President Kennedy and His Legacy

President Kennedy and His Legacy


Good evening. Did you know that John F. Kennedy was the most photographed leader of his day? This may not surprise you since he used photography strategically to share his values and his vision for America. It was also the golden age of photography in America. And that is why this subject is of interest to us at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and hopefully you. Here at the Museum we focus on telling the stories of the American experience, from folk art to photography as well as painting and sculpture and crafts and media arts. Our exhibition, ‘American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times,’ which you can view on the second floor in the graphic arts gallery is a premier event among many organized by the Kennedy Presidential Library in this centennial year. I am Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. SAAM is what we call ourselves for short. You’re in for a special treat this evening as we have assembled a distinguished group of historians and scholars debating the Kennedy administration and its legacy. Many of you likely remember the Kennedy administration and the arc of history. We also have several members of Congress in the room with us. And I want to pause for a moment and acknowledge them and thank them along with their staff for their work and doing the people’s business. Please join me in recognizing Congressman Jim Banks representing, Indiana’s Third District, Congressman David Cicilline representing Rhode Island’s First District and also a member of the Congressional Art Caucus which I appreciate, and finally Congressman Steny Hoyer, representing Maryland’s Fifth District. – applause – We’ve asked Representative Hoyer who also serves as the House Minority Whip to graciously introduce our moderator this evening, Stephen M. Rothstein, who is the head of the Kennedy Library Foundation. In closing I want to note that tonight’s program is being live streamed and also recorded by C-SPAN. So kindly turn off your digital devices so that we may all enjoy the program tonight. Thank you, and I appreciate your being here tonight with us. – applause – Thank you very much Stephanie for the work that you do. Stephen I was told to introduce you. They didn’t say graciously – laughter – introduce you, but I will try to be that. David Cicilline who is a great leader in the Congress of the United States, one of our elected leaders on the Democratic side of the aisle who represents Rhode Island, former Mayor of Providence, David thank you for all you do. – applause – “Let the word go forth from this time in this place to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” – applause – I am a part of the inspired generation who listened to those words who listened to John Kennedy and whose life was changed. We are here to celebrate the life and legacy of a man who promoted political courage not only by writing about it, but by living it. The life of our 35th president was in many ways to reappropriate the title of the Robert Frost poem, “A Gift Outright.” He was to my generation and to many generations a gift outright. For he gave of himself at every turn. From his bravery in the South Pacific during the war to his steadfastness in our nation and world’s most dangerous hour during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For those of us who remember him and his presidency It was a time of promise, renewal, progress. For those who do not, his legacy has nonetheless shaped our national understanding of what public service means. In my office at the Capitol as you will not be surprised sits a bust of John F Kennedy. It is a miniature of the bust that is in the Kennedy Center. It was given to me by my mother in 1973. I was then a member of the Maryland State Senate and she gave it to me for my birthday because she knew what an extraordinary impact John Kennedy made on my life. It is a reminder not only of the values for which he stood but the courage for which he stood for them and for me personally, it’s a reminder of what drove me to enter public service as a young man. John Kennedy came to the campus of the University of Maryland the spring of 1959, and he spoke as I’m sure he spoke to hundreds of thousands of young people. A lot of young people this audience, and he spoke about what we could do to make a difference and further what we ought to do to make a difference. To in short “ask not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country.” When President Kennedy went to Amherst College in October 1963 to eulogize Robert Frost, he observed that “a nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors.” I’m sure we all would add by the women we honor. So as we honor the centennial of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, let us reveal in our tributes the vision of America that he espoused, a positive vision. a hopeful vision, a vision of partnership and mutual responsibility. An America secure in its sense of purpose. An America bolstered by the moral courage of its people. An America confident enough in itself during the Cold War to say to our adversaries and I quote “Let both sides join in a new endeavor. Not a new balance of power, but a new world of law where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.” This evening we engage in our ongoing work of honoring President Kennedy and his legacy. The man I’m about to introduce, graciously, has been charged with leading the institution whose mission is the preservation of that legacy. Steven Rothstein serves as Executive Director of the John F Kennedy Library Foundation, which supports the work of the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. When he arrived at the Kennedy Library Foundation in August, he brought with him a wealth of experience, successfully leading academic, private sector, and government institutions. Like others inspired by President Kennedy’s call to give back to their communities in their country, Steven has pursued public service in many different forms. The start of his career, he partnered with President Kennedy’s nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy II, with whom I served in the Congress of the United States to found Citizens Energy Corporation, the first ever nonprofit energy company helping low-income families afford heating, oil, gas, and electricity. Steve why didn’t they let you get in the ads? As a Massachusetts state official in the late 1980s, Steven oversaw programs serving the mentally ill. John Kennedy had something to say about disabled children. He said that “although these children may be the victims of fate, they shall not be the victims of our neglect.” Steven, thank you for your work with the mentally ill of which Patrick Kennedy of course has been such a great leader. He launched the private sector firm focused on promoting and expanding green energy technologies. For a decade he served as President of the Perkins School for the Blind, expanding its programs to 30 countries and the number of students served in person and online from 40,000 to nearly a million. He did God’s work. Thanks in large part to his leadership, Perkins is now the largest trainer of teachers and parents of the blind. Between his departure from Perkins in 2014 and his arrival at the Kennedy Library Foundation last year, Steven led Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit helping middle schools provide low-income students with opportunities to learn in-demand science, technology, engineering, and math skills, and certainly we would call it STEAM in this institution, because arts are so important. He continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center for Prevention of Gun Violence, working to promote safer communities and safer schools. President Kennedy, Steve and I have no doubt, would have been deeply proud that his memorial library is being led by a man whose life has been spent in service to those in need and to building a better America for all. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Steven Rothstein to the podium. – applause – Let’s hear it again for Congressman Steny Hoyer for the leadership. – applause – Our country is better off today each and every day because of the work that you and your colleagues do on the Hill in the challenging times. But knowing that you’re there, fighting the fight on big issues and small issues and helping to move us forward, let’s us sleep at night. So thank you for your service each and every day. We really appreciate it. Again for our distinguished leaders. Thank you. – applause – Stephanie thank you so much for everything except for having to follow Steny Hoyer. Aside from that, I really appreciate everything you and Nona and all the team here have done. If you haven’t had a chance to see the photographs upstairs at some point take a look. I’ve had a chance to see them before and they’re just a remarkable collection of some fascinating views, some public and private views, of John Kennedy and his family and from an artistic perspective well worthwhile. So I encourage you to do that. I’m going to cut down my remarks I want to get to the speakers. When Stephanie started off, she said that there are distinguished, there are academics and scholars. Well there are to academics and scholars that are about to come up. You have to stick with me just for a minute so I’m going to be very quick so we can get to our distinguished guests in just a minute. But a few things to keep in mind. Today in the United States, 80% of the people alive today were born after the Kennedy administration. 