Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Club - The Kennedy Assassination 24 Hours After

I was 12 years old when John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Like many of my generation, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I've not read extensively about the event so when I saw this book in my local library I decided to give it a read. Especially since it seemed to offer a different slant, focusing more on Johnson than the actual event.I've become kind of a political junkie over the past 10 years or so, so what attracted me to this book was it's explanation of the politics involved immediately after the shooting. Johnson had been put on the Democratic ticket in order to balance the Eastern liberal John Kennedy. He was not well liked by the Kennedy people and was pretty much kept isolated during the Kennedy presidency. This, of course, is not that different from most vice-presidents (with the possible exception og Dick Chaney). Johnson, who had been Senate majority leader in the Senate, and therefore used to wielding political power, found himself with little to do as vice-president. He had no power at all. On the morning of November 22, 1963, he pretty much figured that his political career was over. It was not a sure bet that he'd be on the ticket come November 1964.

Within a day he found himself to be the most powerful man in the country, if not the world. Much of this book concerns Johnson's realization of that and how concerned he was that he both show the country that he was in charge, that the government would continue and trying to avoid the image (fostered apparently by Kennedy's staff) that he was a power-mad usurper. Robert Kennedy in particular disliked and distrusted Johnson.

Johnson went on to enact much of Kennedy's liberal social agenda, even going beyond Kennedy in some areas. He also was the president who got us mired in Vietnam, who had to drop out of the 1968 presidential campaign because he was so unpopular. The author shows how these two sides of Johnson's presidency were present, in embryonic form, even on that first day.

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