Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nixon - ‘the greatest shit’

‘I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last.’ This is from the diary of Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., one of the United States’s most important postwar historians. Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. As a young man, he served in the administration of John F. Kennedy, a contemporary and friend from Harvard, and subsequently he wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book about Kennedy’s White House. He kept diaries for almost all the second half of the 20th century, a feat which was only revealed by his agent in 2006. Schlesinger then asked his two oldest sons to edit the journals, but he died as they were completing the task. Publication, a few months later, was hailed as a landmark event in the history of American letters. Indeed, key moments in the diary include the Bay of Pigs crisis, the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the impeachment of Nixon.  

Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 15 October 1917, but he later took the middle name of his father (Meier), a prominent historian at Harvard,
 Massachusetts. He, himself, graduated from Harvard in 1938, and spent a year at Cambridge University before returning to Harvard as a research fellow. He married Marian Cannon in 1940, they would have four children. After failing his military medical, he joined the Office of War Information, and from 1943 to 1945 served as an intelligence analyst in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA. In 1945, he published The Age of Jackson based on a series of lectures he had given in 1941 entitled ‘A reinterpretation of Jacksonian democracy. The book won a Pulitzer Prize, and the following year Schlesinger was appointed associate professor (then a full professor from 1954) at Harvard.

From a young age, Schlesinger played an active role as a Democrat in state and national politics, being heavily involved in Averell Harriman's campaign for the 1952 presidential nomination, and then helping Adlai Stevenson during his unsuccessful 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. Schlesinger then aligned himself with Senator John F. Kennedy, a friend from Massachusetts. After Kennedy’s election in 1960, he took extended leave from Harvard to join the Kennedy administration, serving as a Latin American expert and a liaison with the academic community. After the President’s assassination, Schlesinger returned to academic life. In 1965, he published A Thousand Days an account of the Kennedy White House that won him a second Pulitzer Prize. A year later, he became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and settled in Manhattan. 

In 1970, Schlesinger divorced Marian, and the following year he married Alexandra Emmet Allan, with whom he had a further child. Though an academic, his intellectual life remained focused on politics through his influential books and speaking tours (and, occasionally, through speechwriting services and giving advice to Democrat campaigns). For many years, he was considered the leading intellectual of postwar liberalism. He died in 2007. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, New York Public Library, Notable Biographies, The New York Times, JFK Library, or Spartacus.

Schlesinger kept diaries for most of his adult life, and these were regularly transcribed by his secretary, yet even his family knew little about them. They were found in 2006 in Schlesinger’s office by his agent. Soon after, Schlesinger asked his two oldest sons - Andrew and Stephen - to edit them for publication. His publisher, The Penguin Press, made the decision to publish the journals in a one-volume abridged edition in time for Schlesinger’s 90th birthday, in mid-October 2007. Despite the short deadline, the sons took up the challenge, and were able to consult their father from time-to-time. They noted, however, that ‘there was astonishingly little he wished to take out’. However, their father died before they could complete the task, though publication went ahead that same year.

The journals are largely concerned with public life: ‘While he did write about his family and his two wives,’ the sons say, ‘his mind was always most keenly focused on the events of the day.’ In particular, they say, he followed closely the quadrennial Democratic presidential conventions for they ‘marked the great moments of possible change in the country, but also signaled the time when everyday citizens had a chance to vent their feelings and take action in a democratic way.’ And just as fascinating for him, they add, were the political campaigns that followed the conventions: ‘Like an anthropologist picking through the scattered debris of an ancient site, our father observed these races carefully and assessed their building blocks, their strategic imperatives and their often messy internal structures.’

According to the publisher: ‘These are not personal journals of the “where I had lunch” variety; this is one of twentieth-century America’s greatest moral and intellectual forces chronicling the big stories of his and our time, usually from the inside out. Their publication is truly a landmark event and a fitting opportunity to celebrate a most extraordinary American life.’ The following extracts are taken from the UK edition (Atlantic Books, 2008) of Journals, 1952-2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. as edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger (first published in the US by Penguin Press, 2007).

6 February 1961
‘I settled down in an office in the East Wing of the White House and tried to find out what I was supposed to do. I had the impression that JFK was equally baffled, and he had somewhat more weighty matters on his mind. McGeorge Bundy was most helpful in this sterile period, as was Fred Holborn. The others at the White House went about their business.