80 percent. So one of the questions we’re going to talk about in a little while is why is the centennial important and why is he still? Every year there are surveys done of popular presidents, and he’s always in the top three, four, five, depending on on perspectives, and why is that? Because he was only there for 1,036 days. Obviously it was cut short, starting to look at that. The other thing to keep in mind is Pew does an annual survey of trust in government and in 1962, when John Kennedy was there, he did as you know the first televised press conferences and over a three year period less than three year period, he had 64 press conferences, 64 live televised press conference. Now I’m not going to compare that to anybody else. – laughter – I wouldn’t do that, but he did it on average every 16 days. The first five press conferences were collectively watched about 60 million Americans. They got to see someone making decisions and he even did one literally right after the Bay of Pigs. So he didn’t just do them when there was kind of good news. He believed in transparency in government. He believed in public service, the most notable and noteworthy perspectives. So when Pew did their survey in 1962, 75% of the people had trust in government. They didn’t agree with everything, but they trusted in government. A year ago, before the elections, that 75% had gone to 19%. So one of the questions for all of society is – what do we do about that? I’m going to introduce our two speakers, but before they come up, we’re going to show a 30 second video. But first again, both have very long and very distinguished backgrounds. I’m going to summarize both of them, but Ted Widmer directs the John Kluge Center at the Library of Congress here. Before that, he had taught at Brown University where he was Director of the John Carter Brown Library. He was also the Founding Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington University. Before that, he was a speechwriter and Senior Adviser to President Bill Clinton working on many fronts including the planning of the Clinton Library. He also has been the editor and author of nearly a dozen books and in 2012, worked on, with Caroline Kennedy, ‘Listening In, The Secret White House Recordings.’ President Kennedy recorded over 200 hours. So he did have a recording system, and they’re all transparent, they’re all available, but Ted went through and prepared a book, really a marvelous piece. So if you haven’t had a chance to get that yet, I encourage you to get that ‘Listening In.’ Fred Logevall, the second distinguished person who I’m going to introduce in just a minute, is currently the Lawrence Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard where he holds a joint appointment at the Kennedy School and Department of History. If you know Harvard, getting one appointment is amazing, to have a joint appointment is nothing less than remarkable. His most recent book, he has many, but his most recent book “Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire in the making of America’s Vietnam,” won a Pulitzer prize as well as the Francis Parkman prize. If you want to learn more about Vietnam if you haven’t read “Embers of War,” I really encourage you do that. His essays have appeared in many newspapers and journals. He’s also the past president of the Society of Historians for American Foreign Relations, and he’s currently writing a biography on John Kennedy. I’ve read a lot, but I’m really excited. I can’t wait for him to finish it because I know I’m going to learn a lot from that book. So before they come up there’s a 30 second video that we’ve been playing as part of the centennial that I think we can watch now and then we’ll kick off the program. “Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, the conquer of poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy, and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world.” – applause – So we’re here as part of the centennial activities, and we’ve done with partners like the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center, and many others over 100 events all over the country and a few actually internationally. Why is celebrating centennial important? Part of the answer, it seems to me, is that commemorations are important, this is my own view, are important for the civic health of a nation. So one of the reasons We do this not just with John F Kennedy, but with other political leaders is that I think it helps bind us together. I also think in this particular case, it’s an extraordinary story, and you know President Kennedy had a marvelous sense of humor. And I suspect that if he were with us today if he’d live to be 100, he would make some remark about having overstayed his welcome. But we recognize this extraordinary day 100 years ago that he was born in Brookline in 1917. Because of some of the things Congressman Hoyer said and that you referenced that we saw in the film I think he inspired us, inspired Americans. He reminds Americans it seems to me of an age when it was possible to believe. This is powerful to me, especially as a recent citizen of this country. He reminds Americans of an age when it was possible to believe that politics could speak to our highest moral yearnings. Could be harnessed it seems to me to our highest aspirations, and that’s important.That’s certainly one of the reasons why I think we celebrate them. I agree with everything Fred just said. Anniversaries are very important. History is a kind of “civic glue.” We’re living in a difficult political time, but we do have one history, and anniversaries give us a chance to remember that this one is a little bit disorienting because it’s very hard to imagine John F. Kennedy at a hundred years old. He always looks young. He looks unbelievably charismatic in the new campaign with the sunglasses. There’s a kind of a presence to John F. Kennedy that’s, I think, unusual. When Congressman Hoyer read the lines from the opening sentences from the inaugural, the guests sitting behind me said “thank you.” And there was a kind of immediacy to the words of John F. Kennedy. They still live with us. Absolutely. He also was such a student of history himself. Both his study in school preparing for the profiles and courage that saw history is so important. And you know we are, if we don’t learn from history, we are going to repeat some things, so it is important. Yeah, I think that historical sensibility of Kennedy’s and my research for this book that dimension which I think I knew something about when I started the work, but it’s so powerful, and it comes out even when he is a sickly, young guy. In those days there were no cell phones or iPads or anything else. He had one thing that he could do to to occupy his time, and it was to read. And I think very early on that, as you say, historical sensibility was manifest. And I think it’s there right through to the end. We remember him as just about the most natural politician any of us have ever seen. He was quite shy, and there was a line in one of the tapes I listened to for that book where he’s talking about himself, and he said this is really hard. I would rather read a book on an airplane than have to talk to the person sitting next to me, and that wasn’t arrogance. I think it was genuine shyness. He was smaller physically than his older brother. His older brother was the one who was supposed to go into politics, but there was a reserve that I think came from his reading that made him even more attractive as if he was holding something back and not giving you everything every second of the day which is sometimes how the incessant torrent of political information and media information feels to us. We can’t even escape it, especially on days like yesterday and this week, and there was something very cerebral about him. He said exactly what he wanted you to hear and not more and that was very attractive. Why do you think, as I alluded to earlier, he’s in the polls – he is one of the most popular presidents? If you think about after Washington and Roosevelt and Lincoln, he sometimes is number four. Why is that when he had so little time there? Clearly others, Johnson got more legislation passed. So why do you think that is? It’s a great question. I mean we can’t ever escape the tragic end of the Kennedy presidency. You know that haunts all of us as a nation. I’ve been thinking today about what I wanted to say, and I think we should avoid the false trap of thinking everything was utopian and perfect in the early 60s, and our politics have disintegrated because obviously we had very serious problems in the early 60s and deep political hatreds, and the way his presidency ended stemmed from that. But there was a lot achieved. I mean most of us I think feel, most historians feel that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the greatest crisis of the last 60 years and an existential crisis that if it had not been led, if he had not led us as ably as he did there’s a pretty strong chance the world as we know it would have ended. So that’s a special kind of achievement that overshadows most presidential achievements. But