The following comes from a folder entitled "Notes on Social Gatherings with the President, 2/13/63" -- located in the Arthur M. Schlesinger Personal Papers, Box W6 (see online finding aid). For more information please contact Kennedy.Library@nara.gov or 617.514.1629.
February 13th, 1963
At the President’s.
Nancy and I visited the President’s last night. We came in the driveway, car halted by the police who checked guest list, asked whether ours was a YW card, then up to the main entrance where a young Secret Service man was waiting for us who hung our clothes in the little wardrobe to the right of the great main hall, and then led us to the elevator to the left (as one descends or emerges). First impression was of the fantastic and beautiful proportions of the entrance hall, how high, and how dazzlingly illuminated it was, of the gleam of marble, of the number of uniformed people about in park police blue. Beyond that the impression of noise and babble coming from somewhere downstairs which was the Emancipation Day Celebration, or an attempt to steal Lincoln from the Republicans and bring him back to Democracy. By this time it was 7:45 and the party had been going since 6.
The Secret Service man pressed the elevator button at the point marked third floor, then stepped out and left us; and we came up to the third floor in along arched corridor that seemed much longer than the White House is long, soft glow here and, as I remember, yellow pointed walls, hung with pictures like a museum. And then we called: Hello, Who's There, and heard stirrings and then there opened a private room, something just like a bedroom door and out steps Mr. President himself. Young, gay, a bit heavier than before and off and out; and then following him Jackie in a screaming red velvet skirt and a little top. We had arrived precisely on time and as they led us to the sitting room, there tottered out behind them little John F. a somewhat runny nose as if he had a cold and a pleasant, sweet, handsome little boy, saying "monkey house, monkey house" and the President explained that he'd just been to the zoo today. And then into the parlor to sit down, followed almost instantly by the Labouisses.
We kidded a bit about Pierre’s statement, about the hiking bit being carried too far; we fed him the items of news on tonight’s TV; then the Bradleys entered; and then the President began to unwind from the day. I don't know how Cuba came up but it did, perhaps because he asked me about the McNamara piece, and I said what a wonderful guy he was, and then he asked when it was going to be out and I said not until March 24th, they publish with ail the speed of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He laughed a bit at that, then offered that I hadn't been around to talk to him on this one. I said no I didn't need help with this one, he was so obviously good. Then I observed I worked it out in England more than here and he said that this was our basic constituency, not England we needed it. I said why? He said they were taking a beating on Cuba. They were making Cuba into an issue the way China had become an issue in Truman's time. Then, obviously unwinding, he went on. He went over the gap period between September 15th and October 15th. He went over the fact that all intelligence estimates had indicated or implied no Soviet buildup there, nor did they anticipate or imagine the Soviets would do this. Tommy Tomlinson and Chip Bohlen had said they’d never do it. The political and intelligence analyses had not indicated in any way that such a thing was on the Soviet mind, therefore we hadn’t sent out planes to scout; once we did send our planes to scout for this stuff. As a result (of sea and naval intelligence?) then we immediately found the problem. Where did Keating get his stuff, I asked. And he said there are 50,000 odd Cuban refugees in this country all living for the day when we will go to war with Cuba and all putting out this kind of stuff. And then he took off on the press. Can you imagine the Russians backing up like this and not seeing it as a victory – we would never be allowed to back down like this. If we did can you imagine what Congress and the press would say. He railed more at the press than at Congress as he spoke, the comparative play of events and the space given them. Thus the rumors of trouble in Cuba of naval operations in and out of Cuba will be big fat FrontPage stuff – but Admiral Anderson’s official denial will be given an inch space. He was bitter about the Republicans – ‘did you ever see such a rotten party’ bitter - about the difficulty of replying in public to such charges. How could you say, for example, “Well, so they have 17,000 men in Cuba but we have 38,000 men in Turkey. How about that?” Benny said news mustn’t say so. Then briefly we talked about lack of political intelligence. They Harry Labouisse said that NATO had just begun a training program for Nike Zeus stuff in Crete – and just wait until the Russians got onto that and described it as a new American missile base. Kennedy here got exasperated, pulled a card out of his inside pocket and scribbled a note to himself saying, “I’ve got to stop that. I got to find out about that.” At this both Benny and I protested, I think Benny saying, “Hey the working day is over. It’s time to take it easy, or, it’s fair to work after hours, and Kennedy turned and said, “No I’ve got to, I’ll be the one blamed for this if anything goes wrong, it’s me they’ll blame”. Evidently he hadn’t heard of this new anti-missile base at all and didn’t like it.
