A Catholic in the White House? Religion, Politics, and John F. Kennedy's Presidential Campaign

Article excerpt

A Catholic in the White House? Religion, Politics, and John F. Kennedy's Presidential Campaign. By Thomas J. Carty. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2004. Pp. viii, 215. $39.95 hardcover.)

The author, Thomas J. Carty, assistant professor of history at Springfield College, has provided a timely study of the question of religion and U.S. presidential politics. Focusing on the 1960 campaign and the variety of responses to John Kennedy's brand of Catholicism, Carty provides scholarly context for understanding many of the cultural, political, and religious issues of the period, including historical U.S. anti-Catholicism and the impact of the Cold War on the same. In addition, and just as significantly, his work points to the questions and prejudices that remain in the current American context, despite the widespread popular perception that Kennedy's election finally resolved the "Catholic issue."

Systematically presented in seven chapters and an epilogue, the book is based on Professor Carty's doctoral dissertation, presented at the University of Connecticut, and as such, it suggests the still-growing interest in "Catholic studies" within the secular academy. The strength of the work lies in its detailed research and exploration of the political history involved rather than in a deeper analysis of the theological questions. But much of that work was laid out by Donald Pelotte in his study of John Courtney Murray and his theological project (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), to which Carty duly refers in his notes. The first chapter offers a broad summary of the history of the "Catholic issue" in U.S. politics up to the period of Al Smith's 1928 presidential campaign and might prove especially useful to undergraduates and others who are beginning their study of the topic.

In the second chapter Carty focuses on the political careers of the nationally-known Catholics Al Smith, Jim Parley, Joseph Kennedy, and Joseph McCarthy as a prelude for understanding the religious issues of the 1960 campaign. The next three chapters are effective in their analysis of the major differing perspectives and opinions with regard to Kennedy's religion and candidacy. Conservative Protestant opposition, including that of Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, Martin Luther King, Sr., and Harry S. Truman is studied first, allowing Carty to show the sometimes surprisingly rapid, though not universal, evolution of thought and public position within these circles. …