it was a kind of high noon of American empire, American culture. Everyone was doing interesting things. There was a new kind of liberalism coming out. There was also a new kind of conservatism coming up. And he represented the hopes and aspirations of a very important generation that was just coming onto the world stage and has not left the world stage. So for all those reasons even if he was President for only a little over a thousand days, they were intense days, and he was an intense leader during that time. To what Ted has said is that as we were saying earlier, he inspired us and I don’t mean just Americans because in my little corner of the world, I’m from Sweden, and I’ve often talked with not only my parents, but with other relatives about, and this is before I started this book project, about John F. Kennedy. And so at least part of the answer to your question, Steve, is that it seems to me that it wasn’t just Americans who took something from what John F. Kennedy represented and what he said in his speeches. It wasn’t just the assassination because some of this, and again I’ve spoken to people about this, was about what he did as President. So at least, I suspect in other words I guess I’m suggesting that if we had a global poll, not just one of Americans he would still figure very highly. It seems to me Barack Obama brought some of that, not just in the United States, but abroad. There are interesting similarities between the two of them in some ways. But that’s maybe one thing I would add. I agree there are very few Presidential speeches that we reread. There really aren’t many outside of Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. So that’s a very small number, and it isn’t just because he was handsome and young. There is great substance in those speeches. There’s great wit. There’s great perception of life’s irony, life’s brevity. He talked about mortality. He uses the word mortality in the great American University speech given in this city in June 1963. Maybe his best speech ever, and so one fact that historians have learned more about in the last 10 years, thanks to the Kennedy Library is that he had a very difficult, life long struggle with health. He had serious health problems, and I think he knew that a hundredth birthday was out of the question, so he would not have made it to his own hundredth anniversary. He knew life was short and precious, and that feeling is in those speeches, and that’s one of the reasons we reread them. Yeah, there’s a certain. I think it connects to what you’re saying Ted. There’s a certain authenticity that is the kind of elusive concept often. For me, I think authenticity means fundamentally taking things seriously and expanding empathy, and I think that for many Americans and again why he remains popular, he made his share of mistakes. There were ups and downs in the administration personally, but there was an authenticity there, and I think this is maybe what Ted is speaking to as well that I think again helped explain those popularity affairs. First I agree with you. I think when we think about mistakes and authenticity, one of the things that I really admire about him in that self-reflective willing to learn. If you just take the Bay of Pigs, which clearly was an enormous challenge and mistake, then between that and the Cuban Missile Crisis, so much happened, but in terms of just five key things. We all see pictures of the situation room. He started that between those two. The Hotline to Russia started that. The Navy Seals, a Green Beret, the daily security briefings, until this President everyone has had and so that self-reflection of I, President Kennedy, wasn’t getting good information. I didn’t make the best decision How can I do better and how can our system be better? And that is such a refreshing element that I have great respect for to learn from those elements. I think we want Presidents to change in office. We don’t want them to just govern the way they campaigned. It’s a very important part of the job to grow into the job. It’s an impossible job. It basically is, and he really grew very effectively. And I think without the Bay of Pigs, he might not have survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. I mean that terrible mistake, and it was a severe error, gave him the confidence, or gave him the irritation at the causes of the mistake to rethink his system of governance as you mentioned. So mistakes are crucial to growth. And he grew beautifully in his thinking about the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis allowed him to grow further into the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. He grew a lot on civil rights. He grew a lot just as a person who was open to the different ideas of a country that was extremely diverse, and he was always listening, and I think his second term would have been fascinating. What do each of you think are the top few accomplishments of those thousand days? Picking a few. I think that his handling of the Cold War, broadly speaking. It wasn’t a compliment It seems to me that there are very interesting things that happened to the Cold War in those, let’s say the year following the Cuban Missile Crisis, that I think he has a great deal of responsibility for Khrushchev helped the two of them, seems to me, started something that would later be called detente and that it seems to me grows out of a conviction that John F. Kennedy had. I think, I’m finding in my research, long before he became President which was that American power, American military power, geopolitical power was great. It was greater than any other nations including the Soviet Union, but it was ultimately limited. He also had a sense, a deep conviction, that the prospect of nuclear war the prospect of, let me put it this way, the prospect of superpower war in the nuclear age was an impossibility and I think he acted with that in mind and I think that year basically his last year of life is very important in that regard. I guess I would also suggest that though he was late, lamentably late in coming to the civil rights issue in a serious way, a remarkable speech on June 11th 1963 the day after the American University speech. I think I give him credit for making civil rights a moral issue, and that was important in terms of what’s going to happen later. And finally I think that the space program and the commitment to the space program would be another example, it seems to me, of a success in his administration even if the fruits of that effort wouldn’t be seen until later. So those would be three. I agree exactly with those three, but I would add also that he just projected a sense of self confidence that people in very different walks of life picked up on. James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi, was inspired by his inaugural address to go do that courageous thing. David McCullough, the great historian, was inspired to start writing history. I mean, people who did very different things. I think we can trace a lot of the great governance later in the 60s and in the 70s including, I wrote an essay and there’s a book we are celebrating that came out with a lot of essays by historians, public figures about his significance at 100. I wrote an essay arguing that the Immigration Act that changed our country forever in 1965 can be directly linked to him and to his very strong interest in immigration. It was a lifelong interest, and we will never be the same country, will never go back in time nor do I think we would want to, to a country that was more uniform in color and frankly more boring than the wonderful diverse multi-chromatic society that we inhabit today, even with all our problems, we live in a very exciting society and I think he made it much more exciting than it had been. I think you have to also include on this list, the Peace Corps, because it seems to me that what Ted is speaking to is an excitement about, infectious it turns out, from the examples you’ve given in public service and what public service can mean, and I worry a little bit that we’ve lost this. I think we’ve lost on some levels our confidence in ourselves in a way as a society. So it seems to me that a success of this administration, John F. Kennedy’s administration, was extolling public service and making people excited about it. I agree with everything you said and making people excited. One of the ways is talking about the space program. You can talk more about this in a minute Ted. But listening to some of the tapes that you worked on and reading a lot of documents. Our country knew so little about the technology back then. To put it in perspective the Freedom 7 capsule that went up has less than half of the computing power than a smartphone of anyone in the audience tonight. When he says in the Rice University speech, that we’re going to go to the moon, the reality is the technology, people weren’t sure. And so how do you think he had either the presumption or the confidence to rally a country and organize people. Clearly I know if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have made that and there have been so many advantages from the start of GPS to the literally dozens of technological advantages. But how did he have the instinct to do that and then rally people at every level? Well he had a lot of confidence in himself. That’s for sure. He was highly accomplished