'you Are So Wonderful/ Being Near You Is All That I'm Living For! More On The Kennedys, Joe Sr, Jfk, Bobby And Their High - Class Minions How Puny,
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\'you Are so Wonderful/ Being Near You is All That I\'m Living For! More on the Kennedys, Joe Sr, Jfk, Bobby And their High  -  class Minions How Puny,

Author's program note. I first met author Robert Dallek when we both appeared on a talk show on NECN, the New England Cable News network. We were both there to promote something... in his case the then latest volume in his magisterial 3-book series on Lyndon Johnson, a flawed man who had squandered his presidency and place in history by putting the nation and the world through an unwinnable war in Viet Nam and in whom I had lost interest years ago.

... then Robert Dallek entered the picture.

He started to talk about Johnson in a low-key, conversational, thoughtful and intelligent way that forced me, for one, to re-evaluate Johnson as more than a self-pitying man with low self-esteem and the bullying tactics that he used to cover the "real" man and his particular demons. In Dallek's words, clear, simple, compelling Johnson came alive... and so did historian Dallek. I've admired Professor Dallek and his work ever since, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to say so in the hope that many of my many readers will arrive at this conclusion, too. Short and sweet, if you like American history, you're going to love Robert Dallek.

About Robert Dallek, born May 16, 1934.

Robert Dallek is an American historian specializing in American presidents. His objective is to show them as they were... which is hardly ever how they wish to be seen, for mere humanhood is never the goal of such people; legendary status is.

Thus the minute Dallek selected unflinching truth and rock-ribbed integrity as his fixed objective, he became a revolutionary, a menace to the mendacious everywhere, but especially those in the White House; a "must read" for the rest.

Not an overnight success.

Dallek began (like my father) as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, graduating with a B.A. in history in June, 1955. He did graduate work at Columbia University, earning an M.A. in February, 1957, and a Ph.D. in June 1964. He then went on to UCLA where he moved inexorably up the academic ladder, from assistant to full professor of history... with many positions, engagements and illustrious places and assignments to come.

Even this brief biographical paragraph provides crucial Dallek details, namely that he is a historical workhorse, setting the objective, doing the meticulous research every historian must master, writing, editing, re-writing, editing again. This is what all historians must do. Good historians do it better than most. Paragons like Dallek do it better than all but a handful of the gifted. And so, in due course, Dallek wrote at least 14 books and one learned article after another. Such a man deserves our thanks, respect and admiration, for he has done what needed to be done... and he has done it with clarity, intellect and information we needed to know, though it is often shocking, dismaying, appalling, each word diminishing the subjects, never enhancing them... starting with Camelot's king himself, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Dallek starts and ends his book with a fact that clearly beguiles him, a fact of the utmost interest and pronounced incredulity: that poll after poll about the presidents puts JFK and his starkly abbreviated presidency on a par with those of Washington, Lincoln, and both Roosevelts, with an approval rating of 85 percent, only Ronald Reagan (at 74 percent) coming close. This fact intrigues Dallek... surprises and perplexes him for JFK's achievements were thin indeed when compared with the others; not just thin, either, but distinctly antithetical to greatness and the great needs of the Great Republic.

Washington is great because he decreed the Great Republic and disdained to be its king; Lincoln is great because he adhered to the Great Republic and its unity, doing whatever was necessary (whether strictly constitutional or not) to preserve it, one nation under God. JFK ran for president not to secure some great benefit for the nation but rather because his father, patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, told him he would... then ponied up the grit and the wherewithal to make it happen... and successfully so. John F. Kennedy, his presidency, the jeunesse doree who staffed it and all its myriad personnel were conjured by Papa Joe and his seemingly unending money and unequalled drive. He was the true driving force of all.... the Geppeto of all the Pinocchios.

President of the United States. Now what?

Great presidents are great because they represent, sustain and fight for great ideas. But John F. Kennedy had no such ideas and so started his administration in search of meaning... and for the people who could help him get it. Whilst engaged in this matter he did what he was so used to doing, leading an acute, perilous and dishonorable double life, using women (including 19 year-old Mimi Alford) in ways both disgusting and pathological and deceiving the nation about his always precarious and steadily deteriorating health. No wonder Dallek muses about the Kennedy mystique and its enduring hold on the awe-struck Great Republic.

Having achieved the greatest office in the world.... and just 43 years old at that.... JFK needed to do something with it, but what? Domestic policy, the betterment of the citizens, bored him. He who had every advantage could not be bothered, and was never interested in ensuring the people shared in his gifts and were better off accordingly. That was beneath his lordly distractions.

He adamantly preferred the delights of 007 international intrigue and clandestine agility; in this thrilling arena were princely reputations made... and lost... never mind that there he, his men, and their implausible plans could be trumped and laid low by a man named Castro and his beautiful little Caribbean domain to the astonishment of all. But then Castro believed in his cause... while JFK believed in nothing but his right to be president, his father's constant refrain... for only that eased the old man's rage and corrosive embitterment, for he, of course, had wanted to be president, too.

