The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobbyby Richard D. Mahoney
Richard D. Mahoney begins writing Sons and Brothers because of a simple truth; the instant Robert Kennedy received the news that his brother has been murdered in Dallas, Bobby believed he himself was responsible. The partnership that had brought Bobby and Jack to the pinnacle of power--the fulfillment of their father's lifelong aspirations--would be the partnership that brought them down. Sons and Brothers is intimate, powerful, and persuasive, an American epic and an American tragedy.
“A haunting evocation of the fire-and-ice political partnership between Robert and John F. Kennedy.” Kirkus Reviews
“Mahoney offers a vivid fraternal portrait of Jack and Bobby Kennedy as coparticipants in the crises of their times, setting in motion forces that would lead to their destruction.” Publishers Weekly
“Like no other book written about the Kennedys.” Arizona Republic
“Mahoney has presented us with a portrait of Jack and Bobby Kennedy that is much more complex and far more human.” Oregonian
"Elegantly written." Gannett News Service
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Read an Excerpt
October 19, 1951
When thirty-four-year-old congressman John F. Kennedy landed at the French air base near Saigon, he and his brother Bobby and sister Pat were met by what appeared to be "half the French army" in full regalia. The fact that the Americans were now providing about 50 percent of the French munitions and supplies in France's war against the communist Vietminh lent a certain cachet to the congressman's visit. It also made him a target for Vietminh terror.
For reasons of security, the State Department had recommended that Congressman Kennedy exclude Vietnam from his seven-nation itinerary in October 1951. Saigon was a city under siege, the scene of anonymous grenade throwing during the day and nightly bombings by the Vietminh. Some of the terror was random, some targeted. In April, American diplomat Edmund Gullion had witnessed the assassination of the head of the French Sûreté. In July, a Vietminh sapper had succeeded in getting close enough to French general Chanson to blow them both up, along with a provincial governor. Pro-French agents roamed the city at night, detaining and sometimes executing suspected communists. The morning brought scenes of bodies, sometimes headless, drifting down the Saigon River. Despite this spectacle of tension and atrocity, Saigon, which in Vietnamese means "gift to the foreigner," still extended its languorous allure. Outside the wire netting around hotels like the Majestic, and beyond heavily armed troop cordons that protected government buildings, slender Vietnamese girls in white aodais still plied their trade on the wide, tree-lined boulevards under the yellow glow of gaslights.
In addition to Vietnam, Kennedy planned to visit other countries in the throes of violent insurgency or civil war, such as Korea and Malaysia, as well as the newly independent states of Israel and India. The conviction in Washington was that the contest between the United States and the Soviet Union would be won or lost in the outcome of the nationalist upheavals attempting to shake off Europe's colonial grasp. Kennedy had joined the Republican right in its assault on President Harry Truman for having done nothing to stop the "onrushing tide of communism from engulfing all of Asia." This was the prevailing view of the day. The "loss" of China to communism in 1949 and the catastrophic stalemate in Korea had produced a paroxysm of anger and self-doubt in Washington. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that the reason Americans had "died for a tie" was that within the United States government itself existed "a [communist] conspiracy so immense, an infamy so black as to dwarf any in the history of man."
Kennedy was not the only American politician Congressman Richard M. Nixon was another to sense that there was critical ground to be gained or lost on this issue. By touring the anticommunist front personally, Congressman Kennedy could return as an authoritative voice on containment in Asia. After four desultory years in the House, he was preparing to run in 1952 statewide in Massachusetts for either governor or senator.
If there was one distinguishing trait about Jack Kennedy among his peers outside the House chamber (where he was sometimes referred to as "Mattress Jack" for his sexual truancy), it was his flair for foreign policy. His first book, Why England Slept, stimulated in part by a two-month sojourn in Europe between his freshman and sophomore years at Harvard, had delineated the reasons for Great Britain's somnolence in the late 1930s in the face of Nazi rearmament and aggression. (One critic thought a more apt title might be While Daddy Slept, in reference to his father's accommodating attitude toward the Nazi onslaught while serving as the American ambassador in London.) The book revealed Jack Kennedy to be a decided internationalist. More important, perhaps, it also showed a willingness to challenge the patriarch's exacting will. Whatever the old man's reservations about Jack's thinking, he suspended his beliefs in order to prime the national press about his son's trip. He also made sure Jack saw all the right people en routeGenerals Dwight Eisenhower and Matthew Ridgway, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian nationalist and leader of the so-called nonaligned world.
