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JACK KENNEDY, ELUSIVE HERO: CHARISMA I

February 6, 2012


JACK KENNEDY, ELUSIVE HERO: CHARISMA I


Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 reports on Chapter 12, Part I of Chris Matthews’ new book, Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero, published by Simon & Schuster.



The title of Chapter 12 is Charisma.


I’m sure that Chris Matthews knows that the type of educated person who reads his books would know the definition of “charisma,” but I thought it might be interesting 1st to take a hard look at that definition.


According to Merriam-Webster, charisma is defined as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.”


I think most of us would agree that this definition describes JFK perfectly.


Ken O’Donnell, Chris says, 1st saw JFK’s charisma in action at a “tea” given in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1952.  Ken “noticed how women simply stared at the candidate.”



       Rose Kennedy Speaking at a Tea
      Worcester, Massachusetts (1952)
                  JFK Library Photo


But it would take more than simple “sex appeal” for Jack to win the 1960 Democratic nomination for president.


Bobby was in California “a half dozen times,” along with Larry O’Brien, attempting to get Governor Pat Brown’s endorsement.


Then, they were in Pennsylvania courting Governor David Lawrence.


Jack spoke in Pittsburgh & was forced to “get tough” with Lawrence which left the Governor “stunned.”


In New York, Kennedy had all the Irish bosses working for him & Jack’s momentum there “was starting to be infectious.”



                    JFK Library Image


Unfortunately, Jack was not quite as successful with either Adlai Stevenson or Eleanor Roosevelt.


According to Chris, the former 1st Lady told a JFK ally, Lester Hyman (who was Jewish), “We wouldn’t want the Pope in the White House, would we?”


But Jack was certain, at this point, that he had LBJ beat.  


On the flight out to LA for the convention, Jack was asked what he thought about LBJ as his running mate.  


Jack said, “He’ll never take it.”


The Kennedy party, Chris writes, had Bobby “masterminding its tactics” & Jack “in command.”


Then, LBJ & his staff, led by John Connally, prepared to announce that they had evidence of  Jack’s Addison’s disease.


Jack hit back with having his physician, Dr. Janet Travell, deny the charge.


LBJ’s tactic proved ineffective so he then challenged JFK to a debate before the Texas & Massachusetts delegations.  


Jack accepted the challenge.


While Chris doesn’t give the details of the debate in his book, I have listened to the recordings & recall that LBJ basically bragged about working diligently as majority leader while “some others, who would be president” were absent out campaigning in the primaries.


JFK answered that he had supported Lyndon in the role of majority leader & admired his work on the Senate floor.  


And in response to LBJ’s criticism of those who had been absent from the Senate, Jack said that since Lyndon hadn’t been specific, “I assume he was talking about some of the other candidates & not about me.”



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