Over the course of a long career as an historian, public intellectual, speechwriter, and presidential adviser, Arthur Schlesinger had a front-row seat for the unfolding of postwar political history. He advised multiple presidents and presidential aspirants—from Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson to Bill Clinton and Al Gore—and composed speeches for many of them. He taught students, lectured around the world, spent several years in the White House, and maintained an active social life into old age. And all the while he wrote prolifically: his award-winning works of history; his gargantuan books on JFK and RFK; polemics and philippics; his memoirs; speeches; diaries; and, somehow, lots and lots of letters.
This week, Random House is publishing a collection of those letters, edited by his sons Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger. Over the years, his correspondents included, among others: JFK, RFK, Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore, John Kenneth Galbraith, Katharine Graham, Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Lippmann, Joe Alsop, Isaiah Berlin, George Kennan, Gore Vidal, William Styron, Groucho Marx, and Bianca Jagger. To read the letters is to see the last 60 years of postwar America through the eyes of one of its sharpest-eyed analysts; Schlesinger approached political and policy challenges as both a historian taking the long view and as a tactician playing for short-term advantage. Through his letters, you can trace his evolving relationships with both friends and antagonists. (He often made strenuous efforts to separate personal friendships from ideological enmities—not always with perfect success.)
The letters excerpted here include selected correspondence with Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Kissinger over a long period of years—plus a few choice letters to Adlai Stevenson, Bill Clinton, Tina Brown, and John Boehner.
After spending an evening with John and Jacqueline Kennedy in Hyannis Port in July 1959, Arthur Schlesinger concluded that Jackie concealed, “underneath a veil of lovely inconsequence,” tremendous awareness, an all-seeing eye and a ruthless judgment, as he wrote in A Thousand Days (1965). During the 1960 campaign, Jackie feared that she was a political liability and that people considered her a snob from Newport with bouffant hair, French clothes, and a hatred of politics. Schlesinger thought she was a remarkable young woman and sought to reassure her and encourage her in her challenging role as candidate’s spouse. In fact, after her husband’s election, Jackie’s negatives turned quickly into positives.
In his campaign tract, Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?, published in September 1960, Schlesinger concluded that “under Nixon the country would sink into mediocrity and cant and payola and boredom,” while the election of Kennedy would represent “the splendor of our ideals.” Jackie approved of the book, prompting a pleased response from the author.
September 22, 1960
I have just returned from a few days in California to find your marvelous letter about the book. I have not received any letter from any one for years which pleased me half so much. I am glad that you liked the book and think it might help, and I am glad that you bothered to write.
I went west the morning after the Liberal Party dinner. I think we are perhaps still slightly behind in California, but Jack’s trip there was a great success, and things are moving visibly in a Democratic direction. Everywhere I went I found great enthusiasm for him. I would begin to feel reasonably optimistic except for the Eisenhower performance before the UN. For one thing, I think that Nixon’s ugliness is going to boomerang before too long.
Marian told me what a good time she had with you on the flight to Boston. Don’t worry about the press—your great strength is being yourself—you are irresistible anyway, and one decisive advantage that you and Jack have over Dick-and-Pat is that you two are not putting on an act. There will always be people trying to trip you up, but that is routine in politics (and in life).
Hope to see you soon—
* * *
Schlesinger was sipping cocktails before luncheon with Katharine Graham, John Kenneth Galbraith, and the editors of Newsweek at their Manhattan office when a man entered in his shirtsleeves and said, a little tentatively, “I think that you should know that the President has been shot in the back of the head in Texas.” Schlesinger thought momentarily this was some sort of ghastly office joke. Then he knew it could not be. Soon, he was on a plane bound for Washington. It was the saddest journey of his life.
November 22, 1963
Nothing I can say can mitigate the shame and horror of this day. Your husband was the most brilliant, able and inspiring member of my generation. He was the one man to whom this country could confide its destiny with confidence and hope. He animated everything—he led with passion and gaiety and wit. To have known him and worked with and for him is the most fulfilling experience I have ever had or could imagine.
Dearest Jackie, the love and grief of a nation may do something to suggest the feeling of terrible vacancy and despair we all feel. Marian and my weeping children join me in sending you our profoundest love and sympathy. I know that you will let me know when I can do anything to help.
