The Irish Brotherhood is the history of Jack Kennedy’s original political inner circle. Led by Bobby Kennedy, Kenny O’Donnell, Larry O’Brien, and Dave Powers they were tough minded, Irish-Catholic guys who were joined together by a common ambition to see Jack Kennedy through to the White House. War veterans who were young, ambitious, and they wanted their country back. Jack Kennedy was their man, their leader. No matter that he was Irish, Catholic, and his “Old Man” had made as many enemies as friends Jack had ambition, brains, a special charisma. To win the White House would be a victory not only for Jack Kennedy, but for the downtrodden. They collectively decided that if the political powers would not let them in willingly then they would kick the door down. At the center of the story is Kenny O’Donnell, Jack Kennedy’s tough talking, no-bullshit, top political aide. Jack recognized he needed Kenny’s blue collar, political genius and Kenny recognized something special in Jack.
The Irish Brotherhood describes what it was like to be inside the Kennedy inner circle. With Bobby, who was determined to make his own mark apart from his famous family, his life-long struggle, never won, never lost. With Joe, as Kenny and Larry prove to him that their outsider approach was going to work after Jack’s crushing victory in ’58, which sets the stage for the Presidential campaign to come. This book is a missing piece of the story of the improbable rise to power of John F. Kennedy and further fills out the picture of the man revealing that Jack Kennedy was at heart a politician. He enjoyed the rough and tumble and despite his personal issues, or perhaps because of them, he became determined to succeed beyond anybody’s expectations. It is intriguing an indelible portrait of the son, brother, friend, Congressman, Senator and President.
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About the Author
Helen O’Donnell is the daughter of John F. Kennedy’s top-gun political aide, Kenneth P. O’Donnell. Ms. O’Donnell is the author of A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O’Donnell. She also worked with Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball on his 2012 book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. She lives in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
Kenneth "Kenny" O'Donnell, Sr was a war hero and a graduate of Harvard University where he played football with Robert F. Kennedy. Through his relationship with Bobby, he became Jack Kennedy's top political aide during the 1950s. In 1960, he worked hand in glove with Jack and Bobby as they designed and drove the Kennedy Machine to victory.
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The Irish Brotherhood
John F. Kennedy, His Inner Circle, and the Improbable Rise to the Presidency
By Helen O'Donnell
CounterpointCopyright © 2015 Helen O'Donnell
All rights reserved.
Nobody traveling with the candidate could have predicted the resurgence of the Catholic issue. As Kenny recalled, "Throughout the summer of 1960, we’d been to Philadelphia, Chicago, Oklahoma; we’d seen enormous crowds across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Wild crowds, uncontrollable crowds. Because we’d been coming on steadily, we thought, 'This is over, we’ve won.’”
But Bobby’s in-flight phone call to the campaign’s mobile headquarters on the Caroline changed everything. "We’ve got to have an emergency meeting in Hyannis Port,” Bobby insisted. "I think we’re in serious trouble, and if we don’t stop the bleeding, it could be over.”
Senator Kennedy reluctantly agreed, and he and Kenny cancelled their remaining schedule, rerouting their flight from D.C. to Massachusetts. At this late date, they would have to figure out how to save Jack’s faltering campaign, a campaign they had wrongly assumed was on a clear-cut path to victory.
Exhausted and still reeling from Bobby’s call, Jack and Kenny headed to the Kennedy compound, where the early New England autumn chill had already set in. The plane ride there on the Caroline was marked, Kenny said, by its silence. "We did not yet know what Bobby knew, so we could not begin to plan or even react. The only upshot was that in Hyannis Port Jack could see Jackie and Caroline, get some much needed rest, and recoup for a couple of days.”
As they took their seats in Bobby’s living room, Kenny remembered, "Bobby’s point to us was that we were not gaining momentum at all. For every vote we earned, anti-Catholic bigotry would cost us five. Given our success out West, Senator Kennedy and I had trouble taking this in.”
But Bobby’s bad news was backed up by polls, and also by numerous calls from state leaders who, fearing anti-Catholic violence, had asked to have Jack’s path through their states rerouted. Others wanted the Kennedy events in their states canceled altogether. The anti-Catholic forces had not been vanquished after all by Jack’s eloquent speech in Houston on the separation of church and state. These forces of irrationality and paranoia had only gone underground, regrouped, and now they were back, more vicious than ever, and apparently more politically shrewd.
Excerpted from The Irish Brotherhood by Helen O'Donnell. Copyright © 2015 Helen O'Donnell. Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Loss 7
Chapter 2 Early Days 21
Chapter 3 Building the Team 37
Chapter 4 The Upset 57
Chapter 5 Taking Over the State 87
Chapter 6 The Kennedy Operation 107
Chapter 7 Jack's "Valley of Depression" 131
Chapter 8 Chicago 149
Chapter 9 Washington Interlude 173
Chapter 10 The McClellan Committee 191
Chapter 11 The Landslide 213
Chapter 12 The Kennedy Kickoff in Palm Beach 241
Chapter 13 Going Nationwide 259
Chapter 14 Ohio or Wisconsin? 285
Chapter 15 Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the Catholic Issue 307
Chapter 16 Hardball Politics in Pennsylvania 331
Chapter 17 Los Angeles: The Democratic National Convention 345
Chapter 18 The National Campaign: Round One 367
Chapter 19 The Campaign 393
Chapter 20 Election Night 415
Chapter 21 Taking Power 429
Chapter 22 That Jack Magic 455