Joe Kennedy Sr. planned the attack and paid the shot. John Kennedy deliberately grew a second personality. And every other Kennedy in the formidable family joined the blitz that began in 1946 to win power for a Catholic president in 1960
Maclean’s Washington editor
THE YOUNG MAN with the boxer's build and the strong, handsome features teed off on the short fifteenth hole at the golf course at California's Cypress Point. The ball rose straight and true, landed on the green, and rolled. It looked, for a moment, like a sure hole-in-one. and in that moment the young man shouted urgently. “Don't go in! Don't go in!'' He relaxed and smiled only when the ball stopped inches short of the cup.
“What's wrong with you?" asked his companion. Paul B. Fay Jr., who
is now' undersecretary of the United States navy. “Are you crazy?”
“No,” said John Fitzgerald Kennedy w'ho is now' president of the United States, “but if I’d made a holein-one everybody would have found out about it and decided that another golfer w'as trying to get into the White House.”
The story, which dates from the days w'hen Kennedy w'as merely one of several contenders for the Democratic Party's I960 presidential nomination, casts a beam of light on one of the reasons why he won the nomination and went on to win the election: he thinks, first and foremost, as a politician.
Kennedy has been fond of goif since boyhood. But in that split second at Cypress Point what crossed his mind was not the possibility of realizing a golfer’s dream, but the possibility of being publicly identified with the game Dwight Eisenhower had been criticized and ridiculed for playing so much.
The weight of evidence indicates that he taught himself to think this way — indeed, that he reshaped his whole outlook and personality because he felt he had a family obligation to step into the shoes of Joseph Patrick
Kennedy Jr., his older brother, after Joe was killed in the war.
Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., who amassed the enormous Kennedy fortune and as a multimillionaire and U. S. ambassador to Britain opened for his children the doors to high places on both sides of the Atlantic, had been determined that Joe Jr. should become the first Roman Catholic president. He had carefully mapped the various stages of his oldest son’s career. John, meanwhile, was indefinite about his future. He listed his occupation as “newspaper correspondent” and had capably reported some major events; maybe he'd keep on at that or maybe he’d be a college professor. He'd majored in government at Harvard, but he showed no interest in entering politics himself. He'd been beaten when he tried for his class presidency at Harvard, and was without confidence in his ability as a campaigner. Arthur Krock, the venerable and distinguished Washington columnist of the New York Times who has known John Kennedy for three decades, said of him recently: “He made himself over. When Joe died 1 thought the political genius the family was gone, but this one has as much charm as his brother.”
The transformation was, of course, gradual. John moved from Boston to New York with his parents in 1926 at the age of nine. The transformation began when he returned nearly twenty years later to establish legal residence in the city where his grandfathers, P. J. Kennedy and John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, had both been political bosses. Honey Fitz, who had been first a congressman, then Boston's mayor, was still alive and rallied the remnants of his “pols” or ward workers around his grandson. The pols, in turn, summoned sons and grandsons to the cause.
In his grandfather’s shoes
The eleventh congressional district, described by Joseph Dinneen, a veteran Boston newspaperman and author, as being "like an attic and cellar to Boston, a handy place to put unsightly things that nobody wants,” was then represented at Washington by the celebrated political boss James Michael Curley. Curley had run for and won a seat in congress simply because the voters had temporarily banished him from the job closest to his heart — Boston's mayoralty. It w'as a foregone conclusion that in 1946 Curley would run for the may-
THE 13-YEAR BLITZ ON THE WHITE HOUSE
PART 4 THE KENNEDY DYNASTY
oralty again, leaving his congressional seat up for grabs. The scheme of Joe Kennedy Sr. and Honey Fitz was to clinch the eleventh district's Democratic nomination — a nomination that was a positive guarantee of being elected — for John Kennedy.
In his big brother’s shadow
1 here has seldom been a more reluctant campaigner than John was, at the start. By nature he was shy. reserved, contemplative. By upbringing. he was the product of great wealth, exclusive schools, a rarefied social atmosphere. Yet here he was forcing himself to ring doorbells in smelly tenements in the shadows of bridge approaches, overhead throughway ramps, an elevated railway structure, and to shake hands and clap the backs of slum dwellers of all kinds and conditions. He had to speak to meetings of these same people. In 1963 he’s one of the world's most articulate men. noted for lightningfast repartee and spontaneous wit. In 1946 he wrote his speeches out in longhand, slowly and painfully, then memorized them word for word, possibly reflecting as he did so: “If Joe were alive I wouldn't be in this.”