even before he thought he would be a politician. He’d written his first book at a very very young age, and he followed achievement his entire life. He was interested in achievers, and he worked. He was not afraid of ideas, and I think that’s one thing I personally honor about John F. Kennedy is the confidence with which he walked across the stage of great thinking and great ideas, and there was a Pew poll in the last couple days that showed how a big section of our country thinks it’s now a bad thing to go to college. It’s not a good thing and so I don’t want to get into partisanship at all believe me. I live in Washington. I don’t want to go there, but I think whether you’re Republican, I mean William F. Buckley, Jr. was a great champion of ideas on the right, and I think John F. Kennedy was a great champion of ideas where he lives, sometimes on the left, sometimes in the middle and the space program was an exciting idea, and he got the whole country behind it, and it was an exciting scientific idea. I wish we could think of something similar now. I mean, I think we have something, and it is the fight to save our planet, which is not so different from the space effort because it was those early photographs of the Earth as a fragile blue marble in a dark universe. It began to help people think we need to look after this place, and it would be great to see a bipartisan global effort with science and ideas along similar lines. In fact, we recently interviewed Caroline Kennedy and her three kids, so President Kennedy’s grandchildren and ask them about their grandfather and Jack Schlossberg, the only grandson of President Kennedy, said basically that. He said, “if my grandfather were alive today, I bet he would have taken this big idea concept and directed it to the environment.” I mean today when whether it’s a company or country thinks of a really big idea they call it a moon shot. Well literally he brought us literally the first moon shot and there have been lots of great examples including the distinguished public officials here who have continued that effort. But I think we need to do more of that. Set a goal that at the time seems unreachable as a way to rally the country. I completely agree, and I was not aware that his grandson articulated that in those ways, but I can agree completely and also with Ted’s observation. Some of that I mean research spins off other research. So starting a moon shot is just always a good idea, and I think a lot of the early technology that led ultimately to the World Wide Web and the Internet came out of that mass of it. I mean not exclusively other parts of the military, of the government but the Whole Earth Catalogue later in the 60s included that NASA photograph of Earth and Stuart Brand and that group of people were very instrumental in developing the California version of the Internet in the late 60s. We don’t claim that John F. Kennedy gave us the internet and he didn’t, but moon shots lead to a lot of other planets out there. What do you think about in terms of Peace Corps? Not whether it’s successful not, but how much of a risk was it at the time? I mean, you know Eisenhower called it the “Kitty Corps.” A lot of the countries that volunteers went to, not only was there no communication other than just been recently broken free from their colonial rule. Do you think, and there was a debate with the administration about how big to make it initially? What do you think and should it, in terms of his political capital, we had to spend time. What do you think about that, Fred? I don’t know that it required a great deal of political capital on his part. It had a certain Cold War component we should recognize. In other words this was perceived by him and by others in the administration as a means of waging, if you will, the Cold War. So it wasn’t all about, it wasn’t all born out of idealistic motives if you will. I think there was uncertainty in the administration about whether it would succeed and what kind of response you would get from Americans. Would young people from all over the country actually sign up for this thing? What would they find when they went out in the field? All of that I think was it was an unknown, but I think my sense from my research to this point is that he had a faith and advisors around him had a faith that this was an idea that they should pursue. They should do it right away. It’s one of the things that basically was decided upon in those first hundred days. Broadly speaking at least, the results speak for themselves. I think Fred makes a great point when he says that there were Cold War elements even to the soft power of the Peace Corps. He was trying to win over the hearts and minds of the world to use a phrase from that time, and I think even we loved the celebration of art and poetry and Pablo Casals playing his cello, but there were Cold War elements to all of that. They were very attractive positions, but the Peace Corps was an extraordinary idea. Nothing like it had ever come through U.S. foreign policy, which was a world largely of men. Middle-aged men all from the same background wearing the same kind of suit, probably a suit a lot like the one I’m wearing in the middle of Washington in the summer. He just made everything more exciting and he opened it up to young people and they were doing foreign policy and a lot of very interesting people came out of the Peace Corps. I just did an event at the Library of Congress. I was in your role. I was just the welcomer, but the head of Netflix is a Peace Corps alumnus and incredibly Elaine Chao was involved with the Peace Corps earlier in her life, and people from all different partisan backgrounds went into that and grew. I think there was an element of danger. It’s not quite political danger exactly. I think there was actual danger to the young men and women who went to those countries. I think we didn’t exactly know that at the time and to send people out without any protection. And we saw that in some ways in our foreign policy with attacks on our embassies in the last decade or so. You know there was a naiveté about it at the beginning, but still there was a wonderful idealism which justified itself. It’s interesting Congressman Kennedy, the son of the former congressman, the current congressman, who is in the Peace Corps as you know in Dominican Republic recently spoke at the library. He tells the story, he arrives in Dominican Republic. He’s on a rickety bus going to the town that he’s going to be stationed, and a gentleman comes up to him in Spanish and says “are you in the Peace Corps?” and Joe says, “well how’d you know that? The guy said kind of “gringo, red hair, gringo.” He says “oh I get it.” The gentleman said “I want to thank you. 30 years ago a Peace Corps volunteer came to my village and brought water, and for 30 years we’ve had water. I never had a chance to thank him so I want to thank you.” So when you think about the ripples, literally the ripples of hope. The other thing is that I’ve seen is there about a quarter of a million people who’ve been in the Peace Corps. There’s so many of them that had distinguished careers, public, private, impacted their lives whether it’s more than what they impacted the country or the village or less. I don’t know. But it’s clearly an enormous impact and the question is- how do we, can we continue to galvanize that in today’s environment with Vista and Americorps? Obviously, there’s so many great programs out there. You know one way we sometimes limit ourselves in the way we conduct foreign policy is we just think about our enemies or we think of the world in very simple categories. There were a lot of people, and sometimes him, who thought it was the blue part of the world against the red part of the world, Cold War. I think the Peace Corps helped him, and he already was on his way in many ways to see the world in its great complexity. He really thought a lot about Latin America. He started the Alliance for Progress very early. He thought a lot about Africa, which not too many of our Presidents have done. He had a lot of visits, here in Washington, state visits from the brand new Presidents of democratic African countries, just coming out of European colonialism. I thought a lot about Asia and the way it fit in or didn’t always fit in into the Cold War, and in his way, he was a real voice for people who didn’t have a strong voice on the world stage, people from small countries, and I think we’re a better country when we hear the voices from small countries. You’re both speaking to something that I think is important, and I think Ted may have referenced it earlier, which is the phrase “soft power.” My colleague, Joe Nye, basically coined that phrase. I think it has great power in that it explains a great deal it seems to me about why the United States and the west ultimately prevailed in the Cold War. The things that we’re talking about now seems to me are excellent examples of that “soft power,” which is to say not military power, not economic power. It’s really about American culture. It’s the American way of life. It’s American institutions, American ideals, and it seems to me that here and in various other ways John F. Kennedy, in a way, personified this perhaps to a greater degree than we realized. Again I come back to my Swedish relatives way up in the northern part of Sweden and Lapland. There