Hardball host Matthews (Life's a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success, 2007, etc.) blends tributes and chastisement in this highly personal account of John F. Kennedy’s career.
The author begins with his earliest memory of JFK—his failed 1956 attempt to gain the vice-president spot with Adlai Stevenson. From a Republican family, Matthews gradually moved the other way, and JFK was a major factor. Throughout the narrative, the author combines political biography with personal reflection. Repeatedly, he narrates a key event in JFK’s career (e.g., the Bay of Pigs debacle), and then raises questions about why the president behaved as he did. Matthews praises Kennedy’s heroism during World War II, his determination to excel despite his medical conditions and his recognition of the moral aspects of politics. The excerpt Matthews includes from a JFK civil-rights speech delivered after the crisis at the University of Alabama remains stirring today. The author also lauds JFK for his ability to turn from his strong-willed father, his devotion to old friends, his speaking and debating skills and his resolution in the face of the dire threats issued by the Soviets. Despite his obvious emotional attachment to JFK, Matthews does not neglect his negative character traits. He reminds us that Kennedy was not a devoted husband—not just because of his serial infidelities but also in his casual, even cruel, treatment of his wife—and he questions JFK’s support of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his appointment of his own brother Robert as Attorney General—“sheer, unadulterated nepotism,” writes the author. Matthews also recognizes that the Kennedy charm lay on a hard foundation of political savvy, even ruthlessness.
Matthews’ admiration and gratitude for JFK trump his disapprobation.