He didn’t seem full of himself like so many public figures. In fact, he seemed somewhat shy and awkward. He lowered his shoulders a bit and thrust his hands into the pockets of his impeccable pin-striped suit jacket. He looked away for a moment and appeared lost or detached, almost to the point where I wanted to help him. So many people were trying to get his attention. Amidst it all, he appeared to be holding something back.
But then he looked down at me and took my hand and smiled. The eyes, the hair, that smile, those teeth, the voice with its distinctive accent – in no time at all I came to understand why so many others were captivated by JFK. This man was magnetic. And he seemed to be completely without hubris.
I’m sure I told him how much I admired him and how much I wanted him to be elected. And I’m sure he thanked me and left me with some encouraging words. But I couldn’t tell you what was actually said because I was in the zone. I was enveloped by the magic of it all.
Turning to leave the dais, I took one last look over the hall from that vantage point. And at that moment I knew instinctively that politics was really show biz and that in just a few moments John F. Kennedy would have to perform. He would have to meet the ceaseless expectations of yet another hungry crowd.
Still nostalgic for FDR, this audience wanted an updated version of all that charm and sophistication – someone who would not merely lead them but who would now inhabit their lives through the miracle of television.
So, JFK would do for TV what FDR did for radio. He would turn it into a potent tool to achieve a history-making victory in November.
And that’s how most people came to know Kennedy, through television. He was uniquely suited to the medium because as I noticed on the evening I met him he was cool, unassuming and incomplete. Each person was free to complete that part of him that was hidden from view. This is the perfect persona for a medium that feigned intimacy.
Charles deGaulle once said that a leader must always retain an element of mystery. “There can be no prestige without mystery,” he explained “for familiarity breeds contempt.”
JFK knew the secret that we call charisma. He never allowed us to become too familiar.