tv Book Discussion on Camelots Court CSPAN November 17, 2013 4:45am-5:46am EST
what robert kennedy said was we did everything we had to. we were going for broke. we got the tax return office the steel company executives, got their expense accounts, we wire-tapped their home. and they -- kennedy heard a report on huntley-brink lee, thought it was too kind. he told the fcc i want you to do something about that. here it is. robert kennedy's quote. we're going for broke, their expense accounts, where they'd been, i told the fbi to interview them, march into their offices-subpoena their company records. we can't lose this. later jack kennedy said about clark clifford's role, can't you see clifford outrunning the possible course office action the government can take? you know what you're doing when you screw around with the power of the president? i don't think u.s. steel or any other companies want internal
rev enough agents checking expense accounts. want government to go back to he tell bills to fine out who was with you? these are real quotes. now, if the kens were prepared to do this to stop a steel price hike, what they do to keep the presidency in their hands? some of you know i worked for robert kennedy. no public figure i admired more. but this this dark side. they get away with it but people know that something is up. one of those underground things that know. it's all kind of underground. last, 1968. what happens? so here are two notions. if there's no war in vietnam, then richard nixon's most
powerful argument for the presidency -- i know the world, i know the soviet union, i can bring peace to vietnam -- is irrelevant, and the republicans can find somebody who could actually win elections, say the governorship of california by a million votes. reagan made a very lame last minute bid for the nomination. take away the vietnam war, nixon's strong point, and i realize the idea of a first-term person -- president is absurd. but it's been known to happen. and on the democratic side, absent the vietnam war, who is the most ardent peace candidate? within the democratic party? it's hubert humphrey, who before vietnam and before his imprisonment by lyndon johnson,
was a with disarmament advocate and was behind the peace corps. so i set up a humphrey and reagan election and i don't tell you who wins because i didn't want to figure that out. and there's an interesting exchange between john and jacqueline kennedy at the end of the book. some stuff that is to come. and i'll again -- if you don't buy the book you'll never find out. >> , so, to conclude, this exercise, which as i say some people find foot winging, toyed a old farced word, is useful. one, i ought to convince people not just this example but countless others -- how much life is contingent. how much fate plays a role, and how much a sense of humility, therefore, is useful, particularly in leader, in the
knowledge they can't anticipate every event. they don't know when the black swan is going to show up and they have to at least calculate the possibility their assumptions may be undone, and second thing is, character matters in a leader, and by character, i don't mean private personal morale. i mean what is the temperment. are they personalizing issues? are they looking for other -- as many different sources of information as possible? are they willing to say i have to rethink my assumptions? and i think it's -- if nothing else, the work i've done over the last few -- convinced me the way we cover our political choice process is completely irsvelte -- irrelevant because we don't know how to deal with that, and dealing with it in history, you say it really does matter. what kind of person is in leadership because the wrong kind of person can lead to
profoundly different results. and with that i'm going to stop and let you ask your questions. thank you for listening. [applause] >> because we want to honor c-span, please use the mic. and we need a common understanding of the meaning of a question. a question. so not a proposed to after the spanish armada loss. so i respect this. the more questions we get the better. >> in your imagine, would you imagine a little more of the future of lbj had kennedy lived? i gather you assume he would have had a political death if he lived. yes. >> but what would -- he would have lowe's his base in the next five years? >> actually, are doris goodwin was my adviser, who has knowledge about johnson. don't make him just the bad guy. there was this other side.
