JOHN SHATTUCK: So good afternoon. Welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and on behalf of our Board of Directors, a number of whom are here, and Tom Putnam, our Library Director, and -- I’m just delighted that all of you have made such a wise choice on this, this super football afternoon. I think, in fact, just about now the kickoff is taking place so this is … your choice is brilliant and I want to congratulate you all on coming to the right place.
This afternoon we are in for a treat, thanks to a leading member of President Kennedy’s inner circle and a leading historian of that time -- who marvelously happen to be married to each other! -- we’re going to take you back to the days of the New Frontier and all that followed during the next four decades. And we honor our speaker, Richard Goodwin, as a Kennedy Library Distinguished American, and he honors us with his presence. Thank you, Dick, and thank you Doris.
Before going any further, I want to thank also the generous sponsors of our Distinguished American Speakers Program -- Boston Capital, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and Raytheon, as well as the institutions that make all our Kennedy Library forums possible. There are many of them, as you know. Our lead supporter, Bank of America, also the Boston Foundation, the Lowell Institute, and our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, NECN, and WBUR, which broadcasts all Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings. So you can go home and have another one.
I want to welcome and recognize three members of the Goodwin family who are here with us this afternoon: Michael Goodwin, a teacher at Concord High School, is here with his wife Lindsay, and Joe Goodwin, who recently returned from Iraq where he served his country as an army platoon leader in Baghdad and was awarded a Bronze Star, is here too. Could you rise, Michael, Lindsay, and Joe, so we could recognize you? And don’t forget to wave at your parents on stage. I’d also like to welcome Carl Kaysen, who served in the Kennedy White House as Assistant National Security Advisor under McGeorge Bundy. Also former representative Jim Leach, who now directs our sister institution, The Institute of Politics at the Kennedy Library. Please welcome them.
Now traveling back to the early 1960s with Dick Goodwin is like riding an express train to the Kennedy White House, as you can tell from the dazzling photo of Dick I think you saw up here as you came in escorting Jacqueline Kennedy to President Kennedy’s famous White House dinner for Nobel Laureates. It was a time, as we know, of enormous energy, great goals, and tremendous talent, and those of us who were growing up under a young President who inspired us to ask what we could do for our country were captivated by what was going on in Washington, and Dick Goodwin was at the center of all of that. To give you a sense of what he did at the White House or at least what President Kennedy thought he did, let’s listen to President Kennedy tell us about his young, special assistant in this audio clip from the Kennedy Library archives, an NBC interview on April 11, 1961.
[one-minute audio clip]
Dick’s White House colleagues, Ted Sorenson and Arthur Schlesinger, have both written their own words of praise of Dick’s many talents. Sorenson gives him credit for being the only survivor, other than himself, of a long string of Kennedy speechwriters, and then pays him the ultimate fellow speechwriter’s tribute, which is that he attributes half of Kennedy’s speeches in the 1960 campaign to Dick Goodwin.
Arthur Schlesinger paints a fascinating portrait of Dick Goodwin as, in his words, the quote, “archetypal New Frontiersman.” Here’s what he says, as only Arthur Schlesinger could say it, in his book, A Thousand Days, and I quote, “Goodwin was the supreme generalist who could turn from Latin America to saving the Nile Monuments, from civil rights to planning a White House dinner for the Nobel Prize winners, from composing a parody of Norman Mailer to drafting a piece of legislation, from lunching with a Supreme Court Justice to dining with Jean Seberg -- and at the same time retain an unquenchable spirit of sardonic liberalism and unceasing drive to get things done.” That’s Arthur Schlesinger.
Dick Goodwin had a dazzling academic career, as I think you could tell from what President Kennedy was saying, graduating summa cum laude from Tufts -- we have a number of Tufts students here so you should look at this man as your model -- and first in his class from Harvard Law School, after which he clerked for the legendary Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Before working in the Kennedy White House, he was a congressional investigator into the rigging of television quiz shows, and decades later he was portrayed as a hero in the Academy Award-winning movie about that time, Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford. Maybe some of you have seen it. He served as a Special Assistant to President Kennedy and later was in charge of Latin American Affairs in the White House and the State Department, where he orchestrated the Alliance For Progress, perhaps the single most successful U.S. diplomatic initiative ever undertaken in Latin America.
