My fifty-fifth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Michael Hogan about his new book (which I reviewed here) on the development of JFK's posthumous image. Enjoy!
“MY TWELVE YEARS WITH JOHN F. KENNEDY” is Evelyn Lincoln’s account of the time she served John F. Kennedy as his secretary. The book begins in 1952 when Mrs. Lincoln was working on the clerical staff of a Georgia Congressman. The U.S. was on the cusp of a major sea change, for after 20 years of Democratic presidential administrations in the White House, a Republican tide in November of that year would bring in the war hero Dwight Eisenhower as President. What’s more, on his coattails, many Republicans would win election to Congress. Mrs. Lincoln had read earlier in the year about a young Massachusetts 3-term Congressman (John F. Kennedy) who had decided to challenge a powerful Senator (Henry Cabot Lodge) for his seat. Kennedy, a Catholic, was not expected to win. But Mrs. Lincoln was impressed with him and sensed he had potential. She told her husband that she believed that Kennedy could someday be President. Indeed, she asserted that he would be elected President in 1960! And for that reason, she wanted to go and work for him. That took some doing, for Kennedy, at the time, was often away in Massachusetts campaigning. What’s more: he already had a secretary. So, in addition to her normal job on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Lincoln got a job as a volunteer in Congressman Kennedy’s office.
Kennedy would defy the odds and win election to the Senate in 1952. Within a year, his regular secretary had left and Mrs. Lincoln, by dint of hard work and having learned to cope with the demands Kennedy would place on his staff (Kennedy challenged his staff much as he challenged himself), had earned the position as his secretary. The book then takes the reader into the life and times of John F. Kennedy as Evelyn Lincoln experienced them between 1953 and his assassination in November 1963. She writes in a way that will make the reader feel that he/she is not only a witness to history, but also to the life of a singularly remarkable politician and human being. I loved this book and will cherish it always.
Nearly 55 years after his assassination, John F. Kennedy stands as the most popular of America's post-World War II presidents. Poll after poll serves as testament to his enduring appeal for millions of Americans, which crosses racial, ideological, and generational lines. How Kennedy came to assume such an indelible place in the American imagination is the subject of Michael Hogan's book, which looks at the development of Kennedy's posthumous image and why it endures decades after his demise.
Kennedy's wife Jacqueline is at the center of Hogan's account. In the hours following the president's assassination, his grieving widow asserted a leading role in the planning for his funeral, making decisions and choreographing events so as to cement the image of the young, hopeful leader that he and his wife had done so much to cultivate. As Hogan notes, this proved a dramatic success, one witness by the people of the world thanks to the use of television, Jacqueline furthered this effort by exercising close control over the works published immediately after his death (particularly William Manchester's book Death of a President) and the memorials constructed in D.C. and in Massachusetts.
Kennedy's circle of family and friends continued even as the nation emerged from their grief and began to reassess the president's legacy. As authors began challenging the sentimental, rose-colored view propagated in early biographies by Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the family pushed back by attempting to dissuade authors who did not offer the Kennedys editorial control from writing their books or restricting their access to JFK's papers. To Hogan, the effort here was not an effort to control history but memory -- the public image of Kennedy held by millions of Americans. This, even as the sordid details of Kennedy's private life gradually leaked out and revisionists challenged the image of Kennedy as a successful president, the public continued to hold him in an esteem which made association with his image a laudable political goal even today.
Hogan's book is an excellent account of the construction of Kennedy's posthumous portrayal by those closest to him and its impact how how he is remembered. In it he recounts the calculations of the people involved, the fighting that took place to realize their goals, and the effect of the result upon the nation's remembrance of the 35th president. Though Hogan's scope leaves out many fictional works which reflect the broader national effort to engage with what Kennedy meant to the country, his book is nonetheless a superb study that helps to explain why Kennedy continues to occupy such a beloved place in our national memory.
Until John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 Robert Kennedy's political career had been subsumed into that of his brother. As manager for John's 1952 Senate and 1960 presidential campaigns, Robert was the one who did the disagreeable work, serving as the bad cop so as to avoid accruing any personal enmity towards his older brother. As Attorney General Bobby played a similar role, and acted as Jack's closest adviser throughout all of the major crises of his presidency. Jack's assassination left his brother politically adrift, suddenly deprived of the focus that had defined his public career. How Robert Kennedy regained his political footing and emerged as a politician in his own right is the subject of John Bohrer's book, which details his career from the aftermath of his brother's murder to the delivery of his "Ripple of Hope" speech in South Africa in 1966.
The significance of these years, as Bohrer demonstrates, lay in Robert's emergence as a politician in his own right. This was a role almost thrust on him from the moment of his brother's death, as it made him the next in line for his family's political aspirations. Many people openly campaigned for Kennedy to be selected as Lyndon Johnson's running mate in the 1964 presidential election, but the personal animosity between the two men, coupled with Johnson's need to establish his victory as the result of his own appeal and not that of the Kennedy mystique, forced Robert to run instead for the Senate in New York, which he won by defeating the popular Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. Though possessing no seniority, Kennedy entered with an outsized stature, which he used to address he issues of poverty, civil rights, and America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War
Over the course of his book Bohrer develops a picture of a man who gradually found his voice as a politician in his own right. Though Kennedy's celebrity status undoubtedly played a role in this, Bohrer also credits the hard work both he and his aides put into making it possible. Though the author stops short of Kennedy's ill-fated 1968 presidential run, his book makes it clear how that trajectory towards the presidency was almost irresistible considering his status and the hopes so many invested in him. It makes for a book that offers a readably persuasive narrative explaining how Robert Kennedy emerged from his brother's shadow to become a national leader for his times.