John F. Kennedy's Senate years: More like Obama than his brother

Posted by David Lightman on November 7, 2013 

Senator John F. Kennedy enters hospital, Oct 14, 1954.

NYWTS — Library of Congress

As a U.S. Senator, John F. Kennedy "was a lot more like Barack Obama than Ted Kennedy."

That's the assessment of author John Shaw, whose new book, "JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency," examines the president-to-be's eight years in the U.S. Senate.

Obama in 2008 became the first incumbent senator since Kennedy to win the presidency. Kennedy, Shaw found, was a quiet, reserved, sardonic senator, "not one of the boys," like his brother would become years later.

Shaw, who discussed the book at a Senate Library event Thursday, noted domestic policy "was not his first love."

Kennedy did get deeply involved in changes in labor law. But the Massachusetts Democrat  was more interested in foreign policy, and made a number of detailed, passionate Senate speeches defining his views--including a warning that the French were in a quagmire in Vietnam.

Kennedy became a senator in 1953 and was inaugurated president in 1961. 

Shaw noted that after the 1956 election, Kennedy was largely preparing to run for the White House. After a Thanksgiving talk with his father in 1956, Shaw said, Kennedy was virtually off and running--a highly unusual tactic at the time.

"It was the first four year candidacy for president," Shaw said. Kennedy saw an opening, and he "understood the window of politics opens and closes quickly."

Kennedy's greatest Senate mark, though, was a committee he headed that was to choose the five greatest U.S. senators. The first three were obvious choices--John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

They then wanted to pick one conservative--it would be Robert Taft--and one progressive. Kennedy preferred Nebraska's George Norris, but an incumbent Nebraska senator had not had good relations with Norris. So Robert La Follette was chosen.

And what about Lyndon Johnson, then the powerful Senate Majority Leader, who would wind up as Kennedy's vice president?

"They came from two different worlds," Shaw said. Yet Kennedy "had kind of a wary respect" for LBJ.

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