With abiding love,
* * *
Jackie gave Schlesinger a specially printed book entitled Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George Washington 1789 to John F. Kennedy 1961, inscribed: “For Arthur Schlesinger jr.—The President was going to give you this for Christmas—Please accept it now from me—With my deepest appreciation for your devotion to Jack—and all our shining memories of him—Jackie December 1963.” The book was one of 85 copies in a special binding of maroon leather with the presidential seal, gilt edges, and a red silk place marker ribbon. “A.S.” was stamped in gilt on the front.
January 6, 1964
I cannot say how deeply I was touched by your note in the beautiful copy of the Inaugural Addresses. These last three years have been the most exciting and fulfilling of my life—less because of the experience of working in the White House, fascinating as it was, than because of the inexhaustible delight of working in close association with the President. He gave all of us the greatest experience of our lives, and I shall always prize the book and your inscription.
In your note a few weeks ago, you mentioned a possibility which has been much in my mind—that is, of doing a book on the President. I have thought a good deal about this in the last few weeks; and I have come to the conclusion that I want to write such a book, a rather personal book about the President, how he operated, a portrait of the man at work, showing him in certain crises and turning-points of the administration, and trying to explain the mystery of how one man, with so little time for great accomplishment, could transform the temper of America and the image of America in the world.
The book I have in mind would not be a systematic or comprehensive history of the administration. That will have to be done later and by some one who was not personally involved. It would rather be an account of the way John F. Kennedy ran the Presidency, an attempt to define the achievement and impact of these years, and also an attempt to set forth the legacy of the President for those who come after. As I read the nonsense in the press these days, it seems to me important that some of these points be made clearly and strongly, and in the very near future. I feel also that I owe it to myself, and to the historical profession, to do something like this when memories are still fresh and vivid.
I would not of course wish to undertake such a work unless you and Bobby thought it a good idea. In the next few days, I will try to write a more ordered memorandum setting forth my conception of the book and some of the problems involved. I will send the memo over to you and Bobby, and then you might perhaps let me know what you think.
I will hope to see you tomorrow night. (I began this letter on Monday but finished it on Tuesday.)
* * *
Despite telling Jackie Kennedy the book was “the hardest thing I have ever attempted,” Schlesinger working feverishly, gathering material, composing on an electric typewriter, inserting page after page after page, driven by his despair, finding solace of a hard sort.
April 2, 1965
Attached you will find the first twelve chapters of my manuscript. I thought it might be better to give you a batch now than confront you with the whole lot in the summer. I am also sending this batch to Bobby.
I will well understand it if you do not feel like reading this. If you do read any, I would be most grateful if you could correct errors, mark any passages which you think might cause trouble or give the wrong impression or betray confidences which should not be betrayed or seem too personal or too trivial or too self-serving or of doubtful taste. Don't hesitate to scribble on the manuscript. And I would particularly appreciate it if there are times when you can throw additional light on the events I am writing about. If you do not feel like going through the whole thing, I would particularly like your reaction to chapter four.
I also attach a sheet showing where I am going from here.
My intention in writing the book is to serve the interests of history and the memory of the President. It has turned out to be much longer than I expected, but it became evident to me as I wrote that the only way to display his full stature is to show him in action in considerable detail -- in adversity and in triumph. This book is by far the hardest thing I have ever tried, and I realize every day with sinking heart how wretchedly I have fallen short of what I would like to do and of what the occasion deserves. My hope is that it will convey something at least of the extraordinary quality and character of the man and of the purposes, problems and achievements of the administration.
Please do not spare my feelings in your criticisms, for I will be everlastingly grateful for your help in making the book a faithful account of the greatest man I shall ever know.
* * *
A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House was due in the bookstores in December 1965. Jackie received an early copy and wrote Schlesinger, “It takes wings—and when you read it—Jack is alive again.” The book won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. But the sadness lingered.
Schlesinger and Kissinger were colleagues and friends at Harvard University in the 1950s. Schlesinger was instrumental in arranging for Kissinger to write his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, published in 1957, which first brought Kissinger into the national limelight.
