Monday, January 4, 2010

How many Kennedys does it take to make a point?

Esquire's annual "The Meaning of Life" issue features a wide range of people, some of them famous, relfecting on the nature of life. The Kennedy brothers are featured on the cover.

Inside, Esquire has assembled quotes from JFK, RFK and EMK, taken from public and private writings and utterances. They cover an incredibly wide range of subjects - from war, politics and statesmanship to personal relationships and family matters to descriptions of interludes with prosititues (a reminder to be careful what you write and, these days, post!) Interesting reading.

As a communications consultant and frequent ghostwriter, I found it particularly instructive how well and often the Kennedys used humor to diffuse controversy or make a point. Here are a couple of my favorite examples:

I just received the following wire from my generous daddy — "Dear Jack, Don't buy a single vote more than is necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." — JFK, Gridiron Dinner, 1958

What advice would I give to a young man interested in politics? If I just trace my own career, I went to college and then law school and I started out as just a lawyer ... at the Department of Justice. And I worked very hard and I was diligent and I stayed late at night and I made a great deal of effort, and then ten years later I was made attorney general. So I don't know whether it's just ... I think if you can get your brother elected President of the United States, that helps. — RFK, 1964

It was easy — they sank my boat. — JFK, to a high school student who asked how he had become a war hero, 1959

The question was, "How about me and President Johnson?" What about it? Are you trying to start a fight or something? I said in the past that it's possible to have a coalition government in Saigon, but that doesn't mean it's possible here in the United States. — RFK, 1966

My point is that humor is a valuable and effective tool that most writers and speakers use too sparingly. Which reminds me: Did you hear the one about ...