The risk of a Vietminh attack notwithstanding, the most immediate danger to Congressman Kennedy, who gingerly made his way down the gangway of the military transport plane, was his own shattered health. He had only recently gotten off crutches following seven weeks of therapy designed to ease the pressure on his chronically painful back. A botched operation at the end of World War II had resulted in a metal plate being placed against his spine and had left an open eight-inch wound that had suppurated off and on for months. "Is any stuff running out of it?" his friend Charles Spalding remembered Jack asking as he hobbled along the beach in Hyannis Port. For all the pain, Jack's humor survived. He wrote a friend that he wished "the doc had just read one more book before picking up the saw." To another, he sardonically described his own future as being moved to "the Old Sailors' Home probably to be issued a rocking chair, a sunny place on the lawn with the thanks of a grateful Republic ringing in my ears."
He was dying, he admitted to journalist Joseph Alsop, not because of his back but rather from Addison's disease, an insufficiency in adrenal production that left its victims fatally vulnerable to infection. "The doctors say I've got a sort of slow-motion leukemia, but they tell me I'll probably last until I'm forty-five." What slowed Jack's decline was dexacortisone, which was injected daily into his thighs. Later he started taking 25 milligrams of cortisone orally each day, and received boosters of pain-killing novocaine directly into his back. All of these treatments became a carefully guarded family secret, attributed in news releases when Kennedy was intermittently hospitalized to "recurrent malaria and war-related injuries."
Perhaps this was why Joe Kennedy Sr. had recommended that third son Bobby, recently graduated from the University of Virginia law school, and sister Patricia accompany Jack on the seven-week trip. Jack had not previously traveled on international fact-finding trips with family members and there had been health problems out of the range of his specialists, their drugs, and the protective cover of his family. On a trip to England in 1948, Jack had become gravely ill, and word of his disease had nearly gotten into the press. (Lord Beaverbrook's physician, Daniel Davis, told Pamela Churchill, "That young American friend of yours, he hasn't got a year to live.") But he somehow recovered. Once back in the United States, off his supposed deathbed, Jack soon rediscovered his lifelong delight in pursuing pretty women between political appearances. This was a tricky practice in a puritanical age, one that had nearly gotten him cashiered out of the navy in 1942, for romantically consorting with Danish ingenue Inga Arvad, whom the FBI believed was a Nazi agent. Then and later Jack seemed oblivious to the risks in it all, despite his father's furious intercession. He eventually shipped out to the South Pacific and became a decorated hero, a status he later preferred to dismiss: "It was involuntary. They sank my boat."
Jack moved through his life both afflicted and charmed, shadowed and romanced by the possibility of death. Toward the end of World War Two, he kept a loose-leafed notebook that contained official and personal accounts of the deaths of his brother Joe and brother-in-law Billy Hartington, who were both killed in the European theater in 1944. Jack jotted down a quotation from British novelist and diplomat John Buchan: "He loved his youth, and his youth has become eternal. Debonair and brilliant and brave, he is now part of that immortal England which knows not age or weariness or defeat." He admired courage above all other traits and, in the poetry he could recite by heart, felt death beckoning. This preoccupation had a paradoxical effect on Jack. It made him fatalistic about the human prospect, but coldly resolved once engaged in the fight. For all of this, his political ambition during the late '40s and early '50s seemed fitful, and it wasn't clear whether Kennedy had the drive to become president or merely to remain a playboy. His father and younger brother were the ones who bridged that difference.
