The Magazine

A Family Affair

Kathy Boudin and the generations of the radical life.

Oct 27, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 07 • By HARVEY KLEHR
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LEONARD HAD EXPERIMENTED with homosexuality in college (one of his lovers was the writer and social critic Paul Goodman), and after he married, he embarked on a neverending string of heterosexual affairs, while Jean was also unfaithful. Leonard had a desperate need for adoration from women and pursued them obsessively. One affair in 1952 had him thinking of divorce; as a result Jean suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide twice. For the rest of her life, she continued to be affected by the electroshock treatments she underwent. Jean treated Leonard as a demigod, displaying a "fawning desire to please" him. Among Leonard's conquests detailed by Braudy were his client Judy Coplon, the psychologist he hired to care for his children while Jean was hospitalized, some of Kathy's classmates, and even one of her pregnant friends.

Born in 1943, four years after her brother Michael, Kathy spent her life, according to Braudy, alternating between seeking her father's approval and demonstrating that she had the courage to act while he merely took as clients people braver than he was. Her brother's accomplishments made her task even harder. Michael was an academic star whose legal successes--top graduate at Harvard Law School, clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harlan, partner at Covington and Burling and, in 1992, a Bush appointment as federal appeals court judge--stoked Leonard's pride, even if their views were at opposite poles. To Kathy, her brother's conservative politics were as execrable as his profession: "f--ing boring life, f--ing bad values."

If Michael promised to surpass his father as a lawyer, Kathy was determined to outdo him as an activist. She began in high school, where one of her classmates was Angela Davis, by participating in civil-rights demonstrations. Kathy never fit in at Bryn Mawr, where she sternly instructed other students as to their political and moral obligations. She led a campaign to organize the black campus maids; it was so disruptive that the administration decided to abolish their jobs. It was not the last time her ideological rigidity led her to hurt people she wanted to help.

Concerned that Kathy's political illusions went too far, Leonard arranged for her to spend her senior year at the University of Leningrad, believing it would temper her radicalism. But it seemed to have no discernible effect, perhaps because his own activities on behalf of Communist regimes minimized their crimes. On a trip to Cuba with her father, Kathy attacked him as all talk and no action and joined the Venceremos Brigade, harvesting sugar and being indoctrinated in revolution. After graduation her proposal to write a biography of Dostoyevsky was rejected by family friend Angus Cameron, a left-wing publisher, and she was unable to get a job as a junior editor at Random House. Adrift and unemployed, she went to work for Students for a Democratic Society in Cleveland in 1965.

As Kathy kept raising the ante in her confrontations with authority, Leonard continued to assist her. Jailed at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968 for setting off stink bombs in hotels and telephoning bomb threats, she got off thanks to his legal skills. But even the organized mayhem of SDS became too tame. She joined its Weathermen faction, helping to organize and participate in the 1969 Days of Rage campaign in Chicago, during which a few hundred committed revolutionaries engaged in vandalism, fought pitched battles with the police, and set off small bombs. Kathy also trumped Leonard's sexual escapades; the Weathermen engaged in group sex to break down any vestiges of monogamy or bourgeois selfishness.

IN MARCH 1970 Kathy was living in a Greenwich Village townhouse with several comrades who were building an antipersonnel bomb that they intended to set off at a dance in Fort Dix. The incompetent bomb-makers crossed some wires and blew the house apart. Three Weathermen were killed, including Diana Oughton, whom Kathy had radicalized at Bryn Mawr. Kathy and another Weatherman staggered naked from the house, and went into hiding, beginning an underground odyssey that ended eleven years later in Nyack. Although Leonard urged her to surrender, Kathy and her comrades managed to survive on the margins of American society, supported by such celebrity sympathizers as Jon Voight, Marge Piercy, and William Kunstler. Izzy Stone praised the Weathermen as "wonderful kids" and "the most sensitive of a generation," without informing his readers that one of the fugitives was his niece. And, despite his role as an officer of the court, Leonard continued to meet with Kathy clandestinely, and he seemed to relish her status as a heroine of the revolutionary underground.