so actually in this bike, lyndon johnson goes back to texas, becomes president of his alma mater and plays a critical roll role in passing the voting rights act so there's a redemption for him in this. whether i -- there's a limit even to my wonkiness, so i didn't decide, well, i wonder if he could have run for the senate. but i didn't do that. he has a place of honor. >> you think kennedy would have won the '64 election? assuming the ran against goldwater or member else? >> that's what i -- you may have come in late. i covered that. >> i'm sorry. >> inflames i didn't hear myself, i'm pretty sure i covered that. i if goldwater is the nominee -- itch george romney got the nomination it would have been tough because he -- the whole southern base of the democratic party is gone and romney could have been competitive, but the way he did run for president,
said he could have self-destructed every bit as much in '64 and '68. >> thank you. first off, it's been a pleasure being here and watching -- i've been watching you sense i was a kid -- >> thank you for that. really. they had television back then, did they? >> yes, they did. but i've also been enjoying your alternate historiness recent years. do you've -- do you have any plans in the future? >> no. i'm done. the reason is i would become the georgie jessle of alternate history. what do you think would have happened if -- the interviews for that one would be fairly tough. no. i enjoy this process, but because my standard is one plausibility, two, a very tiny twist of fate, and, three,
consequentiality. so if somebody said if dukakis beat bush in '88. i would say, yeah, that's really interesting. so that's why. maybe some day i will return to this, but -- there are a lot of good stories about them. a lot of twists and turns. but other people have mined them. certainly phillip roth is a real novelist, and'll you know phillip k. dick? wrote a book called man in a high castle which premises a nazi victory in world war ii. roosevelt, he says, was killed, john nance gardner was the president and he just failed so badly the country couldn't fight a war. i'm done. the next book is a genuine novel, i'm making it all up. and perhaps we'll gather here in a couple of years if i pull this awesome but i appreciate the question. >> thank you.
>> i think you mentioned you thought oswald was the lone gunman. >> i did. >> i guess it's a weird question because it's instead of why, i should say why not what do you think that? seems leak the majority of americans think there was some conspiracy. >> now because they saw jfk and -- >> oliver stone -- >> i do blame hem because he have a one country, that must have happened. let me make a different point. i don't choose to relet gait -- re-litigate it. i duck the question in the book because it would eave overwhelmed the book. it's based on a fair amount of reading. let me ask you a different question. whoa do most americans believe it was a conspiracy and why did robert kennedy raise that question? this is the conclusion, because the minute kennedy was souths the first thing bobby did was call the head of the cia and say, did one of your guys do that? and he sent an investigator,
organized crime, teamsters, never found anything. this is what i think. if people -- look, if some day some guy walks in with evidence and says, it was the teamsters, organized crime, the exiles, it was castro, who certainly had a motive. kennedy tried to kill him several times. rogue agents in the intelligence. roger stone, the political black arts guy. the republican, going to dallas on november 22nd to, quote, prove lyndon johnson killed him. what i think is this. it doesn't seem right that so consequential an act could have come at the hands of so insignificant a twerp as as polled. a loser, wife-beater, couldn't keep a job. went to the soviet union, came back, was thinking about going again, delusions of grandure, did try to kill major general
walker with the save rifle he killed john kennedy later. jackie kennedy said, how could that have been? an insignificant guy like this guy, a nothing. it's much more satisfying, if that's the right word, that kennedy was killed for a reason. wanted to end the cold war. castro wanted to get even with him for trying to kill him. organized crime, which was furious at his -- at bobby's efforts to crush them. and here's the point. bobby knew better than anybody. fro the rackets commitey and organized crime and attorney general, there were tons of people who would have revelleed at john kennedy's death. so it makes sense to say, yeah, a lot of people had motives to kill him. doesn't mean they did. one other point. oswald fits the model of almost every other assistant and would-bev assist sin. the same personality.
richard pavlec, blew up kennedy. the guy that almost killed roosevelt. the killer of president garfield, leon -- mckinley's 'assassin. a great scrabble name. all of them, loners, mentally unstable, delusions of grandeur, crazy people. i guess i could add arthur bremner and mark david chapman, john hinkley. that's the model. the only exception in american life was lincoln. that was a conspiracy. but you know, doesn't mean -- that's where i come from. >> very interesting. >> since you announced you're ending your alternate history, we can't let you off that easy. your become is about about ticks and the '6s 0's, what do you see
if with a kennedy -- for example, martin luther king, charles manson, whatever. >> there's a seen here where kennedy meets the beatles, by the way. ahead to do that. >> which was his favorite beat until. >> there you are. >> john, i hope. >> i hope john but he had very conventional musical tastes so probably was paul. but by the way, in real life, the beatles play a significant role in this story because many people -- and i'm one of them -- believe that the beatles' appearance in america in january of 1964 was the first time we let ourselves have some fun. i remember being in front of a tv set in a dorm and they came on and it was like, okay, we can play a little bit. look, if i'm right, it's a less violent time, i don't know how to do what you want to do.
