A longtime congressional correspondent for Market News International assesses the unique senatorial career of John F. Kennedy.
JFK’s eight-year Senate tenure coincided exactly with the popular Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency and roughly with Lyndon Johnson’s ironhanded majority leadership. In a hidebound institution governed by strict rules of seniority and a hierarchical system of committee chairmen, little political oxygen remained for a junior senator. But Kennedy never set out to become a Senate insider and never bothered to become the legislative workhorse that might have led to real influence. Rather, he used the Senate as a platform to hone his political persona, burnishing his speaking and writing skills, traveling widely, deepening his knowledge of foreign affairs, learning to maneuver at the highest levels of American politics, and defining himself (in contrast to the sitting president) as a forward-looking politician capable, notwithstanding his startling youth, of leading the country. Shaw spends only scant time on Kennedy’s domestic efforts, his plan to improve New England economically (including a controversial vote that distinguished him as more than a parochial voice) and his role on the McClellan Committee investigating labor racketeering. Notably absent during the vote to censure McCarthy and conspicuously silent on the issue of civil rights, JFK occupied himself largely with foreign policy, and here, Shaw likely overestimates the senator’s impact as a party spokesman. The author devotes an unusual amount of space to Kennedy’s chairmanship of a special committee charged with selecting the five most outstanding senators in American history, arguably the only Senate matter JFK brought to complete fruition. During this time, as Shaw makes clear, JFK was otherwise engaged (including literally to Jacqueline Bouvier): winning a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, making a splashy last-minute bid for the 1956 vice-presidential nomination, resoundingly winning Senate re-election and positioning himself as the man to beat in 1960.
A sharp look at the eight-year apprenticeship of only the second sitting senator in American history to go straight to the White House.