At least he wasn't in it alone. Joe
Sr. stayed out of sight but was behind him with his power, money and savvy. John's mother. Rose Kennedy, was soon ringing doorbells in the eleventh district herself, asking its residents to vote for Jack, and cuddling tenement babies. Three of John’s sisters, Eunice, then twenty-five, Patricia, then twenty-one, and Jean, then eighteen, descended on Boston to canvass, as did brother Robert, then twenty. Even Teddy, fourteen, appeared on the scene to help with office chores. So did LcMoyne Billings, who had been John’s roommate at Choate School, and who, ironically, was in 1946 still a Republican.
The Kennedy women, not content with pushing doorbells for ten or twelve hours a day, launched a frenzied round of coffee parties and teas as the date of the Democratic primary loomed. Never had the females of the eleventh district, young, beautiful, old. gnarled, Irish, Italian, Greek, Jewish. Negro. Catholic, Protestant, had so many invitations.
The backroom mastermind of the exciting show was tough, snarling, aging Joe Kane, a cousin of Joe Kennedy and long one of the foxiest Democratic strategists in Massachusetts. (Years before he had actually
helped to hand grandfather Honey Fitz one of several political defeats.) Kane knew' all the tricks of Boston politics, and spent Kennedy money like water. John Kennedy had nine opponents in the primary, among them Catherine Falvey, a WAC major. Kane admitted paying one candidate seventy-five hundred dollars “to stay in or get out," depending on how' the campaign took shape in the final days. The man stayed in to take votes that would have gone to Kennedy competitors. One strong participant was Joseph Russo, a member of the city council. Kane entered a second man named Joseph Russo, to confuse the voters and cut down the first Joseph Russo's vote.
In the family’s fighting tradition
When the contest was over, as everybody knows, Kennedy had won the Democratic primary by a country mile and was on the way to the House of Representatives. He’d taken the first step on the long road to the White House. In the elections of 1948 and 1950 he was re-elected almost without trying. By 1950 he’d turned into what he hadn’t believed he could be — a real political “pro." Not only that, but he liked it.
As Lawrence O'Brien, one of his political lieutenants and now his liaison man on Capitol Hill, once observed wisely: “Politics was in his blood waiting to come out.”
By 1952 he was ready for the next move toward the White House — a move that would be round two in what Americans now' call the Battle of the Dynasties. In 1916 grandfather Honey Fitz, running for the U. S. Senate, had been defeated by Henry Cabot l odge, known as “the Duke of Nahant,” a Boston Yankee Brahmin with ancestors galore plus an old and substantial family fortune. That was round one. In time, another Henry Cabot Lodge, a grandson, was elected a senator from Massachusetts. (Each state has two senators and each senator is elected by the majority of voters in the entire state, and the term of a senator is six years compared with the two-year term of a member of the House of Representatives.) In 1952 the six-year term of the second Henry Cabot Lodge would expire and John Kennedy was itching to take on the Republican grandson of the man who had beaten Kennedy’s grandpappy.
So, once again, the Kennedy clan
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How Bobby’s work for McCarthy helped John to the presidency
on Boston from all directions, the Kennedy sisters wearing skirts on the front of which was embroidered in large letters, "Vote for John F. Kennedy." Within three weeks of John Kennedy's announcement that he would oppose l odge for the Senate seat, four thousand women to whom Rose Kennedy had sent engraved invitations had been entertained by her at receptions and teas in the Worcester Sheraton Hotel. She and her daughters telephoned hundreds of women each day to enlist support for John; women's committees sprouted throughout Massachusetts like trailing arbutus, the state flower, and wherever they sprouted John Kennedy, boyish, smiling, clean-cut, handsome and a war hero to boot, spoke at their meetings and turned on all the charm that is now universally famous. He had learned, extraordinarily w'ell, how to win friends and votes, and the men liked him as much as the women.
Old Joe Kennedy had left his affairs in New' York to occupy a suite in Boston's Ritz-Carlton. Democratic politicians were always at his door. Robert Kennedy, by now a lawyer, left a post in the Department of Justice to manage John's campaign.
In 1952. the name of that strange and revolting phenomenon, Joe McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, w'as a name to be reckoned with in U. S. politics. McCarthyism was at its evil peak and McCarthy was eagerly sought as a campaign speaker by Republicans across the land. Because he didn't speak for Lodge, the rumor spread that Joe Kennedy had given him a huge contribution to keep him away from Massachusetts, where he was much admired by Irish Catholics and might have influenced the vote considerably. Joe Kennedy dismissed the rumor as “baloney" but later admitted: "I gave Joe McCarthy a small contribution, sure, but it was only a couple of thousand and I didn't give it to him keep him out of Massachusetts. I gave it to him because a mutual friend of ours. Westbrook Pegler much hut
that time widely-read newspaper columnist) asked me to give it to him — and because I liked the fight he was putting up against Communists in our government. Nobody had to pay McCarthy to keep him from working for Lodge. There was no love lost between them . . . Lodge didn’t want him.”
