Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kennedy & Nixon 3

On page 111 of Kennedy & Nixon, Chris Matthews talks about what John F. Kennedy learned about the political process after failing to become the 1956 Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate:

“The 1956 experience…marked Kennedy’s metamorphosis from dilettante to professional.  ‘I’ve learned that you don’t get far in politics until you become a total politician,’ he told his aides.  ‘That means you’ve got to deal with the party leaders as well as with the voters.’  The Kennedy team learned another lesson from the loss: While a candidate’s Senate colleagues may be big shots in Washington, they cannot be counted on to deliver votes at a convention.  The true power lay elsewhere.  To win a presidential nomination, Jack Kennedy and his organization realized, they needed to get out and win support in the country itself.”

It’s good when a person can use a negative experience as a learning opportunity.  I’ve read some who say that Kennedy was pampered and entitled.  Well, this is not entirely fair, for his life was far from perfect, since he lost a brother and dealt with immense health problems.  But he did have advantages due to who he was.  And yet, Kennedy learned that even he had to adapt to the world and work hard: that not everything would be delivered to him on a silver platter.

Another story about the 1956 Presidential election: Did you know that Robert Kennedy voted for the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket?  Bobby was traveling around with the campaign of Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson.  Bobby liked Stevenson at first, but he came to question Stevenson’s political judgment when Stevenson was attacking Nixon.  According to Matthews, Bobby felt that Stevenson was only preaching to the choir—-and a minority, at that—-in attacking Nixon, and that Stevenson was alienating Catholic and conservative Democrats who voted for Eisenhower in 1952 and “identified more with Nixon’s grit than with Stevenson’s eloquence” (Matthews’ words on page 113).  Disappointed with Stevenson, Bobby voted for Eisenhower-Nixon.  But Matthews notes that he did so “without fanfare”.

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