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Caroline Kennedy deserves sympathy in light of JFK intern affair

I find it morally reprehensible that a 45-year-old married man in the public eye would start and engage in a fairly lengthy relationship with a teenager, and start it after only the briefest of introductions. His wife and historians have said that he was able to “compartmentalize” his feelings, so that working to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis while calling Ms. Alford at her college using the code name “Michael Carter” never troubled him.

As I watched Ms. Alford “unburden” herself this past week during her media appearances, I thought her story belonged in a psychiatrist’s office and not on national TV, because she could find no better excuse for why she suddenly was “telling all” than that she had suddenly found “my own voice.” If one holds onto a secret for 50 years, what is the point of revealing it so many years later? She claims it was to “unburden” herself. But does that justify the pain she might be causing members of the Kennedy family?

The day after she lost her virginity to Kennedy, Ms. Alford was right back in the White House swimming pool with him. Was the relationship so unbalanced that she couldn’t have stopped it? I think the truth of the matter is that Ms. Alford, who seemed to have low self-esteem then as well as now, very much enjoyed her affair with the president.

She underlined that truth in one interview when she said, “I didn’t say no. It was almost what I was supposed to be doing. … It was almost as if I was pulled by a magnet… It felt very natural.”

But Ms. Alford deserves some sympathy, because the president, at age 45, should have known better than to begin an affair with a 19-year-old. Although she assured her interviewers that she was “not forced” to have sex, she quite correctly said there was an “imbalance of power” in the relationship. I think she is still genuinely confused and troubled by the affair. She admitted that its saddest aspect was that although “we had fun, we had a good time…it didn’t teach me how to have a relationship with a man.”

Most troubling to me was that not once during the two conversations did Ms. Alford—whose breathy voice reminded me instantly of Jacqueline Kennedy’s—show any remorse about the First Lady. Ms. Alford also showed no understanding of how her revelations might affect the living members of the Kennedy family, especially Caroline and her three children.

Caroline Kennedy’s resiliency is remarkable. She has suffered through the deaths of her father, mother, and brother, and seemingly emerged only stronger. Perhaps, like her father, she is able to “compartmentalize.” If so, she will be able to walk on while this latest story disappears into the mist of time.

Although she may not need it to weather the aftermath of the Alford Affair, I offer her the “s” word that is so lacking in this revelation: sympathy.

As for the other “s” word, “society,” I hope parents and educators will use this story as the huge teachable moment it is to discuss our sexual fault lines and try to improve and change our many troubling attitudes and behaviors about our sexuality.

Susie Wilson, former executive coordinator of the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers University's Center for Applied and Professional Psychology (now renamed Answer), is a national leader in the fight for effective sexuality and HIV/AIDS education and for prevention of adolescent pregnancy. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Comments (6)
6 Monday, 20 February 2012 21:51
NJfromLA
First, John F. Kennedy is not here to defend himself. So we won't know his side of things. But we do know that people love writing (and getting 5 minutes of fame and a little fortune) about having been a sexual conquest of a Kennedy (some guy wrote a book about an affair with JFK, Jr.'s wife Carolyn not long ago).

Also, we do know that Maria Shriver said that her own mother (JFK's sister) put up with her father's adultery and so did her aunts. Clearly, this behavior was not just a "JFK" issue - but something learned and expected by that generation of Kennedy's. Heck, JFK may not have understood that he was doing anything wrong since he was taught from the cradle that sex outside of marriage was acceptable (by the example of his parent's marriage).

From what I've heard from Mimi's interviews, some of her claims are self serving. She speaks of herself as victim in one breath...then of a grand adventure in the next. She says she has remorse, but then says she would do it all over again because it was "fun."

Caroline and her children are the victims in all this. These claims are really of no historical value because we already know that President Kennedy had issues of infidelity and sexual addiction.

We blame JFK easily but not the person who willingly indulged him knowing he had a wife and family. Well, I say that if someone steals money they are a thief. That's on them. If I take money from them KNOWING it's stolen...I am also a thief. Mimi was an adulteress knowingly. We all know what adultery means - even at 19. In addition, Mimi is non apologetic about this adultery even at age 69 and says she would DO IT AGAIN because it was "fun!"