clearly there would have been somebody who wanted to kill martin luther king. somebody tried before he was killed. i think in general, it's a -- yeah, that's what i midwest by woodstock but not altamont. and season of the witch does not come. that's what i mean. >> what would you envision for robert kennedy? >> that's a good question. not just a good one but one i'd like to answer. i don't think he could have run for president in 1968, because he would have spent eight years as kennedy's coo. the second term -- theirs is something that was speculated on. bobby would become secretary of defense. move macma anywhere a to state, get rid of rusk, and if historians are right that kennedy wanted to end the cold war and make deals and stay out of vietnam can he had to have a secretary of defense who clearly was speaking for him.
and somebody who was tough enough to look at the generals and say, no. so that's -- i can't imagine how you -- in the scene i have a texas senator who get ease selected. george herbert walker bush who says we don't do dynasties in america. you can say if there's -- there's no nixon presidency no watergate, although sit certainly possible another president could do other things. the fact that some stuff doesn't happen, doesn't mean other bad stuff doesn't happen. so that's where i am on that. >> thank you. >> okay. if we're done with the questions, thank you very much for coming. buy if you want. [applause]
schlessinger, jr. and ted sorenson. this is about an hour. >> i'm so delighted you're here and looking forward to this conversation. the first question is, 50 years after his death, president kennedy has an 80% approval rating among the american public. which is nothing to sneeze at in this contested age. is the public wrong? >> well, you know, first of all, it's 85%. >> it's gone up. >> and the result of the recent government shutdown, i suspect
if you did it today, it might be 90%. i don't think it's wrong in the sense that people in this country want to feel better about government. they want to feel better about the country's future. and i think that's what kennedy still gives people. you know, they compare him to other subsequent presidents. johnson, with vietnam. nixon, with watergate. jimmy carter, one term, the first bush, one term, the second bush, leaves under a cloud. and so they looked to two presidents to give them better hope and feeling about the government. first of all, kennedy -- reagan in this poll, which kennedy had 85% approval, reagan had 74%. so, people remember the
kennedy -- he put a man on the moon, that he called his administration the new frontier. he is frozen in our minds at the aim -- age of 46, and nobody could quite imagine if he walked into this room tonight, he would be 96 years old. it's 50 years later. but he is still young, vital, energetic, an exciting personality. and people are attached to that, and i think -- my teacher was richard hoff steader, a great historian, and he once said to me that america is the only country in the world that believes it was born perfect and strives for improvement. and his is what innocence kennedy gives people to this day. i'd say one other thing. which is that the kennedys are
american's dynasty. not the roosevelts or the bushes. and what people find so appealing about them is on the one hand they represent the fulfillment of the american dream. the irish catholic, who became fabulously rich and famous, you see, and on the other hand, so stark horse, that the oldest brother killed in world war ii, the oldest sister killed in a plane crash in france in 1948. the president assassinated. bobby kennedy assassinated. the president's son killed in a senseless plane crash in -- off cape cod. jacqueline kennedy died in her early 60s of cancer. ted kennedy, the horror at chappaquiddick where the young woman died in the accident. so they identify also with the
suffering that the family has gone through, because everybody worked through some kind of difficult any their lives. so it's the combination on the one hand of their fame and fortune and on the other hand their suffering, their tragedy. but they are really the dynastic family. >> explain the public's fascination. you tell us the truth and we have had a range of kennedy biographies, and then there was the tearing him down and the exposure of his womanizing and the concealment of his health problems. but i left this book feeling this was pretty positive portrait and my tickaway is you paint the picture of a president would came in with a lot of faith in his advisers and was willing to devery -- did he ever to them and that led to the bay
of pigs, but by the time of the cuban missile crisis he was responsible for his own decisions and resisted irrational action and saved the world from nuclear annihilation. >> he brought in what the david hallber symptom called the best and the brightest. he wanted intelligent and accomplished people to come in and be around him. he didn't know them. the only one he knew was, of course, his brother, bobby, who he made attorney general, and somebody said to him, you know, it's not a great idea to appoint your brother attorney general. he really doesn't have significant legal experience that would qualify him for the job. and kennedy said, i need someone i can put my feet up with and talk to candidly, because he did
