Joe Kennedy Wasn’t a Rum-Runner

Most fascinating bit (against tough competition) in Daniel Okrent’s Last Call (of which the Ken Burns mini-series Prohibition is more or less the film version): there’s no contemporary authority for the stories about Joseph Kennedy, Sr., as a rum-runner, and the question certainly would have arisen when FDR nominated him to run the SEC. I’m embarrassed to have been taken in for so long. In discussing the origins of Kennedy’s gangster image, Okrent leaves out what seems to me the most salient fact: the desperate desire of the right wing to tarnish the image of JFK, which they properly regard as an important Democratic asset.

Footnote: While Ronald Reagan was alive but debilitated, and for some time after his death, decency required a certain amount of tact about his manifold flaws. That helped the plutocrat-and-racist coalition set him up as a sort of secular saint. I don’t at all wish that the Democrats were as mendacious as the Republicans, but I do wish that we were a little bit tougher. It’s probably too late to restore the original name of the George Washington National Airport, but not to remind the country about how the Reagan White House turned a blind eye to the Contras’ cocaine dealing.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.