Tags: JFK | Shaw | Senate | president

JFK, a Mediocre Senator

By    |   Monday, 16 December 2013 12:49 PM

The German Marshall Fund (GMF) recently hosted a book presentation by John Shaw of his new book, JFK in the Senate: The Pathway to the White House. Former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who was defeated in the Republican primary in 2012 by an insurgent after serving six terms, introduced Shaw and chairing two committees while the Republicans were in control.

Shaw has also written a biography of Lugar, who is now ensconced at the GMF's Richard G. Lugar Institute for Diplomacy and Congress, with the improbable title of "Senior Transatlantic Fellow."

In his introduction of Shaw, Lugar recalled his service with Kennedy on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and spoke in glowing terms of Kennedy's choice to place his ambition to be president ahead of his Senate duties, whereas senators such as Lugar who were torn between their Senate responsibilities and their presidential aspirations invariably fell short.

Shaw explained that the reason he wrote this book, given that 40,000 books on JFK have been written, 5,000 on the subject of who really wrote the books published under his name (usually Ted Sorenson), because no author had focused on the Senate years, when Kennedy augmented his knowledge base and concentrated on his presidential campaign.

Only two other presidents have been elected directly from the Senate — Warren Harding and Barack Obama. (The literature suggests that Harding really wanted to stay in the Senate, but his wife and political backers stoked higher ambitions. Obama's Senate service mirrors that of Kennedy in that he got little experience and prepared immediately to run for president. Ironically, he succeeded due to the backing of JFK's brother Ted, who supported him over the original front-runner, Hillary Clinton.)

Both Lugar and Shaw referred to the fact that it took four years for JFK to secure appointment to the coveted Senate Foreign Relations Committee from the Senate Majority Leader, who ironically was LBJ. Shaw recounted JFK's work on labor issues in the Senate and also as head of a special committee established by Johnson to recognize the five greatest senators. It was fairly easy to agree on Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun to represent the 19th century, and the choice of Robert LaFollette and Robert Taft was the result of a political deal.

Shaw concluded by addressing what might have happened if JFK had served out his presidency, and he ventured that he might have returned to the Senate, perhaps from a different state.

He also told a story about a day when JFK was presiding over the Senate and the only senator on the floor, Barry Goldwater, kept speaking, keeping JFK from a social engagement. Shaw quipped that JFK scribbled a short note to Goldwater that said, "Why are you such a sh*t?"

(Archived video can be found here.)

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The German Marshall Fund (GMF) recently hosted a book presentation by John Shaw of his new book, JFK in the Senate: The Pathway to the White House.
Monday, 16 December 2013 12:49 PM
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