Whatever the size of Joe Kennedy's contribution, it's true that Robert Kennedy liked McCarthy from their first meeting in the winter of 1950-51 and was, for a while, associated as a junior counsel with McCarthy's senatorial witch-hunting.
Bobby’s friendship with McCarthy, which he didn’t conceal, did no harm to the Kennedy prestige in Massachusetts in 1952. Nor did John's whirlwind schedule. By mid-August he had spoken in three hundred and eleven of the state's three hundred and fifty-one cities and towns, and was averaging fifty speeches a week. He met fifteen thousand women at teas on five successive Sundays. On nomination day both he and Lodge were unopposed as candidates for their parties.
For Massachusetts, accustomed to dirty and vituperative politics, it was a w'eird campaign. The Kennedys in a century had traveled the w'hole distance from shanty Irish to New' England patricians. John Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge had gone to the same schools, read the same literature, patronized the same tailors. They were both tall, handsome, urbane, polished,
cultured, intelligent. They moved in the same circles — had been on first name terms for years. Each respected the other and, even in the heat of the campaign, neither said anything really nasty about his opponent. One evening. w'hen both were going from meeting to meeting, they suddenly realized that their cars w'ere side by side in a traffic jam. Lodge leaned out the window of his and said. "Jack, this is a hell of a way to make a living.” Kennedy grinned and nodded.
For Kennedy, the contest involved more agony than Lodge imagined. Nine years before when the motor torpedo boat he commanded in the Pacific w'as rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, the disc between his fifth vertebra and his sacrum was ruptured. Navy surgeons patched it with a metal plate but it continued to hurt him. In 1952 the pain increased, although Kennedy did not reveal it and. during the campaign, he was on the go each day from 7.30 a.m. to midnight. (Later, in 1955, his back got so bad that surgeons gave him the choice between invalidism and spinal fusion surgery with less than a fifty-fifty chance of survival. He took the gamble — and the last rites of his church — and. of course, won.)
Dwight Eisenhower was running for the presidency for the first time in 1952. His popularity was in full bloom. It was the year of “I like Ike." of the great war leader, of the irresistible father image. To help Lodge, for whom he had the highest
regard. Eisenhower wound up his campaign with a mass meeting in Boston on the eve of the election. When the votes were counted. Eisenhower himself had swept Massachusetts in his bid for the White House, but John Kennedy had captured Lodge’s scat in the Senate by the small but safe majority of seventy thousand. Round two of the Battle of the Dynasties had gone to the Irish — and Kennedy had taken the second step toward the White House.
He was barely in the Senate before he was eyeing the vice-presidency, establishing the nucleus of a national organization, cultivating key congressmen from the different regions of the U. S.. accepting invitations to speak wherever it seemed worth speaking. He plunged into Senate committee work, anil sought in every way he could to become not a Massachusetts figure but a national figure. AI Smith, the lovable Irish-C’atholic “Man in the Brown Derby" who had twice been governor of New York State but failed in a bid for the presidency in 1928. became a national character by accentuating his Irishness. Kennedy, an astute historian, felt this had been Smith's mistake since a “character" is not the same as a “figure.” Kennedy submerged his own Irishness.
It was in this period that Bobby Kennedy, supposedly against John’s advice, accepted an appointment as junior counsel of Joe McCarthy’s permanent Senate subcommittee on investigations. Bobby's first achievement in this role was to testify, after an investigation, that w'hen Americans were fighting Chinese Communists in Korea, one hundred and sixty-two Western ships, one hundred of them British, did business with Communist China, and that two ships of the British firm of Wheelock-Marden transported Chinese troops. WheelockMarden labeled Bobby's testimony "a horrible lie" and the British em*. bassy in Washington said the charges were “fantastic.” But Bobby stuck to his story and was rewarded by the U. S. Junior Chamber of Commerce by being picked as one of the “ten top young men of the year,” the year being 1953.
The next headlines Bobby gained were about a row he had with another McC arthy counsel. Roy Cohn, in the committee room. They had such a furious exchange that they nearly came to blows. Bobby resigned, not because he couldn’t stomach Mc-
Carthy, but because he couldn't stomach Cohn, who was about his own age and as aggressive as Bobby himself.