Until his death in an experimental bombing mission over France in August 1944, Joe Jr. had carried the grail of his father's ambition to make a Kennedy president. Joe was an athletic and winning young man with matinee-idol looks. So deep was the wound left by Joe Jr.'s death that his father could not even open As We Remember Joe, the book of remembrances Jack had given his father for Christmas. Jack wrote: "I think that if the Kennedy children amount to anything now or ever, it will be due more to Joe's behavior and his constant example than to any other factor." The melancholy conclusion was that the best among them was dead and gone. What was left, in the unwanted phrase of the Kennedys, was the second string.
World War Two had breached the family like a wrecking ball. Joe Kennedy had traversed the golden salient during the 1920s and 1930s making millions on the stock market, millions from Hollywood through the buying and selling of three studios, millions during Prohibition and afterward from bootlegging and cornering control over key liquor imports, and finally being appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1938. By the middle 1940s, this had all crumbled. Joe Jr. was killed, as was son-in-law Billy Hartington, Kathleen's husband. Kathleen herself died in an air crash in 1948. Jack was a near-invalid. The war had left the Kennedy patriarch himself a reviled man who could neither admit nor expiate his disgrace as a World War Two defeatist and anti-Semite. There was something dark, even Faustian, about the old man's effect on others. As penetrating a judge of human character as Franklin Roosevelt had told Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau on more than one occasion his reason for sending Kennedy to London: "He's too dangerous to allow around here." Joe Kennedy's solace the one thing he lived for other than making more money was his sons. He told people that he himself was a caterpillar. His sons would be his butterflies.
In the late '40s and early '50s, at least, there was little evidence of such a metamorphosis. Jack was struggling terribly with his illnesses and Bobby, bottled-up and pathologically shy, was maladroit beyond measure. Having grown up in a family of male stars, of which he simply wasn't one, Bobby's duty had been to step aside for those who were. He had nothing of Joe's good looks or robust physique, or Jack's self-possessed bookishness. The family photos of Bobby as an adolescent during the '40s show an overcast, almost embarrassed, gaze. He was small, and in the first test of the Kennedy male athletic achievement he was a failure. "I dropped everything," he later recalled. "I always fell down. I always bumped my nose or head." Once at a party at the Kennedy home in Bronxville, New York, Bobby picked up a glass of tomato juice with such force that he shattered it, sending the juice and shards of glass everywhere. With brother Joe (ten years older) and brother Jack (eight years older) away at college or later in the war and with his father as yet unable to detect anything worth advancing in his third son he grew up in the company of his mother and three sisters (Eunice, Pat, and Jean), attending no fewer than ten different schools. He performed indifferently. For all of this, journalist and family friend Arthur Krock saw something unusual in the third son when he was fifteen, "a kind of savage individuality" born of compensation and struggle.
The constant element in Bobby's life outside his family became the Catholic Church. He was an avid altar boy throughout high school. If Joe Jr. could tell you all about FDR's cabinet and brain trust, and Jack about Marlborough and Sir Walter Raleigh, Bobby knew the lives of the saints and their feast days. "Bobby has taken his religion seriously," his mother Rose commented, suggesting perhaps that her husband and the two older boys treated it more as a family ritual than as a system of personal belief.
Everything seemed to come hard to Bobby. When his father sent him up to Boston in 1946 to help out with Jack's campaign for Congress, the candidate didn't quite know what to do with his younger brother. "I can't see that sober, silent face breathing new vigor in the ranks," Jack observed to a friend, suggesting that Bobby be sent to the movies. The friend, Paul Fay, found Bobby monosyllabic and mournful: "Words came out of his mouth as if each one spoken depleted an already severely limited supply.... From his expression he might have been paying his last respects to his closest friend."
But if all detectable forms of political bonhomie were lacking, what was not was the steely drive to execute. Dave Powers, the unemployed World War Two veteran and Charlestown politico whom Jack befriended one evening in January 1946, remembered advising Bobby not to knock on people's doors before 8 A.M. or after 10 P.M. "that way they might vote for Jack." Powers estimated that Bobby was hitting around three hundred homes and apartments per day. "He looked like he was about sixteen but the effect he had was very positive. When he asked people to vote for Jack, you would have thought he was inviting them to enter the kingdom of heaven."
