The presidential limousine finally reached the reviewing stand in front of the White House. There sat Kennedy family members, esteemed officials, and close friends. As the president drove by, Joe rose up out of his seat to salute his son. The Kennedy patriarch had been his children's great enthusiast, but no matter what honors they merited, what race they won, he had never stood to pay tribute to their achievements. But today he stood, saluting the son whom he had always called "Jack" but who now, in public or among outsiders, would be "Mr. President." Joe's simple gesture was not only a profound act of deference and respect for the office of the presidency, but equally a symbol of the passing of the generations. Kennedy looked up at the reviewing stand and saw his father standing there saluting him. The new president took off his hat and tipped it to his father.
While the president's greatest destiny was just beginning, Joe's was nearing its end. He had achieved what few men do, his transcendent dream embodied in this president bearing his name, but in doing so he had lost part of his son. "Jack doesn't belong anymore to just a family," he reflected. "He belongs to the country. That's probably the saddest thing about all this. The family can be there, but there is not much they can do for the President of the United States."
During the campaign, Joe had bragged that while he would keep quiet until election day, afterward he would have his say. "I assure you that I will do it after that, and that it will be something worthwhile," he boasted to Newsweek. "People may even see a flash of my old-time form." Once the election was over, however, Joe seemed not to be concerned anymore with embroiling himself in all the minutiae of politics, and he never made the statement he had so vociferously promised. When the president-elect asked his father to suggest candidates for secretary of the Treasury, Joe replied: "I can't."
Joe cared primarily about his sons' futures now, and he had just one request to make of his son: that he name Bobby as his attorney general. As much as Kennedy wanted to reward Bobby for his endless work in the campaign, he would no more have made his brother attorney general than name an intern as America's surgeon general. It was unthinkable to make the nation's premier attorney a man who had never practiced law. Kennedy's critics would argue that thirty-five-year-old Bobby was too young, too brash, too ambitious, and too rude.
Kennedy did not dare confront his father with these truths; instead, at the swimming pool at the Palm Beach mansion, he deputized Smathers to suggest gently to Joe that Bobby would make a formidable assistant secretary of Defense. Joe would not even listen to such drivel. "Goddamn it, Jack, I want to tell you once and for all. Don't be sending these emissaries to me. Bobby spilled his blood for you. He's worked for you. And goddamn it, he wants to be attorney general, and I want him to be attorney general, and that's it."
As ambitious as he was, Bobby had his own doubts about the political wisdom of becoming his brother's attorney general. Unlike the president-elect, Bobby had not cordoned off his inner emotions from the world. One of those who had become privy to Bobby's thinking and feeling was John Seigenthaler, a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean. Seigenthaler had first covered Bobby during the McClellan hearings. Like Charles Bartlett and Ben Bradlee and a few other reporters, Seigenthaler had incomparable access to the Kennedys and got stories many of his colleagues could never get. Yet as the months went by more and more of what he heard and saw never made its way into his journalism.
Seigenthaler was sitting with Bobby after he had spent a long, discouraging day running around Washington talking to various people about whether he should become attorney general. That was the Kennedy way. Seek out the most knowledgeable people, get their best judgments, and then make up your own mind. In this instance, everyone from Supreme Court Justice Douglas to Senator McClellan had shaken his head in dismay at this harebrained idea. Only Hoover, who at the FBI would be working most intimately with Bobby, said that he should accept the appointment.
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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