By a quirk of fate, Bobby's spell of employment with the McCarthy subcommittee may have been extremely important, if embarrassing to his older brother. For John, when he recovered from his spinal surgery in
1955 — he wrote his Pulitzer-prizewinning Portraits of Courage while convalescing — launched an all-out effort to capture the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic national convention at Chicago in August 1956. It was clear that the presidential nomination was earmarked for Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, as the Democratic candidate in 1952. had lost to Eisenhower, hut would get another chance. John Kennedy expected him to win and very much wanted to be his running mate. One of the reasons why he w-as narrowdy edged out by Senator Estes Kefauver was that liberal Democrats, who had neither forgotten nor forgiven old Joe Kennedy's 1940 forecast that the Nazis would win the war. had had their distrust of the Kennedys sharpened when Bobby served McCarthy.
As it turned out, in the 1956 election, Stevenson and Kefauver w'ere soundly drubbed by Eisenhower and Nixon. For both of them, the hope of ever being president was over. Had it been Kennedy rather than Kefauver w'ho ran with Stevenson, it's unlikely that he would be president now.
Vet the convention tired and disappointed Kennedy so much that he flew the next day to his fathers place on the French Riviera. Jacqueline Kennedy, six months pregnant, did not accompany him. and w'hile he was in Europe she had a fall on the beach at Ncw'port and lost her baby.
The Kennedys do not remember
1956 as a happy year, but it was on election night, when the returns spelled out the defeat of Stevenson and Kefauver. that John Kennedy decided that he. and nobody else, would be elected president in I960. He was soon spending $70.()()() a year out of his own pocket on his Washington office alone, building a skeleton campaign organization. The large "all for one and one for all" Kennedy family formed a private company to buy a big costly airplane and hire pilots — this to facilitate John's barnstorming trips around the country. John, although he disliked it. entertained lavishly and purposefully. The tab for one banquet alone was two thousand dollars.
The pace he maintained would have killed a man without his inexhaustible energy. He spoke here, there, everywhere. His successful 195$ campaign for re-election to the Senate — managed. significantly, by his youngest brother Teddy — hardly interrupted his national campaign for the I960 Democratic presidential nomination. Nor did he neglect his senatorial duties in Washington. Among other things he was. by now. a leading member of the Senate select committee on improper activities in the labormanagement field — a racket-busting committee of which Bobby Kennedy was chief counsel. Bobby's record as a buster of rackets that badly needed busting brought him a reputa-
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tion that overshadowed his 1953 adventures with McCarthy. The liberals also noted that, more and more, he was becoming a supporter of “civil rights." the U. S. euphemism for treating Negroes as though slavery had really been abolished.
By I960, John was. no doubt of it, a national figure — and a figure, not a character. So, in his own way, was Bobby, his chief political adviser and aide. And w hat they both realized, constantly, w'as that to clinch the presidential nomination John had to prove that Protestants would vote tor a Catholic, the U. S. being a predominantly Protestant country. The place to do this was West Virginia, where ninety-five people out of every hundred are Protestant. The state is one of only sixteen that still have open presidential primaries, where all seekers for the presidency, of either party, may offer themselves directly to the electorate.
John Kennedy knew a desperate risk w'as involved in entering the West Virginia primaries, but he decided to take it. Running against him was Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, who while a U. S. senator, was little known outside his owm state and who, to those beyond Minnesota's borders who did know him, sometimes seemed too radical to be considered seriously although they granted that he meant well. If Kennedy's only chance was to prove that Protestants would vote for a Catholic, Humphrey's onlychance was to prove that he could appeal effectively to voters who weren't Minnesotans. The two opponents campaigned up and down West Virginia, in the small cities, in the little desolate towns, and in the villages in the “hollers," as the valleys surrounded by small but rugged coal-filled hills are called by West Virginians. Kennedy was well financed: Humphrey was operating on a shoestring. But against this Humphrey was Protestant, and he offered the depressed coal mining areas the sort of social program that is attractive to depressed areas. It looked for a while as though Humphrey would win and scrub Kennedy out ot the presidential race. But when the votes were counted in West Virginia, the C atholic had a decisive majority. The rest is too familiar to recount.
Yet it is still hard to realize that it was not great states and tremendous political issues that made John Kennedy president and Robert Kennedy attorney general. It was little impoverished West Virginia that gave John Kennedy the Democratic nomination. And while political issues held the centre of the stage during the rest of the campaign more and more Washington observers incline to the opinion that personality factors tipped the scales. For example, Richard Nixons physical appearance on the TV screen — his beady eyes, ski-jump nose and cheeks slightly reminiscent of a squirrel's stuffed with acorns — may have brouuht his downfall. Kennedy, after all. got only one more vote than Nixon out ot every 500 cast. If Nixon had looked like Kennedy and Kennedy like Nixon, the situation might have been reversed. ★
A fifth article on the Kennedy family n il! appear in a forthcoming issue.