JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency

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Before John F. Kennedy became a legendary young president he was the junior senator from Massachusetts. The Senate was where JFK's presidential ambitions were born and first realized. In the first book to deal exclusively with JFK's Senate years, author John T. Shaw looks at how the young Senator was able to catapult himself on the national stage. Tip O’Neill once quipped that Kennedy received more publicity for less accomplishment than anyone in Congress. But O’Neill didn’t understand that Kennedy...

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JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency

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Before John F. Kennedy became a legendary young president he was the junior senator from Massachusetts. The Senate was where JFK's presidential ambitions were born and first realized. In the first book to deal exclusively with JFK's Senate years, author John T. Shaw looks at how the young Senator was able to catapult himself on the national stage. Tip O’Neill once quipped that Kennedy received more publicity for less accomplishment than anyone in Congress. But O’Neill didn’t understand that Kennedy saw a different path to congressional influence and ultimately the presidency. Unlike Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic leader in the Senate, JFK never aspired to be "The Master of the Senate" who made deals and kept the institution under his control. Instead, he envisioned himself as a "Historian-Scholar-Statesman" in the mold of his hero Winston Churchill which he realized with the 1957 publication of Profiles of Courage that earned JFK a Pulitzer Prize and public limelight. Smart, dashing, irreverent and literary, the press could not get enough of him. Yet, largely overlooked has been Kennedy's tenure on a special Senate committee to identify the five greatest senators in American history—JFK’s work on this special panel coalesced his relationships in Congress, and helped catapult him toward the presidency. Based on primary documents from JFK’s Senate years as well as memoirs, oral histories, and interviews with his top aides, JFK in the Senate provides new insight into an underappreciated aspect of his political career.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Relying on archives, memoirs, and interviews with key players, Shaw, a senior congressional correspondent for Market News International, makes a convincing case for the importance of J.F.K.’s Senate years. This time frame is often referred to as simply a “stepping-stone” en route to the presidency, yet Shaw shows that during the nearly eight years that J.F.K. spent in the Senate (1953–1960), he “filled out physically, deepened intellectually, sharpened his writing skills” (it was during this time that J.F.K. published Profiles in Courage, for which he won a Pulitzer, despite claims that the book was primarily the work of his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen), “became a polished and effective speaker, and mastered the nuances of American politics.” Shaw dutifully chronicles the highs and lows of J.F.K.’s senatorship, from his successful work on labor reform to his occasional PR gaffes, as well as the day-to-day minutiae that define a life in politics as much as platforms and policy opinions: overnight trains, a between-gig shave in a bowling alley bathroom, listening to tapes of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches. Filled with quotes from historians and Camelot contemporaries, Shaw’s account deftly balances anecdote and analysis, making this a valuable read for those interested in both J.F.K. the pol and J.F.K. the person. Photos. Agent: Sam Fleishman, Literary Artists. (Oct.)
Library Journal
There has never been a "full reckoning" of John F. Kennedy's career in the U.S. Senate, writes congressional journalist Shaw (senior correspondent, Market News International) in this first book entirely devoted to JFK's years (1953–60) as the junior senator from Massachusetts. Shaw covers Kennedy's domestic record in the Senate, including his interests in the ailing New England economy, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and labor legislation, as well as his cautious approach to civil rights and the activities of Joe McCarthy. Shaw also assesses the senator's record on foreign affairs, which were of higher interest to Kennedy, who became a frequent critic of the Eisenhower administration. However, Shaw's emphasis is not on Kennedy's record, which he agrees with others was modest, but on his growth as he evolved into a "statesman-scholar," especially through his engagement with Senate history (albeit with the help of Theodore Sorensen and other staff) in his book Profiles in Courage and in his chairmanship of the Kennedy Committee, which in 1959 selected and honored the five most outstanding senators of all time. VERDICT While Shaw's focus is new, his conclusion, that Kennedy used the Senate "as a forum, a platform, and finally, as a launching pad to win the presidency," is not. Shaw's contribution on the Kennedy Committee is the only part of this book that may be new to some academics. More than a few JFK experts have been stylists able to delight general readers in a way that Shaw will not. An optional purchase.—Robert Nardini, Niagara Falls, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A longtime congressional correspondent for Market News International assesses the unique senatorial career of John F. Kennedy. JFK's eight-year Senate tenure coincided exactly with the popular Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency and roughly with Lyndon Johnson's ironhanded majority leadership. In a hidebound institution governed by strict rules of seniority and a hierarchical system of committee chairmen, little political oxygen remained for a junior senator. But Kennedy never set out to become a Senate insider and never bothered to become the legislative workhorse that might have led to real influence. Rather, he used the Senate as a platform to hone his political persona, burnishing his speaking and writing skills, traveling widely, deepening his knowledge of foreign affairs, learning to maneuver at the highest levels of American politics, and defining himself (in contrast to the sitting president) as a forward-looking politician capable, notwithstanding his startling youth, of leading the country. Shaw spends only scant time on Kennedy's domestic efforts, his plan to improve New England economically (including a controversial vote that distinguished him as more than a parochial voice) and his role on the McClellan Committee investigating labor racketeering. Notably absent during the vote to censure McCarthy and conspicuously silent on the issue of civil rights, JFK occupied himself largely with foreign policy, and here, Shaw likely overestimates the senator's impact as a party spokesman. The author devotes an unusual amount of space to Kennedy's chairmanship of a special committee charged with selecting the five most outstanding senators in American history, arguably the only Senate matter JFK brought to complete fruition. During this time, as Shaw makes clear, JFK was otherwise engaged (including literally to Jacqueline Bouvier): winning a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, making a splashy last-minute bid for the 1956 vice-presidential nomination, resoundingly winning Senate re-election and positioning himself as the man to beat in 1960. A sharp look at the eight-year apprenticeship of only the second sitting senator in American history to go straight to the White House.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230341838
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 10/15/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 498,797
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John T. Shaw is a senior correspondent and vice president for Market News International and a contributing writer for the Washington Diplomat. He is a frequent guest on C-SPAN, where he discusses Congress, as well as on KPCC, an NPR affiliate in Los Angeles. He has also appeared on the "PBS News Hour." Shaw was a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University for six years, and he speaks frequently to seminars for diplomats in Washington. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013

    This book was fun to read and beautifully paced. I would have li

    This book was fun to read and beautifully paced. I would have liked to know a little more of the 'story behind the story' --
    for example, was Kennedy an untutored natural in front of the television camera, or was he smarter than his competitors about, and better able to, invest in coaching? But it provided a good picture of how Kennedy used his time in the Senate to prepare for his run for the Presidency. Good thing he didn't have Twitter; he no doubt would have been busy using it, instead of engaging in much of the writing, speaking, and travel that Shaw chronicled.

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