Saturday, March 9, 2013

Joseph P. Kennedy's Disappointment With The Church

We've been reading David Nasaw's big, sweeping, definitive biography entitled The Patriarch; The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.

It's an absolutely extraordinary book -- a real eye-opener. Even if you think you know the story of Joseph P. Kennedy, you will be surprised by what you discover in this book. Here's what we discovered:

In the political realm, Kennedy's views were actually quite conservative. Though he could not always be easily categorized, he was at various times so right-of-center that he once considered becoming a Republican. But in the early days of his career when he toyed with the idea, he couldn't square being a Republican with his Irish Catholic upbringing and the traditionally Democrat family that he emerged from. Still, he often found liberal utopians hopelessly unrealistic and ultimately frustrating. At heart, he was always a clear-thinking businessman who was more interested in pragmatic achievement.

Throughout his career, Kennedy maintained good relations with Republicans and conservatives. Even after President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Kennedy as ambassador to Great Britain, Kennedy remained friends with former President Herbert Hoover. Kennedy had supported Hoover over Al Smith for president in 1928. He felt that Al Smith (also Irish Catholic) was unpolished and simply too uncouth. Often, he saw this type of personality as insulting to and degrading of Irish Catholics. Kennedy remained friends with Herbert Hoover as long as he lived.

Kennedy was also a big fan of J. Edgar Hoover and generally supported the controversial Senator Joe McCarthy. In 1955 Kennedy wrote J. Edgar Hoover: "The only two men I know in public life today just happen to be named Hoover -- one John Edgar and one Herbert --  and I am proud to think that both of them hold me in some esteem."

Kennedy had a difficult relationship with FDR and felt betrayed by Roosevelt more than once. He was suspicious of Roosevelt's charm offensives, disliked many of Roosevelt's most trusted advisors and was turned off by FDR's political machinations. He had a hard time forging a solid, ongoing relationship with FDR.

A wise investor (and, generally a prudent one) Kennedy protected all the money he had earned prior to the stock market crash and the resulting Great Depression by placing it in trust funds that guaranteed that his family would never want for anything. He then wisely began to acquire real estate.

Kennedy intensely disliked Harry Truman and felt he was ill-equipped to be president. He also felt that Truman was reckless in his decision making. At the same time, he had a generally high regard for Dwight Eisenhower and rightly predicted (long before many others) that Ike would run for president as a Republican. He knew that Ike would be a popular candidate and may have been disappointed that the Democrats did not try harder to recruit him.

But here's one of the biggest shockers: Kennedy often felt wronged by the Catholic Church -- an institution that he vigorously supported publicly and to which he donated huge amounts of money. Kennedy was not only chagrined that the Church did not do more to support his son, Jack when he ran for president (indeed. he felt that high officials in the Church actually worked against Jack) but long before that Kennedy was disturbed that the Church was not more assertive in defending itself and advancing its cause in the public arena. On this later score, Kennedy was right then and remains right now. Particularly in America, The Catholic Church is a toothless giant -- a spineless wonder. It refuses to organize, to influence, to put any real publicaction muscle behind its convictions.
Nasaw writes that Joseph P. Kennedy believed that "if the Catholic minority [in the US] was to get the respect . . . it deserved and required, it would have to follow the example of American Jews and organize itself better." In 1950, Kennedy expressed these sentiments to a close friend, Italy's Count Enrico Galeazzi, who had close ties to the Vatican. Here's what he said:
"I still believe, as I told the Pope, and as I told you, that until the day comes when the hierarchy [of the Catholic Church] of the United States make up their minds that they should have political influence, we are not going to fare well in this country., and unless we do it right away, the opportunity will be lost. A Jewish minority group, well-organized gets whatever it wants and we get nothing."
Finally, it's worth noting that Joseph P. Kennedy was a great believer in public relations throughout his life. He knew the power of public image and the value of leaving a favorable impression on the public. When Jack Kennedy ran for office, Joseph P. Kennedy commandeered the best PR people and image-crafters in the business (several from Hollywood and New York) to help his son. He once wrote to Robert F. Kenndy: "Things don't just happen. They are made to happen in the public relations field."

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