In 1964 and ‘65, Dick served as Special Assistant to President Johnson and played a major role in shaping the legislative agenda of the civil rights revolution and LBJ’s Great Society programs. He left the Johnson Administration because of differences over Vietnam, and in 1968 he managed Senator Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in New Hampshire, which is where I had the privilege of first meeting Dick. And I must say, he’s the only person who, as he gets a little bit older, acquires more hair and not less, and I salute him for the fact. When Robert Kennedy entered the presidential race, Dick joined his campaign as media advisor and he was with Senator Kennedy in Los Angeles when he was struck down on June 5, 1968.
Over the years, Dick has authored some of the most memorable American speeches, including John F. Kennedy’s Latin American speeches, Lyndon Johnson’s most famous civil rights and Great Society speeches, Robert Kennedy’s famous “ripple of hope” speech in South Africa in 1966, which we played when Bishop Tutu was here on Tuesday of this week, and Al Gore’s presidential concession speech in 2000. And he’s written five critically acclaimed books and many articles in the New Yorker and other publications that have helped us come to grips with the tumultuous political world in which we live. Dick, you're a great writer, a great thinker, and a great American, and you’ve kept us focused through good times and bad on what it means to be a liberal and a progressive, constantly inspiring us to remain connected to the values and the legacy of those magical years when we were taught to ask not what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country. And because of what you’ve accomplished and who you are, the Kennedy Library is proud to honor you as a Distinguished American.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Thank you, John. I feel like a man -- one of the few men, the lucky – who actually attend his memorial service while he’s still alive.
JOHN SHATTUCK: A lot more to come. Now, Dick, it’s time for the roast. As if you alone aren’t enough of a Kennedy Library draw over the Patriots game today when the Colts are playing the Patriots, we’re thrilled to have as our moderator the other half of the dynamic Goodwin duo, America’s favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Now just a few words about Doris and then I’ll turn everything over to her. Like Dick, Doris also served in the Johnson White House. She was a White House Fellow in 1967 when her personal opposition to the Vietnam War led her to co-author an article for the New Republic entitled “How To Remove LBJ in 1968.” Not exactly a calling card for a job promotion, but apparently LBJ wanted to prove that he didn’t feel threatened by the growing number, the growing anti-war sentiment in Washington, and undoubtedly, he was incredibly impressed by Doris so he appointed Doris after that article to be a special assistant to the president.
After Johnson left the White House, Doris went on to help him write his memoir, The Vantage Point. She was a professor at Harvard when she published her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, which became a New York Times bestseller. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and earlier published another New York Times bestseller, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. It’s very hard to keep up with her bestsellers; I’m still reading some of the earlier ones. She spoke two years ago at the Kennedy Library on her most recent book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Now, Doris is a great baseball fan, as those of you who know her know well, and she did her apprentice work preparing for Boston by rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers when she was growing up in New York. She wrote a best seller about her heartbreak affair as a Dodgers fan, which, again, was good preparation -- for a while at least -- for Boston. And she served as a consultant for Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, The History of Baseball. But my favorite biographical factoid about Doris, which I will then leave the stage and turn everything over to her, is that she was the first woman journalist ever to enter the Red Sox locker room for an interview. So, please, you can see what a great afternoon we have in store. Again, welcome, Dick Goodwin and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It was such a great pleasure when we were asked to come to this that Dick chose me to be the person to ask him the questions, which I’m honored to do. And I thought we’d start, Dick, since we are here in the Kennedy Library, to begin where John F. Kennedy’s presidency began, at the inauguration. I mean, here you are, you’re in your twenties, you’ve been on the campaign, you’ve secured a job in the White House, and you’re in the stands watching the inauguration. What was it like to be watching that inaugural parade?
RICHARD GOODWIN: It was very cold. It was a freezing day in Washington, and because we were all New Frontiersman, we couldn’t wear coats because the President didn’t wear a coat. So we stood there for hours watching this interminable procession go by, hoping we could get inside finally. When the parade was finished, I went right back in the reviewing stands right in front of the White House. So I went back inside to take a look at my new offices, and I’m coming down the corridor there and all of a sudden see this very familiar figure approach -- the guy who I’d been on a campaign with for two months, John Kennedy.