not know dean rusk. he didn't know bob mcnamara. he didn't know stu douglas, who was eisenhower's secretary of the treasury, and bundy, who became his national security adviser, he knew him, but not very well from their associations, and the harvard board of -- whatever it's called. and -- harvard university faculty? >> right. you're hearing from a long-serving academic. anyway, he was comfortable with robert kennedy. and i must say the thing you never have are the many conversations, i think, he and bobby had behind the scenes. they're not tape recorded, they're not on paper. but people can detect that they'd come into the room and they'd meet with the cabinet or
they'd meet with the many advisers, and bobby would drop the hammer or the dime on somebody, and jack would sit there with a slight smile on his face because bobby was doing his bidding, and my guess is they work out what bobby was going to say before hand. so he was very comfortable with bobby. i call bobby the advisor in chief. he didn't have a chief of staff but bobby kennedy did it. just become more directly to your point, he grew in office. he learned that you can't just take at face value what advisers were telling him. he was badly burned by the bay of pigs experience. walked around afterwards saying how could i have been so stupid? and he saw charles degaulle at the end of may, shortly after that, and degaulle said to him, get the best advice you can, the
smartest people you can possibly bring into your administration. but at the end of the day you must make the decision. you're the one who has to decide what is appropriate and wise, and kennedy remembered what hari truman says, the buck stops here. so he grew and he was skeptical and he had greatest tension with the joint chiefs of staff. he battled with them over the issue of nuclear weapons. >> they -- as you say, both president kennedy and bobby kennedy come off much better than the joint chiefs and many of the advisers. they were pragmatic, cared about politics and argued for military restraint, and both the joint chiefs and people like bundy and macin marry -- mcna mara tarnished their reputation biz their performance in vietnam. why was kennedy better than his
advisers? >> well,. >> kennedy was deeply troubled by the fact -- i still teach'm in washington, and these young people 20 years old, they don't have a clue as to hugh frightened and concerned people were in the '50s and '60s about the possibility, indeed even the likelihood, that there could be a nuclear war. kennedy at one point said to somebody, in private, i'd rather my kids be red than dead. he never could have said that in public. but what worried him so much was the fact that the chiefs, when he came into office, that local
commanders in the field, if there were an incident with the soviets, that they could unleash a nuclear weapon, and bundy said to him, we need to get the nuclear war plan and we need to increase the controls over whether and when these weapons will be used. bundy called up the generals, the pentagon, in charge of the nuclear war plan, and said, we want to see it. the general said, i'm sorry, we don't show that. and bundy said, i don't think you understand. i'm asking for the president. and so then they had a briefing for kennedy, with charts and discussion of how many weapons they had and how they might be used, and they were talking about the possibility of dropping 170 atomic and nuclear bombs on moscow.
170. and that what they described would, in a war, wipe out hundreds of millions of people in russia, eastern europe, china, you see, and as kennedy walked out of the room he said to dean rusk, the secretary of state, and we call ourselves the human race. just was horrified at the thought that there could be such a conflict, and he would be the responsible person. he was the one who was going to pull the trigger. he didn't want any of them to have that control. he reserved it for himself, and of course, the open moment in that regard was in the cuban missile crisis when they wanted to bomb and invade, and he -- with mcnamara's help and advice he was ordered to diplomacy which resolved that crisis peacefully. he held the joint chiefs at arm's length throughout the crisis, and at the end of it, he
called them in to show them a certain deference. they came in, and they said to him, mr. president, you've been had. khrushchev is hiding the missiles in caves. the white house leaked this to the press. khrushchev wrote kennedy, depressants live in the caveman age. i'm no caveman. well, they had a plan to drop a nuclear bomb on cuba. one mega ton nuclear bomb. would have turned the island into a pile of rubble. let alone what it would have done to the south coast of florida. but they had come out of world war ii and their attitude is, if you're fighting a ruthless enemy you bomb them back to the stone age. you have an advantage, you use it. kennedy just didn't want to subscribe to this, and he thought they were off the wall.
