THE CROWD AROUND THE LONELIEST MAN IN THE WORLD
BY IAN SCLANDERS, Maclean's Washington editor
Responsibility rests finally with the president, but his decisions — many of which can affect all Canadians — are reached with the help of a hard core of advisers, including at least one of the younger Kennedy brothers. A group portrait:
THE u. s. PRESIDENCY has often been dramatized as the “loneliest job in the world."
Yet actually John Fitzgerald Kennedy is constantly surrounded by his wife, children, brothers and sisters-inlaw. sisters and brothers-in-law; by friends from his newspaper reporting and navy and school days; by political cronies from his native Massachusetts; by experts in various fields of government; by top military brass: by a steady stream of royalty, statesmen and diplomats from foreign countries: by congressmen and officials of the Democratic Party: by individuals from all parts of the land who for one reason or another are important enough to be received by the chief executive: by an office staff of two hundred and seventy: by two hundred and fifty White House policemen and an unrevealed number of secret service men in plain clothes: and by a domestic staff of seventytwo, including gardeners.
He gets seventeen thousand letters a week — and enjoys reading those his mail sereeners send on as worthy of his attention. Occasionally lie’ll scribble a witty reply, like his note to a columnist who wrote to tell him Kennedy autographs were being sold for $75: “1 appreciate your letter about the market on Kennedy signatures ... in order not to depress the market ... I will not sign this letter."
Wherever he goes — and he went 124,000 miles in his first two years in the White House — he’s accompanied by aides and intimates on one of the three jet aircraft or two yachts that are at his disposal. Usually, three helicopters are needed to airlift the presidential party from the White House lawn to the base CONTINUED ON PAGE 41
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mam THE KENNEDY
continued froi~i page 27
When a new crisis breaks, John orders — "Get my brother Bob"
from which the jets take off. Traveling in or out of the U. S.. he's greeted at each stop by cheering throngs and
— unless he's simply on a holiday — by leaders of his own and other nations.
At home in Washington, John and Jacqueline Kennedy are the centre of what is. by long odds, the most brilliant and fascinating social circle in the history of the United States — a social circle that recently prompted an editor to label Washington "Versaillcs-on-the-Potomac." The label may be slightly wide eyed but it is not altogether unwarranted, for the Washington of the Kennedys, with its intellectuals, its emphasis on the arts, its quality of youth and eagerness and gaiety, is far removed from the Washington of the Eisenhowers and Trumans.
Why, then, is the presidency referred to as the loneliest job in the world?
The answer is that the president, when he has to “make a judgment"
— to borrow a Kennedy phrase —•pores over reports, and listens to advisers, and sifts and appraises recommendations. but, in the end. he is on his own. The ultimate decision is his. Ele is responsible for it.
In this age of nuclear buttons, of delicately balanced diplomacy, of enormous influence by the state over the lives and livelihood of humans, a serious miscalculation by the president of the U. S. could spell appalling disaster. The weight of knowing this, of carrying such a responsibility, must be almost too much for one man’s shoulders, which is why the presidency has been termed the loneliest job.
The fact is, though, that no one man could conceivably run the United States and shape its policies. If Kennedy makes a bad judgment, at least one of the reasons is that he has had bad advice. Because his decisions in many things bear nearly as much on Canada as on the U. S., Canadians have a particular interest in his advisers, in what sort of men they are. in how they think and react in given situations.
The chief of these advisers is Robert Francis Kennedy, John Kennedy’s thirty-seven-year-old brother and his attorney - general. John and Robert may see each other only a couple of times a week but they're in touch daily by telephone. As soon as he learned that the attempted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs had failed, John snapped at an assistant: “Get my brother Bob. It was Bob who probed the reasons why the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the State Department had so glaringly misinformed John about the prospects of success in Cuba; Bob who decided that Allen Dulles had outlived his usefulness as the “master spy" and boss ot the CIA; Bob who decided that John should have General Maxwell Taylor around to fill him in on military matters; Bob who barked at Un-
dersecretary of State Chester Bowles, who had talked out of turn to newspapermen about being against the Cuban adventure: ‘1 understand you were against this operation. Well, as of now you were for it." Shortly thereafter Bowles was kicked upstairs to a high-sounding but meaningless post and little has been heard of him since.