So I came up to him and he motioned to me and I said, “Yes Mr. President;” of course, it felt wonderful to say that. Maybe it felt better for me than for him. And, uh, he said to me, “Did you see that Coast Guard contingent?” And I began to search my mind -- there were thousands of contingents going by. He said, “There wasn’t one black face in that contingent. I want you to do something about that.” So I went rushing back to my office, which is upstairs in the West Wing, and it suddenly struck me, we had won the election. We didn’t only have to talk about things, we could actually do them! We could accomplish them. So I ran upstairs and I kept thinking to myself, “Who the hell is in charge of the Coast Guard anyways?” And I said, “It’s not the Secretary of Defense.” I knew that, and suddenly from my old civics courses back in Tufts, I remembered it was the Treasury Department. So I picked up the phone, called Douglas Dillon, our newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, and relayed it to him. And, of course, within weeks the Coast Guard Academy had been integrated. And the next year, the first black cadets entered the Academy.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting that, since I know Dick’s talked to me about it, what the difference between what it’s like on a campaign when you can promise everything under the sun, but then suddenly you have a chance to make things happen. It must have been a great, empowering feeling. But let’s go backward now that we’ve gone there, to understand how you got there. You graduated first in your class, as John said, from Harvard, clerk for Frankfurter; you should’ve gone off to practice law as most young law clerks would’ve, and yet somehow you didn’t want to right away. So you heard about this congressional committee that was investigating all manner of activities that had once found corruption with Sherman Adams. It was like a mini-Watergate committee, and you signed up to go there instead of go to some big law firm, and then you ended up investigating the rigged television quiz shows. So tell some of the people who are younger here that might not remember, those shows were incredibly popular.
RICHARD GOODWIN: They were the biggest thing on the air. On Wednesday night, which is when “$64,000 Question” was on, you couldn’t get a taxi in New York. All the cabbies were at the bars watching this show. Sales of the products they advertised just tripled and quadrupled because of the polls of those shows. And, uh, the biggest winner of all, a guy called Charles Van Doren, the son of Mark Van Doren, a literary historian, was the biggest winner of them all. At least, he was the most famous. He was on the cover of Time Magazine, he was held up by President Eisenhower, saying, “Look, even though the Russians have put up Sputnik, we have just as brilliant people here.” And he pointed to the winners of the quiz shows, who were crooked of course, and Sputnik wasn’t.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So how did it happen that the investigation was taken at the federal level? What sparked you to get involved in this understanding that something was wrong?
RICHARD GOODWIN: They had an investigation of the Grand Jury investigation of the quiz shows. And I read in the paper one morning that the judge had squashed minutes of the Grand Jury hearing; it’s very unusual to bury those. So I went to the Chairman of my committee, Orin Harris of Arkansas, and said, “I think something’s wrong here. Why are they burying this story?” And he said, “Well, go up and find out what’s going on, Dick.” So off I went to New York, and I was, oh, 27 or something like that, with a pocket full of blank subpoenas, which is illegal but, yeah, he gave them to me anyhow, and I used them liberally in New York. And this judge, by the way, was later convicted of corruption somehow.
It was winter. Whenever anybody wouldn’t talk to me, I just handed them a subpoena. I once subpoenad the entire records of a major advertising company, and they refused to talk to me, and as soon as they got the subpoena, the phone began ringing off the hook. It would’ve taken them trucks to do it. But, in any event, throughout the investigation, I did not want to call any unwilling witnesses among the contestants. I mean, we had the producers, and I thought there was no point in just damaging somebody’s life -- I lived through the McCarthy period -- who hadn’t done anything, especially the ones who were willing to tell the truth.
So Van Doren, who was the biggest name of all, and I talked to him, and I told him, “Oh Charlie,” I said, “I think you’re lying to me.” He said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Dick.” And I said, “Well, I do, but the fact is we don’t want to call you just to expose you.” And I said, “The only thing that happens is when the hearing starts next week, you will say nothing publicly.” So we had the first witness, Herbie Stemple, incriminate Van Doren by indirection. He couldn’t do it directly because the producers of the show always talked one on one, so there’d never be a witness of what they were doing. And so, the next thing I know, the hearings start, and of course there’s a lot of speculation about Van Doren, unknown to be the TV Network he was in on, CBS. I told him, “You have to do something.” So he sent a telegram, an open telegram, to the committee saying that he was totally innocent and would be glad to defend himself.