is, on the part of many, a belief that this was a very special leader who was American and we’re going to look up to the United States and on some level maybe even emulate the United States. His daughter just returned as you know from Ambassador in Japan, and she said literally every single day, she met people, Japanese folks, many who were born way after the administration that said the same thing, and so it is worldwide. There are so many other accomplishments. What are some of the either challenges, maybe they didn’t accomplish, or the unfilled part of it? We mentioned the Bay of Pigs, but either that or anything else you want to address? I think that it’s important, not that we idolize it. No in fact, and that’s I think a challenge for me as I write this book. I think that Cuba the Cuban Missile Crisis was, as is often said, a shining moment for John F. Kennedy, and I have just gone through the tapes again, gone through the transcripts, and I am affirmed in that view. It’s an extraordinary moment of leadership. It’s sort of cliche to say, but it’s on some level quite true that we’re all here today because arguably because of the sagacity of the wisdom that he showed, but I think we should also acknowledge or at least, I want to suggest, that John F. Kennedy bears some responsibility for the Cuban Missile Crisis happening in the first place. That even after the Bay of Pigs he authorized, he supported an effort by his government, by the American government to destabilize the Cuban government. The ultimate aim of overthrowing that government. That we now know influenced Khrushchev’s decision to put the missiles in Cuba. So I think that the record there is mixed. Vietnam, on which I’ve spent a good deal of time, I would say is again mixed. I mentioned earlier that it seems to me that on civil rights, the administration was very cautious for a good long while. So it’s again a sort of split in a sense. I wouldn’t necessarily give it particularly high marks for the administration so there were challenges. Let’s finally remember that the Cold War in that first year of 1961 was a very tense time. I don’t think John F. Kennedy or anybody else in his administration knew precisely how that was going to turn out. That’s a wonderful answer, and I think we all want to hear from Fred about Vietnam, which is a tragedy that unfolds across about four presidential administrations, but some of it belongs inside the legacy of John F. Kennedy, and that’s a reckoning all historians have to come to terms with. You asked about challenges. I think I said earlier that we all feel today in 2017 that we live in a kind of fractured country. Politics is really tough. It’s tough whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Neither party is very united in fact, and about the only thing they’re united on is they really hate the other side. Some of that goes back to that time. We mentioned Watergate and Vietnam as reasons Americans lost faith in their government. I think the assassination was another reason that people’s faith was just shattered in life itself. How could something that horrible have happened? I think In many ways we are still trying to come to terms with our serial disappointment since that high-water mark of his presidency. Had he lived, it’s a pretty tall order to say he would have solved all of the problems of the 1960s because so many were coming. And they came at everyone. They came at Lyndon Johnson. They came at Richard Nixon, and politics really wasn’t up to the challenge of handling all the problems of the 1960s. But had he lived I think we would have had a fighting chance, and we would have been a more united country in 1969 when he left office, than we actually were. And we’ve never quite gotten back to the idealism that we had during his presidency. So that’s not his fault, but it’s just a challenge that I linked to his presidency that I think we all have to reckon with. Sure, I think our world, the combination of him and the assassinations of Reverend King and his brother Bobby and many other leaders changed the way people are thinking in different ways. Let’s go back to civil rights for a second. You were talking about it, and clearly when he started he was concerned about southern governors and the votes and that kinds of things, and then he changed. Talk about either one of you or both of you what you think triggered the change, because he clearly by the end, he did make civil rights a moral issue and was very committed to it. What he and his brother, as the attorney general, did with leadership, and then when Johnson came in a month after, he says that the testament to John Kennedy, let’s pass the Civil Rights Bill and really from a moral issue. So what do you think made that evolution? A specific answer is the children who were getting pushed around, later killed. But in the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a moral outrage over the fact that children were being really tortured by an unfeeling Southern society and a bad mayor and bad police commissioner in Birmingham. But I think it is just again growth. He was growing so fast, and he had come, I mean his enemies often tried to paint him as a wealthy elitist, but he’d come from a family of people who are outside of power in 19th century Anglo-Saxon Boston. A family with a lot of children in it, and I think he just saw as his vision improved, and his soul deepened, he saw these were people he wanted to be on their side. I think his brother was very important helping him get there. I think Martin Luther King was very important. The quality of leadership he provided in the spring of 63, he writes the great “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is up there as a great theological, not just a political statement, a great theological statement, and I think it was intensely moving to anyone with a conscience and he had one. There’s a new book by Stephen Lemon on the King- JFK relationship which I commend to you. It just come out. I think everything Ted says is right, and I think that Bobby’s role, Robert F. Kennedy’s role, in a sense pushing his brother to do this matters, so I think you’re right to credit Bobby with a role in this. It does speak to something that I’m trying to ponder which is it seems to me that JFK had a capacity for empathy, for empathetic understanding, meaning he could put himself in the shoes of somebody else. I think this was very important in the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think on some level, as Ted is suggesting, it also matters here. Both of them I think had that capacity, and I think that’s part to it. I think that’s a wonderful point and we don’t often ask for empathy. We really ask for strength, charisma, the perfect sound bite. Those are the things in the current political marketplace that win, but empathy is really valuable. I think deep down we want that in our leaders. I agree, he had it. Excellent points. Talk more about your experience of listening to the tapes, and then which ones you chose, and what did that teach you about John Kennedy that you didn’t know before? Well, it was an incredible experience as a historian. I had a pretty deep immersion in his speeches already because I had been a Clinton speechwriter, and that was our playbook. Whenever I was sitting there trying to come up with something original to say and failing, that happened a lot, especially in these hot summer days in Washington, I was often in the old Executive Office building which had imperfect air-conditioning and just throwing a pencil at the ceiling, and we all would just start reading JFK speeches to get inspiration. Martin Luther King too and Robert Kennedy too. But to hear him talking is a different world you go into, and they had just been released, the audio tapes, right before the book came out in 2012, and it was an incredible experience to listen to them and they’re playing out in real time. The Cuban Missile Crisis unfolds over two weeks in real time, and almost all of it is caught on the tapes. It’s an incredible experience, and they shift around a lot during those two weeks. It seems like it’s about to happen that we’re about to invade Cuba, and then we don’t, and then there are fears Russia might do something to us, and then they don’t. But there were also a lot of moments of humor and levity, hilarious, and sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally. One time I remember he caught a military operation. A very innocent one which they built a $5,000 hospital suite annexed to a Cape Cod hospital in the expectation that his wife would use it to give birth, and he was such a good politician that he went crazy because he thought it would look like bad PR that the Kennedys were asking the military to build a special expensive wing. He screamed at the officer responsible and threatened to send him to Alaska. It’s just hearing him really let loose with his anger, and then at the very end of that call, he hangs up and you hear a little chuckle, and you know it was kind of play-acting. There was also an amazing autobiographical moment where a tape that was not one of his tapes, but a journalist named James Cannon, conducted a long interview with him in January 1960 just as he’s deciding to run. He’s going to go for it, and it’s a dinner party. It’s Cannon and Ben Bradley and his then wife Tony Bradley and