Biographies & Memoirs

Onwards and Upwards

Kennedy’s maiden term in office as a Congressman was beset with frustrations. In 1947, the Republican Party enjoyed a majority in the House of Representatives, which meant that Democrat members were often outnumbered in critical votes. Hamstrung, it was extremely difficult for a young and inexperienced Democrat like Kennedy to make any great impression during his first term in Washington. Nevertheless, his popularity did not wane, and he was re-elected for two further two-year terms, in 1948 and 1950.

Congressman Kennedy, 1947

By the end of his third Congressional term in 1952, Kennedy decided to set his sights on the Senate. The House of Representatives had never been more than a stepping stone and he had already considered and rejected the possibility of running for the job of Massachusetts State Governor.

It was announced that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr, for his seat in the Upper House in April. The decision was a brave one – Lodge was firmly established in the position of State Senator for Massachusetts, while at a national level, the Republican Party’s candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, was ahead in the concurrent presidential race.

Once again, the Kennedy family rallied. As in the 1946 campaign, Joe Sr invested huge sums of money to bankroll his son’s ambitious campaign. Consequently, despite hailing from a wealthy family himself, Henry Cabot Lodge was, in Eisenhower’s words, ‘simply overwhelmed by money.’

Funding gap aside, it became obvious as the campaign progressed that very little separated the two candidates. From a policy point of view, both held similar views on domestic and international affairs, despite being on opposite sides of the party divide. And when it came to the burning issue of the day – Communism – both men tried to out-do each other in proving their commitment to an anti-Communist agenda.

Thus, with Kennedy struggling to differentiate himself ideologically from his rival, it was decided, midway through the campaign, to deploy the biggest (and, as it proved, most effective) weapon in the Kennedy family arsenal – Jack’s younger brother, Robert. Drafted in as campaign manager, Robert (known as Bobby), abandoned his career as an attorney with the Department of Justice – somewhat reluctantly at first – to devote his considerable energies to the task of getting his brother elected to the Senate.

Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy

Often working up to eighteen hours a day, Bobby devised and implemented a highly effective campaign strategy. Thanks to his organizational skills, the Kennedy canvassers succeeded in infiltrating practically every highway, byway and backwater of the State of Massachusetts – with the result that, by the time the polls opened on 5 November, there could hardly have been a voter in the entire State who was not acquainted with the name and face of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

In the end, this name-recognition – bought by Joe’s money and hammered home by Bobby’s thorough campaign strategies – helped Kennedy over the line. In a time when Republicans were winning landslide victories across the country, he bucked the trend and won by 51.5 per cent to 48.5 per cent. Winning just 70,000 more votes than his opponent, out of approximately 2.3 million votes cast, Kennedy narrowly dethroned Lodge.

The forward momentum of the powerful Kennedy machine, it seemed, was unstoppable.

A Medical Breakthrough

As it transpired, Kennedy had a significant weakness, and had his political opponents discovered this, it would have proved fatal for his burgeoning career. In 1947, after years of inconclusive tests, his doctors had finally hit upon an explanation for the dizzying array of illnesses which had seen him hospitalized almost forty times throughout his life – and which, it is rumoured, caused him to receive the Last Rites no less than three times. Kennedy suffered from Addison’s Disease.

Addison’s is a rare disorder characterized by underactive adrenal glands and a deficiency of a hormone known as adrenocortical. A progressive and incurable illness, it dramatically decreases the life expectancy of the sufferer. But, luckily for Kennedy, a scientific breakthrough in the late 1940s saw the introduction of a synthetic compound to replace the deficient hormone, meaning that the disease was now treatable.

Once his diagnosis was confirmed, Jack was prescribed a high (and potentially dangerous) dose of corticosteroid, which he would take daily for the rest of his life. While the disease was far from cured, his ever-worsening symptoms were at least brought temporarily under control, allowing him to keep his illness controlled and concealed during the arduous election campaigns of 1948, 1950, and 1952.

In fact, rumours that Jack suffered from Addison’s only began to surface a decade later, during the 1960 presidential campaign – and were advisedly denied by the Kennedy camp. The full truth about Jack’s affliction only emerged after the election, by which time it no longer mattered as Kennedy was safely installed in the White House as President of the United States.

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