Professor examines legacy of JFK
Alex Winegar | Friday, September 25, 2015
At the University Park Mall in Mishawaka on Thursday, Saint Mary’s political science professor Sean Savage lectured about his new book, “The Senator from New England: The Rise of JFK.”
Savage was accompanied by 2014 political science alumna Sophia Schrage, and he thanked Schrage in the preface of his book.
“I thanked her for her typing skills and her other help,” Savage said. “She was my student helper for two years during her junior and senior years, and after an extensive search I found somebody who could read my handwriting. She was a very big help in helping me get the manuscript together and getting it ready for the publisher.”
Savage said one of the reasons it took him an extended period of time to research the book was because he wanted to go beyond the Kennedy Presidential Library.
“My experience with all the different presidential libraries … is the Kennedy library is at the times the most secretive and hardest to get the information I’m looking for,” Savage said. “I did research starting in 1988, at the Roosevelt Library. So there’s Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, five libraries.”
Savage said he looked at multiple sources including the archival sources of Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts’s Historical Society, the Manuscript Division of the Boston Public Library, the papers of Ed Muskie, papers of Sherman Adams and papers from Dartmouth College because he wanted to diversify his sources.
“I wanted to get the largest number of … helpful, primary sources outside of the Kennedy library,” Savage said.
What he found from all of his sources, Savage said, was that Kennedy pitched himself as a New Englander from the very beginning of his political career, thus the title of his book.
“The whole title of the book is the ‘Senator from New England.’ Why didn’t I say Massachusetts? It’s because what I found out is early in Kennedy’s senate career, he was already pitching himself as a regional political figure, not just a state-wide one,” Savage said. “Partly of course was simply to win the election in 1952 — the 1952 senate race. He was already a congressman from the Boston area.”
Savage also said timing was important in politics, especially for Kennedy.
“It’s not just a matter of how talented are you, or how ambitious are you or how you want to run for this particular position, but are you the right person at the right place at the right time,” Savage said.
Kennedy was Catholic, which made him one of the most attractive candidates for Lyndon B. Johnson to join forces with in the 1960 election, Savage said.
“In 1956, it showed that only 51 percent of Catholics voted Democratic for president and this stunned the Democratic party. … If you can’t get the Catholic vote, you can’t win, … you have to have a Catholic running mate, so Johnson’s view of Kennedy was that he would be the most attractive, feasible and Catholic running mate for the 1960 campaign.”
Savage said pictures of Kennedy with priests and nuns were taken during his campaign to help win Catholic votes.
“The beginning of the general election campaigns in 1952, Kennedy was making the rounds at various festivals,” Savage said. “One of the things that I tell students is that as he was getting ready to run for president in 1960. … There were a lot of pictures of Kennedy with priests and nuns, students in Catholic school uniforms.”
Savage also tied Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. to Kennedy’s Catholicism and contemporary fears about papal influence.
“With the pope’s current visit to the United States … I had to mention this that right before the 1960 Democratic National Convention open in Los Angeles, Harry Truman answered the question of a college student, ‘Are you afraid if John F. Kennedy becomes President, the pope will take over the White House?’ And Truman supposedly said, ‘Well it’s not the pope that I’m worried about, it’s the dad.’ Truman always saw Joe Kennedy [JFK’s father] as pulling the strings on his son, the puppet.”
Savage also spoke about Jackie Kennedy, who loathed politics, he said. However, she was popular on the campaign trail because she spoke multiple languages, he said.
According to Saint Mary’s website,“The Senator from New England: The Rise of JFK” is Savage’s fourth book. His other books include “Roosevelt: The Party Leader, 1932-1945,” “Truman and the Democratic Party” and “JFK, LBJ and The Democratic Party.”