Jack Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. And it is the most raw first draft of history you could ever imagine listening to. It’s just why do I want this? I want it because that’s the seat of the action. I’m tired of being one of a hundred senators and Eisenhower controls everything. I want to control everything, and these are the ways I want our country to change and you really hear in his voice and basically in his solar plexus, it’s like coming out of him how much he wants America to change and it’s an incredible listening. You hear the glasses clinking, and I have a favorite tape, I think of the tapes or it’s certainly one of my favorites, which is October 22nd, so it’s 1962. It’s about a week into the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I’d played this, Steven and I did an event together there not too long ago at the Kennedy Library, and this is a conversation between President Kennedy and former President Eisenhower. And what you get in this tape as well on the 22nd is this sense of humor, even in this time of intense pressure. You get a sense of his deference to see seniority so he’s very sort of deferential to General Eisenhower, and then he finishes by saying hold on tight general, and there is this this kind of calm. This is something that the tapes actually, to think about it now, but I’m sure I’ve thought about this before, but there’s a calmness in these tapes that I think you want to have in a leader, and it certainly comes through in the missile crisis. That suggests, if I may use the Hemingway line, a kind of grace under pressure, and if I think of the tapes in totality and again they make mistakes. You can talk about Vietnam, but that calmness, that grace comes through on the tapes. So let’s talk about Vietnam. As we do that though, I want to encourage all of the audience, there’s going to be a chance for everyone in the audience to ask questions in a few minutes. So think about them, and then we’ll talk about that in detail, but let’s talk about Vietnam both based on his role and in the impossible question that historians gets asked of if he had lived, what would have happened? The mother of all counterfactuals. Exactly. So I think and I’ve written, I’ve grappled with this a lot. There’s a paradox here. It’s the most controversial part of his legacy, I would suggest, because of the timing of his death which is November of 63, shortly after the South Vietnamese leader Diem has been overthrown in a coup that Kennedy sanctioned, gave the green light for, and it’s not long before the key decisions that Lyndon Johnson will have to make and I submit a surviving John F. Kennedy would have had to make. I think he would have had to make those decisions roughly at the same time that Johnson did, but there’s a paradox because Kennedy, even when he goes to Indochina in 1951, as a congressman he’s about to challenge Henry Cabot Lodge for a senate seat in Massachusetts. He wants to brush up on his foreign policy credentials, so he and Bobby and Patricia, their sister, have a long extended tour of Asia, and they spend time in Indochina, and even there we know this from the diary that he kept, astonishing piece of work, and speeches that he gave in Boston when he returned home, he already then in 1951 grasped not only that the French were likely to lose, but that any western power that tried to take on this Vietnamese revolution is likely to lose as well, and I don’t think that that skepticism ever goes away. So when he takes off for Dallas on that last trip, I think he was still skeptical about any kind of military solution in Vietnam, and yet, here’s the paradox. On his watch in those thousand days, you have a marked increase in the American involvement. I think partly for domestic, political reasons he felt vulnerable as all democrats did in that era to charges of softness on communism. In part a kind of natural politician’s inclination, maybe human, human nature, to punt, to put off difficult decisions. Let’s just escalate a little bit more, and see if we can perhaps turn things around. There’s some of that as well. So there is this paradox in terms of the what if. I’m suggesting in an essay that I’ve written for the book that accompanies the Ken Burns, and I recommend by the way the Ken Burns series that’s coming out in September, but there’s a book that accompanies this, and I have an essay in it on this question of what he would have done, and I conclude in that essay that though we can never know, I think that the best answer is that a surviving John F. Kennedy does not Americanize the war in the way that Lyndon Johnson did. I think he opts ultimately for a kind of fig leaf political settlement. He always drew the line at ground troops. I don’t think that would have changed, and that of course was key to Johnson’s escalation, was the ground troops. So I have more questions, but let’s see for the audience. So there are microphones on either side if you have questions, please go to them. I would encourage you to make sure it’s a question, meaning it should end with a question mark rather than a statement. We’ll start and again, I may jump in and ask some more questions, but let’s start over here. Just speak up a little. Kennedy’s presidency was more pragmatic and adaptive. You know he was sort of a supply-side economist. He cut taxes. He did escalate the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and it was Lyndon Johnson that was more of the transformational President, with the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society. I think that’s a fair question. There is a larger legislative achievement under Lyndon Johnson. He’s president for a longer time. He’s the master arm twister. He’s very good at it, and he also has the great political advantage of he can talk a lot about the martyrdom of John F. Kennedy. I think that was a very effective political tool for Lyndon Johnson. John F. Kennedy is working in a more difficult political world, and he’s got southern senators who are Democrats, but they’re not very liberal. He’s got a pretty mixed House and Senate, and it was going to be tough to get huge legislation through, although he proposed civil rights and a lot of what Johnson got through as I said was based on what Kennedy had said he wanted to get through. So I think The premise of your question is true. The basic achievement in Congress is larger under Johnson. But I think the achievement in inspiration is probably larger under under Kennedy. I think it’s fair to consider them partners in a way. It was the Kennedy Johnson team that ran in 1960, and in my essay in this book, I really did say immigration, which is one of them. We often talk about Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the hallmark LBJ achievement, but the Immigration Act of 1965 is huge and changed our country forever in really positive ways, and I tried to argue that that was not just linked to JFK’s memory, that JFK had been working on immigration from the time he ran for Congress in 1946. I would just say that, in foreign policy, it seems to me that the transformational figure of the two of them is John F. Kennedy, and as I suggested earlier, even before he becomes president, if you go back and look at the speeches of the campaign and then the speeches even early in his presidency, for example a speech in Seattle in November of 1961. There are seeds there, more than seeds, there are arguments about a fundamentally changed superpower relationship that I think were in a way cut short by the assassination. Johnson’s problem, in part, was that he was not at all transformational on foreign policy. He was a cold warrior, and I think he believed on some level in the Domino Theory. He believed that as he said in speeches if we don’t fight them in South Vietnam, we’ll be fighting them in the streets of San Francisco, even though we also know that Lyndon Johnson privately had his own doubts and said what the hell does Vietnam matter to me? So they’re both complex in this regard, but it seems to me that on the foreign policy side, since you used the word transformational, I would say it applies more to JFK. I think it’s a fascinating question of measure effectiveness as both of you said. If you measure effectiveness by legislation, Lyndon Johnson head-and-shoulders. Long list of very impressive things. If you go a little further, Richard Nixon got a lot of great legislation through. People don’t remember that as much. So it is the combination of the inspiration and the spirit. One of the other areas I would ask both of you, and then we’ll get to the next question in the audience, is one of the things, and I particularly want to cover this because of where we are, John Kennedy was known for his commitment to the arts. He and his wife both what they did in the White House and his belief and how it wasn’t nice to have, it was part of society. If you look at many of his speeches, as you talked about, he talked about that from symbolic things like having Robert Frost at the inauguration to what they did in the White House and other things. Are there other presidents that you think have had the same global commitment to the arts in recent time? I’ll let Ted ponder that one and I’ll help him by giving, by fleshing out your question or suggesting that you’re onto something very important which is that John F. Kennedy believed and said that something to the effect that