Monday, June 23, 2008

A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White Hourse. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co.

Why read it? When one member of his staff said he had had no training for the office that JFK was appointing him to, JFK replied that he too had had no training in how to be a President. They would both have to learn on the job. This book, together with Theodore Sorenson's Kennedy tells the reader what JFK learned about being President.

Some Ideas and Quotes for Discussion:
People who worked with JFK soon realized that they saw only limited views of his total responsibility as President. Even RFK, looking over his brother's papers after the assassination, was amazed at the number of issues he did not know about.

JFK had his critics. Eleanor Roosevelt on JFK's silence on McCarthy: he knew what courage was, but he didn't have it.

Characteristics of JFK: impersonal attitude toward issues. Readiness to see views and interests of others.

JFK often improvised in his speeches, even abandoned them, forcing reporters t listen to the speech or file a second report, different from the prepared speech that had been distributed.

Why did he want to become President? Presidency is the center of the action. Enabled him to get things done.

JFK was the only one in his family who liked to read. His memory of what he read was photographic. JFK did not read for distraction; no time to waste. Read for information, comparison, insight and joy of felicitous statement.

Liked quotes that distilled the essence of an argument.

JFK agreed with Falkland: when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

JFK would not yield to the popular voice; hoped to guide and anticipate it. Knew that things cannot be forced from the top.

JFK was not sure he was a good politician because he saw right on both sides of issues. His view on politics: no friends or foes, but colleagues and you better not alienate any of them.

JFK agreed with Liddell Hart: Never corner an opponent; help him save face; put yourself in opponent's shoes; see through his eyes; avoid self-righteousness, which is self-blinding; keep cool; have unlimited patience. Try to replace conflict with cooperation.

View on government: must do things that private capital won't because of low return.

Castro is not the fundamental problem in South America; must attack the underlying problems of poverty and hopelessness.

JFK's philosophy: After disaster, no recriminations and help bring the situation back. From the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he learned never to rely on the experts. However, failure at the Bay of Pigs brought success in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Believed that every military conflict should not be a moral crusade with unconditional surrender.

"The Peace Corps' only job...was to help people help themselves...with little recognition or reward beyond their own sense of achievement and growth."

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