Fueled by the unending bile of the father, the favored son moved onward and upward. In 1952 he defeated the Brahmin aristocrat Henry Cabot Lodge who had condescended to be senator from the great Bay State of Massachusetts. In 1958 he persuaded its star-struck inhabitants that he was the Coming Man and his Republican challenger a joke, thereby winning re-election by an astonishing majority.

In 1960 he bumped off awkward and garrulous senator Hubert Humphrey in pivotal West Virginia by the simple, time-honored expedient of greasing the palms of its dirt-poor and illiterate citizens. He then achieved his party's endorsement by such proven ploys as promising future offices for present favors. First Brother Bobby Kennedy, for instance, promised the U.S. embassy to Equador to three credulous delegates, all important one minute, useless the next.

"Bobby, there are 19 such ambassadorial assignments to be made in South America by the president," he was told. Bobby could do the math... thus he had up to 60 such promises to make, his cynicism and gall swelling his brother's delegate total.

And if there were problems, why time and Daddy's bottomless check book could solve all of them... and even more. It was despicable. It was ruthless... it was cynical. But it was how hard-ball politics are played in the Great Republic and how its presidents rise from the multitude into history, cleansed of sin, sanctified, superior, venerated, twisted into a perfection that makes eternal mockery of the truth, the merest detail, of no significance whatsoever, especially when the matter involves Camelot and its spoiled, privileged denizens... for they are entitled only to the best... and must not be gainsaid.

Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House, Harper, 2013.

Kings and puissant princes must have followers; the greater their power and majesty, the more such followers they must have, and these of high position and earthly consequence. In the Camelot years these paragons were known as the "best and the brightest" and were selected for their many skills, exuberant intelligence, educational pedigrees festooned with Ivy, polished condescension and, most of all, their undeniable ability to uplift the king and augment his glory and glorious panache.

"Jesus Christ, this one wants that, that one wants this."

To his complete disgust and consternation, the new president-elect discovered that his ambitious, irksome, tiresome countrymen wanted things from him, every thing their little hearts might desire, including that much over-promised embassy to Quito. He didn't like their importunities one bit, how dare they? And so he whined to Daddy this memorable sentiment, "Jesus Christ, this one wants that, that one wants this. Goddam it, you can't satisfy any of these people. I don't know what I'm going to do."

But Daddy, arch realist that he was, knew: "Jack," he said with a soupcon of disgust in his voice, "if you don't want the job, you don't have to take it. They're still counting votes in Cook County", the place that determined the winner of Illinois and hence the election.

It should be mentioned, in fairness, that he like all candidates ended the campaign exhausted... but unlike other candidates he was already overshadowed by a plethora of diseases whose treatment often turned him into a near vegetable. No one knew this at the time, of course; no one knew just how sick he really was; how near ominous death.

To help keep his explosive secret, JFK used different doctors; no one, absolutely no one must know all... and no one did until Professor Dallek got permission to study the medical records for his brilliant, deeply troubling book, "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy; 1917-1963" (Boston, Little Brown and Company, 2003). It is the best of the best of Robert Dallek about some of the worst of JFK, but not perhaps the very worst.

That, some would surely argue, would have been his continuing vulgar usage of women. In the days following his election, his erotic habits inhibited by instant, constant, 24-hour-a-day secret service surveillance, he felt trapped and oppressed.

He did in due course connive at remedies, always putting his high office and reputation at risk; insulting his wife whenever possible, knowing the depths of her adoration for him promised instant, unconditional forgiveness.

This was what he expected from spouse; this is what he expected from everyone... and in his make-believe court of Camelot, this was what he got, as Robert Dallek makes so abundantly clear in prose that distresses, dismays, discomfits, disconcerts, but never palls. We are unsettled, but this is our president, our history, our cross to bear... and we must see it as it is, in all its ignominy and disgrace, for this president, his unrestrained usages, his prevarications, his deceits besmirched and threatened us all, for remember, the nuclear button to kingdom come was his and thus the future of the world and everyone in it.

"You are the wonderful one."

This, of course, is why as the sun rose over the Kennedy White House, the courtiers of Camelot, Bobby, Ball, Bowles, Bundy, McNamara, Rostow, Rusk, Salinger, Schlesinger, Sorensen, et al, gathered each morning to serenade the Apollo of their imagining, their demi-god, the president they aimed not merely to advise but to influence and control.

Their song was "You're A Wonderful One" first sung by Marvin Gaye in 1964 on the Tamla label. Find it now in any search engine and feel not mere love but adoration and submission.

"You are so wonderful/ Being near you is all I'm livin' for/ You show me more kindness in little ways/ Then I've ever known in all my days.../ Tell me we'll stay together/ Let me love you forever/ 'Cause you're a wonderful one/ You're a wonderful one."

What a shame he wasn't.


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