After perhaps half an hour of banter, with time for two drinks (for me) the party was now perceptibly gayer and we all went in to dinner, in the private dinning room. At this point my entire sense of awe had disappeared, as had everybody’s, and we were all of us having just a wonderful fun, bubbly time. The President was at his most jovial, gay, fun, having apparently an absolutely good time of gossip. We’d no sooner sat down at the table than we got onto politics. I fiddled and faddled about this difficulty of keeping information from one camp and another; and he enjoyed it; then I described Nelson and how Nelson discovered politics like a maiden discovering kissing; he enjoyed the description; said that it reminded him of Powers description of Soltoretall. “He was Irish on his chauffeur’s side.” He asked whether Nelson was a sure thing for the nomination; I said he owned it if he wanted it. I said, “but he likes you” and he said, “That’s unimportant. I like him, too. But he’ll get to hate me. That’s inevitable.” We talked politics and he seemed to be enjoying himself. Then he talked of my book, and said so many flattering things about it that it made my head spin; at one point he turned to Nancy and said, “It’s not that he said anything so new, but that he said it so beautifully.” Then when I made a mien, he said, “I think that’s a compliment.” He was in a high old moon now and I can remember not so much wisecracks as just his general tone of gayety because he was talking home politics and quite different from the somber moon in front of the fireplace before dinner when he talked of what would have happened if Krhuschev hadn’t backed up, and we might have been in for a real trouble; (There was more a shake to his shoulders at that point than an expression of horror). (There is also a wonderful quality of a young President coming into this room leading a two year old toddler with a little cold by the hand and explaining his toddler’s baby talk – monkey house, airplane – and then going somber and statesmanlike on you). Except this was not an evening of statesmanship. He was having fun. From Nelson we got off on to Catholics and Protestants again, a favorite subject of his, and from that on to Adlai and how Adlai could still be at him in Madison, Wisconsin. We talked briefly about who would have got the nomination if he hadn’t – and we both guessed it would have been Symington. Or Stevenson? Could Stevenson have licked Nixon in the debates? Kennedy thought not. Stevenson had something though and we got off on to the college towns. Kennedy thought Stevenson could lick him today in Madison, Wisconsin, Berkeley, California, in Harvard-Cambridge. I said no. Nancy offered the thought that he seemed practical and pragmatic to the eggheads and he said, well, I think Nancy may be right.
I told him at one point that I was going to do the book again in 1964 and hoped it would have his cooperation. He didn’t say yes, but something to that effect – something like, sure, or, of course, but obviously the request hadn’t registered on him for he was relaxing; maybe it sounded as if I were asking for advice for he said, “Well I said the 1960 book would never succeed and look how wrong I was. So maybe you can.” I said, “But think of all the burdens of conducting a campaign for the Presidency from the White House, the things you can’t say or do,” and he said there might be a story in it after all.
I repeated at one point Sam Rayburn’s story about the day it rained gold and it was that which made him say 1960 was so exciting a campaign, and then went on to ask who would have won the nomination had he not.
After dinner – which started with good, excellent pasta and then went to a mediocre rack of lamb with Pouilly-Fume to drink – we went out into the long hall with the men. I remember the parlor as being done in yellow with some deep green (Cezonnes?) on the wall, and the family dining room being done in old American furniture but can’t remember the paintings. And then the long hall being done in American primitives (American Indians etc.) and we sat half way down the hall and the ladies sat in the lounges at the far end. Kennedy of course restless up from table; to fifteen minutes with the men; we talked of many things as men – but I was floating by then and remember almost nothing, perhaps the important thing about Kennedy is that he covers so vast a territory of ground, so much of the gossip quality in his talk, so much of the matter of fact that it’s impossible to make a logical sequenced reconstruction.