A leader of style and substance
It was his brother who was groomed for the White House but bravery, composure and an easy charm that captivated audiences made ‘Jack’ the perfect candidate
That year was also the moment Jack became the subject of the family’s ambition. When Joe jnr was killed in action, his father emerged from deep mourning to announce that Jack was going to become president to honour the memory of his dead brother. In truth, few thought he was up to it. Jack had been sickly all his life, and was now debilitated by the onset of Addison’s disease and the chronic back condition worsened by the PT-109 incident.
Yet when the Kennedys launched Jack’s campaign for a congressional seat in 1946, he responded to the demands of electioneering with great physical courage and no little political skill. It was the first outing for the star power, matched by Joe’s millions, that would see him elected successively to the House of Representatives, the Senate and finally, in 1960, the White House. Undoubtedly there were voting irregularities along the way, not least in Chicago during the presidential election campaign, but JFK passed these off with characteristic humour. “I have just received the following telegram from my generous father,” he joked. “Dear Jack: Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’m not going to pay for a landslide.” His presidential opponent, Richard M Nixon, who himself knew a thing or two about dirty politics, did not bother to contest the election result, recognising that his own party was as likely to be implicated in ballot rigging as the Democrats.
President Kennedy was only in the Oval Office for 34 months before he was assassinated. Some have questioned whether his already deteriorating physical condition would have enabled him to see out two full terms.
Certainly illness did affect Kennedy’s performance and judgement, including at the 1961 Vienna conference, when humiliation by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, coincided with a period of extreme, agonising back pain.
In such incidences, Kennedy was often pumped full with prescription drugs, and latterly with special vitamin shots from Max “Dr Feelgood” Jacobson that were almost certainly laced with methamphetamine.
Sexual addiction was also rampant at the White House. Revelations continue to emerge about the many hundreds of White House “conquests” Kennedy enjoyed, which included prostitutes and mafia “molls”, film stars and celebrities, as well as daughters of the upper class and the wives of his friends.
With such a tangled back story, it might be difficult to imagine that Kennedy had the character to be a competent president, let alone a great one. Yet his “thousand days in the White House” still rank as one of the most assured performances in office by any modern president.