When the Berlin wall was raised in the summer of 1961 the first thing the president did, once again, was to summon Robert, who helped him plot the manoeuvres that checkmated the Soviet ploy. The president was on a trip to France when Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic was assassinated and trouble threatened to develop in the Caribbean. Bobby Kennedy immediately moved in on the State Department and the president, asked about this later, merely replied, "Oh. yes, that's because I was out of the country," thereby erasing any doubt that John Kennedy expects his lean, boyish-looking brother to double for him when he's not around.
Bob Kennedy, more and more, has concerned himself with international affairs — a concern reflected in his book. Just friends and brave enemies. which is based on the thirty-thousandmile round-the-world trip he and his irrepressible wife Ethel took in 1962. His thesis in this is that the United States must do more to convince other lands that it earnestly wishes to be friendly but will fight if it must to preserve freedom.
Hoffa calls Bobby vicious
The attorney-general sits in at meetings of the National Security Council, a small group that counsels the president on defense. From all accounts, when the Cuban missile crisis broke, he was one of those who urged moderate action — a naval quarantine — when hotter heads were shouting for an invasion or for the bombing of the missile bases. This, in a way, was out of character, for Robert Kennedy has acquired the reputation in Washington of being the toughest of the Kennedy brothers. One writer described him as “all knees and elbows," implying that if you got too close to him you were bound to be bruised. James Hoffa, of the Teamsters Union, with whom Bobby has been feuding for years, has stated that he's vicious and vindictive. In the 1960 presidential election campaign, his shortness and sharpness with campaign workers who wanted to do more loafing than working annoyed many old Democrat stalwarts. In New York, where Reform Democrats were battling the regular party organization, he told them bluntly: “I don’t give a damn if the state and city organizations survive after November, and I don't give a damn if you survive. I want to elect John F. Kennedy."
Yet in spite of his reputation both for barking and biting, when he was appointed attorney-general he cultivated the habit of dropping in on anonymous toilers in the Justice Department with a smile and a casual “Hello, I'm Bob Kennedy.” And he chuckled to an assembly of the department's younger lawyers that they had no reason to be dismayed about the future. “After all," he said, “I came to this department ten years ago
as an assistant attorney making 54,200 a year. But 1 had ability and integrity, and interest in my work, 1 stayed late hours, my brother became president, and now I'm attorney-general. Those qualifications were not necessarily listed in their order of importance.”
It was Robert Kennedy who negotiated secretly with the professional segregationist. Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi, to prevent bloodshed when the courts ordered the University of Mississippi to admit a Negro. James Meredith, as a student. Barnett found that in stirring racial hatred he had unleashed forces he couldn't control — two men were murdered and hundreds wounded in a gruesome riot. But, according to authorities, Kennedy's deal with Barnett and his threat to expose Barnett's double - dealing when Barnett reneged, prevented far worse bloodshed.
One point that invariably comes up when Robert Francis Kennedy is mentioned is whether he is a playboy. The suggestion that he is stems from stories of guests being pushed or falling into the swimming pool at the ten-acre Kennedy estate at McLean. Virginia. Those who know Bob Kennedy well say that far from being a playboy, lie verges on puritanism. But he and his wife, who have seven children and expect an eighth, are friskier than the average couple — so much so that a family friend, David Hackett. once wrote iif F.tliel: "Never treat her
either as pregnant or as a woman." This friskiness has propelled certain of their guests into the swimming pool, one of them Pierre Salinger, Presi-
dent Kennedy's rotund press secretary, who is reported to have surfaced with his cigar still burning. The veteran White House reporter. Merriman Smith, in his book. The good new days, says:
“A friend of mine observed a party at the Robert Kennedys' where the traditional shoving - into - pool - fullyclothed rite was observed more than usual. I felt perfectly horrible.' he told me, ‘when I saw before my own eyes these people bouncing in and out of that pool entirely sober.' ”
The best politician of all
When John Kennedy appointed Robert Kennedy attorney-general, pundits and editorial writers screamed about nepotism. The president predicted. quite accurately, that the criticism would fade out and Bobby would prove himself to be a good man for the job. When Edward Moore Kennedy was elected a senator from Massachusetts last fall, the president preserved a discreet silence, leaving it to Robert to say, “Teddy is a better natural politician than any of us."