In March 1969, the United States secretly began a bombing campaign in Cambodia, a neutral country, designed to eliminate Vietcong sanctuaries. In late April 1970, U.S. forces invaded the ancient Buddhist kingdom. Henry Kissinger, Arthur’s old friend, was serving as President Nixon’s national security adviser, overseeing the destruction of Cambodia.
May 7, 1970
[New York, New York]
I have forborne from writing because of my confidence in your own intelligence and purpose and because of my full awareness of the difficulty of judging complex internal situations from the outside. But you have said to me more than once that, if the time should come when your own situation begins to seem indefensible, you would appreciate it if your friends were to let you know. In all candor I think that time has come. I honestly cannot imagine what circumstances could justify the Cambodian adventure.
As you well know, this scheme has been kicking around Washington for years. Even President Johnson had the sense to reject it when the Joint Chiefs hawked it to him some time back; and I do not see that the situation has changed all that radically so that it becomes a brilliant stroke now.
The speech in which President Nixon explained the adventure was intellectually contemptible. The notion that the United States would have been acting like “a pitiful, helpless giant” if we had not decided to burn down a lot of Cambodian villages is really extraordinary. If the President does not know his Shakespeare, I am sure you do: “O! it is excellent / To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant.”
I know that you cannot accept the basic thesis of the speech that, if we do not fight to the end in a part of the world where we have no vital interests, our adversaries will assume that we won’t fight in parts of the world where we do have vital interests. According to this thesis, once the Russians had withdrawn their missiles from Cuba, where they had no vital interests, we could have attacked them with impunity in Eastern Europe, where they have vital interests. Can President Nixon really believe this?
I have said nothing about the impact on our own country of this weird and wild policy. Did the administration really not anticipate the reaction? Did it really suppose it could get away with widening the war? It is hard to overstate the combination of fury and impotence sweeping over the young and, worse than that, the accompanying profound disillusion with the democratic process. We are all prisoners of our experience. The experience of our own generation, which had the luck of FDR, Truman and JFK, convinced us that the democratic process was an effective way of changing things. From the viewpoint of the young today, who were born way after FDR and Truman and can barely remember Kennedy, the democratic process, as they have seen it in action, is a sham and a phony.
In 1964 they backed Johnson against Goldwater—only to have Johnson adopt Goldwater’s policy of military escalation after the election. They flocked behind McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968, only to see a second Kennedy murdered, McCarthy and McGovern defeated in Chicago, the police rioting against the protesters. Still, the administration which had escalated the war was beaten, and a new administration, pledged to end the war, was in office. Now, fifteen months later, the new administration has widened the war, strengthened the American commitment to the Saigon regime and practically abandoned negotiations in Paris.
It is little wonder that the young are a little skeptical about the efficacy of the democratic process. What do we tell them now? To wait until 1972, by which time God knows how many Americans, and Vietnamese, now alive, will be dead?
Does the President not know how his policies are tearing this country apart and eroding faith in democratic methods of effecting change? You surely must know this; and, as an old and admiring friend, I hope you will consider in the most serious way whether the time has not come for you to dissociate yourself from an administration that, on the record of the last few weeks, will surely go down as one of the most confused and irrational administrations in the history of our country. Let history not record that Walter Hickel was the only man in the crowd with a trace of moral courage. *
* * *
In October 1974, Schlesinger wrote a piece in the Washington Post taking Kissinger to task, including a disapproving reference to the secretary of state's defense of his "honor." Schlesinger quoted Emerson, writing "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." Kissinger wrote Schlesinger to object.
November 5, 1974
[New York, New York]
I regret that my reference caused you distress. On reflection, I should not have written “babbling”; “going on” would have been sufficient. For the rest, I must confess that I still stand with Emerson.
We have known each other for a long time. I think you will agree that I have displayed my friendship and admiration for you on more than one occasion over the years. So I will write with the candor that an old friendship deserves. I have some sense of the pressures you have been under and refrained for a long time from any form of criticism. I did not, for example, join in the rush to judgment of some of our former Harvard colleagues in 1970.
Watergate made such abstinence more difficult. I thought your plea early on for compassion for Haldeman and Ehrlichman was most distasteful, especially in the calms of an administration that had never shown any compassion for anyone. At Salzburg you brought up your honor and in effect demanded from Congress an unconditional vote of confidence if you were to stay in office. The outsider can only feel that it is a remarkably flexible and tenuous conception of honor which permitted you to serve, and on occasion to defend, a crooked President and lawless administration for so many years.
