THE PROMISE AND THE PERFORMANCE: The Leadership of J.F.K. by Lewis J. Paper


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The author, a former LBJ staffer and campaign worker for Robert Kennedy and George McGovern, attempts a balanced appraisal of John Kennedy's presidency. In many ways it is a disappointing effort. Padded with solemn digressions about the nature of successful governing, burdened by a prosy, puerile style, and biased by a tendency to credit JFK with deep compassion when shrewdness would be more to the point, the book skims the surface of policy decisions and the political forces involved. Nevertheless, it contains some valuable emphases. At a time when JFK is being accused of complicity with the CIA's dirty tricks, Paper suggests counter-evidence by recalling the President's tendency to ignore the National Security Council. And he makes a good case that Kennedy would not have thrown troop strength into Vietnam. The book also manages to revive that much-missed sense of ""wit and grace."" Paper does not deny the cold war strength of Kennedy's anti-Communism, which he shares, but stresses that JFK was ""his own man,"" open to new approaches, and fed up with the Bay of Pigs mentality. The book concludes that ""charisma"" is an inaccurate epithet since Kennedy didn't engage in truly aggressive leadership, in the sense of long-range perspectives and willingness to risk controversy (civil rights and the Kefauver attack on the drug companies are the examples stressed). More thoughtful than the Sorensen-style puffs, less rigorous than the ""revisionist"" studies such as Walton's Cold War and Counterrevolution (1972), this sympathetic overview is a worthwhile addition to the Kennedy bibliography.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1975
Publisher: Crown