Well, I knew it was all over for him then. I had all the evidence, and he knew it. It was a kind of a suicidal act, and he came up to-- down to Washington, I guess, from New York, and I actually had dinner with him and his father the night before he testified. And he said, “Well,” he said to me, “I hope after this, we can still be friends.” And I said, “Sure,” as any good politician would say, and you never know. And then after dinner, he said he felt to me the way that a stag feels towards the hunter. Now I never knew that stags felt kindly towards the people who were shooting them. But, on the other hand, that was the implication. So I always regretted that we had to do that, we had no choice. I had to do it. And the committee was being blasted for going after this innocent young guy. And he had been fixed and rigged completely.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So midway through this investigation is when you get a call from Ted Sorensen, asking if you would try your hand at a speech. You do several speeches, you become hired to go on that Caroline campaign -- both in the primaries and during the election -- and I know you’ve told a story about a particular speech that John F Kennedy, that you were writing for John F. Kennedy with a whole litany of accomplishments, and then he changed that part of that speech. That’s an incredible story.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, perhaps it was a litany of goals, and it said all the various things he wanted to accomplish. And this will not be accomplished in 100 days. Kennedy -- he went all over the thing and crossed out 100 days and substituted 1,000, unknowingly drawing a boundary on his presidency and his life. I remember that vividly. But, you know, we were on this little Caroline plane, and we would bounce all over in this little two-engine conveyor.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Not like today’s entourages.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I mean, Nixon had a jet for God’s sake. All we had was this thing. And then you’re trying to write a speech on a plane that’s bouncing through the turbulence. But no matter how bad it seemed, we always felt, “Well, nothing can happen to us because Kennedy is on board.” We had that sense of immunity, I remember very well.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So then you go to places like Wisconsin, and then you and Kennedy are talking about farms.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, we had to talk about farm policy, about agricultural policy; it was very big, and of course neither of us knew a damn thing about it. But I called people, we had memos, and halfway through going over the speech, he said to me, “Dick, have you ever seen a cow?” And I said, “Once, I was at Old Hoods Woods farm,” I said, “I saw a cow.” And he said to me, “Just think, Dick, here we are, a couple of Brookline farmers, preparing farm policy for the whole country. Isn’t America wonderful?”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So that meant, if you didn’t know much about milk, you didn’t know much about coal. And now you’re down in West Virginia, and as I understand it, at first things looked great for Kennedy in West Virginia in an early poll, but then suddenly a new poll was taken. What happened?
RICHARD GOODWIN: What happened was, before West Virginia was the primary that followed Wisconsin. Teddy and Ken O’Donnell and a couple of Kennedy people had gone down in advance, about a month before the primary, and met with the county leaders and the political bosses and the various towns in West Virginia, and they came back and said, “You’re all set, Jack. They all say you’re going to win easily.” And so, then we go through the Wisconsin primary. And then O’Donnell goes back down and assembles his little group of politicians, and they say, “Oh no, you’re in terrible trouble.” He says, “What happened? I thought you just said we were way ahead.” He said, “Yes, that was before we knew you were Catholic,” which would come out, of course, by then.
