February 7, 2012
JACK KENNEDY, ELUSIVE HERO: CHARISMA II
Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 continues our report on Chapter 12 of Chris Matthews’ new book, Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero, published by Simon & Schuster.
The title of Chapter 12 is CHARISMA.
Chris writes that JFK’s decision to offer a place on the ticket to LBJ “was a model of cold-blooded politics.”
Jack needed the support of the “once reliable Democratic South.”
Speaker Sam Rayburn, Chris tells us, passed along the word that if offered, LBJ would accept.
It wasn’t that simple. As Jack later told Pierre Salinger, “I don’t think anybody will ever really know how this all came about.”
It has been well publicized that Joe Kennedy liked the idea. He said: “Don’t worry, Jack, in 2 weeks they’ll say it’s the smartest thing you ever did.”
JFK & LBJ at the White House
August 31, 1961
Photo by Abbie Rowe, NPS
JFK Library Photo
Now Jack was ready to accept the nomination.
Chris describes Jack’s speech as “harking back” to the question: Could democracies stand up against dictatorships “when it came to responding to” the communist threat?
Nixon was not impressed.
In fact, Chris tells us that while watching the speech on TV, Nixon felt Jack’s speech “was above people’s heads” & that the Vice-President made the decision to debate Kennedy based, in part, on his perception of Jack’s acceptance speech.
While Chris includes a short excerpt of that speech, he left out my favorite passage:
“We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier–the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities & perils, a frontier of unfilled hopes & unfilled threats.”
JFK Accepts Presidential Nomination
July 15, 1960
Back on the campaign trail, JFK is “once again (hit) with the religion issue.”
A meeting took place in Washington, D.C. where 150 Protestant ministers banded together to work against election of a Catholic President.
In response, JFK accepted an invitation to speak to Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas on September 12.
In Chris’s opinion, “the eloquence (JFK) brought to bear upon bigotry cut deep & created a watershed moment in American politics.”
“I believe in an America where the separation of church & state is absolute.”
September 12, 1960
Although not quoted in the book, JFK went on to say:
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish. For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed…(it) may someday be a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist.
I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men & all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.”
This is the kind of America…I fought for in the South Pacific & the kind my brother died for in Europe.
I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.
Whatever issue may come before me as President, I will make my decision in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”
Chris Matthews offers his view, & I agree, that this was “perhaps the finest (speech) of the campaign.”
While in Texas, Senator Kennedy made a brief appearance at the El Paso airport where 7000 people had waited “for hours” to see him.
Chris says after seeing the crowd’s reaction, Speaker Sam Rayburn told Ken O’Donnell:
“This young fellow has something special. I just didn’t realize (it) until now.”