John F. Kennedy as a Charismatic Leader Thesis

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¶ … Charismatic Leadership of John F. Kennedy

This paper discusses the Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy from the perspective of charismatic leadership. Specifically, it addresses the four characteristics that social scientists have agreed lead to such leadership and their relation to the 1961-1963 Kennedy Presidency: a crisis situation, potential followers in distress, an aspiring leader, and a doctrine promising deliverance. This paper shows that all four of these characteristics apply to Kennedy, and demonstrates their causality of his charismatic leadership persona, which endured long past (and perhaps in part because of) his assassination in 1963.

Main body: The United States was in a state of controlled turmoil. Unknown dangers were threatened from enemies abroad, while moral concerns further eroded confidence at home. The nation was emerging from a decade of paranoia and fear stirred up by certain high-ranking members of the federal government. In this election year, a Democratic Senator would become one of the youngest men ever elected to the office of President of the United States of America in a historically barrier-breaking election. No, the year is not 2008, and the President is not Barack Obama. Instead, turning the calendars back to 1960 brings us the year that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America, the youngest man ever elected to the office, as well as being the only Roman Catholic to ever hold the highest position in the nation.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Thesis on John F. Kennedy as a Charismatic Leader Assignment

Social scientists have largely agreed on four basic characteristics common to the situations of all charismatic leaders. First and foremost, there must be a crisis situation, which leads to the second requirement, a potential group of followers who are in distress, presumably due to the crisis situation at hand. Third, the leader who steps into this situation must be aspiring, or on the ascent, and lastly he must carry with him a doctrine which promises deliverance. Kennedy assumed the Presidency during a time of great international stress, and handled several crises related to the Cold War. This created a large international population of people in distress, which allowed for Kennedy's charismatic rise through the levels of government. Finally, his doctrine of containment of Communism abroad, but its active reversal in the Western Hemisphere, as well as his general message of egalitarianism and government responsibility, gave the distressed citizens of the United States hope that there was indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, and that John Fitzgerald Kennedy might be holding the torch. In short, though John F. Kennedy's policies as President might not have been as successful or as open-handed as his public face implied, the view of his leadership and personality as charismatic above all else is a direct result of the crisis, distress, aspiration, and doctrine of deliverance.

The 1950s was one of the most -- if not the most -- paranoid decades of the Cold War. Backyard bomb shelters were for sale, and actually bought by many reasonable consumers who believed the advertising and the government warnings about imminent nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. In addition, the oft-touted economic boom of the 1950s had also led to a period of inflation and increased privation, which led to a growing gap between classes (White House, 2009). Kennedy had many problems to tackle as President, and this is the main reason that he was able to achieve such charismatic status with the voting population. He promised a hard line against communism, and delivered even harder than promised on several occasions, going so far as to secretly wiretap hundreds of United States citizens who were suspected of being communists, including Martin Luther King, Jr. (Parekh, 2005). But the major crisis that catapulted him into the status of a truly charismatic leader didn't really occur until after his election.

The issue of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union had been prevalent for more than a decade by the time Kennedy announced that he was running for President, but the issue of communist Cuba -- seen as a threat of encroaching communism in the Western Hemisphere -- was not a major component in the lection. This was due in part to the fact that Nixon and Kennedy's views on the subject appeared to be relatively similar (O'Brien, 2005). But when he took office, Kennedy learned that there was a CIA plot to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro, which Kennedy backed. The plan ended up being a disaster, which was part of the reason that Kennedy ended up with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency by 1962 (Spartacus). He needed something that would allow him to re-ascend to his former levels of popularity, and as luck would have it, a crisis was brewing.

The Cuban Missile Crises, more than any other single factor, contributed to Kennedy's success as President and his charismatic leadership abilities. His decisive handling of the situation, which led to a back down of the Soviet Union, sent a strong message to the citizens of the United States and the world that he would stand firmly by his inaugural promise to not back down at any cost, which cemented his charismatic leadership (O'Brien, 2005). When Kennedy first learned that the Soviet Union was building missile silos in Cuba, he and his administration complained to the Soviet government about the development, and suggested that the arms race and such aggressive tactics did not serve the interest of either country or the rest of the world, for that mater (Spartacus). Eventually, this line of reasoning and the talks that ensued would lead to the test-ban treaty of 1963 between the United States and the Soviet Union (Parekh, 2005). In the meantime, however, Kennedy was firm in his assertion that attacks from Cuba would be considered Soviet in origin.

The crisis truly came to a head when Kennedy established a naval blockade, barring approaching Soviet shipped from harboring or delivering goods -- which were suspected to be missiles -- to Cuba (Spartacus). War between the two nuclear superpowers was very possible, and seemed inevitable to many of the anxious people around the world who were watching. The Soviets backed down, however, and Kennedy immediately began pursuing diplomatic tactics to maintain a safe balance n the world (O'Brien, 2005). In this way, he was able to avoid war and yet remain a very strong figure, which propelled his public image very high. It was his handling of this crisis that cemented his charismatic leadership in the eyes of the citizens of the United States.

These same citizens were the "people in distress" that social scientists have deemed it necessary for a charismatic leader to come to the aid of. Kennedy did this in part by assuaging some fears with the Cuban Missile Crisis (though the outcome could easily have been different), but there were other more direct ways in which he addressed the concerns of the people. In one of the most famous lines ever spoken in an inaugural address, Kennedy said to the American people, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" (WGBH, 1961). Many people at the end of the 1950s were floundering, with a sense of dissatisfaction at the way the world was going and no sense of direction. Kennedy helped this distress by providing that direction, and an outlet for the need to do something. Several prominent military men attribute their decision to serve to this injunction of President Kennedy's (Spartacus). In addition, Kennedy formed the Peace Corps and gave a general outline of his plans for it in this same inaugural speech, helping thousands of Americans and untold others find productivity and satisfaction.

Kennedy's response to the Cuban Missile Crisis and his aiding of a disillusioned and distressed populous with a call to service reflects his underlying characteristic, which is a genuine care for and understanding of people. This is the main contributing factor in charisma, and was the guiding principle behind his doctrine of deliverance. This doctrine included a firm and even unyielding stance when necessary, but never out of greed or lust for power, but rather out of a genuine desire to protect his country and the rest of the world. The fact that Kennedy was not willing to compromise on this reflects the strength of his character, which is also a necessary ingredient of charisma. His doctrine also understood the need for self-determination, both for individuals and for nations. His early invasion of Cuba was built on misguided advice that Castro was an unpopular dictator, otherwise it seems unlikely that Kennedy would have supported te invasion (O'Brien, 2005). Other than that, his general approach to leadership was to give everyone, the citizens of his country and of others, the rights and opportunities to pursue a life of liberty.

It was Kennedy's response to a crisis situation and aiding of a distressed populous, especially at a time when his approval ratings were low, that allowed him to develop a successful… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

John F. Kennedy as a Charismatic Leader.  (2009, January 22).  Retrieved December 3, 2020, from

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"John F. Kennedy as a Charismatic Leader."  22 January 2009.  Web.  3 December 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"John F. Kennedy as a Charismatic Leader."  January 22, 2009.  Accessed December 3, 2020.