New book focuses on JFK's time in the Senate

There have reportedly been at least 40,000 books written about former President Kennedy over the years, but John T. Shaw was “astonished” to find that not one of them seemed to focus on the commander in chief’s time in the Senate.

“I think that’s partly because the conventional wisdom has always held that his Senate years were really not that consequential, that it was just a stepping stone for him, and he really didn’t do much,” Shaw tells ITK in a phone interview.

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But believing Kennedy’s period in the upper chamber was a “consequential time” in which he was a “real player” in foreign policy debates and involved in domestic issues, Shaw set about writing a book himself, called JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency.

Shaw, a congressional correspondent for Market News International, was surprised to learn the Massachusetts Democrat served as chairman on a special Senate committee to determine the five best senators in U.S. history.

“In some sense, it might be like the one thing he was completely in charge of during his Senate years,” Shaw says.

The selection process, he said, “became very politicized, a lot of maneuvering, even some kind of hints at possible filibusters if one person was chosen over another.” (For history lovers, the committee ended up choosing Sens. Daniel Webster, Whig-Mass.; John Calhoun, D-S.C.; Henry Clay, National Republican-Ky.; Robert Taft, R-Ohio; and Robert La Follette, Progressive-Wis.)

Kennedy’s Senate career, Shaw notes, could serve as a lesson for current lawmakers who might have their sights set on the White House.

The 1960 presidential candidate, Shaw says, was “a junior member who used the Senate as a platform [and] was very, very careful to depict himself as not a Senate insider. That’s the death knell if you want to get elected president.”

He adds, “I think Kennedy showed in almost a shrewd way how you can almost use your inexperience to your advantage.”

JFK also realized “there’s no waiting” in politics. Although Shaw says many political gurus advised Kennedy to wait a few years before launching a presidential bid, Kennedy determined, “If you’ve decided that this is your time, you’ve got to swing for the fences.”

Shaw will be giving a free talk on his fourth tome at a Thursday afternoon chat at the Capitol Visitor Center hosted by the Senate Library. 

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