Teddy, age thirty, height six feet two, weight two hundred pounds, started showing what Robert means the day he hit Washington —and hit is the right word, for he had more impact on the capital than all the other new senators combined. His platform had been that he could do more for Massachusetts than his Republican opponent. George Cabot Lodge, and his Washington arrival coincided with an announcement of a
whopping increase in the defense contracts awarded his state. Next, he chucked the drab government-owned furniture out of his senate office suite and. with the finest products of Massachusetts furniture and textile plants, plus Massachusetts handicrafts and art. converted it into what resembled a Massachusetts exhibit at a world fair. American newspapers played up the transformation. The Washington Post, for example, devoted almost a page to it. complete with pictures of the strikingly handsome young senator against a ship-model background, although the Post had been among the papers that had expressed strong feelings that Teddy, in Washington, would be one Kennedy too many and that he should stay out of federal politics.
To cap the official debut of the Teddy Kennedys, Teddy's wife Joan had a tea for Washington's female reporters and they rushed back to their hot little typewriters to rave about her charm. She is. as it turns out. as beautiful in her blonde way as Jackie is in her brunette w'ay. and as unassuming and vivacious as the unassuming and vivacious Ethel. Bobby's wife, who designates politicians as "goodies" and “baddies." depending on whether they are for or against the Kennedys. Joan chatted with the newshens about the braces she once wore on her teeth, about her experiences as a fashion model while she was at college and as a TV shill for the sponsors of the Eddie Fisher and Perry Como shows, about cooking, about getting smart clothes without
spending much money on them, and about w'hether new or second-hand cars are the best buy. She sounded like the bride of a junior executive — and the newshens agreed that if this was a pose, it was a brilliant piece of acting, and whether it was or wasn't, it was swell copy for the social sections.
Teddy has been at the White House a lot since he took his seat in the senate — a seat which is one of a hundred and which, under the U. S. system of government, gives him approximately the status a cabinet minister w'ould have in Canada. Even though you'd expect him to drop in on his brother fairly frequently, his calls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have stirred speculation. Bobby Kennedy is spoken of these days as the assistant president. Will Teddy, sooner or later, be the assistant-assistant? It seems unlikely and politically impractical. but the Kennedys are an improbable family and the record indicates that the Kennedys favor the Kennedys, first, last and always.
Meanwhile, who are the top advisers who are not of the Kennedy clan?
The three with the most prestige are the secretary of state. Dean Rusk: the secretary of defense. Robert McNamara: and the secretary of the treasury, Douglas Dillon. Rusk and McNamara, who have adopted the Kennedy custom of going hatless and coatless and occasionally look halffrozen doing it. fall into the familiar American category of “self-made" men. Dillon, while the son of a multimillionaire and the head of the ¡treat
banking firm of Dillon, Read and Co., is only two generations removed from Poland’s ghettos.
Rusk, bald and husky, says perceptively that he looks like a bartender. He was born in backwoods Georgia in 1909 and delivered by a veterinarian in the absence of the family physician. His father, a preacher until he lost his voice, was a cotton grower and mail carrier. Rusk worked in a law office and bank and waited on boarding house tables to go to college in North Carolina, and there won a Rhodes scholarship that took him to Oxford. After returning home from England he taught in a girls’ school and studied law.
He was an army officer in the Far East in the war, then joined the state department and rose to be deputyundersecretary, the third-highest rank. When McCarthyism made Far East policy so hot that cautious careerists in the department shunned it. Rusk stuck out his pugnacious chin and voluntarily stepped down a notch in rank and pay to be assistant secretary for the Far East. He straightened out the mess and in 1952 quit to head the Rockefeller Foundation. Rusk, who had known harsh poverty as a boy, distributed $250 million in the next eight years, much of it to improve health and education in underdeveloped lands.
You can’t get into trouble very easily doling out private charity. With government handouts, the reverse is true, and history's most controversial give-away, foreign aid. is one of the sizzling coals Rusk has been juggling for two years. Some others: Cuba. Russia, China, the Berlin Wall, the pompous and headstrong de Gaulle, the ancient and difficult Adenauer, the slippery and treacherous Tshombe, the right-wing drop-the-bomb-now super-patriots of the U. S. congress, and the southern and not-so-southern hash-house proprietors who periodically affront ambassadors from Africa by refusing to serve them. Rusk handles the live coals calmly but occasionally gets burned.