JFK decided to have a personal representative accompany [George McGovern] the Food For Peace mission and underline his concern about general Latin American problems. Because he had been told of the disaffection of the Latin American intellectual community, the choice fell on me. I guess he decided that this would dramatize as effectively as anything the shift from the Old to the New Frontier. My first reaction to the proposal that I should go was that it sounded like a WPA project. But on consideration it seemed to present opportunities; and in any case I had no real choice but to go (though JFK put it up to me in a manner which would have permitted me to decline).

What Latin America needs above all is revolution - not proletarian or peasant revolution, but middle-class revolution. Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have achieved semi-revolutions. The other countries (how rashly I generalize) remain under the control of the landholding oligarchy. This oligarchy constitutes the chief barrier to the middle-class revolution and, by thwarting the middle-class revolution, may well bring about the proletarian revolution.

The gap between the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere is widening - i.e., our living standards are rising faster than theirs.’

18 April 1961
‘The pace began to quicken in Cuba over the weekend. On Saturday, fliers landed in Florida after attacks on Cuban air fields and claimed to be defectors. Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, Stevenson in New York was permitted by the State Department to testify to this effect in his UN speech Saturday afternoon. They were not defectors. This, plus the impression given Stevenson by the CIA that no action was imminent, made him unhappy and suspicious over the turn of events. The President, who probably had misgivings of this own, responded to this mood and called off an air strike scheduled for Monday morning. This meant that the landings at the Bay of Pigs had to take place under the guns of what remained of the Cuban Air Force. In particular, the Cuban T-33s [Lockheed jets] turned out to be far more effective than any of us had been led to suppose. This created havoc on Monday and Tuesday. In addition, Castro’s tanks reached the beachhead sooner than had been expected. And the landings failed to set off mass uprisings behind the line. By Tuesday evening, it looked to be all over. It was a grim and sad two days. Many fine men have been killed or lost; and one cannot resist the belief that this was an ill-considered and mistaken expedition.

I had seen Scotty Reston Monday afternoon. At the end of the afternoon I reported this to the President, who decided that it might be a good idea to have Scotty in for luncheon on Tuesday.
JFK was in superb form at lunch. Scotty went away starry-eyed (as did I). We talked a little about Cuba, though without going into operational detail. The President made it clear that he felt he had been given poor advice by the CIA. “I probably made a mistake in keeping Allen Dulles on,” he said. “It’s not that Dulles is not a man of great ability. He is. But I have never worked with him and therefore I can’t estimate his meaning when he tells me things. We will have to do something about the CIA. I must have someone there with whom I can be in complete and intimate contact - someone from whom I know I will be getting the exact pitch.” He added, “I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department. He is wasted there. Byron White could do that job perfectly well. Bobby should be in the CIA.” (In my view, the President is dead right.) He spoke about all this in excellent humor. “Dulles,” he said, “is a legendary figure, and it’s hard to operate with legendary figures. . . It is a hell of way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business - that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA. McNamara has dealt with Defense; Rusk has done a lot with State; but no one has dealt with the CIA.”

Given the faltering of the Cuban adventure, the next question is whether we should accept defeat or enlarge our support of the rebels. Stewart Alsop, with whom I had a drink at the Metropolitan Club before the lunch, had argued that defeat would cause irreparable harm; that we had no choice but to intervene, if necessary, to avert disaster. But the President had already made his mind up on this. He felt that defeat in Cuba would obviously be a setback; but that it would be an incident, not a disaster. The test had always been whether the Cuban people would back up a revolt against Castro. If they wouldn’t, we could not impose a new regime on them. But would not U.S. prestige suffer if we let the rebellion flicker out? “What is prestige?” said the President. “Is it the shadow of power or the substance of power? We are going to work on the substance of power. No doubt we will be
kicked in the ass for the next couple of weeks, but that won’t affect the main business.”

