John F. Kennedy on Leadership: The Lessons and Legacy of a President

By John A. Barnes | Go to book overview

Preface

Another book on John F. Kennedy? What is there left to be studied that hasn’t been studied already?

His leadership. Remarkably, given the spate of “leadership” books that have been published in the decade since Donald Phillips’s Lincoln on Leadership created the genre, no one has attempted a book examining the leadership style of the modern American president who is probably most closely identified with the term.

You don’t have to look far for the evidence of the imprint Kennedy has left on American life and politics. From the day of his death, virtually every president and presidential candidate since has, to varying degrees, sought to portray himself as the heir to the Kennedy legacy. Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with living in Kennedy’s shadow. Richard Nixon was immensely jealous of the man he also thought of as his friend. Jimmy Carter reveled in being described by Time magazine as “Kennedyesque” during his 1976 campaign. Ronald Reagan invoked Kennedy’s tough stance toward the Soviet Union and his tax-cutting economic strategy to buttress his own efforts in these realms. A sixteen-year-old Bill Clinton famously was photographed— with a beatific look on his face—shaking Kennedy’s hand in the Rose Garden. John F. Kerry (with the same initials and from the same state) took the comparisons to extremes at times, windsurfing off Nantucket Island in seemingly conscious emulation of Kennedy sailing off Hyannis.

Perhaps the politicians sense something that the political science professors—who have tended not to rate Kennedy’s presidency very highly— don’t: Even four decades after his death, JFK remains extraordinarily popular. An ABC News poll taken over President’s Day weekend in 2003 listed JFK as the second-greatest president of all time. A Zogby poll showed an almost

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