As secretary of state, he has to entertain and be entertained more than any of his cabinet associates: When the parties are over, his bedtime reading consists of diplomatic reports. He has to absorb digests of the three hundred thousand words a day that pour into the state department from far-flung embassies and outposts, so that he can brief John Kennedy on what is really happening in Katanga and Vietnam. Is his information to the president accurate? Does he advise him wisely?
The information can only be as accurate as the foreign-service officers who provide it. If they boob, he boobs. But the ambassadors in key posts, at least, are better qualified than they used to be. 1 hey are no longer appointed solely because they have contributed to campaign funds, as they were in the past. As for Rusk’s advice, observers note that he's cool and imperturbable, not a man to jump to a rash, hasty conclusion. They note, too. that he s stubborn, a hard customer at an international bargaining table. Some chalk the stubbornness up as an asset, a sign that he won’t be bamboozled, while others account it a liability and say he doesn’t know
when to give an inch to take a mile.
Robert McNamara, serious, bespectacled and forty-six, got famous overnight, as everybody knows, by resigning from his $410,000-a-year job as president of Ford Motors to be the $25,000-a-year secretary of defense. In his iar lower paid and far harder position, he operates behind the blanket of virtual secrecy that surrounds the biggest office building on earth, the Pentagon. Yet the word leaks out, once in a while, that he
tries to run the place like an auto plant, and to economize by standardizing weapons and eliminating unnecessary staff.
He has slight hope of succeeding because the Pentagon is more iike the Metropolitan Opera than Ford Motors, the rivalry among different branches of the military being iike the rivalry among opera singers. The army, navy and air force each wants to be the mostest, and, in keeping with tradition, the marines are in there
fighting. McNamara, who has a Harvard degree in business administration, was an air-force captain in the war — an unexalted rank that doesn't sit well with admirals and generals when he cuts them down to size. And as though the battling brass weren't enough, he has to cope with their loyal allies — the lobbyists and propagandists of the weapon makers, who throw money around almost like the defense department itself, and who are aided and abetted by congressmen
who want fat contracts for their own districts.
McNamara’s duties arc multiple: to advise Kennedy and congress what weapons and how many men arc needed to keep U. S. military power the strongest in the world, to procure the most efficient weapons at the least possible cost, to spend about sixty percent of every tax dollar, and to prevent the U. S. from falling utterly and completely into the clutches of the military-industrial complex that
Dwight Eisenhower warned about as he moved out of the White House. He has. I gather, made some progress against this complex, but it isn't as easy to sec as the Washington monument. II his thankless job depresses him, there arc rumors that potent elements in the Republican party would be happy to offer him a presidential nomination.
Douglas Dillon, tall, elegant, every inch a Harvard man, as secretary of the treasury is the over-all boss of the
uncertain U. S. economy. He has played the roulette tables at Monte Carlo hut right now is playing for stakes that might break a nation, not just the casino bank. He's gambling that by spending more and taxing less, by budgeting for expenditures of close to SI00 billion and a deficit of some SI 2 billion, he can. in the words of John Kennedy, “get the economy moving again."
This is an odd philosophy for a Republican, yet Dillon is very much a
Republican, a hold-over from the Eisenhower regime, which he served as ambassador to France and later as the state department’s economic expert. He was appointed ambassador to France partly because of his Republican campaign contributions and partly because he had. and still has, his own vineyard at Bordeaux. An art collector, a wartime naval flier, and an old pal of the Rockefeller brothers, he's a grandson of Samuel Lapowski, a Pole who migrated to the U. S. and took the name Dillon. Sam's son Clarence built up the investment firm of Dillon. Read. He was a Wall Street contemporary of John Kennedy’s father Joe and accumulated a hundred million dollars.
Rusk. McNamara and Dillon are, apart from Robert Kennedy, the cabinet members with whom the president is most frequently in touch. They have private phone connections with the White House and the president, who has insomnia, occasionally rings them in the small hours of the morning to sound out an idea he has just had.
