March 1, 2007


Arthur Schlesinger, Historian of Power, Dies at 89 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 3/01/07, NY Times)

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the historian whose more than 20 books shaped discussions for two generations about America's past and who himself was a provocative, unabashedly liberal partisan, most notably in serving in the Kennedy White House, died last night in Manhattan. He was 89.

The cause was a heart attack, said Mr. Schlesinger's son Stephen. He died at New York Downtown Hospital after being stricken in a restaurant.

Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mr. Schlesinger exhaustively examined the administrations of two prominent presidents, Andrew Jackson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, against a vast background of regional and economic rivalries. He strongly argued that strong individuals like Jackson and Roosevelt could bend history.

The notes he took for President John F. Kennedy to use in writing his own history, became, after the president's assassination, grist for Mr. Schlesinger's own "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House," winner of both the Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 1966.

His 1978 book on the president's brother, "Robert Kennedy and His Times," lauded the subject as the most politically creative man of his time but acknowledged that Robert had played a larger role in trying to overthrow President Fidel Castro of Cuba than the author had acknowledged in "A Thousand Days."

Mr. Schlesinger worked on both brothers' presidential campaigns, and some critics suggested he had trouble separating history from sentiment. Gore Vidal called "A Thousand Days" a political novel, and many noted that the book ignored the president's sexual wanderings.

Richard Hofstadter was fortunate enough to die before having to watch the zeitgeist turn completely against him. Meanwhile, Mr. Schlesinger became something of a tragicomic figure as he raged against Republican presidents for exactly those foreign policies that he lauded in Democratic presidents; as the economic policies of the latter failed spectacularly and were rejected by the the former, but more importantly by History; and as younger folk on the Left followed his liberal orthodoxy to its inevitable ugly conclusions in victimology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2007 7:28 AM

Didn't he also write the book that Kennedy accepted the Pulitzer prize for?

Posted by: erp at March 1, 2007 12:29 PM

I thought it was Theodore Sorensen.

Posted by: Bryan at March 1, 2007 2:44 PM

Sorensen, Schlesinger, Galbraith, whoever. Kennedy had a staff of Harvard mouthpieces. I don't think he ever had an actual political thought in his career.

Posted by: h-man at March 1, 2007 3:35 PM

"I gotta get a piece of that..."

Posted by: JFK at March 1, 2007 4:10 PM

I might have told this story before here, but when my dad worked in the financial world in NY in the 70s and early 80s, he had a blue-blood investment banker boss who had grown up with the Kennedys in Hyannisport. The guy was older than JFK, but was friends with his brother Joe Jr., who of course died in the war.

This guy said that Joe Jr was by far the class of the lot. Intelligent, charming, etc, and would have made a good President. Jack he said was a brainless playboy, Bobby a little pain in the a**, and Ted borderline retarded.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 1, 2007 4:34 PM

Jim in Chicago:

If you read the section dealing with JFK from Paul Johnson's book that I sent you, you'll see that Johnson pegged him as a sufferer of Addison's Disease (which was rumored during his presidential campaign) and noted that an awful lot of time and energy was devoted to covering this up. That book was published in about 1997. Then some historian, possibly Robert Dallek, wrote about it a few years ago and suddenly everybody was talking about his big discovery.

Note that when a conservative historian wrote about it, the mainstream media did not pay attention.

Johnson's book is great in the section on JFK because it meticulously details the thick layers of myth and malarkey that Joe Kennedy built around his son, and the willingness of the 1960s press to go along with it. I remember one of the network anchors -- it might've been Dan Rather -- choking up after the tragic death of Kennedy's son while reading the famous line "There once was a place called Camelot."

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 1, 2007 7:18 PM


My understanding is Kennedy conceived of the idea and contributed some notes (largely about John Quincy Adams), at which point Ted Sorenson and a team of academics and writers transformed it into something that would win a Pulitzer. I have not heard the Schlesinger was involved, however.

Joe Kennedy sicced Democratic lawyer Clark Clifford on columnist Drew Pearson after he said the book was ghostwritten (Clifford was the guy who later called Reagan an "amiable dunce," and my recollection is that Andrew Ferguson then called him an "unctuous sleazeball").

There's more information here, and also in this book.

So far as I know, Sorenson has never fessed up to writing the book. My impression of him has long been that he was more than willing to compromise himself in the interests of promoting the JKF myth and his own self-interested role as a Kennedy wise man. I'll admit I could be biased, however, as like many Nebraskans I'm unhappy with him for once calling my home state a place to get away from and a place to die.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 1, 2007 7:50 PM

Michael Beschloss is devastating on JFK's possible mental incapacity due to medication in The Crisis Years.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2007 8:55 PM

Matt, I'm getting the Kennedy sycophants mixed up and strangely enough, I actually own and have read Johnson's book.

Posted by: erp at March 2, 2007 8:18 AM