I do not quarrel with your decision to stay with Nixon; I can see strong reasons for it; but I don’t think it was a decision that would have led a prudent man thereafter to make a big deal of his honor. Nor, as a matter of simple manners, did I much like your Salzburg outburst. Would Dean Acheson, whom we have both admired, ever have made a statement of that sort? Honor was for him a deeply private concern. Though his honor was impugned a good deal more mercilessly than yours has ever been, he never went public on it.
What I felt in your Salzburg remarks—and feel even more, I must frankly say, in your letter—is that you seem almost to have come to suppose that any criticism of you is indefensible. I hope fervently that this is not the case. You have enjoyed the most consistently favorable, not to say enraptured, press of any maker of American foreign policy in this century. I don’t think anyone has been more generally exempt from criticism. It is hardly seemly, when criticism at last begins, for you to start talking about “the growing wave of McCarthyism of the left.” Don’t you think it is possible for informed, disinterested and responsible people to have legitimate disagreements with some of your policies—or even to doubt that a man who put up with Nixon for five years is well advised to make thereafter a great public issue of his honor?
Anyway I am sorry that it has come to this. I wanted to write to you at the time of your marriage. Nancy is a lovely girl of high intelligence and dignity, and we both wish you years of endless happiness.
The above is what is primarily on my mind. Your time is taken up with pressing matters, and the rest of this letter can wait for a moment of leisure. But, since communication has been reopened after several years, I might as well take opportunity of the situation to address myself to a couple of other points.
My first is minor but, I fear, symptomatic. The other day I read an AP dispatch from New Delhi (printed in the New York Post on October 29) reporting you as having said that the United States at last had abandoned its Cold War opposition to neutral states. You are quoted as calling this a “new American view” and saying that it should have been adopted long since. You are further quoted as saying that “support of national independence and of the diversity that goes with it has become a central theme of American foreign policy.”
This seems to me a quite extraordinary distortion of history— and especially unseemly in the city where Ken Galbraith and Chester Bowles had spent years making the same point. You surely must know that this view was not some bold and original innovation of the present administration but had been put forward strongly and consistently by the Kennedy administration a considerable time ago. Take a look, for example, at JFK’s speech at Berkeley on March 23, 1962, and you will find the isms point, practically in the words you adopted a dozen years later:
“The revolution of national independence is a fundamental fact of our era .... Diversity and independence, far from being opposed to the American conception of world order, represent the very essence of our view of the future of the world,” and so on.
What is the point of making the claim you reportedly made in New Delhi, apart from the imminence of an election in the United States? Does not honor enjoin a decent respect for history? The New Delhi matter is, alas, symptomatic of a general view of things, which suggests that detente was a courageous invention of Richard M. Nixon—as if Kennedy’s American University speech, for example, or Johnson’s bridge-building effort had never taken place.
One further point, on which I perhaps owe you an explanation. On September 18 last I gave a lecture at Long Beach, California—a rather prosaic disquisition on the Presidency. In the question period someone asked me whether I thought President Ford should appoint a cabinet of his own. I said that there had been two models in recent times: Truman, who had replaced most of Roosevelt’s cabinet, and Johnson, who had kept most of
Kennedy’s cabinet; and that I thought Truman was right in wanting his own men in the cabinet. I was asked whether I would include the Secretary of State in this proposition. I said that I did not think the world would come to an end if there were a new Secretary of State. This began as a rather technical question at the end of a long evening; but I should not have been surprised at the headline in the Los Angeles Times the next morning: SCHLESINGER URGES FIRING OF KISSINGER. The wire services picked up the Times story, and I guess it appeared across the country.
While I stand by my general proposition, I am sorry that an impression was created that I was trying to incite some sort of campaign against you. If President Ford should reconstitute his cabinet, as I think on the whole he should, you would be, in my view, at the end of the list for replacement.
You may nevertheless be interested in knowing why I think the world would not come to an end if you ceased being Secretary of State. Though I cannot feel, despite the “close touch” you believe you have kept with the “liberal community,” you really care all that much what your liberal friends think, I might as well take this occasion to set down at least what I think. I think you have been effective with the Russians and the Chinese. I also think you have done an extraordinary job in the Middle East. Whether or not the arrangements eventually hold, you have moved the situation much farther than anyone could have expected. I also think you have performed nobly, against disagreeable opposition within our own government, in the area of nuclear arms control.