So we would run from town to town in West Virginia, and we’d go on at some places at 5:00 in the morning, and it was freezing, and for breakfast, and nobody was there. And he said, “Hell, I wouldn’t show up for me either.” And he said, “Lets go get some bacon and eggs,” which we did.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, that’s that self-deprecating humor that you so need in politics, which so few current politicians seem to have -- to look at themselves from the outside in and laugh at themselves.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, it was probably true there if no people were coming.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Okay. So now you’re on the campaign trail and the fall of Cuba has made Latin America a major arena for debate. And so Kennedy needs some sort of statement and program for the democratic left in Latin America, and you need some name for the program and you’re somehow assigned to figure this out. So how did you come up with the Alliance for Progress?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I was to bring a new Latin America policy, and I was riding a bus through Texas with the other members of the staff, and so as we were doing this, I saw next to me, there was a magazine called Alianza. It was a Mexican-American magazine. I said, “That’s great. We’ll call it Alianza.” So then, of course, since I knew no Spanish, I called some of my friends in Washington, who were themselves Latin, and they said, “Well, you can’t just have Alianza. It has to be Alliance with something.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “What about development?” And I said, “What’s that in Spanish?” And he said, “Desaroyo.” And I said, “He’ll never be able to pronounce it. Let’s do progress.” And we went with the Alliance for Progress. And I remember when he was practicing the speech we finally did in the White House later, he would go, he wanted to say a few words in Spanish, and he would pace up and down the White House. I remember I was there in the oval office, repeating “Viva, viva, viva.” He never did get it right, but it didn’t matter anyway. So he said, one time he said, “We should have Jackie do this.” The speech was a big triumph and Latin America became the focus of the policy, and, in fact, Kennedy made three trips to Latin America in his presidency, in the three years of his presidency, and had made a big shift in attitudes towards us, which until the war in Vietnam killed the policy and the program. I remember one time I was in the Oval Office and he took me over and said, “Come here, Dick,” and we went over to the door that went out to the Rose Garden, and there was like a rubberized carpeting and it had all kinds of little pot marks in it. So he said, “You know what that is?” I said, “I have no idea, Mr. President.” He said, “Ike would sit at the desk, put on his golfing shoes, and walk out there to put on there!” He said, “Well, I guess we all have to have diversions from the office. At least mine won’t leave any marks on the floor.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Especially when we learned what his were. So, anyways, then, as part of your Latin American sphere of influence, you meet with Che Guevara, which still remains a pretty dramatic moment. How did it come about?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, we had the Bay of Pigs, which was a disaster for the United States. There was a big Inter-American conference in Uruguay, and I was on the delegation. And Cuba was then still in the system, and Guevara was then the Cuban Finance Minister, and he came to the conference to represent Cuba, and he let me know that he would like to meet with me because he wanted to meet with one of the young Kennedy men, not the old diplomats. And I thought that was a great idea, but then he got in a big fight with the head of our delegation, Douglas Dillon, and he said to me, “You better not meet with him.” So, okay, I was vetoed.
So then I drove back to Monte Video from the conference when it was over. I was sitting in the hotel room and a couple of friends of mine, a Brazilian and an Argentine, walked by and said, “We’re going to a party. Would you like to come?” We weren’t going to fly back until the next morning, so of course I went to the party. It was just a birthday party at the home of a Brazilian delegate in the free-trade area. And so I stood there, and Guevara walked in. Now, unknown to me until later, a French journalist had called him up and told him I was there, and he came right over. So he came over to me and said … walked over, and I shook his hand. First of all, I should’ve just left the room when he came in. I knew I’d get in trouble anyway, but I was much too curious to do that. So we went into another side room in this apartment we were in, and there were only two places to sit; there was a soft chair, and there was a couch. So meanwhile, he comes in, and he sits on the floor in front of the couch. So I said, “Well I can’t let him un-proletarianize me!” So I sat on the floor in front of the chair, where upon the two diplomats who’d come with us were frantic and they, and we ended up in the chairs, of course. And what he wanted was to make a deal with the United States; it was a pretty good deal actually. In return for trade and maybe some aide, they would agree to pay for the appropriated properties, not to export revolution, and make no alliance with any other country, although they would keep their natural ties to the east, meaning Russia. But, of course, when we started this conversation though, he said, “Mr. Goodwin, I’d like to thank you for the Bay of Pigs.” He said, “We were a pretty shaky middle class, support was uncertain, and this solidified everything for us.” So what could I say? I knew he was right. I said, “You’re welcome!” I said, “Well, maybe you’ll invade Guantanamo!” He said, “Oh no, don’t worry about that.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: But tell about the cigars that he gave you to bring back.
