Author Recounts JFK's Rise to Power

Jun 2, 2017

Journalist Thomas Oliphant talked about his new book "The Road to Camelot" and J.F.K.'s legacy at the Miller Center - followed by a book signing.
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

Former Washington correspondent for the Boston Globe Thomas Oliphant spoke at the Miller Center of Public Affairs yesterday to discuss John F. Kennedy’s continued legacy on the 100th anniversary of his birth on May 29. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini was there.

According to Thomas Oliphant, former Washington correspondent for the Boston Globe, John F. Kennedy’s path to the presidency began much earlier than usual.

THOMAS OLIPHANT: Unlike the traditional story, a year, 15-16 months of a presidential campaign, this one is a 5-year story, which is unusual but it was also necessary because Kennedy broke a couple of molds when he decided to run for president. No one had ever come from the outside-in before; no one had ever thought of him finding voters into this process; an alarming innovation on his part: no one had ever hired a pollster, no one had ever used data to guide some decisions - rightly and wrongly.

Another Kennedy innovation was his use of television:

OLIPHANT: He's the pioneer of the 30-second television commercial. Here's this one very interesting and provocative essay on television, written by John Kennedy on November of 1959. And in his view, after all is said and done, television tends to capture people as they are. You can't hide.

Oliphant’s new book, “The Road to Camelot,” co-written with journalist Curtis Wilkie, also takes a close look at the brutal primary campaigns, and at Kennedy’s efforts to get the favors of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was not happy with his lack of empathy to Civil Rights issues at first. It also deals with Kennedy's cool confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Cold War; and religion.

OLIPHANT: Religion was a two-edged sword. Catholicism modestly - not moderately, modestly - suppressed his popular vote, but was instrumental in his Electoral College victory. Though it's a fact that the day after that election, the issue disappeared forever as a significant part of America. It's amazing how fast it was just gone like that. Unlike, say, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, where the problems with race and gender are still with us.