Yet these men see less of John Kennedy than advisers who are not of cabinet rank. The man who secs most of him. probably, is a bright, humorous Boston Irishman named David Powers, who has an immense talent for telling Irish jokes and memorizing sports statistics. Powers, although an assistant to the president, scorns the Ivy League dress of his White House associates, likes gaudy neckties and has a fountain pen clipped in the breast pocket of his jacket. He is not — definitely not — an egghead, but he does qualify as the president's inseparable companion, can sense his moods, and knows when to spin a yarn and when to be silent. Powers and Kennedy swim together once or tw'ice a day in the tepid White House pool — Kennedy's main form of exercise since he twisted his woundweakened back ceremonially planting a tree during a visit to Ottawa. They stroll together on the White House grounds and go to baseball and football games. It is unlikely that Powers offers Kennedy advice on foreign affairs but a president, besides being president, must be a politician and keep his political fences mended. 1 his is where Powers fits in — he has that Boston-Jrish flair for feeling the pulse of the voters. When Kennedy met him in 1 946, Powers wxts living with his married sister and her ten children on the third floor of a tenement house. Kennedy was campaigning for congress, knocked on the door, introduced himself with a warm handshake, and asked Powers to vote for him. Pow'ers. u'ho had sold newspapers in the streets when he was ten. who later ushered at five masses each Sunday at the Catholic church in his neighborhood, who had been a census enumerator and knew everybody for miles around, did more than vote for Kennedy. He got out and canvassed for him — and has been working for him ever since.
Powers belongs, properly, in the somewhat vague coterie publicized as the "Irish Mafia." So does Lawrence Francis O'Brien who alternates between a walnut-paneled White House of f ice and an office on C apitol Hill. Larry O'Brien, once a rush-hour bartender in his immigrant-fathers hotel
and a local president of the hotel and restaurant employees’ union, got a law degree at Northeastern University and then became a political campaign manager, first for a Boston congressman, then for John Kennedy. In 1959 he traveled a hundred thousand miles, setting up Kennedy organizations through the U. S.. and his duties nowconsist of doing all that can he done to persuade congress to implement Kennedy’s program.
Pierre Salinger, the president’s press secretary and adviser on public relations, counts French Canadians among his forebears. Salinger straddles the Irish Mafia and the eggheads. He was a child prodigy at the piano and performed on the concert stage. He was a teenage prodigy at journalism. He was the twenty-year-old skipper of a PI boat in the Pacific, then a magazine writer, then an investigator for a racket-busting senate committee that had John Kennedy as one of its leading members and Robert Kennedy as its chief counsel. Inevitably, Salinger teamed up with the Kennedys.
Which brings us to the eggheads in the palace guard. In lists of White House officials, the name of Theodore ('. Sorensen, special counsel to the president, is accorded top hilling. Sorensen, soft-spoken and scholarly looking, grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and his father, a fighting Liberal, was once Nebraska’s attorney-general. Ted Sorensen graduated from university in 1951 and headed for Washington where, after a brief experience as a government lawyer, he was hired by John Kennedy, the newly elected senator from Massachusetts. He now' functions in the rarefied realm of ideas and policy and helps the president prepare speeches and messages to congress. Sorensen may consult a dozen departments and interview' scores of executives as a preliminary step in the preparation of a single policy message.
Whether Sorensen is more impor-
”tr iriiwnii w«vjtaa
tant to the White House hierarchy than McGcorge Bundy, the president's special assistant for national security affairs, or Bundy is more important than Sorensen, is an unresolved argument among Washington correspondents. But it's certain that Bundy, former dean of Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences, is extremely important, exerting a major influence on security policies — policies that embrace both military and diplomatic areas. Bundy belongs to a Boston Brahmin family — a family studded with distinguished soldiers, poets, scholars, lawyers, diplomats.
He himself is, curiously, a product of Yale, not Harvard, and a Republican, not a Democrat. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1949 and was named dean of arts and sciences in 1953, when he was thirty-four. When Kennedy was elected president, he brought Bundy to Washington even though Bundy had worked actively for the Republican Party. Only the members of the National Security Council really know what kind of advice Bundy gives Kennedy, although he's generally numbered among those w'ho urged the Bay of Pigs misadventure. If that incident put a shadow on him, he has shed it long since, and at the moment is striding briskly and riding high — the very prototype of a New Frontiersman.
There tire, of course, other advisers — advisers of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Those I've mentioned arc simply notable samples. Can they give John Kennedy the advice that will enable him to prevent war? Can they give him the advice that will enable him to restore health to North America’s faltering economy? Those questions, in which Canadians are so vitally interested, can't he answered. But at least John Kennedy’s advisers look as though they are trying. ★
A final article on the Kennedy family will appear in a forthcoming issue.