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She was very dazzling,
and she made them watch.
She was like an Olympic athlete.
On November 9, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was elected the thirty-fifth president of the United States by 115,000 votes, the slimmest margin since Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888. Kennedy was a fatalist by nature, if not experience, and when he went to bed at 4:30 that morning ("There's nothing more that can be done," he told Bobby), he did not know how the contest would turn out. He had done his best. Now it was up to the American people, or his father's friends in Cook County, or whoever decided these things.
Hours later, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Caroline, prompted by her English nanny, Maud Shaw, marched into her parents' bedroom and woke them with a phrase she could repeat but not fully comprehend: "Good morning, Mr. President."
He was in.
That morning, Jackie did not join in the unabashed optimism at Bobby's house. Wishes came true readily for the children of Joseph P. Kennedy with none of the weight of struggle. They imagined things they could only inchoately express, and their father saw to it that their dreams, as long as they coincided with his, became reality. He was the architect of their lives. Out of the entire clan, Jackie was the first to have some dawning realization of the cost that the presidency would have on her and her little family that there even was a cost. But Jackie knew, as the worldly Joseph P. did, that every success, even more than failure, had a price.
Her first instinct wasto go outside, away from the Kennedys and their cockeyed sense of entitlement, to turn her back, just for now, on what was expected of her, First lady! She was barely thirhy-one years old. It overwhelmed her. She threw on an old raincoat and headed out the door. Photographer Jacques Lowe looked out the window and saw her go for a walk by the sea. It had just begun to drizzle.
Lowe recalls that "although, like every family and staff member, Jackie had anticipated this moment for a long time, she seemed stunned by the realization that she was now the first lady." Lowe was the only one inside the house to notice Jackie was missing. As he watched, fascinated, a reporter rushed up to her with his hand outstretched in congratulation. "She took the hand but instantly walked on. Nobody else noticed or paid any attention to her. Everyone was too preoccupied and overwhelmed by this triumph after the three long years of reaching for it."
Jackie took a deep breath and walked along the sand, turning her back on what was expected of her. It was good to get away from the furor of the Kennedy Compound. She did not have the obvious bravado of her sisters-in-law, the "rah rah girls," she called them. At Vassar, girls like that playcd field hockey or ran student council. Jackie had never been a joiner, had never needed the approval of her peers. She had the quiet confidence of her intelligence and an innate sense that she could accomplish anything she set out to. With her hands deep in her coat pockets as the wind whipped at her hair, she had the passing thought that her entire life had led to this moment: walking alone on the beach at Hyannisport in her favorite raincoat, knowing her life was about to change.
Mrs. Kennedy, her mother-in-law, was fond of quoting St. Luke: "Those to whom much is given, much is expected." As she steeled herself for the days and months ahead, and the baby she was soon expecting, Jackie had her own thought: There are no accidents.
She knew she would have to fight for a space for herself, her children, and her husband. If she didn't, it would be impossible to maintain any kind of a normal life in the White House, with the Secret Service and all those svcophants hovering around. And the women reporters harpies, the worst! wanting to know what she ate, how, she exercised, whose clothes she wore. Regardless of what Jack said, she would give the public what she had to and not a scintilla more. Jackie was not handing her life over to anyone for a vote or the price of a five-cent newspaper.
Since her marriage to Jack, she had seen what living in the public eye could do to you. If you were not careful, it could transform you into a caricature, a reflection of what people read in magazines. Her children, she feared, would become column fodder, written about by some hack on deadline.
"We love Jack!" She had read the signs in the towns they passed and the placards waved at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, where he was nominated. But Americans were fickle, Jackie knew. They tore down those they admired. She didn't even like politics; she was just in it because of her husband. Winning meant so much to the Kennedys. Like so much else, it came from their father.
On the eve of World War 11, Joseph P. Kennedy had had a disastrous run as American ambassador to the Court of St. James. Nevertheless, the title stuck. Back in the library at the ambassador's big house, Jacques Lowe was trying to corral the adult Kennedys and their spouses for a photo. They were all there: Jack, now called "Mr. President" ("I like the sound of that," he said, smiling. "I could get used to it."); Bobby, who had run the campaign; the ambassador and his wife, Rose, of course; and the girls.
Basking in the success of their brother, who stood in front of the fireplace, his hands characteristically half in and half out of his blazer pockets, they were an uncommonly vibrant group. Peter Lawford, the actor, was off to the side, smiling handsomely.