Bobby wasn't smooth but he was tough, very tough. After Jack's election, Bobby went back to Harvard, where his central ambition was to make the football team. As with the '46 campaign, his talent was sheer will. With unremitting practice and wild aggression, he won a letter in 1947, accomplishing the feat in the Harvard-Yale game with a fractured leg in a cast. "The major difference between Bobby and his brothers," said Ethel Skakel, whom he married in 1950 after nearly six years of courtship, "is that Bobby always had to fight for everything." Marriage to Ethel confirmed him in the way his upbringing had not; she was his anima, his other self in the Jungian sense giggly, outrageous, and deeply nurturing. A few months before his trip with Jack and Pat to the Middle East and Asia in October 1951, a daughter was born to Bobby and Ethel. They named her Kathleen Hartington, in memory of Bobby's deceased sister and her husband. Joe Kennedy Sr. saw and appreciated what Jack may have not that in Bobby the family had a soldier who could work long hours in the shadows and ask nothing for it.
Along the way of their 25,000-mile trip in the fall of 1951, Bobby dutifully kept a journal in his cramped handwriting. The conclusion he and his brother reached was that nationalism was the determinant force of the age, stronger than either communism or capitalism, and that the United States was aligning itself with reactionary forces through second-rate diplomatic representation. They felt that the bipolar approach to containing communism wouldn't work because it usually meant association with discredited local despots or the embattled colonial powers. In country after country they visited, terrorism, putsches, full-scale civil warfare, seemed hours or even a few city blocks away. Two days after their meeting with Pakistani leader Liaquat Ali Khan, he was murdered. In India, Prime Minister Nehru warned them over dinner, between longing glances at their sister Pat, that the French and their Western supporters were, as Bobby wrote, "pouring money & arms down a bottomless hole." "We have only status quo to offer these people. Commies can offer a change."
As Bobby explained it in 1967, the trip made a "very, very major impression" on his brotherand nowhere more so than Vietnam. After arriving and viewing the French défilade at the air base with General Jean De Lattre de Tassigny, the Kennedys were taken to the palace of South Vietnam's so-called strongman Bao Dai, who looked, Jack thought, as if he had been "fried in Crisco." They were "wined and dined" and housed in a single room, the only one in the palace that had air conditioning. His back giving him problems, Jack spent the night on the floor with Bobby and Pat alongside in the beds. General De Lattre personally took command of their tour from that point on, flying them over an area where the French Foreign Legion was doing battle with the Vietminh and presenting the Kennedys to the people of Hanoi in a flag-waving parade. ("Ironic," Bobby later said.) The Kennedys came away deeply impressed by the redoubtable De Lattre a brave man who had borne his own son's death before succumbing himself to cancer in 1952 but did not buy the French line one bit. Back in Saigon, Jack and Bobby found out the names and addresses of the best reporters and showed up at their lodgings to get the real story. What they heard was that the French cause, for which the United States was now airlifting weaponry, was doomed. Were a plebiscite held throughout Vietnam, the communist Ho Chi Minh would get 70 percent of the vote, Bobby noted in his journal.
From Vietnam, the Kennedys traveled to Singapore, then to war-torn Malaysia, where they toured Kuala Lumpur, surrounded and under siege, in a tank. From there they flew to Japan, their last stop before Korea. Jack, having struggled throughout the trip with his bad back, was suddenly hit with a high fever, the result again of his failing immune system. Bobby and Pat had him airlifted to a military hospital in Okinawa where, during the first night, his fever rose to 106 degrees. Bobby later said, "Everybody there just expected that he'd die." But slowly Jack's fever subsided and he was flown back to the United States. The family and its trusted retainers went into their denial routine, secreting Jack somewhere in Virginia, pending his improvement, and telling the press that his malaria had flared up again during the trip. During his convalescence, Jack drafted a radio address about his trip that he read on the Mutual Broadcasting Network on November 14. For its time, it was a farsighted exegesis about the defining power of Third World nationalism, which, Kennedy felt, was the proper bulwark against communism. It was also Kennedy's first enunciation of the doctrine of counterinsurgency, a policy that would bedevil his presidency in Vietnam and Cuba.
