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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Bobby called his brother to tell him that he had decided against it. "We'll go over in the morning," Bobby said as he set down the telephone. "This will kill my father."

Early the next day, Bobby and Seigenthaler drove over to the president elect's home in Georgetown. Over breakfast, the three men discussed the appointment. Bobby detailed the reasons why he had to turn it down, and his brother told him that he had to say yes.

"You want some more coffee?" Kennedy asked.

"Look, there're some more points I need to make with him," Bobby told Seigenthaler as his brother walked into the kitchen.

"I think the points have all been made," Seigenthaler said.

When Kennedy returned, Bobby set off again. The president-elect would not have put up with this endless palaver from most men. He had heard everything he needed to hear, and he had heard it tenfold. It was time to get on with things and walk outside into the cold morning and tell the waiting reporters what would become the most important appointment of his administration. "That's it, general," Kennedy said, cutting his brother off and calling him by his new title. "Let's grab our balls and go."

As Kennedy walked into the White House as president for the first time, he believed that he had surrounded himself with loyal strong men richly prepared to carry out his mandate. He had kept the obvious holdovers from the campaign, including Sorensen as special counsel in charge of domestic policy and speechwriting. Sorensen used words as the vehicle of policy. He not only wrote almost every important speech the president gave but often handed the address to the president only minutes before he spoke. Sorensen's deputy, Mike Feldman, wrote most of the other speeches and dealt with Israel, regulatory policy, and whatever other matters came his way. Feldman may have been only half the writer that Sorensen was, but he was twice the attorney, and he became the de facto legal counsel.

Kenny O'Donnell, the appointments secretary, was the gatekeeper to the presidential person, along with Evelyn Lincoln, the president's personal secretary. Larry O'Brien was in charge of congressional relations, yet another critical post. O'Donnell and O'Brien were the leaders of a small group in the White House that became known as the Irish Mafia; their ranks included Ted Reardon, Dick Donohue, and Dave Powers. These Irish-Americans shared two faiths, Catholicism and politics. Sorensen may have provided the eloquent public voice of the administration, but these tough-minded men fed the belly, and there was a natural, understated tension between the two groups.

As his chief foreign policy adviser in the White House, Kennedy brought in McGeorge Bundy as special assistant for national security affairs. The Harvard dean had arrived by bicycle for his first meeting with the president-elect at Arthur Schlesinger's Cambridge house, but there was nothing casual about either Bundy's manner or his mind. Bundy had a crucial mandate. Kennedy believed that he could not make innovative foreign policy employing the rigid, military-like structure that Eisenhower had created with the National Security Council. The president thought the only thing to do was to pull the structure largely down, and Bundy was his engine for doing so.

Kennedy could not run his own foreign policy if he had a powerful secretary of State such as Adlai Stevenson, who lobbied for the position and was shuttled to the United Nations ambassadorship. Instead, Kennedy chose Dean Rusk, the head of the Rockefeller Foundation and a former assistant secretary of State, who willingly wore the shackles of subordination.

There was one man whom all the pundits thought would have inordinate power in the White House, and that was the president's own father. "I want to help, but I don't want to be a nuisance," Joe confessed to Steve Smith, his son-in-law. "Can you tell me: do they want me or don't they want me?"

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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