In an article published in the Oct. 13, 1952 issue of The New Republic, Harvard teaching fellow and later Smith College professor John Mallan related what Rep. John Kennedy said at a Harvard University gathering that took place two years earlier.

JFK Portrait

Was JFK the liberal that many believe in?

Mallan, who was there in attendance, said Kennedy told the audience that “a.) he could see no reason why we were fighting in Korea, b.) he thought that sooner or later we would ‘have to get all these foreigners off our backs’ in Europe, c.) he supported the McCarran Act and felt that not enough had been done about Communists in government, d.) that he rather respected Joe McCarthy and thought he ‘knew Joe pretty well, and he may have something,’ e.) that he had no great respect for Dean Acheson or indeed almost any member of the Fair Deal Administration, f.) that he personally was very happy that Helen Gahagan Douglas had just been defeated in California by Richard Nixon.”

According to Mallan — who is quoted in JFK: The Man & The Myth by Victor Lasky — people were appalled by what they were hearing.  Among other things, “his liking for McCarthy seemed to be on a personal basis, as was his feeling that Mrs. Douglas was ‘not the sort of person I like working with on committees.'”

Lasky then relates how Kennedy had given Nixon $1,000 towards his senatorial campaign against Douglas, based on a San Diego Union column written by its Washington Bureau Chief Robert Richards. According to Richards, the “new Democrat standard-bearer’s pop, Joe, who master-minded son Jack’s climb up the money tree to the party’s presidential nomination, also liked Nixon as a warrior against Communism.”

Lasky then relates how Mallan believed Kennedy’s Harvard appearance “illustrated the irony” of Massachusetts politics. “Again and again,” Mallan wrote, “Democratic leaders whose personal beliefs seem to indicate a deep-dyed conservatism become ‘liberals’ when forced to deal with politics on the national scene.”

A bit later Lasky reports that “Kennedy himself, though annoyed by the [The New Republic] article, never took public issue with it. And biographer Burns conceded there was ‘enough truth . . . in the report to put liberals even further on guard . . ..’

To see the whole narrative thread, see ch. 7,  ‘Lodge.’

Though I claim no special expertise about what our current president Barack Obama ‘really’ believes, it’s tempting to see him in this same light, ie., as someone with no great political values and as someone who is a lot more conservative than what he lets on in public. The narrative does show Kennedy as an ordinary politician, and that’s highly useful in and of itself.

Public domain photo by Cecil Stoughton / White House.