Kennedy After Dark: A Dinner Party About Politics and Power

In this exclusive transcript from the JFK library, hear what he had to say just days after announcing his candidacy for the presidency

"It's possible my natural level is in the Senate," John F. Kennedy said—but then he won the 1960 election. As president, he and his wife hosted Ben and Tony Bradlee (left and third from left) at the White House. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)
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(Continued from page 15)

JFK: I don’t agree with that. I mean, it may be more difficult for me to talk about it, but I’ve seen a lot of politicians with money, and I don’t find . . . There’s so many kinds of being dishonest, the money part is just only one of them. I don’t really think you can prove by any test that you have to have money to be successful, politically, or that people with money are more honest than those who aren’t.

Bradlee: Or less honest, you mean.

JFK: I mean more honest. People with money. They may be, not tempted by bribery, but nobody is offering people money in the Senate or the House except on the rarest occasions. There’s no idea that anybody attempts to bribe anybody in the United States Senate, with the exception of maybe, possibly . . .

Bradlee: [unclear]


JFK: Well, here are maybe the rarest influences, but even Ben, who’s pretty tough, would have to say, maybe campaign contributors, but we all get campaign contributions, some from labor, and some from business, and I suppose that makes them perhaps somewhat responsive, but you’re responsive also to people who vote for you, veterans and other pressure groups. So I don’t think that this idea, you can’t tell me that, I’ll name him, but not for the thing, that Averell Harriman and these people are as political whores as anybody in the United States. Because they are desperately anxious to succeed in this profession which has so many attractions to it. So money is not really a sine qua non.

Bradlee: There are a thousand objections to running for politics that I . . . Somebody once told me that I ought to run for politics in New Hamsphire. God forbid! There were whole lots of objections, there was one that I couldn’t possibly have been elected. [laughter] You know, I mean, a Democrat in New Hampshire? For God’s sakes, I mean, I thought very very very seriously about this. Second thing was, there is something in some people’s minds that is uncomfortable at constantly being projected in the public eye, that is not uncomfortable to you and to these guys, who not only love it, but transfer it into a good thing. Whereas with somebody else it sort of snarls them up and gets them to eat their own tail. This is something about politics, who has that and why, I think is an important area of why go into politics.

JFK: Let me now just finish this thing, though, and I’m not the best one because I do have some financial resources, so it’s rather easier for me, but I do say, looking at it objectively, that money, because you can just go through the House and the Senate, I mean, I know most of my colleagues do not have resources and they have succeeded in politics. The people with money who have succeeded are comparatively few in politics. I mean, it’s just most of them don’t go into politics, if they have money, and if they do go into politics, they’re not any better than their colleagues. I mean, they are just as susceptible to pressure and in many ways more susceptible to pressure because they are desperately anxious, this is their tremendous chance to break through the rather narrow lives they may lead. So they’re just as anxious to succeed. That’s why I say to you, merely getting beaten, the financial problem is an additional one, but not the chief one. The chief one is being cut off from this fascinating life at mid-age, which is what you’re suggesting to me. Now, I can survive, but it’s still being cut off.

Bradlee: What about the projection of one’s self? The only comparable field I can think 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 . . .


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