unfettered access to the arts is a hallmark of a free society or it’s absolutely imperative to a free society. I think that matters. I don’t know that he himself personally had deep interest in art or in music. Jackie once said that the only song he likes is “Hail to the Chief.” – laughter – But he could appreciate, he understood the importance of this and I think that matters, but I don’t know. Are there other presidents that we would? I think again, LBJ we don’t think of him as the guy giving the speech with Robert Frost sitting there, but the NEA came into existence under Johnson. Again, that was I think linked to the memory of Kennedy, but it was achieved in 1965, and that’s a very important institution. I’m gonna knock on wood. It’s always in the budget to be removed and it so far has survived. I’m glad that it has. I think the Obama administration was impressive in its commitment to the arts, and we tried in the Clinton time. So we certainly had a lot of arts events. Previous to the 1960s, there was hardly. I mean you know a few paintings in embassies and that was about it, but there were great writers of history including Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams to go way back, and we began this with anniversaries. I got an email today saying that we are celebrating the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth this year now. That’s probably not going to lead to a lot of celebrations in Washington, but – I’m going to one later tonight. But he helped to conceive of the Smithsonian Institution, and he wanted there to be a national observatory. George Washington wanted there to be a national university. In different ways other presidents have sketched about. It’s also worth saying I guess maybe we already did, but that Jackie is hugely important on this particular issue. Absolutely she deserves enormous credit. The arts overall also for the restoration of the White House. So much more. Yes, sir. Thank you. You present the sequential aspects of Kennedy and LBJ. I’m just curious how much influence did LBJ have on Kennedy while Kennedy was alive? I think very little. I think those were three of the worst years of Lyndon Johnson’s life, and – laughter – Robert Caro says as much in his masterful series of biographies of Johnson. Their relationship was really complicated even by Washington standards, and I’ve been reading “The Road to Camelot,” a very good new book by Curtis Wilkie and Tom Olifant, and it begins with, in 1956, the patriarch, John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph Kennedy, urging Lyndon Johnson to start running for president, and he promises I will finance your campaign even four years before the race on the condition that you accept my son as your vice presidential nominee. The twists and turns including with Robert Kennedy are incredible in that relationship. Well in the same book, and others have done this too, but then the drama of the selection of Lyndon Johnson is worthy of a big book by itself, but at that convention in 1960 and the disagreements between Jack and Robert about how to do it. What do we actually want Lyndon to say? What do we expect him to say? It’s extraordinary. I suppose one could argue, and Robert Kennedy said this in later years, that the selection of Johnson was in fact crucial. That the success in the south was dependent upon having LBJ on the ticket. Others have suggested if that if you have Symington on the ticket you could pick up some other states that they didn’t get, and so maybe Johnson wasn’t crucial but in terms of the relationship in office, very fraught as you say. Yes, sir. We began with all of John F. Kennedy’s words and arguably one of the reasons he is in our hearts is that he did speak these phenomenal words which are very very memorable, and one of the contrasts certainly with Barack Obama is it’s very hard to remember lots and lots of phrases from Barack Obama. So I ask you how much of the great legacy of Kennedy and the positive glow is really Ted Sorensen and the other speech writers who were behind those masterful words? It’s a really good question. Sorensen is crucial. There’s no question about it. Think about this image. 1957, he’s already running for president. It’s not announced but the politicos know, and what it is I think that he gave one hundred and forty speeches all over the country in 1957 and very often it’s two people flying into some small place, speaking before an audience of twelve, and it’s John F. Kennedy, Ted Sorensen. So Sorensen is there. Again, Oliphant and Wilkie could bring this out, I think, powerfully. The only thing I would add is, and this is something that I’ll talk about in my biography, is that John F. Kennedy has a bigger hand in these speeches than I anticipated when I started in my research. Which is to say you can see his distinctive scribbles on many of these speeches. It’s also the case and I think the library the library brings this out that he quite often departed from his text for fairly long stretches, and there’s still he still speaks in full paragraphs. But those are John F. Kennedy’s own words so I think it’s more of a partnership than maybe I anticipated when I started because I thought this is Sorensen, to some extent Dick Goodwin, Schlesinger has a role in some of the speeches, but I think that Kennedy himself was more involved. I got to do a couple of events with Ted Sorensen when he was alive at the JFK Library and that was such an honor because he was a kind of hero, and we all thought we might emerge as the next Ted Sorensen. I even have the right first name, and it didn’t happen and it hasn’t happened for anyone since then. I mean there was something really special about that friendship. I do think it’s important for a speechwriter to give the principal the credit. I mean you know their language, and you write it with their thoughts in your mind. So it’s not like you are exactly the author you’re writing for a very specific person in a very specific cause. Ted Sorensen once or twice had a little trouble with that concept, but he basically had a life of unstinting loyalty to John F. Kennedy and wrote very important books about him. I always valued personally that there were ways he didn’t really fit in. He’s this sort of odd liberal Unitarian from Nebraska in a group of tough Irish American Paul’s from Boston. You know Kenny O’Donnell, Larry O’Brien, and JK loved those guys, and you don’t hear their names as often. They were really important to him, but I think Ted Sorensen created a nice balance in that mix of the idealist. I think he was probably driving very hard for that civil rights speech. I think he really heard the Martin Luther King theological language of civil rights, and so there’s something in Ted Sorensen that’s very important. JFK wanted him there for a reason. He had the tough Irish Paul thing all sewed up. But he needed a different element, and that’s what made it so successful. It’s interesting that they didn’t really socialize very much. I think it was a very close working relationship like you suggest of a type we haven’t seen very often. But it didn’t really go because as you said they’re very different people. I think Ted Sorenson went home at night. I mean Ted Sorenson deserves enormous enormous credit, but I encourage you if any of you have come to Boston to go to the library. On the walls we have a few speeches with his marks, including for example the last major speech he gave in Massachusetts was at Amherst College and he mentioned earlier in October of 1963 when he dedicated the Robert Frost Library and talked about the importance of arts, and we have John Kennedy’s speech there. It was a speech that Ted Sorensen wrote. You’ll see the marks on there. So it very much was a partnership. There are a few that were extemporaneous, some they’re very notable. You may have heard in Berlin the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, well Ted Sorensen had written a speech. John Kennedy arrives in Berlin and was so moved by the crowd, and in a positive way, and so moved by the wall that he actually threw out the speech and so the only thing he had written down for that speech was the ich bin ein berliner phrase. Everything else there was extemporaneous. So Ted Sorensen deserves a lot of credit, but John Kennedy was brilliant in figuring out with the connections. There’s a great spontaneous moment of humor in that speech. He does the famous German phrase. He did a couple of them, and the translators on the stage then translated his German into German. – laughter – So everyone could understand, and he thanked the translator for doing that. Yes, humor was definitely one of his many many elements that he was great at. Yes. I want to thank you for this lecture. It’s been wonderful. My son was in the Peace Corps and in the Dominican Republic. But I know as a Latina how much the President, Kennedy, was loved in the Latino community. I recently saw Dolores Huerta with her, you know, I heard the screaming of her movie, and then she talks about what an impact Kennedy, President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, had with the Latinos. There were pictures in homes and then during the Farmworkers Boycott. I just wondered if there’s any researcher that you’d come across how the impact of Latinos had with President Kennedy? I haven’t done any on that topic although, I’m glad you