January 28, 2012
JACK KENNEDY: ELUSIVE HERO, COLD WARRIOR
Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 reports on Chapter 5 of Chris Matthews’ new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, published by Simon & Schuster.
The title of Chapter 5 is COLD WARRIOR.
Chris writes that, even before Jack Kennedy went to Congress, he saw it as a “stepping-stone” to the Senate where he intended to make foreign policy “his mark.”
In the meantime, JFK would have to prove himself in the House of Representatives until the time was right for a move up.
According to Chris, Jack started out making senior Massachusetts congressman John McCormack wait for his arrival at a caucus while Jack had a “couple of eggs.”
Congressman Kennedy also faced a Republican majority elected in 1946 because voters had “had enough” with Democratic rule under the leadership of President Truman.
That Republican majority included a California congressman named Richard Nixon. Both he & Jack were to serve on the Committee on Education & Labor.
Chris tells us that JFK put forth his own “dissenting opinion on the Taft-Hartley proposal” but listened to Mr. Nixon’s comments supporting the bill & said to a colleague, “This fellow is going places.”
Billy Sutton said that when Jack rose on the House floor to give his “maiden speech,” he reminded him of Jimmy Stewart in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
A few days later Kennedy & Nixon faced off in a out of town debate on Taft-Hartley. While Nixon criticized organized labor, Jack charmed businessmen in the audience by saying the legislation “might go too far & lead to more trouble.”
Here is something I hadn’t heard before. Chris writes that the two adversaries “shared hamburgers” after the debate & then rode back to Washington on the night train sharing the same sleeping car with Jack on the top bunk & Dick Nixon on the lower.
The two politicians, although from different parties, shared a “big picture view of the world” as well as a common response to the threat of communism.
When the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after WWII was proposed, Joe Kennedy, Sr. opposed it but his son, the Congressman, saw it as a way to “halt the Soviet advance” & “avoid repeating the mistake(s) of Munich.”
Chris writes that JFK’s view was “exactly what (his constituents) were feeling.”
In the day to day world of his Washington office, Congressman Kennedy was “very particular about his constituents” & also concerned about answering their letters.
Billy Sutton said that while riding back home together at the end of the day, Jack would say: “Well, what about John White? What did you do for him?”*
*I appreciate Chris putting my name in the book. I am honored even though I suppose “John White” was intended as a substitute for “John Doe”.
Chris tells us that Jack’s independent ways were frowned upon by the “club house” pols of the “regular party organization.”
Jack’s office secretary, Mary Davis, was even surprised by his abilities. She said: “He knew what he was all about. He knew everything.”
I have heard Chris Matthews say that in doing his research for this book, he wanted to know what Jack was like, what made him tick.
When you consider that JFK went from freshman congressman to the White House in just 14 years (1947-1961), it does make us wonder what it was that drove him to such quick success.
I think the answer can be found in a conversation, described by Chris, between Jack Kennedy & his good friend in Congress, George Smathers of Florida.**
The subject of that conversation was “death”.
JFK told Smathers, “You’ve got to live each day like it’s your last.”
**George Smathers (1913-2007) was a groomsman at JFK & Jackie’s wedding. In 1960, he managed JFK’s presidential campaign in the Southeast. Ironically, he sold his house on Key Biscayne to Richard Nixon.
Senator George Smathers (1963)
“I HAVE A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH”
One of President Kennedy’s favorite poems was Alan Seeger’s I Have a Rendezvous With Death.
According to the JFK Library, he often asked Jackie to recite it.
Here is the last part.
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town
When spring trips north again this year
And I to my pledged word am true
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Alan Seeger (1888-1916)