On the other hand, I cannot but feel that you are a good deal more patient and tolerant with adversaries than with friends and more concerned with political and military issues—the issues that mainly concern our adversaries—than with the economic, commercial and monetary issues that preoccupy our friends. I do believe that our international economic policy has been a shambles, that our United Nations policy has been a disgrace, that our Latin American policy has been a disaster and that our European policy has been amazingly insensitive and ineffectual.
Beyond all this, I cannot but feel that our foreign policy in recent years has removed the United States from what historically has been the source of our greatest impact on mankind. We have most influenced the world as a nation of ideals, conveying a sense of hope and a faith in democracy— as in the times of Wilson, of FDR, of Kennedy. It may well be said that such hope was often delusory and that it often concealed a tough sense of American self-interest. Yet it also sustained such values as democracy and freedom in hard times and helped move the planet marginally toward a larger justice.
In any case the United States surely has mattered most when it has made a difference to the thinking not just of foreign offices but of people. The conception of world affairs as a chess game played by foreign secretaries contains an instinctive preference for authoritarian states, where governments can be relied on to deliver their people, as against democracies, where people might always turn on their governments.
The Nixon administration thus aligned the United States with the colonels in Greece, with the generals in Brazil and Chile (though not in Peru, where the generals lacked suitable reverence for American business), with the dying dictatorship in Portugal as well as with the despots in Moscow and Peking. I feel that this policy has gone far to sever the bonds that once existed between the United States and the democratic aspirations of ordinary people around the world. If we are in trouble now with successor regimes in Greece and Portugal, for example, it is the predictable and predestined result of a policy that ran counter to the oldest and best American impulses. No doubt we will in due course reap the harvest of this pro-authoritarian policy in Brazil, Chile and elsewhere. I would like to think that this point had been made to you by those in the liberal community with whom you have been in such close touch.
Forgive the bluntness with which I express myself. My affection for you is too deeply rooted to disappear; with age one understands that disagreements over policy and even over manners are part of life and should not destroy personal relationships. In recent years even Dean Rusk and I have become friends again. You, as an old and valued friend, are entitled to a candid dissent. I hope you do not continue to feel that I am, as your letter asserts, a McCarthy of the left because I express that dissent publicly.
* * *
January 17, 1977
[New York, New York]
Jack Plumb tells me that he has invited you to present the Samuel Eliot Morison Award next September to the best work published in 1976 by an American author about American history. This is the first year of what we hope will be the most celebrated award in the field; and I want to add my own strong personal hope that you will consider doing this. I can’t imagine a better way to get the Morison Award off to a distinguished start. After all, when everything is considered, you remain (I believe) an historian at heart. So do think about it seriously.
While I am writing, let me add a few words of my own. I have had periods of disagreement with your conduct of foreign affairs during these last years— sometimes acute disagreement, as over what seemed to me the undue protraction of the Indochina War. But I do want to thank you for the way you have steadily illuminated and elevated the discussion of foreign policy, for your indomitable skills as a negotiator, for your (general) good humor under criticism and for the creative directions in which you have pointed policy in the last years— in SALT, in the Middle East, in Africa, [and] in Latin America. Historians will have to reckon with your proconsulship for the rest of our lives.
We look forward to seeing you and Nancy at Brooke Astor’s.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
* * *
Kissinger spoke at the Memorial Service for Schlesinger held in New York City on April 23, 2007.
The president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Henry Van Dusen, wrote Stevenson that he was dismayed by reports that JFK was a philanderer and that, if grounded in fact, his “dubious morals” made him unfit for the presidency. Van Dusen claimed that Reinhold Niebuhr in casual conversation mentioned that “everyone” knew that JFK “had slept with anyone who was willing” and that Galbraith and Schlesinger had dismissed the matter as inconsequential. Van Dusen claimed that the rumors were widespread in Britain, where he was visiting. Stevenson replied, “I have some experience with rumors and have become a little cynical, I confess,” but he sent Van Dusen’s letter on to Arthur.
