In this original and convincing piece of history, Paul Henggeler explores the haunting of American politics since the assassination of John Kennedy. Focusing on the behavior of presidents and presidential candidates, he shows how the Kennedy mystique has altered the style - and demeaned the substance - of presidential politics.
"The Texas School Book Depository, once a warehouse for books, today houses our imagination," Mr. Henggeler writes. Americans' shared nostalgia for the Kennedy years, with their imagined hope and promise, is confirmed in polls that reveal a yearning for the optimism and confidence associated with JFK's brief presidency. Keenly aware of these feelings among the electorate, American political leaders have energetically laid claim to the Kennedy mantle.
From Lyndon Johnson's pledge to "Let us continue" to Bill Clinton's widely publicized handshake with JFK, the Kennedy legend has prompted presidents and candidates to adjust their public image and their message to accommodate persistent longings for the return of Camelot. In The Kennedy Persuasion, Mr. Henggeler uses fresh archival sources to describe how Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, have invoked the Kennedy mythology, adopted the Kennedy strategy, even tried to summon up the Kennedy appearance in order to influence Congress, the media, and the American public. The author also draws on extensive interviews with key political players of the era as well as numerous aides, associates, and reporters.
By the 1970s and 1980s, as Mr. Henggeler points out, it was seldom Kennedy's ideology or programs that politicians drew upon; like the public, they were mindful of Kennedy's style. As JFK became a source less of inspiration than of impersonation, presidents and candidates became distracted, producing behavior and decisions that were often debilitating. Thus the Kennedy legend "has contributed to the derivativeness of presidential leadership," the author argues. "It has frustrated incumbents who have competed against romanticized memories of a glorified past."
The Kennedy Persuasion is a disquieting and often surprising appraisal of the great political icon of our time.
This well-rendered treatise draws history onto important ground tracking the influence of a single, powerful symbol in an age when political power came to reside increasingly in media spectacle. Kirkus Astute...meticulously researched...offers important insights on the power of myth in presidential politics. -- Amos Kiewe Presidential Studies Quarterly