Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero
Chris Matthews examines John F. Kennedy, one of the most enigmatic US presidents, in a book rich in insights.
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He describes in detail the hard-nosed politics practiced by the Kennedy family, the willingness to bend the rules (in 1946, Kennedy broke into the Massachusetts State House after hours to file his nominating petitions because he’d failed to file them when the office was open), and the effort to build a comprehensive network of volunteers to advance his political career. Matthews suggests that such actions were critical to Kennedy’s success.Skip to next paragraph
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But despite the overwhelmingly positive picture, this is not hagiography. Matthews makes explicit the notorious womanizing, Kennedy’s abandonment of friends when he no longer needed them, and his willingness to hide serious health problems from the public despite the knowledge that they probably impaired his judgment.
A simple way to describe the weaknesses would be to say that Kennedy liked living on the edge. Matthews writes about one adventure: “The tale is a fine example of the sort of risk Jack Kennedy enjoyed taking – dangerous on the downside, with very little on the up, except for the tremendous sensation it gave, short-lived but long savored.... It was his way of coming alive and it would never change.”
Though it is arranged chronologically and covers all aspects of JFK’s all too brief life, Matthews’s book is built more on personal reminiscences rather than on more formal research. But whatever it lacks in the accouterments of an academic biography, the book is rich in thoughtful observations and insights.
Even readers who are knowledgeable about the life and times of Kennedy will come away with a much deeper and richer perspective of this legendary figure. By coupling what he learned from friends and colleagues of Kennedy with his own astute knowledge of politics, Matthews has produced a valuable addition to the literature about the life and career of our 35th president.
It is impossible to read a biography of Kennedy that is built on personal recollections of friends, colleagues, and opponents without finding similarities and differences with today’s political world. For example, the self-indulgence that Matthews finds in Kennedy has, sadly, become all too common in contemporary politics. On the other hand, Kennedy’s ability to weigh both sides of an issue and assume the legitimacy of the other side is something that one can only wish would, once again, become a feature of our national political life.