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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Betty Draper from AMC’s “Mad Men” is a grown child, hyper-feminine and superficial, vindictive and petty. She bears a striking resemblance to the portrait that emerges of First Lady Jackie Kennedy in audio interviews with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., recorded just months after her husband John’s assassination in 1963 and released for the first time this week.

Recently widowed and still grieving, she shares some of her most intimate moments in the White House and dishes on senior officials, American political figures, and foreign leaders. Perhaps most noteworthy is the defensive — or perhaps just ignorant — posture she takes toward her husband and his likely infidelity.

At just 34, and in what her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, describes in a foreword to the book as “the extreme stages of grief,” Mrs. Kennedy displays a cool self-possession and a sharp, somewhat unforgiving eye. In her distinctive breathy cadences, an intimate tone and the impeccable diction of women of her era and class, she delivers tart commentary on former presidents, heads of state, her husband’s aides, powerful women, women reporters, even her mother-in-law.

Charles DeGaulle, the French president, is “that egomaniac.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is “a phony” whom electronic eavesdropping has found arranging encounters with women. Indira Gandhi, the future prime minister of India, is “a real prune — bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”

The White House social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, Mrs. Kennedy tells Mr. Schlesinger, loved to pick up the phone and say things like “Send all the White House china on the plane to Costa Rica” or tell them they had to fly string beans in to a state dinner. She quotes Mr. Kennedy saying of Lyndon B. Johnson, his vice president, “Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?” And Mr. Kennedy on Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Charlatan is an unfair word,” but “he did an awful lot for effect.”

She suggests that “violently liberal women in politics” preferred Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic presidential nominee, to Mr. Kennedy because they “were scared of sex.” Of Madame Nhu, the sister-in-law of the president of South Vietnam, and Clare Boothe Luce, a former member of Congress, she tells Mr. Schlesinger, in a stage whisper, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were lesbians.”

Any shortcomings on the part of her husband are not mentioned. She speaks of his loyalty, sensitivity, courage — traits consistent with the Camelot template she had been the first to invoke. She presents herself as adoring, eager for his approval and deeply moved by the man. There is no talk of his extramarital affairs or secret struggle with Addison’s disease, though she does speak in detail about his back pain and the 1954 back surgery that almost killed him.

Besides betraying her elite and sheltered upbringing, Kennedy’s words display an almost-childish fixation on the trivial and mundane; she appears divorced from reality, like someone who compartmentalizes and ignores the unpleasant. That she would argue all of Martin Luther King’s civil rights and social justice work should be discredited by his alleged affairs is really quite silly when her own husband’s sexual exploits during his time in the White House are the stuff of legend.

“My feeling is that people in a kind of informal situation say things without completely thinking them through. My guess is some of the thoughts, in retrospect, she might have taken them back or reconsidered them or not gone down that particular route,” said Stephen Schlesinger, son of the legendary historian.

“In his journals there’s a lot of things people say that look silly in retrospect. I’m willing to give her a pass on most of the stuff she said.”

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Copyright 2011 The National Memo
  • FranklinWheeler

    I’m not surprised that Jackie Kennedy would say the things she said. Her youngest brother-in-law did the same thing for years and it was ignored by the press because they favored the Kennedy family regardless of their apparent racism. Teddy led the high-tech lynching of Clarence Thomas not because he had supposedly said unacceptable things around Anita Hill, he led the lynching because he honestly believed the empty seat on the Supreme Court was reserved for an African American and he’d be damned if that seat was going to go to a conservative African American. If Teddy was truely a warrior for the little guy and advocated progress in the African American community he would not have limited the seats on the Supreme Court for African Americans to only one seat.

    The Kennedys this includes Jackie, practiced the same view of America as you see in the recent movie, The Help. They saw that everyone belongs in their place as they designated the seating arrangment.

  • routkay

    Regarding the comment:”If Teddy was tru[e]ly a warrior for the little guy and advocated progress in the African American community he would not have limited the seats on the Supreme Court for African Americans to only one seat.” Teddy K. had no control over any such quota. Bush I cynically nominated Thomas, a conservative African American, to replace Thurgood Marshall, the liberal who had argued in the landmark Brown v. Board of Ed desegregation case in 1954. Take him or leave him; this is the only Black nominee you will get. Thomas was so unacceptable that even the NAACP came out against him. In any case, Teddy Kennedy could not have forced through a second African American. This is a stupid charge.

  • FranklinWheeler

    Teddy did not have consitutional control on who was appointed to the vacated seat held by Thurgood Marshall but Teddy made it clear that the nominee had to be an African American based on the premise that there is only one seat allotted for African Americans. Subtle racism is racism.

  • rumpunch

    What I find interesting is that she would assure her husband that their children would prefer to die with him on the White House lawn than live without him. Doubtful. As for her derogatory comments about women who actually deserved their political power, they didn’t end up selling themselves to nasty little Aristotle Onassis. What we can learn and appreciate, after observing Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her ilk, is that women don’t have to behave like that anymore in order to have a roof over their heads and food on the table. Maybe her comments and behavior will go a long way toward making today’s young women aware how fortunate they are with the choices they have.