In her forthcoming "Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House," Sally Bedell Smith devotes whole chapters to JFK's philandering, some of the details of which are only now coming out. Helen Chavchavadze tells how he pursued their affair immediately after his inauguration. He acted like a "free man," she says. No Secret Service was going to stop him.
Some historians argue that JFK might have been thrown out of office if he had lived to see his affair with Judith Campbell, the Mafia moll who was having a simultaneous affair with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, cast into the public eye. That's not at all clear. Fred Dutton, a White House aide, noted wryly at the time: "There are more votes in virility than fidelity." Maybe, but he was nevertheless courting disaster as well as the moll.
JFK came to power on the curl of the wave of sexual liberation and Bill Clinton came to office on the ebb of the wave. The tide, in fact, was turning. Politics is hostage to public events and attitudes, after all, and determines whose biography ends in triumph and whose ends in failure.
Theodore Roosevelt, ashamed of his father for having hired a substitute to fight for him in the Civil War, led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill to redeem the family honor as well as for the honor of God and country. Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty but it was the Vietnam War that so sapped his energy that his Great Society collapsed in ashes. The consummate legislator failed as commander in chief.
Great leaders must be endowed with an exquisite balance between vision and pragmatism, idealism and realism, born with Venus and Mars in perfect alignment. Biography is in our stars as well as in ourselves.
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