Today Weekend Reader brings you JFK In The Senate: Pathway to the Presidency, by congressional correspondent with Market News International and a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, John T. Shaw. Shaw focuses on JFK’s career before he was elected president. Kennedy wasn’t always the clear choice for the Democratic nomination, but his charisma and ambitions resonated with voters. Looking back 50 years after his death, we remember how Kennedy’s rare determination and commitment to the American people moved him from the House of Representatives to the Senate, and put him on the path to win the 1960 presidential election.
You can purchase the book here.
If 1956 was the year that Kennedy’s national star started to rise, the following year it continued its dramatic ascent. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize in May 1957, and that same month the Kennedy Committee garnered headlines for its project to identify five outstanding senators in American history. Kennedy also participated in several high-profile foreign policy debates in the Senate on Algeria and Eastern Europe.
Speaking invitations poured in from across the country for the newly minted star of the Democratic Party. Kennedy received more than 2,500 invitations in 1957 and delivered nearly 150 speeches in 47 states. He was on the road constantly, meeting with state and local officials and the delegates who would determine his party’s next presidential nominee. “Since national politics was only people, the Kennedys set out from 1956 on to learn who the people were; the right people,” wrote Theodore White. Kennedy was compiling “possibly the most complete index ever made of the power structure of any national party,” White said. Kennedy and his team assembled files on 50,000 Democratic leaders and party members, keeping contact information on 3-by-5 cards.
Lawrence O’Brien, one of the senator’s top campaign aides, traveled frequently with Kennedy and marveled that none of his likely competitors for the Democratic nomination could be found on the campaign trail. “As I look back on my travels, the thing that amazes me is that we had the field almost entirely to ourselves,” O’Brien later reflected. “I kept waiting for the opposition to show up, but it never did.” He was also stunned that other politicians underestimated Kennedy. “His opponents never discovered just how tough, gutty and ringwise he was until it was too late.” O’Brien was intrigued by Kennedy’s public persona. The senator, he said, was not a natural politician; he was a reserved and private person, but would force himself to do what was necessary to succeed. “Kennedy had talent and he worked hard to perfect it; above all, he was a proud man who took intense pride in every aspect of his work.”
To maintain his national profile, Kennedy’s office generated a slew of articles with Kennedy’s byline. Sorensen drafted and edited many of the articles, book reviews, guest editorials, and speeches that were published under Kennedy’s name. Prominent essays by Kennedy appeared in Foreign Affairs, New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Life, and Look. Many of them positioned Kennedy as a modern, forward-leaning leader who was well versed in American history. The nation’s newspapers and magazines couldn’t get enough of Kennedy or his family. In 1957 alone, Kennedy was the subject of major profiles in McCall’s, the Saturday Evening Post, Catholic Digest, and U.S. News and World Report.
Time ran a cover story on Kennedy in December 1957 that gave him the kind of national exposure that most politicians only dream of. “In his unannounced but unabashed run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1960, Jack Kennedy has left panting politicians and swooning women across a large spread of the U.S.,” the article gushed. It noted that as he crisscrossed the country, Kennedy spoke to groups that included the American Gastroenterological Association in Colorado Springs, the Arkansas
Bar Association in Hot Springs, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia, and the American Jewish Congress in New York City. “Kennedy imparts a remarkable quality of shy, sense making sincerity,” the Time story said.