he just resisted their advice. >> the missile crisis is rivetting and you tell the stories of the generals who are keen to absolutely have nuclear escalation and many of the advisors, including bundy, pushing him in the same direction, and the whole thing seems to have been saved slow communication, the fact they were able to get two letters from khrushchev in responsible to the second one, the peaceful one. could the world have been saved in the age of the internet? >> well, that's -- yeah, it's such a different world. it's so changed. and could kennedy have gotten away with the compulsive womanizing? could he have hidden his health problems? floshbill clinton found out, this is not something you can get away with. and -- but it was a different
time. and i interviewed several journalists, my first book on kennedy, and i asked them if they knew about the womanizing, and they said, yes, they did. but i said, why didn't you report it? they said, just wasn't done in the '60s. you didn't invade a president's private life in that way, and you were much more restrained. >> you acknowledge the most extreme excesses, the womanizing and the way he would humiliate his mistresses by making them be with his aides in the white house pool and so forth. you say he did it not because of the passion or the sex but because of the need for affirmation and attention. was that too generous? >> i think probably both help felt like in a sense he was a prince of the realm and he could get away with it. he was entitled. he was president. the most troubling thing i found
with him in that regard was the fact he seduced this 19-year-old, 20-year-old, had an fair with her for a year and a half. my story about that is that when i was working on that first volume, i read an oral history by the white house deputy press secretary, and those 17 blacked out pages, and i happened to meet her at the cocktail party in washington shortly after that, and i said to her, barbara, it's 40 years later. what about those blacked-out pages. she said, i'll open them for you. so i went to the archivist at the kennedy library and she said could i read the 17 pages and she shook her head and said, bob, please, don't get me in trouble with the ken kennedys. ask them for it direct live. well, needless to say, i didn't whet my appetite, and i --
>> an historian. >> got to do your research. and so i went back to her and she -- what i found there was that he was having this affair with that 19-year-old kid, that he seduced her in jackie's bedroom. anyway, on the eve of the publication of my book, the new york daily news called me up, and they said, who is this woman? what's her name? i said i don't know. barbara didn't tell me. didn't want to know. probably in her sixes in now. -- 60s now. leave her alone itch trust barbara is telling the truth. well, investigative journalists, they found out that this woman, her name was niemibarresford, her maiden system was at miss porter's school, and for three days running after that they ran headlines about kennedy's
monica. and on the first day they ran the headline on page 3. they had a big picture of monica lewinski and next to her a picture of me -- [laughter] >> you had to tell your wife, i decide not have -- >> i said to my wife, i don't even know the woman. anyway, these were the adventures a historian can get into. it really was something off the wahl wall about this. egads. president of the united states, 46 years old, and this young woman was baffled by him, and so it just was over the top. and so there was something unwholesome, one might say, about the way in which he behaved here, but again, he got away with it, and i don't think he would have been detected.
even if he had another five years in the white house, because the journalists didn't report it. >> did it have an effect on his leadership? he liked jackie kennedy to flatter him and tell him how great he was but told her nothing and she had to read the newspapers. this does lead to criticism and people who would challenge him? >> he and bob where were very guarded in many ways. joe, the father, once told them, never put anything on paper. and indeed, joe was the one who counseled them not to reveal jack's health problems, which were quite substantial. , because joe said, it can't do him any good. for the world to know he is sickly or has addison's disease and has this miserable back problem and other'm -- can't help him in any way at all.
