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Sunday Stupid: It’s JFK vs. The Silly Bastard Next to the Bed!

May 10, 2015
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The public image United States presidents tend to project is one of considered reserve. They may raise the tone of their voice when out on the stump, but they always try to keep things on a generally even keel. This is what made the Nixon tapes so startling. It was jarring to hear the Chief Executive cussing and swearing like some old sod shooting the breeze on a rickety chair in front of the general store.

Nixon’s downfall was what did away with the idea of presidents recording their Oval Office conversations, but we still have his predecessors’ tapes to clue us in on both important moments in history and the amusing minutiae that might concern a head of state. And there’s no more entertaining minutiae than the time Jack Kennedy got all riled up over a dopey picture in the paper.

The long story made short in this instance is that in the summer of 1963 Jackie Kennedy was soon to deliver a child (Patrick, who would sadly die shortly after being born), and a medical facility was outfitted at Otis Air Force Base for her confinement, that being the nearest government facility to the Kennedy Hyannis Port compound. Unfortunately, the press was alerted to this fact by a somewhat clueless local staff, and photos were taken and an article written in the Washington Post about the somewhat lavish pains the Air Force had taken to ensure Mrs. Kennedy’s rooms were finely appointed. (In defense of the military, it seems that details were exaggerated and/or outright invented by the Post reporter(s) to liven up the fluff piece.) And when JFK saw this, especially the goofy photo accompanying it, he blew his stack, which is what you have in the above clip — in which he dresses down an Air Force general. My favorite parts? Of course the utter disdain as Kennedy repeatedly calls the officer in the Post photo a “silly bastard.” (“He’s a silly bastard!”) His thickly accented pronunciation of “Jordan Marsh.” Cathouse. And the way, when the general tries to sputter an answer, he cuts it off with a curt “Well this is obviously a fuck up!”

There’s an earlier round of this imbroglio in the following clip, a phone call to Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester. JFK is a little more calm speaking to the civilian appointee, though he still wants “to send that goddamned furniture back,” and ship the silly bastard in the photo off to Alaska:

“He doesn’t have any sense!”

There’s an amusing coda to this. The officer in the photo was Captain Ernest J. Carlton, who was blissfully unaware that he had incurred Kennedy’s wrath, until, in the update below, a short filmed two years ago, he was played this audio for the first time — and got a kick out of it:

The epilogue is heartwarming. No, the silly bastard didn’t end his days shoveling snow off of runways in Alaska, but instead had a distinguished non-military career. You have to believe that JFK would have been pleased.

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