Dallas, Tex., Nov. 22, 1963: We all know exactly where we were when it happened, when the pageant ended. For the next four days, we all watched--dazed, disbelieving, profoundly shaken--as the greatest funeral since F.D.R.'s riveted the nation to its collective TV set. I still hear the drum roll, see that riderless horse, the veiled widow reaching out to touch the casket. What had we lost?
Revisionist historians have chipped away at John Kennedy's monument, charging he was sadly timid on domestic policy and too bellicose in foreign affairs. J.F.K. promised; L.B.J. delivered, etc. And we all now know that Jack was a philanderer (with a Mafia moll no less). Neither of the anniversary books under review offers to restore the Kennedy myth to its outsize, pristine vigor, but each, in its way, revives the image of great political leadership.
"Robert Kennedy in His Own Words" is no stylistic delight to read but packed with information about the inner workings of the 1960 campaign and the Kennedy White House, it allows readers to form their own judgment. The book consists of interviews with a stoic, somewhat embittered Robert Kennedy, conducted soon after the President's assassination by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Anthony Lewis, John Bartlow Martin, and John F. Stewart for the oral history project of the Kennedy Library. Everything is there: the inside story of the Vienna summit, the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, a defiant Gov. Ross Barnet in Mississippi, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, civil rights legislation, the US Steel rollback, the Test Ban Treaty, the plot to overthrow Diem in Vietnam. And besides, matter for the gossip column: What the President thought of Adlai Stevenson, Dean Rusk (not much), Lyndon Johnson and De Gaulle (respected), and how Luther Hodges was appointed secretary of commerce (hilarious).