BOOK REVIEW / Initial magic of the man that nobody knew: 'President Kennedy: Profile of Power' - Richard Reeves: Papermac, 12.99

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The Independent Culture
WHAT was it like to be President Kennedy? This study tackles the question by reconstructing all the key White House meetings of JFK's 1,057 days in office. It's a good method, giving a real flavour of the Administration's dashing style. It is also highly readable, at times a compulsive page- turner. Yet Reeves's bid to know Kennedy inside-out is defeated by the stubborn elusiveness of the subject himself.

It is no real surprise to find that the man behind the initials is not there, that the personality slips through Reeves's fingers like mercury. A modern President is, after all, largely an advanced type of media-powered cyborg, and JFK shaped his persona, from at least the late 1940s, to fit the blueprint. However, President Kennedy was never meant to be the least bit like Truman or Ike. His was always going to be a smart, clever, new Presidency. So, when young Kennedy published a book, it won the Pulitzer Prize; when he married, it was to a beautiful sophisticate; when he travelled the world, he met the top people. He always radiated impeccable confidence, wit and dress-sense. Genuine fears and convictions, real emotions (and deceits) were to be buried as deeply as his phenomenal sexual appetite and the dangerous state of his health.

JFK believed that American voters wanted their leader not to worry but to win - if possible with charm and before the whole world. This is why Kennedy was content, in the Fifties, to be a lazy Congressman and Senator, getting by with flourishes of Churchillian rhetoric about foreign affairs while showing scant interest in his constituents' everyday lives. And, as this book shows, he continued in the White House to be bored, even irritated, by domestic policy. In a piquant remark to Richard Nixon, just a few months after he beat him at the polls, Kennedy asked: 'It really is true that foreign affairs is the only important issue for a President to handle, isn't it? I mean who gives a shit if the minimum wage is dollars 1.15

or dollars 1.25 in comparison to something like this?' Nixon's answer is not recorded.

JFK had, in fact, much in common with Nixon. He was, we read, a man 'comfortable with lies and secrets'. 'No one ever knew John Kennedy, not all of him,' according to one of his cronies, Charlie Bartlett. The trials of a genuine idealist, Jimmy Carter, are pertinent: Kennedy would never have taken the pratfalls that destroyed Carter. He was far too defensive, driven not by conviction but - as Reeves puts it - by 'attitude, a way of taking on the world, substituting intelligence for ideas or idealism, questions for answers . . . Irony was as close as he came to a view of life'. This rings true, but it makes 'what was it like to be Kennedy?' a very much tougher question than if he really had been that bear-any-burden crusader who has lingered, post mortem, so long in our minds.

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