so they were guarded and very protective of their image and reputation. now, joe kennedy, as early also 1920s, understood that public relations -- and he hired p.r. people to polish his image, and he was very mindful of this, and i think jack and bobby were, too. and joe told them, the only one you can really trust is the immediate members of your family. however close you may be to this aide or that aide or this cabinet member or that cabinet member, bobby is the only one you can really trust and i think that's the way they operated. >> health problems. would you reveal before any other historians, he was taking all sorts of pills during the crisis. how much of the health problems was the drugs he took for the condition and how much was the underlying condition. >> you know, jeff, i was mindful
of this when i gained access to the medical records because the committee wanted a professor at harvard, the other at yale, and then ted sorenson, and i talked sorenson into giving me access to the records. he didn't want to do it. the other two were ready to do it. so, sorenson didn't know what was in the records, and "the new york times" found the revelations so interesting that -- the book was about to come out -- the pressured the front page story about the revelations, because it was kind of shocking. the image of kennedy was of this robust, vital, active young man, who played touch football, weapon when in fact he was burdened by these terrible health difficulties, and on a host of different medications, and when i read the records i took with me to washington -- to boston, rather, a friend from
washington, -- jeffrey kellman, a wonderful physician, because i didn't have the expertise to understand what i was looking at, let alone the medications, and we sat there and looked at -- and he shook his heat and said, look at all these medications he is on day by day. so i set his medical records and the medications he was talking down alongside of the 13 days of the missile crisis, and what i found was he was extraordinarily stoic and able to -- because of taking the medications, i think, able to deal with the tensions and the pressures that were on him as a consequence of that crisis. and i think that people currently, or in recent years, have not complained about the coverup of his health problems because they see him as heroic, as stoic, and as someone who took the burdens of health
difficulties in stride. and southernson was -- sorenson was angry at me for revealing the material, and he would say everytime i saw him there, was no coverup, but ted kennedy told me he didn't know that much about his brother's health problems until he read my account. and he learned about his brother's health difficulties from my book, and arthur shot sin jerry and -- they were very positive about my book because they thought it made the president look courageous and stoic and i think that's how the public views the health situation, not as something to complain about as -- when he was president, but someone who -- it adds to the positive image of him. >> stoic, courageous, others are call, cerebral, not a natural
politician, more interested in reading historical biography, than in shaking hands, repeatedly, as i read this book, i thought of another president, and that is president barack obama. you have had dinner with president obama several times, as a group of historians summoned to talk with him. you have an impression on him? compare kennedy and obama in terms of leadership style and temperment. >> first off, i would say that if it weren't for kennedy i don't know that obama ever would have made it to the white house. because kennedy broke the hold of the protestant -- white protestant male on the office and opened the idea it could be a much broader group that can think about running for the office, and when we see a woman as president in the not too
distant future -- not lobbying for anybody now -- >> nonpartisan -- >> that's why i said that. and -- but we will see a woman, and at some point we may see an asian american, hispanic, but i think obama's presence there can be traced back to kennedy. and obama's quite interested in kennedy and interested in the history of the presidency. we have had four dinners with him, and at the first dinner he wanted to talk about how other presidents had achieved their transformative presidency. roosevelt, woodrow wilson, fdr, reagan. how did they achieve big transformations, and the second dinner he wanted to talk about how to reclaim his hold on the public and the united states because this is 2010 and he was slipping. 2011, he talked about the
election, the coming election of 2012, and tell you one anecdote. he complained about congress in particular michelle bachmann, shook his head and said, what she says about me, and so i said to him marx president, i guess you know what mark twain said about congressmen. shook his head. mark twain said, suppose you were a congressman and an idiot. but i repeat myself. [laughter] >> he loved it. but, yeah, coming back to your point, i think there are similarities. continuities. obama's very cerebral. is an academic, and kennedy wrote books, published books, and obama wrote books, and i think there's a certain affinity
for -- now kennedy was never a glad-hander and certainly obama is not a glad-hander. i have next 0 to him at one dinner and there's no small talk. he is very serious and it's all business, all the time, and that's fine with me. i'm an academic, too, but kennedy never really liked that kind of traditional boston, how is your grandma and your uncle so and so, and he never engaged in that type of chatter, and i think obama is very serious about what he -- and of course the knock on him has been that he didn't -- hadn't cultivated the people in congress the way lyndon johnson did, because johnson was the guy that pressed the flesh, and somebody said when lyndon backed you into a corner and breathing into your mouth you knew you were finished. so, i'm very -- a very, very
difficult style, and i think obama is a lot more like kennedy than compared to johnson. >> there are differences, though? both appointed experts, the best and the brightest, the green team, the all harvard and rhodes scholars but kennedy learned to stop deferring to them and exercising leadership by making a bold move on his own. has obama been similarly bold? >> jeff, i think obama's problem in a sense is that he has already been there a long time as presidential administrations go. he is the 44th president, and what always startles people is that there had been only 18 of the 44 presidents, only 18 who had been elected to a second term. pretty astonishing. and there's been only 13 who served eight years or more.
franklin roosevelt served for 12, but three of them never got to the second term. lincoln assassinated. mckinley assassinated, and nixon, forced to resign. obama will be just the 14th 14th president to serve eight years when he gets through his second term. but it's the second term curse. would we be sitting here talking in this way about kennedy if he had had a second term? ...
