The Magazine

Dear Diary,
I Think I'm in Love

The confessions of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Dec 31, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 16 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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And we see President Kennedy summoning some piece of speechwriting crap that he'd dumped on Arthur: "The next morning the president called to ask about the paragraph. I brought it to his bedroom about 9:30. He was eating his breakfast in bed. He had only his pajama pants on."

Ooooooo!

Yet Journals is so much more than gush. Its pages also crack open a hellgate to give us a peek at the eternally consuming fires of egotistic solipsism to which the soul of a liberal is forever condemned. Not even the undying love that Arthur Schlesinger felt for Kennedy money, power, and prestige could redeem poor Art from the perdition that awaits the bien pensant. His is the sin of pride, such that produces the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society. It manifests itself in the deeds of the mighty. Or in the case of Arthur Schlesinger, it manifests itself in mighty bad taste. This, this, is his private reaction when his friend, his mentor, his beau ideal is murdered:

November 23

I heard the terrible news as I was sipping cocktails with Kay Graham, Ken Galbraith and the editors of Newsweek. Kay and I had flown in from Washington; we were there to discuss the future of the back of Newsweek's book. A man entered in his shirtsleeves and said, a little tentatively .  .  .

A man in his shirtsleeves--in the presence of Kay Graham, Ken Galbraith, and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.!

Let us skim forward to June 1968, and see if Art is better able to keep his composure when Robert Kennedy is killed:

It is beyond belief, but it has happened--it has happened again.

On Tuesday, June 4, I went to Chicago for a conference on Vietnam sponsored by the Adlai Stevenson Institute. Saul Bellow and I had met at the airport [blah blah blah] .  .  . He had suggested that I come over to his apartment Tuesday evening [blah blah blah] .  .  . I took Frances FitzGerald over there [blah blah blah] .  .  . Then Dick Wade, who was there, dropped Frankie at the Center for Continuing Education [blah blah blah-blah-blah].

We are fully 140 words into the journal entry before we get to "Kennedy's been shot." And even here, in his brief quotation of a phone call from Dick Wade, Schlesinger manages to drop another name, "Steve Smith too, I guess."

Okay, Art, that's two wrong. But you're still eligible for a posthumous consolation prize--free shredding of all remaindered copies of Journals. Just turn to the 1969 chapter and tell us your deep feelings when you learned about the political assassination (albeit self-inflicted) of the third Kennedy brother:

The last few days were, of course, shadowed by the distressing news about Ted Kennedy. We heard about it first on the yacht on Sunday afternoon and learned more details when we reached Paris. On Wednesday night in New York, I called Jimmy Wechsler, Joe Rauh, Ken Galbraith and others and found general gloom. On Thursday I sat after lunch with Scotty Reston and Tom Wicker at the Century. They were both sympathetic .  .  .

And I feel sorry for you, too, Arthur.

Naturally we cannot expect a man with credentials such as Arthur's to be merely a jerk; he's an idiot, too. The quickest riffle through Journals is enough to prove it. Said Arthur, after a 10-day visit to the USSR in 1982: "I fear that those who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse are kidding themselves." It just so happens that I was in the USSR myself for about 10 days in 1982. I was an ignorant, neophyte foreign correspondent on my first overseas assignment. But I did notice that the Soviet Union was on the verge of economic and social collapse.

Schlesinger's ability to make people look like cretins is by no means limited to himself. He visits President Truman and emerges from the Oval Office with this unlikely quote from the former haberdasher: "The professional politician, he said, is the straightest-shooting man in the country. [Alert readers note foretokening of JFK on the yacht.] I don't mean the city machine type; but the man who makes a career of elective politics. The biggest crooks in the country are the businessmen."