Excerpt from The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Kennedy Men


by Laurence Leamer

The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer X
The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2001, 912 pages
    Oct 2002, 928 pages


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Kennedy was no more willing to live in what he considered a pedestrian decor than he was to surround himself with pedestrian human beings whose ideas were as much reproductions as the furniture. "I won't have this," he said. "We must replace these with the correct pieces."

He took the derivative, mediocre furniture as a perfect metaphor for what he considered the derivative, mediocre presidency of his predecessor. "I'd like to make this White House the living museum of the decorative arts in America," he said, a task that Jackie would brilliantly fulfill.

As Kennedy settled into office, the White House was inundated by phone calls, few of which reached Lincoln's secretarial desk. One of the few calls that did reach the president's office on his sixth day in office was from Marguerite Oswald, whose son, Lee Harvey Oswald, had defected to the Soviet Union. Mrs. Oswald had come to Washington seeking help, and though apparently the president did not talk to her, Lincoln noted the call in the official list of calls.

Kennedy had been in office for less than a month before those officials who could not speak the president's idiom were pushed to the antechambers. "Jack feels that Stewart Udall [Secretary of Interior], though very bright, talks too much and that Arthur Goldberg [Secretary of Labor], also very bright, goes on and on," Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote on February 22 after a small private dinner at the White House.

Schlesinger, a liberal Harvard history professor, had been brought into the administration in part to write its official history and to provide a liaison with his close friend and ideological colleague, Adlai Stevenson, the UN ambassador. "He [O'Donnell] has caught Adlai Stevenson in two lies regarding agreements that he's made with Jack [Kennedy] as to personnel at the United Nations," Schlesinger wrote after the dinner. "As Kenny [O'Donnell] said, the people that he has got around him now at the United Nations are mostly queers and I don't think that is far from the truth." Whether true or not, "queer" was the ultimate epithet in the Kennedy White House, for queers were weak sissies, the complete antithesis to the bold men of the New Frontier.

As the first director of the Peace Corps, Sarge Shriver was forming an advisory council to include the novelist Gore Vidal, who was not only a Democratic activist but also Jackie's stepbrother. "I can't remember whether it was the president or his brother," Wofford recalled, "but one of them got the full story that he was gay . . . and they canceled him from being on the advisory council."

Shortly before the inauguration, Allen Dulles, the legendary director of the CIA, had dinner with a small group of Kennedy aides, among them Sorensen and Feldman. Dulles told the men that during the Eisenhower years the president had not known everything the agency was doing. Dulles's seemingly casual remarks were often the vehicle for his most crucial, calculated utterances. Although Kennedy's men were unsettled by Dulles's comments, the CIA director was suggesting to the new administration that his agency should be left alone to work its will on a dark, troubled world.

A week after the inauguration the president and his top foreign policy advisers met with Dulles for a briefing on Cuba. Kennedy felt an emotional affinity with Dulles and other top CIA officials. The CIA leaders belonged to the old upper-class Protestant world to which the Kennedys had long aspired. These men were doubly elite: members of the American establishment, they were also from a private world that worked its will without following any of the prissy necessities of law and politics that governed other men. Their successes, be it overthrowing governments in Iran or Guatemala or manipulating elections in France or Italy, were all secretly accomplished and privately celebrated. They were men who walked as easily into a secret rendezvous in Tehran or Lima as they did into the Somerset or Metropolitan Club.

From The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer. Copyright Laurence Leamer 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, William Morrow.

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