JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy by Herbert S. Parmet
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JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy

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The Kennedy scandals have been absorbed, the shock has subsided--so the second volume of Parmet's two-part biography reads much better than the first (Jack, 1980): light, sympathetic, discerning. It covers the 1960 campaign as well as the presidency, viewing the election as a watershed in JFK's own life. During the campaign, he was still Joe's boy Jack. Though Kennedy senior was kept in the background, his money and power were on the minds of friend and foe alike. The election, however, brought the politician in Jack to the fore. In some Cabinet appointments, like that of the Republican McNamara to Defense, the ideology of managerialism played its part; more typical was the appointment of another Republican, Dillon, to the Treasury--where his tightness would both constrain the spenders in Jack's own party and reassure the business world. Joe, a big-spender, opposed the appointment. And unlike the bumbling selection of Lyndon Johnson as Jack's running mate (on which Parmet has some new particulars), the government appointments were handled deftly and gave Jack the administration he wanted. But if he managed to get out from under his father's shadow, there was continuity too--though the Kennedy lifestyle was well hidden then. Parmet hypothesizes that Judith Campbell was such a regular visitor to the White House in the summer of '61 because that was when Jack's back was giving him considerable trouble; Campbell, proficient in the art of lovemaking, was able to accommodate the president's required position. Skirmishes were also underway regarding Jack's care. His doctor, Janet Travell, was treating him with shots of procaine, raising fears of impending narcotic addiction. But Travell, if shunted aside and offended, could tell a lot--including the news that Jack was suffering from Addison's Disease, for which he was taking steroids. Jack's back improved and Campbell exited on word of her Maria connections. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's former sister-in-law was Kennedy's steadier companion. His liaison with Mary Meyer, wife of Cord Meyer, lasted until his death, Parmet says. Meanwhile the Jack-Jackie relationship was unstable, marked by physical separation, his anger at her extravagance, and his staff's fear of her lack of political acumen. Still, the business of government went on: after the initial impact of Kennedy's rhetoric took hold, events pushed him along to an activism that was not really his style. Parmet's information is solid; his assessments hold up. And he doesn't make JFK's zest for life look bad either.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1983
Publisher: Dial