Wednesday, January 25, 2012
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," by Chris Matthews
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero" falls into the latter category.
It's all here, the way the Kennedys built a political party within a political party, the vaunted "glamour" of the young couple, the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin airlift, the confrontation with southern governors over desegregation of the universities down there...
Hardballer Chris Matthews said on Bill Maher's show that he wrote the book largely because he felt time had softened and obscured Kennedy's legacy. He noted how little younger people know much about this president who fired the imagination of an emerging generation so long ago.
"Elusive Hero" is a cradle-to-grave affair in which Matthews puts Kennedy on the couch and draws connections between his adult and political life and that of the sickly boy who lacked attention and took solace in history books.
Although cradle-to-grave, it becomes clear to anyone whose age exceeds Kennedy's 46 years, that the book surveys a short life.
Reading his trajectory as a younger fellow, highwayscribery saw a giant. Now, with Matthews help, Kennedy is more a powerful life-force hounded by death and the dark throughout a fantastic and terrible life.
Matthews writes okay. It's a kind of Beltway journo-talk that exults in political "donnybrooks," back room deals, and campaign "hijinks" when referring to corruption and wrongdoing.
"Elusive Hero," states its estimation of the man in the title. But this is updated hagiography that confronts Kennedy's marital infidelities, his ruthlessness, and all the rest. It's more honest and critical than the encomiums produced by the generation most burned by his murder.
The author's best contribution is his willingness to go beyond the donnybrooks and hijinks and demonstrate how the Kennedys engineered takeovers, corralled delegates, strong-armed state governors and so forth.
He gives you an operative's view of how things are put into place at the grass roots. The plotting and planning, the marshalling of forces, and the final application of power are put into motion here by Bobby and
Jack, legitimate historical figures, regardless of where you stand politically.
Interest in this book should bifurcate along a fault line separating those who know about JFK and that "one brief, shining moment," and those for whom Camelot is just some old and outdate Broadway play.
The latter should give it a try.