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The Senator And The Lady
October 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 6
The trouble was that Stevenson had not even indicated that he wanted to try once more. Typically, he held back, letting others speak for him. Promoting Stevenson, who had not run in the primaries, meant stopping Kennedy with Humphrey, Symington, Johnson, or anyone else to stalemate the convention. Never once did I hear Mrs. Roosevelt indicate that she preferred any of those candidates to Kennedy for either of the top two jobs. Not once did she praise Johnson to me in private, although early in 1960 she complimented him publicly for his great parliamentary skill in getting a civil-rights bill to the Senate floor. When Averell Harriman and Samuel Rosenman visited her in April at Hyde Park to urge that she back Humphrey, she refused to do so. She was loyal to Adlai, praising him at public dinner meetings and wishing in private that he would declare himself a candidate.
Kennedy could not understand Stevenson at all. He wanted Adlai’s endorsement even more avidly than he desired Mrs. Roosevelt’s. If Stevenson came out for him, she would follow and so would most of the liberals. That endorsement would have meant a great deal before the West Virginia primary, when Kennedy beat Humphrey in a state with 97 per cent Protestant population, but it would have been significant afterward, too. In Hawaii the Senator had told me, as he undoubtedly had told many others who had the ability to get the word back, that a Stevenson endorsement would assure Adlai of appointment as Secretary of State in a Kennedy administration. “He can have it if he wants it, if he just says the word.” For whatever reason—recalcitrance, indecision, or ambition—the word never came. And Mrs. Roosevelt waited in the hope that the statesman of the century would be called by a stalemated convention.
On January 2 Kennedy came to Cambridge, where he did a television program with Mrs. Roosevelt (arranged by John Kenneth Galbraith, who, like Schlesinger and others, was trying to bring the liberals together), and they exchanged pleasantries. In late spring, after the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries, with Kennedy now clearly the front-runner, he returned to appear with Mrs. Roosevelt on “Prospects of Mankind,” a television program emanating from Brandeis University and viewed on the public television station, WGBH. (I helped Mrs. Roosevelt plan these programs and appeared with her on some of them.)
Kennedy, whom I had not seen since Hawaii a year before, came early to meet with other participants on the program and the staff of WGBH. We had lunch and then talked for about an hour before the broadcast. The conversation turned mainly to issues. He wanted to talk about the Common Market, nuclear disarmament, and other questions of high policy. Mrs. Roosevelt seemed detached, giving no sign of enthusiasm or endorsement. Somewhere in the conversation Kennedy was told (or reminded) that a press conference had been scheduled for him and Mrs. Roosevelt, to be held immediately after the broadcast. He smelled a trap. Taking me off to the side, he asked if I could arrange to have her call off the press conference. Even though it might look funny, he thought it would be better than risking some kind of argument. I asked him what he was afraid of. “Well,” he said, “she might bring up the McCarthy business.” No good could come ofthat, he thought. It would just get people excited. By this time Kennedy was not happy about his failure to oppose McCarthy more strongly. That was a subject he wanted to bury. Besides, Mrs. Roosevelt had zapped him on that issue once before in Chicago in 1956. Why take a chance on the same thing happening again?
I agreed to talk to her, arguing first with the Senator that it would not do any good. Mrs. Roosevelt and I met in the little room we used to prepare for the broadcast. I began to relay the message, but before I could complete his suggestion that she cancel the press conference, she interrupted and said something like: “You tell the Senator not to worry. Everything will be all right. I won’t do anything that would embarrass him.” I had been trying to play it cool, and I would not have hinted that he might be the least bit embarrassed, but she knew just what I meant. So, having run my errand for the Senator, I came back with the message from the Lady. “Well, I’ll have to live with it,” he said. But he fidgeted until the press conference was over.
I never found out what Mrs. Roosevelt had in mind by agreeing to the press conference to begin with. All the Boston newspapers were represented and, I think, someone from the New York Times . She thanked the Senator for coming to the broadcast; he thanked her for having him. Political curve-balls, screwballs, and spitballs were thrown by the reporters. She took them all without even a half-hearted swing for Stevenson or against anyone else. Perhaps she had thought earlier of something dramatic, such as a public call for a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket, but I find it hard to believe she would even have contemplated doing something that inhospitable to a guest. Perhaps she just wanted to let people know she was now at least on friendly terms with Kennedy.