In his radio address, Jack blasted United States diplomats in insurgent Asia for "toadying" to the wishes of the European powers "with no eagerness to understand the real hopes and desires of the people to which they are accredited." He was also harsh in his criticism of American policy in Vietnam. "For the U.S. to have aligned itself with the desperate effort of a French regime to hang on to the remnants of empire" without exacting in exchange political reform in Indochina was a serious mistake. The war could only be won if France conceded independence to the Vietnamese. "To check the southern drive of Communism makes sense but not only through reliance on force of arms. The task is rather to build strong native non-Communist sentiment within these areas and rely on that as a spearhead of defense." This sounded right, but hadn't Bobby written in his journal that Ho Chi Minh would win if there were elections? So which was it Ho Chi Minh or the French? In statements during that fall of 1951 in New York and Massachusetts, Jack set forth the idea of a "third force" both anti-French and anticommunistthat could satisfy nationalist aspirations as well as stymie the Vietminh. This, in fact, emerged as America's covert policy in Vietnam in 1952-1953, as the French war effort headed toward bloody defeat.
One witness to the Americanization of France's war in Vietnam was the English novelist Graham Greene, who had arrived for his second visit in October 1951. (As Jack lay at the edge of death in the military hospital in Okinawa on the night of October 31, Greene lay, awake but dreaming, in an opium den gazing at the lovely, sprawled figure of a woman as he recited Baudelaire's "Invitation au Voyage.") Greene is thought to have patterned the hero of his novel The Quiet American on Edward Lansdale, an American counterinsurgency expert whom he met in Vietnam in 1954. In the novel, the earnest, enthusiastic CIA station chief Alden Pyle is doggedly determined to fight the communist Vietnamese the American way. In theory, as Kennedy had advocated, this meant finding and arming that "third force." In practice, it meant giving the pretender, Colonel Thé, the newest generation of plastique, which produced in one sanguinary afternoon on la Rue Catinat in Saigon a sudden hurricane of human limbs. It was the perfect hell of good, anticommunist intentions the old story of the ends justifying the means. It was also the prologue of the peculiar tragedy of the Kennedys, one in which Bobby, the moralist like Pyle, touched off a lethal chain reaction in his vendetta against Fidel Castro.
But this was to come later. The most important outcome of the trip was that in the course of 25,000 miles togetherthrough palaces, military parades, states of siege, war zones, and the long hours of travel in between these two sons became brothers. Jack, who had avoided what he thought was the leaden company of his dour younger brother, saw what Bobby's Harvard buddy Kenny O'Donnell valued so much the wry humor, the hawklike power of observation, as well as his indefatigable determination to do his duty. And Bobby, for the first time, enjoyed his older brother's encompassing curiosity and piquant humor. In Okinawa at the hospital, in the quiet hours when he thought Jack was going to die, Bobby must have also reflected on his brother's vulnerability.
Once home, Jack turned his energies toward running statewide in Massachusetts. Bobby joined the Justice Department and went to work in New York in the tax division. In April 1952, Jack got the break he'd been looking for: an open shot at the United States Senate when Governor Paul Dever decided to run for reelection. But the campaign was soon a complete mess due to Joe Kennedy's insistence on controlling everything and his habit of overriding campaign manager Mark Dalton. Jack seemed unwilling to or incapable of reining in his father, so Kenny O'Donnell, who was working on the Senate campaign, called his old Harvard football teammate Bobby Kennedy for help. But Bobby brushed him off: "Don't drag me into it," he told O'Donnell. O'Donnell called him back twice the next day. "Jack's going to lose," he said. There was a long pause at the other end of the line.
"OK. OK." Then another pause. "Goddamnit." About a week later, Bobby called O'Donnell back to confirm his decision. "I've thought it over and I suppose I have to do it."
