A Question of Character Essay - Critical Essays

A Question of Character

In A QUESTION OF CHARACTER, Thomas C. Reeves has written a major new life of John F. Kennedy. In it he challenges the glittering image of the Kennedy presidency as a latter-day Camelot ruled by a knightly hero. Reeves argues that Kennedy lacked the qualities of temperance, compassion, and integrity Americans rightly expect from their president.

Reeves traces John F. Kennedy’s failing to the frustrations of his father. Joseph Kennedy bitterly resented the social snubs he endured growing up in Boston because he was Irish American and a Catholic. He determined to have his revenge by rising as far as he could in American society. A brilliant businessman, Joseph Kennedy accumulated an immense fortune, which he used to buy political influence. When a dispute over foreign policy with President Franklin Roosevelt dashed his own hopes for high office, Kennedy shifted his ambitions to the careers of his sons. The death of an older brother left John Kennedy heir to his father’s dreams.

Joseph Kennedy taught his sons that winning justified any means. He also set a pernicious example through his flagrant adulteries. His father’s son, John Kennedy acquiesced in Joseph Kennedy’s manipulation of his political career, even accepting credit for books written largely by others. He also became a compulsive womanizer. John Kennedy’s affairs continued after his marriage and election to the presidency. Particularly reckless liaisons with Marilyn Monroe and a mafia moll might have made him vulnerable to blackmailers. While Kennedy enjoyed some successes as president and inspired millions with his dynamic style of leadership, Reeves argues that Kennedy’s amoral approach to governance led to problems. Kennedy authorized illegal actions, such as the hiring of mafia killers to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. His aggressiveness in Southeast Asia helped mire America in a disastrous war. Reeve’s book is a sobering study which challenges Americans to look beyond the glamour of modern politics.

Sources for Further Study

American Heritage. XLII, October, 1991, p. 12.

Business Week. June 17, 1991, p. 12.

Chicago Tribune. August 18, 1991, XIV, p. 4.

The Christian Century. CVIII, June 26, 1991, p. 661.

The Economist. CCCXX, August 3, 1991, p. 80.

Human Events. LI, June 8, 1991, p. 4.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. June 23, 1991, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, June 2, 1991, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, April 5, 1991, p. 126.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 19, 1991, p. 9.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, May 26, 1991, p. 3.