It will come as no secret after naming this series in homage to John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage that I have a great deal of admiration for our 35th President.
We have had few Presidents as debonair, charismatic or eloquent and for all of these qualities I look up to President Kennedy but his courage and persistence are characteristics that worthy of discussion as well.
It’s tempting to see a rich, handsome, and articulate politician and assume that his meteoric rise was a given, but that’s not the case with President Kennedy.
Popular lore is that Kennedy went into politics to please his father after his brother’s death and in certain respects, that’s been proven to be true, but it’s just as likely that if Joe Jr. had lived, John Kennedy would have sought some avenue of public service.
After returning from the Pacific a war hero, and following his brother’s death, John F. Kennedy was able to use his father’s money and connections as well as his own ambition to win election to The US House of Representatives at the age of 26.
When he was 35 he beat a powerful incumbent Senator with a name legendary in Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge, and became one of the youngest men in the Senate.
It was a fast start that was capped off in 1956 when his name was placed in nomination for the Vice Presidency Of The United States and while he did not win the nomination, he did become the freshest face in Democratic politics.
And then he fell.
Unlike his hero Winston Churchill’s fall which was mostly self-inflicted and political, JFK suffered a fall much closer to the one suffered by his father’s nemesis, Franklin Roosevelt.
Despite going out of his way to display health and vigor, John F. Kennedy had never been a healthy man. Suffering from the autoimmune disease Addison’s Disease and a bad back that was mostly the result of a war injury, it was his health that almost knocked him out of politics in 1957.
Kennedy was warned of the risks that someone in his condition was facing having surgery when he opted for back surgery in 1957. It would be nearly impossible to control infection due to his other ailments but he decided to risk it anyway.
his father tried to talk him out of the procedure, but Kennedy was determined to have the operation saying he’d rather die than spend the rest of his life on crutches.
At first, the operation looked like a success but then infection set in and more than once before he recovered, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was administered last rights.
It was unknown for weeks if he would live. It took longer still to know whether or not he would walk again. He contemplated retiring from politics because he saw not future for his ambitions.
It was during this dark period in his life when his wife suggested he write and while a way from the Senate he ad Theodore Sorenson wrote what would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles In Courage.
Buoyed by its success, little by little JFK got stronger and in 1958, was reelected to the Senate in a landside.
During the 1960 Presidential Primaries, he fought back discrimination over his Catholic faith and won his parties nomination for President. Then defeated Vice President Richard Nixon to win the White House.
On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President Of The United States. He was the first and remains the only Catholic to ever do so.
Yes, President Kennedy was given an advantage that helped him to succeed early in life, but nothing could insulate him from the problems his health caused. It was by sheer determination, hard work, and persistence that he was able to overcome the impossible odds to hold our nation’s highest office and it’s this climb back from the brink that makes him a true Profile In Persistence.