With his total level of sacrifice, legion hours, and precision of execution, Bobby transformed Jack's campaign for the Senate into a winner. Ambassador Kennedy meanwhile did what he was best at, putting money into the right hands. This two-track approach to political persuasion that the Kennedys perfected in 1952 Bobby moving the machine and Joe moving the money foreshadowed their run for the presidency in 1960. Jack was able to overcome a 300,000-vote plurality for Eisenhower in Massachusetts to beat popular Senate incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge by 70,000 votes. Jack later observed that there wasn't a politician in Massachusetts who could stand Bobby after the '52 campaign was over, but "we had the best organization in the state." Among the family's male stars now, nobody was now regarded as tougher. Lest Bobby rest for a month or so on his laurels, his father was there to remind him within days of Jack's victory: "Are you going to sit on your tail end and do nothing now for the rest of your life? You'd better go out and get a job."
August 18, 1956
Their father told them it was a stupid idea. If Adlai Stevenson chose Jack as his running mate at the Democratic convention in Chicago, he would do it to get the Catholic vote. When Stevenson lost, which Joe Kennedy thought he would, Jack would be blamed and he would be finished politically. Right before he left the country in June for his French Riviera home in Cap d'Antibes, he again warned his sons about the idea. Jack and Bobby would probably have heeded their father's advice had Joe accompanied them to the convention. But with their father out of touch, Jack and Bobby, in battle mode with a nucleus of tough young men like Kenny O'Donnell and Torbert McDonald around them, went for a long shot. They had no particular strategy in mind and no experience in the arcane maneuvers of political conventions. But no sooner had they arrived in Chicago than they began plotting in their rooms at the Ambassador East and the Conrad Hilton, and on the first day of the convention began making the rounds in the Amphitheater where the conclave was being held. Then the unexpected took place.
Governor Stevenson's campaign committee had selected Senator Kennedy to narrate a film produced by Dore Schary, titled The Pursuit of Happiness. On the opening night of the convention, eleven thousand delegates (and millions more on television) watched and listened as Kennedy narrated an emotional depiction of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and the ideals of the party. Kennedy, tanned and fit, a low and conversational timbre in his voice, performed exceptionally. There was applause throughout the film and the crowd roared its approval at its conclusion. When Jack walked out onto the podium to take a bow, nodding and smiling in his contained way, he was met by a floor demonstration led by the Massachusetts delegation. Jack Kennedy, a complete unknown outside the Eastern seaboard, had suddenly been discovered by a national audience. The Kennedy brothers learned something about their candidate that night: Jack was good in person, but he was far better on film. The New York Times reported the next morning that "Kennedy came before the convention tonight as a movie star."
The Stevenson leadership now had a problem: they didn't really want Kennedy as Adlai's running mate, but they didn't know quite how to dispose of him. The governor offered him the nominating speech and the text to go with it. Jack accepted the offer and threw away the speech. He and Theodore Sorensen, his twenty-eight-year-old aide, worked all night on his remarks, and the next day wowed the convention delegates a second time. Dave Powers and Kenny O'Donnell later wrote that "it was a little like the story of the Irish girl who worked so hard at converting her Jewish boyfriend to Catholicism that he became a priest." Jack was now pressuring Stevenson to select him as his running mate, whether Stevenson wanted him or not. In messages to his father, Jack characterized his activity as merely getting his name out and testing future waters, not angling for the spot of running mate. If Joe found out what was really going on, he could without warning call Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago, or Robert Wagner, mayor of New York, both of whom periodically received briefcases full of campaign money from him, and cut his errant boys off at the knees.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the Democratic party's great deliverer and a close friend of Stevenson, was thought to be key to the vice-presidential selection. A Kennedy aide hastily arranged a meeting. It went disastrously. Kenny O'Donnell remembered that about twenty people, including members of the press, watched as she bored into Jack about his association with communist-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy. Why hadn't he supported the censure of McCarthy, she asked? Jack's answer did not satisfy her and she eyed him coldly. After twenty more minutes of tense exchange, Mrs. Roosevelt broke off the encounter. The reason why she had so humbled Jack had more to do with Joe Kennedy, whom she detested, than with Jack's unwillingness to take on McCarthy. She later told Gore Vidal that in his final disgraceful weeks as her late husband's ambassador in London, Joe Sr. had insisted on visiting the president in Hyde Park. Kennedy had spent no more than ten minutes with FDR when an aide rushed up to Mrs. Roosevelt to tell her the president urgently wanted to see her. She walked in the room to find the president white-faced and furious. He invited Kennedy to step outside. "I never want to see that man as long as I live," he told her. Her uncle David Gray, the wartime American ambassador to Ireland, was sure that Kennedy had proposed that Roosevelt make a deal with Hitler. Before and during the convention, "Mrs. FDR," as she came to be known, communicated her pronounced disregard for the Kennedys to Stevenson. It was a problem for Jack, then and later.
