The Cuban Cauldron
Perhaps even more than most new administrations, John F. Kennedy and his advisors came to office in 1961 supremely confident that they understood the world better than their predecessors and would be capable of doing a decisively superior job of running the country's affairs. Eisenhower, so it was assumed, had presided over a do-nothing, ineffectual presidency. The American economy, once robust, was in recession;1 perhaps more important, in the coming administration's eyes, American culture was marked by a tired conformism and a vague sense of malaise (although the razor-slim margin of Kennedy's popular-vote victory suggests that some of these dissatisfactions were more prevalent among academics and intellectuals than among the general public). Abroad, the power and prestige of the United States-- undercut by the perceived "missile gap" with the Soviet Union--seemed in retreat. Clearly, it was time, in the words of Kennedy's famous campaign slogan, to "get this country moving again."
The long slumber of the Eisenhower years (so it was regarded by Kennedy's advisors) had of course provided Democratic intellectuals with ample time to reflect, ample opportunities to outthink and second- guess the administration, to spin new theories and conceive new designs. Despite a surface conformism, the 1950s had actually been a period of rather intense intellectual ferment, particularly in the universities, where the modern social sciences were just coming of age. At institutions of higher learning such as Harvard and MIT and "think tanks" such as RAND, a new vision of politics was taking shape. Armed with seemingly