RICHARD GOODWIN: He gave me a box of cigars, Cuban cigars, of course, to bring back with me. And when I got back -- I flew back to the White House on Air Force One, and then we took the helicopter to the lawn -- and I walked with Kennedy up -- I had to tell him about Che Guevara -- and I walked with him up to his office, and I put them down and I said, “Here are some cigars.” So he opened them, and he said, “Are they any good?” And I said, “Good? Mr. President, they’re the best!” So he grabbed one out of the box and he bit off the end and he lit it, and he looked at me and he said, “You should’ve smoked the first one.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Of course, you didn’t know then that they were trying to [simultaneous conversation] kill Cuba with exploding cigars. So tell us about how you saved Abu Simbel and the Egyptian monuments and how it got to America?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, there are a whole bunch of Egyptian antiquities and monuments that were threatened by the building of the Aswan Dam, which the Russians were helping to finance. Of course, then they wanted some money to try to save this stuff, which Eisenhower had turned them down because they were so furious that they went to the Russians for the dam. So somebody sent a note to Jackie about it. She sent it over to the President, who bucked it onto me. He didn’t have time for that. So I went to work on it and … to try to find out how you could … Abu Simbel was going to go underwater, this huge Egyptian monument, which Andre Malraux said if he had to choose between saving Abu Simbel and saving the pyramids, he’d choose Abu Simbel!
So, in any event, I put this together, and of course, it obviously wouldn’t be very popular to get $40 or $50 million dollars for, which would be worth much more now, so Kennedy said, “I don’t see how I can do it.” He said, “You know, Congressman Rooney is not going to appreciate being asked for this kind of an appropriation. He’ll say to me, ‘You know, Jack, you’re out of your mind, spending all this money on Egyptian rocks.’” So I saw a different approach, and I said, “No, Mr. President.” I said, “Napoleon only brought an oblique back to Paris. You can bring an entire temple back to Washington.” He said, “Let’s do it.” Here’s a big thing for history. So we get him the temple, which I picked that, with a group of the United Nations and, of course, by then I was out of the White House when it finally arrived, and the Metropolitan Museum managed to scoop it away from the Smithsonian, and it’s down in the Metropolitan Museum now -- The Temple of Dendur.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So now coming to the sad end of the Kennedy Administration, the news comes that Kennedy’s been killed in Texas, and you’ve said that the people in the White House just had to get absorbed in doing something, so you got absorbed in the planning for the burial and the ceremony. And somehow you got involved with bringing the eternal flame to Arlington.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I mean, we were all in the White House that night before the body came back, about half a dozen of us, and of course, when the word came that Jackie wanted an eternal flame, I didn’t know really what to do about that. I didn’t know anything about eternal flames. So I finally called the Pentagon, anybody who knew about it; they have Arlington Cemetery, which has an eternal flame now, and he says, “Oh, there’s nothing we can do, not in time for the funeral!” He said, “There are no eternal flames in this country.” I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I just knew it was something that kept burning. I said, “You can’t do it? So you mean to tell me you bastards can blow up the world, and you can’t find an eternal flame for the President’s grave?” So what do you know, they came up with one. It’s just gas fed through a pipe, and we have the eternal flame. That was one of the few light moments in a very grim period.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And there was something so fitting about Jackie’s wish to not have it be dark, to have a continual light. I mean, one understands that. So then what happens is, you hadn’t known LBJ very much, but within months, he called you to ask your advice on a problem in Panama, and that eventually brought you back to the White House.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I was in a White House meeting and what happened is, in Panama there had been riots in the Panama Canal Zone, and the Panamanians wanted their canal back, and they felt the United States was infringing on their sovereignty. And so it got worse and worse for Johnson, because these guys were just attacking us and rioting and we didn’t know quite what to do. So we would say, “You can’t do this, we’re going to stomp you.” So Johnson summoned me over one day, and he said, “Dick, what do you think I should do about Panama?” I said, “Well, Mr. President, you can’t keep threatening them. They’re a little tiny country. They’re weak and poor, and they were our allies in World War II.” I said, “If you get up and say how much you respect them and like them, you want to honor their wishes, I think you could change the whole climate.” And he said, “Will you draft a statement?” So I went over and drafted a statement. Well, about two or three days later, Johnson burst into a press conference and read this whole statement that I had drafted for him, and it changed the entire atmosphere, and the thing was settled, and you know, of course, we did end up giving the canal back.