To Adlai Stevenson
September 4, 1960
I am returning the Van Dusen letter herewith. I must confess my extreme impatience with this sort of thing and couldn’t sympathize more with your desire “to keep a mile away from such matters.”
In the first place, even if such stories were true, I do not see how they bear essentially on Kennedy’s capacity to be President, especially when one considers the alternative. You will remember that in the campaign of 1884 much was made of Grover Cleveland’s illegitimate child, and the contrast was drawn with James G Blaine’s spotless private life. Some people got so agitated about this issue that they completely lost sight of the public records of the two men. At that time, E. L. Godkin of the Nation, trying to place the matters in some sort of perspective, wrote, “Chastity is a great virtue, but every man knows in his heart that it is not the greatest of virtues, that offences against it have often been consistent with ... the qualities which ennoble human nature and dignify human life and make human progress possible.” Perhaps the best comment was made by someone who said that, in view of the respective public and private careers of the two men, “We should elect Mr Cleveland to the public office he is so admirably qualified to fill and remand Mr Blaine to the private life which he is so eminently fitted to adorn.”
In the second place, though I have no knowledge at all of the facts, my impression is that the stories in circulation are greatly exaggerated. One hears them in Northeast Harbor, in Fishers Island, in Easthampton and in all those circles where, in the past, vicious and lying stories have been told about Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and you. My own belief is that for some years after the war Kennedy, because of the trouble with his spine, believed that he had only a few years to live. I imagine that he meant to enjoy these years to the utmost. The turning-point in his life, I think, took place in the winter of 1955-1956 when he had the series of back operations which at first nearly killed him but from which at last he made a complete and definite recovery. So far as I can see, as soon as he knew that he had a full life to live, he decided to prepare himself for the Presidency. The stories about his private life seem to date from 1955 and before. I have heard no reliable account of any such incident in recent years.
In the third place, I question the purity of Dr Van Dusen’s own motives. Have you seen his own nauseating new book—the one entitled, as I recall, The Spiritual Legacy of John Foster Dulles?
I think you should give Van Dusen hell for circulating rumors which are (a) out of date, (b) largely unsubstantiated and (c) even if true and contemporary— which they are not—would hardly seem crucial when the alternative is Richard M. Nixon.
I shall send along tomorrow some thoughts about the Liberal Party. I am depressed about the way the campaign is going. I think that you are about the only hope for a Democratic victory.
19 July 1991
[New York, New York]
Dear Congressman Boehner:
I note your “quotations” from Abraham Lincoln in the Record of 11 July. You have fallen for a famous and transparent Lincoln forgery. Of course Lincoln never said the things you attribute to him. They are quotations from an “Industrial Decalogue: Ten Don’ts” published in 1916 by a lecturer on industrial relations named William J. H. Boetcker.
In 1942 the Committee for Constitutional Government put out a leaflet entitled “Lincoln on Limitations.” On one side was a genuine Lincoln quotation; on the other was Boetcker’s Industrial Decalogue. This leaflet evidently led some people to attribute Boetcker’s deep thoughts to Lincoln.
This fake has been exposed again and again in the last half century. I am sorry to see a member of the U.S. Congress give this obvious and well-known forgery new currency. Seriously, Congressman, do you really think those quotations sound like Abraham Lincoln? Come on!
Arthur Schlesinger, jr.
In June 1992, Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, was on the verge of capturing the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Arthur was a supporter, having known him over the years and admired his intelligence and progressive views.
To Bill Clinton
2 June 1992
[New York, New York]
I am off to Europe today (before the California primary) for a couple of weeks; but, before I go, I thought I might offer some comments from afar—in case you need any more free advice.
For the time being, I doubt that there is much you can do in face of the Perot high except to go on as the only candidate talking about serious issues. Don’t go into the confessional mode. Let others talk about your hard life, etc., but you mustn’t begin to sound Nixonesque. In the longer run, concentration on what you think about the American future will, I believe, start to pay off.
In mid-July you are bound to regain the national spotlight. The convention will make you the focus of public attention. Newspapermen like you, and my impression is that some at least feel a little guilty about the role of the press first in tearing you down and then in ignoring the substantive side of your campaign. I believe they are looking for an opportunity to redress the balance.