Mimi says that JFK was trying to be closer to Jackie after she became pregnant with Patrick. But, clearly JFK's issues ran closer to addictive behavior than merely enjoying a little variety on the side. Even if Jackie had understood his actions as addiction, it's tough to take the bottle or the pill, (just as the Houston's about Whitney or the Jackson's about Michael) or the gambling sheet, or make some one eat (ask the Carpenters' about Karen), or the sex away from someone lost in addiction.

JFK had a fatalistic view of life because of his lifelong illnesses and his many encounters close to death. He cared deeply about issues, fairness and the rights of people in the abstract, but had not figured out how to truly care for those people closest to him. Sadly, mix that with addiction and his dark fate was sealed even if he had lived.

The man is dead. Jackie is dead. Caroline and her three children are very much alive and could be hurt by this Mimi - a woman with no shame even today. Her story has no historical value but rather only shows the sadness of this man's addiction along with Mimi's own pathetic need to be remembered - some 50 years later
5 Thursday, 16 February 2012 10:58
Cormac Flynn
I almost completely agree with your column, but I think you make a mis-step in this:

"...what drove him to take the huge risk of having an affair in the White House, beginning it in his wife’s bedroom. It is unimaginable to me that the president of the United States would possibly compromise his marriage and his status in the world with such a dalliance. "

What was unimaginable in the early 1960s was that such an affair could be consider a risk or ever compromise his position as President. Remember that this was before the victory of feminism, before the digital rebirth of yellow journalism, before advertising became relentlessly psychologically manipulative. The press would never have published the details of the affair had they known it. His wife would not have left him when she found out (especially not his particular wife). The Soviets may well have known it but it would have availed them no more than our knowledge of their affairs did.

The truth is that an extramarital affair for almost any man in that era ran much less risk of exposure than it does today. For powerful men it was actually less than average, effectively the reverse of the higher scrutiny public figures face today.

So censor JFK all you like for his personal morals, but let's not gild the lily. He wasn't running very much risk at all, no matter what the breathless booksellers of today would have you believe.
4 Wednesday, 15 February 2012 22:42
Seesa
Ladies check your morals!
If you do not feel bad about committing adultery you lack self respect and morals. Yes married men who do this is bad. This is hurting all
involved, Ms. Alford should be ashamed but you said your not.
Shame on you.
3 Wednesday, 15 February 2012 01:30
George Barto
I made a comment here two days ago and it never made it on here. I was going to say simply that Caroline Kennedy was a lucky person who has had a good life because she was born a Kennedy. I am a democrat and a lover of President Kennedy and the Kennedy family, however, Caroline had two parents who loved her and she has money and a great family and was fortunate for all of this. So I do not feel sorry for her at all. She is an adult who has benefitted from her father being President, but with those benefits comes the truth sometimes about years ago, so it is a give and take.
Her father President Kennedy was the one responsible for his affairs becoming public. If he did not want his children to find out about his affairs years later, maybe he should not have had an affair with the intern. I admire President Kennedy, but I also have to be fair. This lady owes nothing to Caroline Kennedy and the Kennedy family. President Kennedy did. He was a great President and a great man, but it was his responsibility.
2 Tuesday, 14 February 2012 10:11
karenrz
belonged being told in a counselor's office and to her intimate family members, not being sold in bookstores.

Some stories are better left untold, and she would have exhibited more of a Jackie personna than a whispery voice had she done just that.
1 Monday, 13 February 2012 23:00
Letscheck
My sympathy is for Mimi as a 19 year old and the aftermath.

Caroline Kennedy is probably very aware of her father's long history with multiple trysts and affairs. She would have had to live in a closed room to not know about them.

Her mother was extremely hurt by JFK's ways and no doubt shared some of that with her adult children to prepare them for what they would find out over time.

Secrets never stay secret.

In addition to sympathy for Mimi, I have sympathy for Jackie. She was married to a man who would leave her alone at a party to slip away to have sex with someone else. The humiliation must have been awful.

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