JFK the Introvert: A Dinner Party Conversation
Three days after then-Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president on January 2, 1960, he invited two Newsweek journalists, bureau chief Ben Bradlee (who would go on to be a legendary editor of the Washington Post) and correspondent James M. Cannon (who would go on to be an aide to Gerald Ford). Lucky for us Cannon brought a tape recorder.
Three days after then-Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president on January 2, 1960, he invited two Newsweek journalists, bureau chief Ben Bradlee (who would go on to be a legendary editor of the Washington Post) and correspondent James M. Cannon (who would go on to be an aide to Gerald Ford). Lucky for us Cannon brought a tape recorder. A transcript of the session is in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine. Along with the Senator and the two reporters, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bradlee's wife Tony occasionally chime in.
B. BRADLEE: What about the projection of one’s self? The only comparable ﬁeld I canthink of is a movie star.
JFK: No, but I think I personally am the antithesis of a politician as I saw my grandfather who was the politician. I mean, every reason that I say, that he was ideal. What he loved to do was what politicians are expected to do. Now I just think that today…
CANNON: Don’t you?
JFK: No, I don’t. I don’t enjoy. I’d rather read a book on a plane than talk to the fellow next to me, and my grandfather wanted to talk to everybody else. I’d rather not go out to dinner.
T. BRADLEE: You look as though you enjoy it. Which helps.
B. BRADLEE: But Jack, that whole projection that comes with modern times.
JFK: I think I just happen to fit now. I mean, I think people don’t like this.
JACQUELINE KENNEDY: I think that’s a nineteenth-century politician, don’t you, like your grandfather, that you people are suspicious of ?
B. BRADLEE: Now the politicians have to be constantly on the air.
JFK: ... I have a particular type of personality which, I don’t look like a politician, and all the rest, which helps me. Everybody isn’t an extrovert in politics. I would say that a lot of the Senate certainly are not extroverts ...
B. BRADLEE: But Jack, I mean, you are! No?
JFK: No, I don’t think I am, actually.
B. BRADLEE: But you like it. And you live on it.
JFK: All these things may be true. Listen, I’m just saying, what I would be doing, you know I don’t go out to dinner.
B. BRADLEE: I know, I’m not trying to provoke you.
JFK: I understand. I’d be delighted if I had Hubert Humphrey’s disposition. He thrives on this. He loves to go out and campaign for five days. It’s a lot of work. I just don’t think you have to have that type of personality to be successful today in politics. I think you have to be able to communicate a sense of conviction and intelligence and rather, some integrity. That’s what you have to be able to do. This hail-fellow is passé in many ways. Those three qualities are really it. Now, I think that some people can do that. I think I do that well. I mean, I’ve been really successful, politically. I think I can do that. But it isn’t anything to do with being able to go out and just love it…
CANNON: Does it ever concern you that you have lost your sense of privacy? You obviously can’t have ... since everybody knows you now.
JFK: That’s the real pleasure about Jamaica in a way. You really can’t go any place par- ticularly now without ... But I don’t mind, I think that’s part of running, so I’m delighted, really. I used to walk down the streets in ’45 and nobody knew me. Now that’s fifteen years of effort has gone into getting known. I mean, it isn’t pleasant for the person, but as an invest- ment of energy it represents some ...
CANNON: What’s your reaction when someone comes up and says, “I saw you on television”?
JFK: They come from Massachusetts? [laughter] It’s all right. I don’t mind. I’m asking their support, so, you know.
CANNON: Do you take any special efforts to maintain a sense of privacy? Do you have a private phone? Unlisted?
JFK: I do. But everybody seems to have it.
It's fascinating to see Kennedy, who arguably redefined the Presidency in pop culture terms, discuss his natural introversion. It's even more unusual after reading Michael Lewis' recent profile in with Barack Obama for Vanity Fair in which a President half a century later voices some of the same complaints about losing his anonymity, privacy, and functioning as a pop cultural icon. While Lewis had to screen his quotes with the White House press shop before he could publish them, this conversation between the future President and two journalists has stayed under wraps until now. Smithsonian has the whole transcript here.