Tilting at Windmills

January/February 2012 Why he had to appear tough

By Charles Peters

In the years immediately before World War II, the Democrats gained the reputation of being the strongest party on national security. But postwar accusations that the Democrats had let Russia steal our nuclear secrets, that the Democrats “lost China” to the communists, and that Kennedy had proved spineless during the Bay of Pigs, all combined to make Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and, I suspect, every subsequent Democratic president worry excessively about appearing tough enough on national security.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • Mark Garrity on February 15, 2012 12:53 PM:

    It didn't help that in the year before North Korea invaded South Korea various Democratic house reps went on record in committee hearings scoffing at the idea that such an invasion was likely.

    JFK and Rockefeller both beat the war drums in 1960 to contrast themselves with Nixon who had to stand on Ike's record. Hammering them for the largely fictitious "missile gap" was a large part of Kennedy's winning strategy. The fact that he was a war hero didn't hurt either.