There’s no business like showbusiness – that goes double for poltics

JFK – more conspiracy than you think

With the American Presidential elections coming up on us hard and fast it might be time to look at that other form of show business called democracy! So let’s take a look at how the electoral process discovered that there was more to political success than bags full of unmarked bills and stuffing ballots. There was also make up, bright lights, and television cameras!

when eyes lies is seeing is deceiving?

Conspiracy has become a dirty word these days and synonymous with tin foil hats and “off his meds”. Yet conspiracies are an everyday occurrence. When an eager job applicant shows up at an interview spit shined & smiling, he’s trying to present his best image to his prospective employer. He might even add a padded out resume. Should he get some references to back him up, then he’s arranged a minor conspiracy. Image counts and a basic part of a conspiracy is presenting an image to hide the truth.

Sweating the sweet talk

When the stakes are higher than getting hired for some 9 to 5 job, then a lot more effort goes into building a cover. Like in politics. American democracy is like a turbo charged popularity contest where issues get blurred out by personalities. When a candidate can get enough people to like and trust him, he can translate that into support at the polls. So a lot of effort goes in to coming off looking good. These days they use neurolinguistic programming tech to befuddle voters with double talk (It’s the art of getting some one to focus on what they think they’re hearing instead of what you’re trying not to say). Even as far back as the Clinton era – remember the good times? – PR was hi tech. The Clinton staff used to run every speech through a focus group before it was put out for public consumption. Listener response to each word was charted, and if the response was negative, the word got yanked. By the time Slick Willie got up in front of the cameras his speech was streamlined and fine tuned to make the best possible impression.

Slack Jack gets a make over

Slick Willie wasn’t the first American Pres to sweet talk Joe Blow into co operation. One of the most notable examples of image management was the late John F Kennedy. His father bragged that he was gonna sell young John to the public like soap suds. So in addition to ballot stuffing and pay offs there was a lot of emphasis on JFK’s image. By the time he got to the debates he was all polished bronze. In comparison Tricky Dicky came of pasty and weaselly. There was no question who was gonna win class president, and it wasn’t the head of the chess club.

Candidate may be smaller than he appears in ads

Now Handsome Jack didn’t start life as James Bond. JFK had many health issues. For one thing one leg was shorter than the other (& that’s and example of NLP right there. Short is a loaded term. Describing one leg as shorter – instead of the other leg as longer, makes him sound jumped up. He’s either taller or shorter than he seems, depending on which leg you put the weight on!). That’s what caused his back trouble. He had to play football at Harvard and all that tearing around the field with uneven legs eventually wrecked his lower back.

When there’s no warranty you’d better check under the hood

He also had Addison’s Disease. Addison’s is a malfunction of the adrenal glands that can cause much grief. Like immune disorders. So Jack was always a sickly and skinny youth. In fact he spend much of his boyhood on the sick bed. At that time it wasn’t an issue since his older brother Joe Jr was being groomed for world domination. When Joe died tragically in World War 2, either on a heroic suicide mission that would look great on his future political resume, or trying to scale the electrified fence of a German POW camp – depending on which story you listen to, Jack inherited his family’s great expectations. So vibrant good health became an issue. Especially when he got to the presidential campaign.

The glandular president

In the run up to the 1960 election the family decided something needed to be done about JFK’s persistent poor health. So they tried a new treatment. It involved injected JFK with cortisone to make up for his deficient adrenals. Cortisone is what’s called an androgen. In plain language it’s a male sex hormone or a steroid. It worked like a charm. That lad who’d always been scrawny and spend much of his life in a sick bad suddenly filled out and got athletic. With the extra dose of macho and consequent added weight he became virile looking and handsome. Even the Addison’s came in handy. One of the symptom of the disease is that when you have it you’re very sensitive to sunlight. Any exposure and you turn as orange as Lindsay Lohan. So it didn’t take much to turn Jack all bronzy. By the time he showed up for the debate with Nixon he looked as hale and hearty as if he’d some from a month on the Riviera with a stop off at the gym on the way.

as seen on TV

The debate is considered a crucial moment in the election. Up to that point JFK was seen as a light weight rich kid with no experience. Nixon had tons of experience under his belt – what with dealing with the Soviets as Eisenhower’s strong right arm. People who heard the debate on radio came away thinking that Nixon had won, and that JFK didn’t show much substance. People who saw it on TV thought JFK won, because he looked so much more capable and manly. Let’s face it, Jack was the kind of guy you wanted to hang out and have drinks with.

Developing chemistry with the voters

So image won the 1960 presidential elections, with a little help from the Chicago mafia – allegedly. Without his macho injections JFK might have come off like some pale skinny kid who couldn’t to stand up to the school bully, let alone Nikita Kruchev. With his magnetism switched on the nation fell in love. So he got to take Jackie to the Presidential prom while Nixon had to go muttering and complaining back to California to plot his revenge. People will argue about how much image had to do with that. After all he did get a lot of help winning that race. Bobby, as recounted in Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot, bribed every sherif in the south at $50 000 a pop, to insure support. Lyndon Johnson was an excellent choice of VP, since there never was a more colourful scoundrel in American politics; with the possible exception of Huey Long. If there was a guy to get results it was him.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

Still when people look back on that it’s the debate they talk about, and the dramatic contrast between sweaty nervous Nixon and cool Handsome Jack. It made an impression. That impression was the result of a conspiracy to conceal JFK’s weak health from the voters, and to get him boosted up for the race. Arrangements had to be made to present him to the public as some one they could place confidence in, if not exactly trust. Of course the public couldn’t be let in on the deal. That would take the fun out of it, as well as ruin the whole effect. So JFK was more than the first pres to compete using performance enhancing drugs – that we know of. He also proves that conspiracies are more than just tin foil and untreated mental illness! Whenever two or more get together to project the right image, that by definition is a conspiracy.

PS. The Kennedy lesson wasn’t lost on PR managers. When Reagan ran he was made up like a corpse in a funeral parlor. His hair was always dyed jet black, even though it was doubtful that it was his natural colour, or by that age that the hair was even his. It became an open joke and Reagan never denied the dye job. He just wouldn’t own up to it. He was too savvy to insult the intelligence of a now cynical public. He simply didn’t talk about it and hoped people would go along with what they saw, even if the knew different.

It’s interesting to think that one leaked photo of a greyed out Reagan going into the White House barber shop for his dye job might have blown his cover, and America’s confidence in him. It might’ve accomplished what his liberal opponents were so eager to achieve – piercing his Teflon. Even if the photo was doctored people would stop and think it was probably what he really looked like, and the damage would have been done. Oddly, though they pride themselves on being image savvy, the left didn’t think of that one.

PSS. Mr 60 Minutes Andy Rooney has passed away at the age of 92 and after a long distinguished career as a journalist. Here now are a few more miunutes with Andy Rooney.

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