Nothing, however, could discourage Bobby, who prowled the convention floor, yellow pad in hand, cornering floor leaders and asking them to commit to Jack. Bobby was now back in his assault mode. When there were no taxis to be found outside the convention hall, Bobby simply stepped out in front of a car, which screeched to a halt. He opened the driver's door and informed the man that he needed the car. The driver seemed to understand that there was no point in arguing and agreed to take the Kennedy group downtown. En route he asked Bobby for his autograph, to which Kennedy replied, "We'll do that later."
There were other discoveries during those hectic days. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, whom Jack had married in September 1953, had come to the convention initially excited to be part of her first Kennedy campaign. She was eight months pregnant. A touching picture shows her beautiful and open-faced, standing on her seat with a Stevenson sign cheering at Jack's nominating speech. She followed Jack around, shook hands with everyone she could, sat in on the late-night meetings, and was soon exhausted. Their room at the Conrad Hilton was choked with cigar smoke. No one slept, tempers were short, and Jack's back was killing him. Between hurried meetings with his lieutenants, Jack received an unending train of fixers, reporters, and well-wishers. He ultimately persuaded Jackie to move in with his sister Eunice. This was her first bitter dose of being Jack Kennedy's political wife and she hated it. When Jack moved down to the Stockyards Inn, which was closer to the convention hall, she didn't accompany him, nor did she visit him until the convention was over.
Democratic nominee Stevenson was probably leaning toward Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey as his choice for running mate, or possibly Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, but didn't have the nerve to ignore the claim of Tennessee's other senator, Estes Kefauver, who had won several primaries and had a block of loyal delegates at the convention. On August 17 at 11 P.M., Stevenson went to the convention hall and formally threw open the vice-presidential nomination. The delegates themselves would choose. What had begun as something of a beauty contest for Jack was shaping up into a floor fight and Kefauver, after months of campaigning for the party's top spot, had a singular advantage. Rather than beat a strategic retreat, the Kennedy brothers decided to make a fight of it.
Back at the Stockyards Inn at around midnight, Jack asked Bobby to call their father in France. "Tell him I'm going for it." Having referred this unenviable task to Bobby, Jack walked out of the room. O'Donnell watched as Bobby dialed the number and got his father on the phone. The old man exploded at the news and shouted, "Jack's a total fucking idiot and you're worse!" After several more seconds of obscene invective, the line went dead. Bobby put the phone down. "Whew. Is he mad!"
The vice-presidential campaign turned into a frenzied circus, with Humphrey volunteers visiting lakefront bars and taverns at 2:30 A.M. in search of delegates and Kefauver holding a press conference at 4 A.M. The Kennedys worked through the night trying to get speakers to nominate Jack later that day and desperately calling key delegations to round up votes before the balloting began. At noon the convention was called to order. As the delegates listened to Connecticut governor Abraham Ribicoff nominate Jack, Bobby was trying to find someone to give the seconding speech for his brother. He ran into Massachusetts congressman and House majority leader John McCormack and "practically carried him to the platform." McCormack, who was nursing ambitions of his own after having been nominated by his delegation for president, felt as if he was being suborned. With Bobby standing behind him, he gave a seconding speech that was so weak he scarcely mentioned Jack's name.