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: But not long after that, you get a message that Johnson wants to see you in the mansion in his bedroom. So you go into the bedroom and yet no one’s there, and yet you hear a voice.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I had come back to the White House by then. No, I remember I walked in and I looked around the bedroom and there was no one there. Then I suddenly hear a voice from the bathroom saying, “Dick! Dick! Come on in!” So I walked in and there he was, sitting on the toilet, defecating, and uh, my years in the army had prepared me for this, but I had never seen a president taking a shit before. Then he said, “Dick, I want you to work for me. I’m going to pass all those bills. I know what the man on the street wants -- a little medical care, a rug on the floor, a place to take Molly and the children.” He says, “I’m going to get a war on poverty, and I’m going to move on to civil rights. Those Harvards think I’m a politician from Texas who doesn’t care about the Negroes, and as senator I did the best that I could, but now I represent the entire country.” I began to fear he was going to get a severe case of hemorrhoids. And I agreed to work with him in what turned out to be a historic year.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So it starts with a passage …
RICHARD GOODWIN: A great period of domestic progress since then.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It starts with a passage of the Civil Rights Act, ending segregation in the South. How did he break that filibuster, which seemed impossible at the start to be broken?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, this had been an old Kennedy bill, which Johnson had actually strengthened, but there was going to be a filibuster. He had a way he could do it to get the Republicans on his side. So he called in the leader of the Republicans, Everett Dirksen, and he said, “Everett,” he says, “If you get this bill through, 200 years from now school children will know only two names: Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: How could Dirksen resist?
RICHARD GOODWIN: He was fantastic at getting legislation through. He would call every congressman every time, all times during the day. If he called them during the evening and they were out, he would ask to speak to the wife. If the husband and wife were out, he would ask to speak to the kids. He’d say, you know, “Go tell Daddy his President needs him.” Well, of course, it worked, and this filibuster was broken. And finally when they brought in old Senator Engel, who, uh, vote was tied. He just had an operation, brain surgery, he couldn’t speak, but they wheeled him in and when his name was called, he couldn’t say yes but he pointed to his eye. And the bill passed -- first big civil rights legislation.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: But even so, Kennedy wanted his own program. I mean, he knew this was fulfilling a legacy. I mean, I’m sorry, Johnson wanted his own program. The Civil Rights Act filled Kennedy’s legacy, so now he wants to make his own mark on history, and it’s going to be known as The Great Society. And if I may just read something you wrote, which is fantastic. Johnson calls you and Moyers into this historic conversation about The Great Society. So Moyers comes into Dick’s office and says:
“Come on, Dick. The President wants to see us.” “In his office?” you ask. “No, in the pool. He’s swimming, and so are we.” “But I don’t have a bathing suit,” Dick says. “You don’t need one.” An involuntary pang over the fate of my only good business suit faded, because I realized I was being summoned for a skinny dip. We entered the pool area to see the massive presidential flesh side stroking up and down, the deep cleft buttocks moving slowly past. Moby Dick, I thought, being naturally inclined to literary reference. But Moyers whispered, “It’s like going to swim with a polar bear.” So Johnson called us in, we stripped on the side of the pool. Moyers dived in, while I, untrained at aquatic sports, slid over the side. Then Johnson began talking about the future of the country and the future of his leadership.”
So then what happened after that?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, we decided to put all these elements together and call it The Great Society. But it involved a variety of subjects. It led to Medicare, federal aid of education for the first time, the Model Cities Act, the Department of Housing and Urban Development legislation, immigration reform, and the greatest outburst of social legislation since the New Deal, and Johnson went to Ann Arbor, Michigan and proclaimed The Great Society. So he carried out an awful lot of it before the war in Vietnam swallowed him up.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, obviously in the middle of it all you won an election, but let’s go forward to the State of the Union in 1965 when Johnson calls for a Voting Rights Act, even though advisors are saying to him, “You don’t have time for this. The country has to absorb the desegregation act first.” But he knows somehow that he has to move when the momentum is there. So meanwhile, however, Martin Luther King is moving his famous march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights, and there’s pressure on Johnson to send federal troops in to protect the marchers who are now being attacked by state troopers and bulldogs and whips. And it’s a time of great anxiety for Lyndon Johnson because he [inaudible] reconstruction all over again. And suddenly, luckily for him, Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, asks to see him. So what that story was -- which is one of my favorite stories -- so here comes Wallace to the White House.
