Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99
(continued from page 3)
As a subscriber and a presidential history buff, I very much enjoyed Arthur Schlesinger's essay on President Kennedy. Obviously, his previous proximity to JFK affords us all a glimpse of what he was or was not like. However, I thought there were a couple of other components of the Kennedy mystique that were not covered but may bear interest for your readers.
Kennedy in many ways reshaped the presidency into its current form. Many of these elements are not important ideologically or even of historical significance, but nonetheless provide another facet to Mr. Schlesinger's argument of Kennedy's impact.
JFK introduced America to the live news conference. Previous presidents relied upon a formal question-and-answer format--usually with the questions submitted in advance. Kennedy used the power of television to advance his agenda and programs while circumventing the press. As a result, his now famous wit and humor in those sessions helped build the power of the activist presidency. [The news conferences] also served to embellish the power of the president, who possessed a firm grasp of a myriad of topics. It should also be noted that such an approach was not without substantial risk. It could have easily backfired on a less confident incumbent.
I believe it could be equally argued that Kennedy was the first peacetime president to be a world figure. From his Inaugural Address forward it was clear he took his role as leader of the free world as an active part of his duties. Many of his speeches were invariably of a global nature and futuristic--and almost always grounded in historical connections. The latter point served to provide a link to mankind overall, without geographical limitations. JFK invigorated masses within many foreign lands--Ireland, West Germany, France and others--to levels unparalleled in the past. His traumatic demise only further intensified these emotions, adding to his legacy.
Finally, the "Kennedy style" has left a significant mark on the presidency. The now famous Resolute desk that JFK retrieved from previous obscurity has subsequently been the desk of choice by his successors (of both parties), including Carter, Reagan and Clinton. In addition, Air Force One continues to be painted in the same striking colors that JFK approved on his watch some 35 years ago. The argument over myth or legend will continue, but it is safe to say that this cigar-smoking president made his mark on the highest office in the land.
Blake J. Greenstein
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My wife and I ran into a gentleman smoking a cigar at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., last month. I commented to my wife and the other couple that was with us what a fine smell the cigar was emitting. The gentleman overheard us, and graciously offered to put the cigar out if it bothered us. After we assured this person that we were not offended, he offered us cigars to smoke later. Upon thanking him for the ci-gars, we found out this was Tom Selleck! (We didn't recognize him without his mustache.)
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