After the luncheon, I joined Mac [Bundyj and Ken O’Donnell in the President’s office. Ken, who has penetrating good sense on practically everything, suggested the general line: the Cuban insurgents should say that they achieved their basic objectives - supply and reinforcement -  and vanish into the hills. The President was still playing around with the idea of evacuating the patriots from the beaches; but Mac feared that this would provide evidence of U.S. intervention without bringing us any gains. I was glad to see that Mac accepted the situation and did not favor the commitment of U.S. forces. In an interlude, we discussed the CIA situation. Mac felt that Dulles had more misgivings about the project than he had ever expressed to the President, and that he had not done so out of loyalty to Bissell. As for Bissell, Mac simply said that he personally would not be able to accept Dick’s estimates of a situation like this again. Mac did not feel that the cancellation of the air strike had fundamentally changed the situation; it would not have altered the immense Castro advantage on the ground. His conclusion is that Castro is far better organized and more formidable than we had supposed. (For example, the insurgents appear to have run out of pilots, despite the months of training.)

All in all, a gloomy day. If this thing must fail, it is just as well that it fails quickly. But I cannot banish from my mind the picture of these brave men, pathetically underequipped, dying on Cuban beaches before Soviet tanks.’

6 August 1962
‘I must confess that the report yesterday of Marilyn Monroe’s death quite shocked and saddened (but did not surprise) me. I will never forget meeting her at the Arthur Krim party following the JFK birthday rally at Madison Square Garden in May. I cannot recall whether I wrote anything down at the time, but the image of this exquisite, beguiling and desperate girl will always stay with me. I do not think I have seen anyone so beautiful; I was enchanted by her manner and her wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her - as if talking to someone under water. Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me, but one never felt her to be wholly engaged. Indeed, she seemed most solicitous of her ex-father-in-law, Arthur Miller’s father, a baffled and taciturn man whom she introduced to the group and on whom she constantly cast a maternal eye. The only moment I felt I touched her was when I mentioned that I was a friend of Joe Rauh. This produced a warm and spontaneous burst of affection - but then she receded into her own glittering mist.

Late yesterday afternoon I went out to the Rauhs’ for a swim. Both Joe and Olie were saddened by the news. Olie talked about Marilyn as a guest, her fear of facing people, and the complicated stratagems she went through when she finally, for example, had to confront a press conference. After keeping the group waiting for two hours and a half, she examined herself in the mirror, saw the outline of her panties through her summer dress, removed them, put on white gloves, saying to Olie, “You don’t know these people; if they saw my hands, they would write that my nails were not polished enough,” and walked in agony downstairs. Later the CBS man said to Olie, “I have never seen anyone so nervous at an interview in my life.” ’

10 May 1974
‘We continue to make progress. I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last. So, when he went on TV on 29 April and said, with apparent perfect confidence, that the release the next day of his expurgated version of some of the tapes would show “once and for all” that everything he had done with regard to Watergate was “just as I have described them to you from the very beginning,” I did not believe it for a moment.

One’s sense that he is now hopelessly immured in a dream world leads me to believe that he will not resign, at least without a deal. I am also more sure than ever that the Senate will convict and remove him. This is the most solemn vote most of those senators will ever cast, and then, if ever, they will vote their consciences. Moreover, none among them has any personal affection for or loyalty to Nixon, and those Republicans up for reelection know they will do far better if Gerald Ford is President.

I may well change this view, but Henry Kissinger, despite his work in the Middle East, seems to me one of the most disgusting figures in this whole business. Yesterday Dick Rovere, Martin Mayer and I were chatting at the long table in the Century about Kissinger and especially about his mania for secrecy and about the panic he evidently fell into when Dan Ellsberg handed over the Pentagon Papers. After a moment I said, rather loudly, “In my view Kissinger and Ellsberg deserve each other.” A short while later, as I left the table, I was hailed by someone sitting directly behind me. I need hardly say that it was Ellsberg. He gave no indication that he had heard my remark, though he could hardly have missed it, given the authoritative tone in which it was uttered. We talked a few minutes. He seemed more egomaniacal than ever and affected to think that further and harsher prosecutions lay in store for him.

The movement toward impeachment moves slowly ahead. I encountered in my two Washington trips a certain pessimism as to whether anything will happen. Peter Lisagor thinks that Congress is such a cowardly body that Nixon will survive. Rowland Evans also thinks that Nixon will pull through. I continue not to think so.’

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