To no one's surprise, Senator Kefauver achieved a large lead on the first ballot, but fell short of the required majority. Kennedy was a distant though impressive second. On the second ballot, Jack's sterling convention performances and early-morning deals with other aspirants, such as New York City mayor Robert Wagner, who now had dropped out, began to pay off. Suddenly there was a Kennedy stampede and Jack stared unbelievingly at his TV set in his hotel room as he surged ahead of Kefauver, 618 to 551. He was soon within 38 votes of winning. As he hurriedly dressed to go over to the hall to accept the vice-presidential nomination, a cordon of Chicago police arrived at the hotel to serve as an escort. On the convention floor as delegations demanded to be recognized, there was pandemonium. Unexpectedly, Senator Gore, who was thought to be a Kennedy supporter, withdrew in favor of his fellow Tennessean Kefauver. This touched off a new stampede away from Kennedy toward Kefauver. Minutes later it was over. The vice-presidential nomination went to Kefauver.
Jack was angry and very disappointed but had the good judgment to hurry over to the convention, mount the rostrum, and, with a sad smile on his face, congratulate Kefauver. Bobby, bitter at a list of people including Stevenson, put on a brave face for his brother and later consoled him that he was better off to have lost. Jack responded to this sarcastically, "This morning all of you were telling me to get into this thing, and now you're telling me I should feel happy because I lost it."
The Kennedy achievement at the 1956 convention had been extraordinary, in fact, the product of Jack's grace and Bobby's pure aggression along with a large quotient of luck. Jack was now seen as someone with star appeal who in defeat was a good sport. And he had done this without actually joining the doomed Democratic ticket. Bobby, O'Donnell, and the rest had gotten an indispensable insight into the mechanics of the convention as well into the loyalties of several key bosses. It would serve them well in Los Angeles at the 1960 Democratic convention. They had catapulted their man onto the national stage.
It was revealing of his sense of the order of things that after the convention Jack left his ailing and exhausted wife with her mother in Newport and headed off to confer with his father in southern France. He and his younger brother Teddy then boarded a 40-foot yacht with several unattached female guests for a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean. Jackie was meanwhile struggling with her pregnancy. On August 23, she was rushed to the hospital due to internal bleeding. Doctors performed an emergency cesarean delivery, but the infant, a gift, was stillborn. Jack, unaware of all of this, remained at sea and did not learn of it until the yacht docked at Genoa. His rather extraordinary absence made the national press.
When Bobby, who was then in Hyannis Port, heard the news, he rushed to Newport to be with Jackie, now in critical condition. He got there in time to be at her bedside when she regained consciousness and gave her the sad news about the child whose burial he had already arranged. When Jackie finally did speak to Jack, he told her that he wasn't going to cut his cruise short. Bobby and his father soon straightened Jack out on this score and he flew home. But Jackie, embittered and depressed, wanted nothing to do with him. She refused to go back to Hickory Hill, the home in northern Virginia Joe Kennedy had bought for her and Jack. She told Bobby that she could not bear to see its empty nursery. (Bobby and Ethel moved in to Hickory Hill after Jack and Jackie chose not to live there.) Both Time and nationally syndicated columnist Drew Pearson reported that a divorce might be in the offing. The press also alleged that Joe Kennedy had offered Jackie a million dollars to stay with Jack. Whatever deal was struck and the precise nature of it is not clear it involved money and the emotional allegiance of Jackie's father-in-law, Joe, and her brother-in-law, Bobby. Henceforth, they would be her protectors.
Meet the Author
Richard D. Mahoney, a Kennedy scholar emeritus of the University of Massachusetts, is an expert on international economics and foreign policy and the author of two histories of the Kennedy administration. He was the Democratic secretary of state and acting governor of Arizona. He is currently the director of the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University.
David Talbot is the author of the New York Times bestseller Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years and The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. He is the founder and former editor in chief of Salon.
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I thoroughly enjoyed The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby. Anyone who has grown up in the U.S. public school system knows a bit about John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Bobby, but this new book by Richard D. Mahoney is exhaustively well documented. The book provides an in depth look into the personal lives and political careers of the Kennedy brothers. I found it interesting and educational. I highly recommend it.