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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Toni Bradlee: And yet it’s true that there are only some people who have either what it takes, or have . . .

JFK: Desire?

Toni: . . . something in them that makes them go through . . .

JFK: I don’t know. Everybody reaches a natural level. It’s possible my natural level is in the Senate. I mean, we’ll know in the next six months. But there isn’t anybody in the House that would not like to advance himself, or anybody who works for anything. My God, if you didn’t have that power of desire, the United States and every place else would collapse! That’s what moves the country and the world. That’s just a part of it. I’m just saying that it’s the center of power. I’m not talking about personal, I’m just saying the center of action is the more precise term, is the presidency. Now if you are interested, which many, many people are, not just me, the presidency is the place to be, in the sense of if you want to get anything done.

Cannon: If you were talking to a college student, why would you tell him that he ought to go into politics?

JFK: Because I think that this opportunity to participate in the solutions of the problems which interest him, I would assume he’s interested, I would say the place he could effect some results would be in politics. The second, that your personal sources of satisfactions which come from doing this work is far greater in politics than it will ever be in business. And your financial reward will not be as great, and your insecurity will probably be greater in politics, because you may get defeated in the next election. Those are the disadvantages.

Cannon: Well, should somebody who is contemplating going into politics, should he have some sort of other source of financial security?

JFK: Well, it’s desirable for anybody to have financial security, in whatever they do, but quite obviously the mass, the great majority of politicians do not have it, but they seem to survive.

Cannon: Do you feel it’s been a help to you?


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