i think kennedy would have struggled too in a second term. this is all sheer speculation but kennedy of course comes down to us now as it's an open book. you can write anything onto it you want because he was killed at the age of six, only 1000 days in the white house. he had a sense of the ironic. he would have seen the irony in the fact that his early death gave him this enduring hold on the public and it is fascinating to me because when kennedy was assassinated a popular president elected to a second term, 50 years after his death hardly anyone remembered who he was but here we are a couple weeks away from kennedy's 50th anniversary and i'm telling you
i am inundated with requests from poland, from russia, from switzerland, from sweden, from denmark, american journalists and my dear departed mother used to say it's a case of crying with a loaf under either arm. [laughter] but i'm getting tired of it. i vowed after november 21, somebody said you write a book to get a subject so november 22 i don't want to talk about kennedy anymore. people are so eager. i can't imagine any other president about whom there is that sort of feeling. >> we have a few more weeks. i want to play it out and we do have a wonderful event here a few weeks ago sponsored by the
open university of kennedy -- what kennedy and lincoln's second term would it look like and you asked would he have persuaded to ask congress to pass legislation involving civil rights? on that count would he have achieved what johnson achieved? >> i don't think he would have had the great society energy and commitment that johnson had because kennedy was essentially a foreign-policy president. that is to say politics can unseat you but foreign politics can kill you. he would have run against barry goldwater and would have won it did victory the way johnson did. he would have carried big democratic majorities into the house and senate with him and i think he would have gotten the big tax cut, the federal aid to education, the medicare and the civil rights bills passed. that would have put him in the
lead with the most progressive 20th century presidential reformers alongside t.r. and wilson and even compared somewhat to fdr but i don't think he would have pushed beyond that. i think he would have pushed toward détente. i think we would have seen détente earlier with kennedy then we did with richard nixon because that cuban missile crisis was so sobering and it was so khrushchev and they make the nuclear test ban treaty which eliminated the pollution and radiation in the atmosphere and i think kennedy saw this as an opening towards a push with the soviets and he made the ruling and famous american speech in june of 63 in which he said we should rethink, rethink our relationship with the soviet
union. mainly the russian people and he praised the russian people as a great evil. he was looking toward i think some kind of accommodation, a movement away from the dangers of a nuclear war. and of course vietnam. he was under tremendous pressure from people like walt resto johnson's security adviser from vietnam and put ground forces. he did increase the number of advisers from roughly 600 to over 16,000 but he was so resistant to the idea putting in massive numbers of american ground troops. george ball his undersecretary under secretary of state said to
him mr. president, you put two or 300,000 ground troops into those jungles of vietnam and you will never hear from them again and kennedy said to him george you are as crazy as hell. i'm never going to do that. what would he have done about vietnam? we will never know. he didn't know. he didn't want to lose vietnam but he did to get deeply enmeshed in it. i love that and go to about he and arthur schlesinger. schlesinger help staring the 60 campaign. at the end of it bobby kennedy said to schlesinger arthur how would you like to be an ambassador and schlesinger said i would do anything i would like to come to the white house. a few days later schlesinger saw the president-elect and kennedy said to him so arthur i hear you're coming to the white house and schlesinger said i am?
