Op-Ed: JFK may have been a worse philanderer than Trump. Does it matter?
As Americans get ready to hear Stormy Daniels spill the story of her alleged 2006 affair with President Trump, we might want to acknowledge that she isn’t the first adult entertainer to reportedly hook up with a future president. In 1955, the politician was Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy and the other woman was a stripper named Tempest Storm. The different manner in which Americans have digested these parallel tales reveals a lot about how our nation has evolved — and not — over the past half century.
Tempest Storm, born Annie Blanche Banks in Eastman, Ga., was an internationally famous burlesque star by her mid-20s and headlined feature films such as “French Peep Show” and “Striptease Girl.” She first encountered Kennedy after a performance at the Casino Royale in Washington, D.C.
She later wrote in her memoir that she had no idea who Kennedy was and had little interest in talking with him initially. But she was taken by the senator’s “stunning good looks,” and said their sexual relationship began the next evening. She said their occasional trysts, which ended well before he became president, typically took place at the Mayflower Hotel. According to Storm, who is now 90, Kennedy confided “that he was not happily married, that Jackie was cold toward him.”
The largely male Washington press corps looked the other way then and likewise kept Kennedy insulated from sexual scandal during his presidency. Not until 1975, when the name of his mistress Judith Campbell popped up during a congressional hearing, did most Americans realize Kennedy had been unfaithful to his wife. Still, when Campbell wrote her well-documented 1977 memoir about the multi-year affair, Kennedy loyalists did their best to discredit and degrade her.
Tempest Storm’s 1987 memoir got similar dismissive treatment. The mainstream press ignored it as undignified gossip. The tide turned only when several academic Kennedy biographers acknowledged that her story meshed with their research. For instance, in 1955, Kennedy indeed was temporarily living in a suite at the Mayflower Hotel where he also spent intimate evenings with other lovers, including actresses Lee Remick and Audrey Hepburn.
Kennedy’s track record as a playboy and philanderer may well have been even worse than Trump’s is.
Kennedy’s track record as a playboy and philanderer may well have been even worse than Trump’s is. Remarkably, this information still remains largely buried by the work of countless apologists over the decades — including journalists and biographers who continue to minimize Kennedy’s extramarital sexual adventures. Take the fawning 2011 bestseller “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero” by the MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who has been reprimanded by his network for sexual harassment. According to the TV pundit, after marrying Jackie in 1953, Kennedy simply decided not “to forgo his bachelor pleasures.”
But the details are considerably more disturbing. During his presidency, Kennedy engaged in casual sex with dozens of women, including strangers whom aides would procure for him. And while Trump presumably confined his grabbing of women’s genitals to his pre-presidential days, Kennedy continued to do so while living in the people’s house. As described by biographer Geoffrey Perret, Kennedy “brazenly put his hand up their skirts, propositioned them within minutes of meeting and groped their breasts and buttocks even as he danced with them.”
Sometimes a porn star is just a porn star. But for JFK, as for Trump, his inability to resist her allure indicates a much deeper character issue. And yet a romanticized image of Kennedy still survives intact. Even as Americans debate what to make of Trump’s reported lover with the weather-themed name, our nostalgia endures for the “Mad Men” era, when lecherous behavior was viewed not as a potential violation of the civil rights of women, but as the right of powerful men.
JFK (decidedly unlike Trump) did have some shining moments as a leader. One was his famous and eloquent speech on civil rights in June 1963. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,” he said. “It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is… whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”
That is still the heart of the question, as the #MeToo movement reminds us.
Joshua Kendall is the author of “First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama.” He is writing a book about how the #MeToo movement will affect our view of presidential history.
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