Biographies & Memoirs

The Right Man for the Job?

Before Kennedy could set about convincing the country to elect him as president, he first had to win the Democratic nomination.

Encouragingly, the political winds had turned noticeably in Jack’s favour in the four years that had passed since his failed attempt to gain his party’s nomination for vice president. Always a firm favourite in Massachusetts, Kennedy’s profile had also been raised at a national level, thanks in large part to an exhaustive speaking tour in 1957. However, aside from a general uneasiness among the party at Joe Sr’s continuing interference in his son’s career, there were two other concerns.

Firstly, his age – at just forty-three, some thought it inappropriate – and perhaps even arrogant – that Jack should be campaigning for the presidential nomination, and suggested that a vice-presidential bid would be more fitting. The second difficulty was his Catholic faith. Never in the country’s history had a Catholic been elected President (and none since). Given that America was still a predominantly Protestant country, Catholicism was viewed somewhat suspiciously in certain quarters, with some fearing a Catholic president would pander too much to the Vatican when it came to affairs of State.

Characteristically, Jack navigated the criticism with a mix of humour, steel, and political insight. He laughed off charges that his father was engaging in some less-than-savoury electioneering practices on his behalf, while doing his best to allay fears that he would be unduly influenced by the Pope. With regard to the problem of his age, Kennedy cleverly worked this to his advantage – portraying himself as an energetic, rejuvenating force in the wake of the older Eisenhower regime. Kennedy’s campaign to win his party’s presidential nomination pitched him against a number of other high-profile Democrats including Adlai Stevenson and Lyndon B Johnson. The battle was hard fought with Johnson, in particular, making personal attacks on Kennedy by raising the possibility that he suffered from Addison’s Disease.

The Kennedy family doctors refused to confirm the Addison’s diagnosis, helping repel this attack. At the Democratic Convention in July 1960, Kennedy garnered 806 votes – 52 per cent of total ballots cast – making him an outright winner. His nearest rival, Lyndon B Johnson, won the vice-presidential nomination.

After a fractious campaign, both men now had to put their differences behind them if they were to have any hope of beating their Republican rivals in the general election – namely, the current Vice President, Richard Nixon, and Jack’s old Senatorial rival, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

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