i don't know what i will be doing their you can bet we will both be there for eight hours a day. these men they run for office and they promise you the moon. they tell you they are going to do this and that or like franklin roosevelt in 1932, the talk out of both sides of their mouths or they don't tell you what they are going to do. then you see governor christie last night on cnn after he was elected. he praised the people who voted for him and all the people of new jersey and he is one of them and they are part of him etc.. not a clue as to what he would do. smart politics because who knows what he will do you see? he just won a big election so kennedy, he didn't know. he wasn't sure but i think it's
clear he didn't want to escalate and get involved in that war. he didn't want to lose. maybe he would have bombed but i don't think he would have put 545,000 troops into vietnam. >> johnson of course was one of the most militarists of the cuban missile crisis and never learns the resistance of the bay of pigs. >> i teach my course is the fact that franklin roosevelt was exceptionally shrewd about making foreign-policy. in the run-up to world war ii he operated by the proposition that before you could have a stable consensus or a foreign-policy that might cost you blood and treasure, you needed to work hard to get the public committed to that foreign-policy. roosevelt, pearl harbor was a godsend to him. i'm not suggesting for a second that he in that he and anyway
engineered the surprise but it allowed him to unify the country you see, to fight world war ii. harry truman made the mistake of losing that consensus for the fighting in korea, it destroyed his presidency. johnson lost the consensus for the fighting in vietnam, destroyed his presidency. bush the mistake, weapons of mass destruction that weren't there. it undermines his leadership and left him with a terribly diminished popular support including katrina and the economic downturn, you see. we talked to obama about this and i said to him mr. president if you get into one of these wars without vital public commitments and consensus, it plays havoc with your domestic agenda because you lose your whole -- you lose your credibility. remember johnson's credibility
gap? i didn't know when lyndon was telling the truth greedy people this earlobe and scratched his chin you know he was telling the truth. when he -- you knew he was lying. [laughter] he didn't think it was funny but it was so revealing of the way in which his credibility was destroyed. when nixon said in a press conference i am not a crook, that's when his presidency was over. the president doesn't need to tell the press in the country i am not a crook. you need consensus. you need support from a wide array of people. otherwise we can't govern effectively but roosevelt understood that and he had a public face and he manipulated. the subsequent presidents like truman and johnson and bush,
they faulted on this count and they should have taken that fdr more seriously. >> this is the national constitution center so i have to ask you what was kennedy's constitutional legacy? when you think about that byron white who was deferential to congress the last avatar of bipartisan judicial restraint what was kennedy like on domestic surveillance, the cia and war powers? there was a recently released number justifying the plausible case. can you give us your thoughts on that? >> i think kennedy was one of those presidents early in the cold war who very much believed that what came first was national security and if you had to cross the line, if you had to extend the powers of the executive to a degree that had
been part of the country's history, you have to go ahead and do it and they were frustrated by congress. at one point they were so frustrated by congress bobby said to him come on on jack let's go start our own country. again he would say not start their own country but they were going to do what they had to do to control things and make for a successful foreign policy. during the steel crisis the conflict with the steel executives they turned loose the fbi and the irs and for those steel executives and there was the account of a dinner that jack and bobby were at with some of the people and somebody joked and said well bobby really put the squeeze on these guys with the irs and the fbi and kennedy said, oh bobby would never do
that. so inclined to say of course he did. but again the cold war, life and death. he was determined to do what he needs to do to defend the country. >> we saw the cia excesses and attempted assassinations that led to the church commission as well. >> jeff we will never know, i don't think we will ever know whether bobby and the president knew about castro assassination plots. schlesinger, arthur schlesinger was of course a great defender of kennedy and he said oh he didn't know the cia went wild and i don't know that's true. maybe the president didn't know
what did he call the? deniability, plausible deniability and maybe bobby knew and that i don't know. there are things there that we will never find out and they don't want you to find out. on the other hand, the three presidencies that we studied most avidly and extensively will be kennedy, johnson and nixon because we have all those tapes. fly on the wall. the ability to listen in on them talking. i guess we could take questions in a minute but i can't resist telling my favorite story about lyndon johnson. it's too off-color and funny not to tell. [laughter] there is a tape of lyndon johnson and i can't for the life of me understand why he made it. nixon had voice-activated tapes.
kennedy and johnson would turn the machine on or johnson would get a phonecall and go like this to his secretary. run the tape. there's a tape of johnson talking. talking to the president if hacker slacks. he said are you the fellow that makes hacker slacks? you made five pairs of pants last summer. i need five more pairs of pants. you have to give me more room in the because those pants the president of the united states, a white house tape. these tapes, we love it. >> kennedy comes off better in private than nixon or johnson. he didn't seem to let his guard down and he was this profane. was he just a more buttoned up her snout they. >> i think he was more buttoned
up but he was more self-confident. as he grew he grew in the presence and by the end of 1000 days i think he was much more comfortable in office and very confident that he would win the election. he joked with his aides in the said if we wanted run against barry goldwater we will get to sleep must earlier on election night than we did in 1960 knowing that the race against nixon was so terribly close. so he had a lot of self-confidence at that point and was convinced that -- and of course he did give that great american university speech still worth listening to today and his civil rights speech was very slow to come forward on civil rights but when he finally acted that speech was brilliantly done and from the heart, and was really very impressive.