Sometime in the months before Senator John F. Kennedy declared for the
presidency of the United States, he sat in his office musing about his life
and politics into a Dictaphone. Kennedy talks as a philosopher of politics
with a passion for his profession. It is unclear why he taped these
reflections. Kennedy dictates his thoughts in almost perfectly rendered
prose, even adding punctuation marks. (p. 415)
Audio Clip 2 p. 415
As Jack spoke into the Dictaphone, he was displaying yet another piece of himself, and one that did not fit easily among the others. As a political philosopher, he stood apart from the practical man of power. This John F. Kennedy was a man of deep contemplation. There was a distance that Jack maintained from the rest of humanity, in part because of the natural isolation of power and its pursuit, but in equal part because of his very nature. And it was from this distance, standing back from the shrill shouts, the pettiness, the rude exchanges, the duplicities, the preening ambitions of Washington life, that he observed what he thought to be the natural greatness of politics and a political life.
Jack was a public man who could speak extemporaneously in perfectly ordered prose. On this occasion he welded his sentiments into an essay, stopping periodically to find the precise words, speaking with such subtlety and nuance, even pausing to signify commas, periods, and underlining, that he almost could have been reading from a script. Jack began by pondering the fact that politicians were held in such low regard.
Politics has become one of our most abused and neglected professions. It ranks low on the occupational list of a large share of the American [public?]…. Yet it is… these politicians who make the great decisions of war and peace, prosperity and recession, the decision whether we look to the future or the past. In a large sense everything now depends on what the government decides. Therefore, if you are interested, if you want to participate, if you feel strongly about any public question… it seems to me that governmental service is the way to translate these interests into action … The natural place for the concerned citizen is to contribute part of his life to the national interest.
When politicians are perceived as no more than a motley army of corrupt careerists and cynical panderers, then the whole covenant of democracy is broken. Jack saw his colleagues at their most conniving and self-interested but he perceived an underlying nobility in the politician's life. He saw himself as part of a tradition, as a scion of a race of Irish-Americans who had made politics the chosen avenue of their advance; he was the grandson of two politicians and the son of a man who had talked to him almost daily of politics and a mother who had put her little son on her knee and told him tales of American history. He had come late and hard to regard the word politician as an honorable term, but he shouted the word loudly now and was proud to be called by that ancient name.