah, got it. Too bad about it, too. It's a good voice as a voice that's organic to him. What good is a house style, anyway? Aside from being a fun and important thing to imitate if you want to make fun of the house.
posted by Adventurer at 8:17 PM on February 11, 2012


DU: "Obama, a monster for not closing down Guantamano. Check.

seriously who DOESN'T torture innocent children once in a while
"

Guy's gotta have a hobby.

Now, where's that sawsall?
posted by Samizdata at 9:43 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


An entire 40 years after the fact. I think we can give her the benefit of the doubt on this one that she isn't doing it for the money.

OnTheLastCastle, I don't think she gets a ton more credibility for publishing it later. She might have been waiting until after most of the powerful Kennedy's have died. She might have waited until her husband died. She could still be making it up.

I believe her, but that doesn't mean later = more honest.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:49 AM on February 12, 2012


Seriously, Mr. President, foreplay.

What do you think his first term was?


It was really short. Ha.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:52 AM on February 17, 2012


^LBJ and JFK. I'll just show myself out.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2012


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