mentioned Dolores Huerta, who’s a great hero of our history. I think for her the real friendship was with his brother with Robert Kennedy who worked a lot with Mexican migrant workers in 1968, and Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and he really got to know them in a very profound way that went beyond just politics, but again there was a kind of theological dimension to it, going to mass together. I think Robert Kennedy identified a lot with sort of the liberal part of the Catholic social justice movement. There was something really important in that and the Alliance for Progress was clearly a major initiative. It’s announced at the very beginning of the Kennedy administration. I think it’s a great topic for more research. I mean they also have their biggest headache is in Latin America too, so it’s a pretty rich thing to go into. We can have more scholarship on this, but yes, I agree completely. Thank you. Great. Thank you for the question. Yes sir. So President Kennedy was not perfect in many shapes or forms, but specifically I would like to ask about his health and including other maybe flaws or imperfections he had. Do you think that helped or hindered him as a leader? And maybe you could say a few words about how other leaders of our time can use those kind of experiences to help them lead our country? It’s a very good question, and I do think the health issue is an important one. His brother said that my brother meaning President Kennedy has been in pain almost every day of his life. And I think that is going to shape anybody, and it certainly shaped him. Gave him arguably a certain fatalism, a sense as I think we were discussing earlier that he wasn’t going to live all that long. I need to treasure each day as we say and live each day as he said more than once as though it’s going to be your last. The only thing I would say is that it may be possible to exaggerate its effect on him as a politician and as a political candidate because it strikes me that in 1946 when he runs for Congress and is not feeling well, he’s come back from the war. Some of his ailments haven’t been properly diagnosed yet, but he has them. He still gets up at the crack of dawn in the 11th district in Massachusetts. Goes up those triple-deckers. If you know the triple-deckers, up and down up and down day after day after day. When he runs for the Senate, he is all over the state of Massachusetts. In fact a secret of his in all of his campaigns is that he starts earlier and works harder so somehow even with these ailments and maybe somehow they’re even connected, but he is intensely driven to overcome them. But there’s a lot more to your question. I mean that was news. It began to come out about around the year 2000, and Bob Dalek deals with this in his book. That was a It’s always surprising to learn a major new fact about someone you think you know historically, and it was especially surprising because he just seems so vigorous. To use a word he loved vigor, and he’s always moving, looking good, not wearing a hat. There’s that famous photo of him in the swimming trunks. You know no president had ever done that photographed on a beach in California, and he is behind the physical fitness test, which I said at a recent event with Fred, my decision to become a historian stemmed from the fact I could only do one pull-up. – laughter – I was horribly ostracized. So Kennedy influenced you too. Well actually my parents met as volunteers in 1960. They’re college kids here in Washington. They met and so I am a very direct impact on my life. But I think a couple specific things. I think we don’t know, but there’s a very plausible argument that he ran in 1960. Everyone knew he was too young. He irritated everyone in his own party as well as on the other side. And I think he felt he had to do it in 1960 because he might not have any other chance. He might get too sick. I think that’s a fact of his life that might be attributable to his health, and he was just going for it as a young man, and then I remember reading the Dallic book, and there’s this incredible realization near the end and if most of us have seen the Zapruder film and there’s a terrible moment where he’s unable to duck and it’s because he was wearing a very rigid back brace because his back pain was so intense and you just know that as soon as you see the film with that knowledge that he’s wearing a back brace. He actually can’t even duck because this brace is so strong on him. I think the beginning of his presidency may have come from his health matters, and the end of it also did. So we have time for one final question. My name is Deidra O’Sullivan, and my great uncle’s general name of Leo Racine. I don’t know if you recognize the name, but he was part of Kennedy enterprises and basically wrote all the checks for Kennedy since 1960. So I was wondering if you can talk about that campaign and what that was like running as an Irish Catholic in 1960. They talk a lot about the campaign in West Virginia, and that was 98% Protestant and how that would then end the Catholic question. Well he determined and his aides determined that he had to enter the primaries or at least a good number of them. Of course today we take this for granted, but it was a very different proposition in 1960. That was connected in part to his youth as Ted suggested that it was also suggested to a function of his Catholicism, and it’s really fascinating. Again, I think that we keep plugging Oliphant and Wilkie which I reviewed very favorably. I think it’s a terrific book, but they’re quite good on this not least with respect to West Virginia and the important gamble really that the campaign took. Also feeling confident that they could best Humphrey who had his own issues, but it’s one of those remarkably dramatic moments in a whole slew of them in this campaign that speak to the importance of organization, to the importance of financing. I do think sometimes we my sense is that he was the favorite however on the Democratic Party side. Sometimes we make a mistake in saying how did this guy sail into that convention in Los Angeles and win this thing? I think if you go back and look at the news coverage he was, because of his campaigning in 57, 58, and 59, I think the odds were with him more than with any of the others. LBJ, he took too long. Symington wasn’t going to be the one. Humphrey, but there’s no question that West Virginia is incredibly dramatic. Do you want to add anything? Well his Irishness was a wonderful part of the story. I’m in many ways, he was the least likely Irish American politician anyone could have. I mean there was a kind of Irish American politician, and everyone knew what they were like. It was a guy who was sort of older with a reddish face and was like waving his arms all over the place and came out of urban ward politics from a big city. He was from a big city, but he was very different and in some ways this. Al Smith was that kind of a politician, but in some ways this Irish American was the preppiest politician we’ve ever seen. I mean that’s one of the many ways in which he challenged all of our known categories, and in some ways very European. He’d spent significant time in Europe and in Asia in his life. He was living in London as London was going into war in the mid to late 30s. He was right there. He challenges almost all of our assumptions, and so yes being Irish was incredibly important and the opposition to that was real and hard for him to overcome, but he did it with the power of his language and that great speech in Houston. I think each of these victories strengthened him and opened up who he was to more growth. It was just one of the many things inside him that was deep then and still seems deep. I think that that’s, just very quickly, that what Ted just mentioned I think is really important that that desire he had to look to the wider world, which is again something I think we see in him even as a young man. It’s going to be, I think, maybe a theme in my biography is really important, this international sensibility that he develops, and he maintains obviously as President. Because what he cares most about, is foreign policy. The other thing I would just say it’s interesting to speculate about whether the Catholic – did the Catholic issue helped him or hurt him? Did the fact that he was Catholic in 1960 cost him more votes than it gained him? I think historians disagree about this. I would say it’s probably in the end maybe a wash, helped him in some states, in other words, hurt him in others, but probably maybe comes out even. So John Kennedy obviously we all know so much about him and tonight we’ve literally just scratched the surface. We could spend so much more time so I want you to first let’s thank Smithsonian again and Stephanie for hosting this. We really appreciate it. – applause – Join me to thank Ted and Fred for all they’ve done, and there’s so many other books. Again, theirs’ you can look at. I also encourage you to look at a great book written in 1958, it was called “A Nation of Immigrants,” by a then young senator named John Kennedy. Its 60th anniversary will be next year, and his words about immigration then, as Ted talked about in the 65 legislation, are just as relevant, maybe even more so today. Thank you all for being here. Thank you. – applause –

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