The convention and your acceptance speech will provide that opportunity. That speech will probably be the most important speech you will give in the entire campaign. It is a speech that must look toward the future and set the agenda for the campaign. Bush is a man of a now discredited past. Perot is the Wizard of Oz. (I hope that Toto will pull back the curtain well before November.) You are the man of vision with the professional skills to define the tasks of national renovation and to get the country moving again.
Anyway best of luck.
* * *
To Bill Clinton
22 March 1994
[New York, New York]
Dear Mr. President:
It is with diffidence that I send this letter. But your administration, with all its high purpose and abundant hope, is in serious trouble. Unless this stupid Whitewater problem can be put in perspective quickly, the press hunt, the grand jury proceedings, the special prosecutor, etc, will create running sores for a long time to come. As a historian with experience in an earlier White House, I venture to offer some observations.
The urgent thing now is to take further action to rebuild confidence in the White House. The appointment of Lloyd Cutler is an excellent first step, but I gather that Lloyd can only stay for six months. For the longer haul, you must look for persons who combine experience in government and loyalty to the purposes of your administration with sufficient stature and seniority to tell you the hard things that old friends and younger staffers may be reluctant to tell you. They should serve you as Sam Rosenman served FDR and Clark Clifford served Truman—with fidelity, candor and good judgment.
Recommendations are not terribly helpful without names. I urge you to consider my old Kennedy associate Ted Sorensen. He knows the executive branch, he knows the Hill, he knows the press and in his recent years as an international lawyer he has come to know the corporate community and the world. He is of course highly intelligent, and he is also well-organized, clear- headed, judicious, discreet, and excellent company.
I know there is the feeling that anyone who worked in government thirty years ago must be an antiquity today; but Ted was a very young fellow when he worked for JFK and LBJ. He is a decade younger than Lloyd Cutler and a few years younger than your Secretary of State.
I am sure there may be others around of similar qualifications. If you had had people like Sorensen by your side, a lot of the present trouble would have been avoided. I am confident that, if the right steps are taken to restore confidence, Whitewater too will pass and that you will have the chance to fulfill the rich promise of your administration. I am also sure that you will learn valuable lessons from this ordeal, as JFK learned so much from the Bay of Pigs.
My very best wishes to you and to Hillary in these difficult times.
With warmest regards,
To Tina Brown
8 July 99
[New York, New York]
Here it is. **
In the spring of 1993 the Clintons invited the Schlesingers to a farewell dinner for Pamela Harriman, the new ambassador to Paris. I happened to lunch that day with Jacqueline Onassis and mentioned that I had known Bill Clinton for a number of years but had never met Mrs Clinton. “I gather that she is a very intelligent young woman,” I said, “but I imagine that she is awfully earnest and humorless, a real blue stocking.” “You couldn’t be more wrong,” Jackie said. “I saw something of Hillary during the campaign last year, and she is a delight, filled with fun and irony. You will have a jolly time.”
That evening I found myself seated next to Mrs Clinton. I had a splendid time. Jackie, as usual, was quite right.
My only other dinner at the White House in the Clinton years took place last November. The occasion was the award to assorted dignitaries of National Medals for the Arts and for the Humanities. Once more I was placed next to Hillary. On her other side was Garry Wills, another historian and Humanities Medalist. Directly across the round table from Hillary was Gregory Peck, an Arts Medalist. I said to her, “You have no idea what you are doing for the morale of scholars. Here you have seated yourself between a couple of historians when you could have had Gregory Peck.” Without missing a beat, Hillary replied serenely, “Yes, but sitting here I can talk to both of you and look at Gregory Peck.”
This post is adapted from The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
* Schlesinger lunched with Kissinger on May 21, 1970, at the Metropolitan Club in Washington. “I have been thinking a lot about resignation,” said Kissinger (according to Schlesinger’s journal), but there were reasons why he could not resign immediately. It would be “dishonorable” for him to get out so soon after the Cambodian controversy. More important, he was engaged in something that he could not talk about but that only he could pursue and carry through and, if it worked, would justify his staying (the opening to Mao’s China). About Nixon, Kissinger said, “He is a shy man, and he needs compassion.”
** Brown had asked Schlesinger to write down his personal impressions of Hillary Clinton as a White House hostess.
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