RICHARD GOODWIN: George Wallace came, walked in the White House. It’s probably still the same; there are two couches flanking the fireplace. And Wallace comes in, and of course Wallace is about 5 feet 2 and Johnson is 6 feet 4, and so he’s got a big edge on him. And so he says, “Governor, come in.” So then Johnson sits him down on the couch, where he sinks another three inches, and Johnson sits on the edge of a rocking chair, and leans over until he’s about one inch away from Wallace, over whom his entire … he knew the beauty of invading someone’s space, and he did it. And so Johnson, he said, “Governor, you wanted to see me.” And he said, “Yes, Mr. President,” and then he began reciting obviously the statement he had prepared in Montgomery, Alabama the night before, and he went through the whole thing, and when he finished, Johnson leaned back in the chair as if Wallace hadn’t said a word. He totally ignored what he said to him.
He said to Wallace, says, “Governor,” he said, “You believe the Nigras -- and we talked to someone who said to use Nigra, which is a Southern term that’s probably not passable now -- but he said, yeah, you believe the Nigras have the right to vote, don’t you, Governor?” He says, “Well, of course,” he says, “I think it does.” Attorney General Nick Katzenbach was in the room. He says, “I think they do.” He says, “Nick, would you bring me one of them Constitutions over there?” So he comes over with a book and says, “Yeah right there, they do have a right to vote.” He said, “So why don’t you just register them?” He said, “Well I don’t have a power to register them Negroes, that’s up to the county registers.” He said, “Don’t tell me about your power, George. Don’t tell me about your power.” He said, “You had the power to keep the President of the United States off the ballot in the state of Alabama, surely you have the power to tell a few poor county registers what to do.” And he said, “Oh, no,” he denied it. He said, “Well, then, why don’t you persuade them?” the President said. He says, “I don’t … ” “Oh,” he says, “Don’t you shit me about your persuasive powers, George.” He says, “Why just this morning I was in my bed and watching television -- you know I have all three networks on at once, three different sets, and I can go from one to the other and listen to whichever one I’m interested in; it’s really wonderful -- and you were on there, George. And I flipped it to you, and you was attacking me.” And he said, “No, I wasn’t attacking you, Mr. President.” “Oh, you was attacking me, George, and you were so damn persuasive, I almost changed my mind.” He said, “George,” he said, “Lean forward George.” He said, “I don’t want you to think about 1964, I want you to think about 1984. We’ll be dead and gone then. Now you got a lot of poor people down in Alabama, a lot of ignorant people, a lot of folks that need different jobs. You could do a lot for them, George, what do you want after you go? Do you want a great big, marble monument that says, “George Wallace: He built?” Or do you want little piece of scrawny pine laying there across the soil that says, “George Wallace: He hated.” And then Johnson gets up and leaves the room.
Well, we prepared a little statement for Wallace, which he went right out and gave to the press corp. He said, “He had me in there another hour, he had me coming out for civil rights.” He was incredibly overwhelming.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: So now it’s only a few days later. You’re having dinner at Arthur Schlesinger’s house, and you hear that Johnson’s decided to give a major speech to a joint session of Congress the following night. And you go home wondering if you’re supposed to write this speech.
RICHARD GOODWIN: It was a Sunday, and I mean the only one who was there from the staff was Jack Valenti, who was always there, and so I went home. I picked up our White House phone, and -- I had a White House phone in my house -- and there were no messages for me. I said, “Thank God, someone else is writing it,” and I went to sleep. And the next morning, I get to the White House at my customary leisurely hour around 9:00 in the morning, and there was Jack Valenti, jumping up and down outside my office door. Well, what had happened is that morning or whatever when he was shaving, Johnson asked Valenti, “How’s Dick coming with that speech?” He said, “Dick’s not writing it, Mr. President. I assigned it to Horace Busby.” He said, “You did what?” He said, “Don’t you know that a liberal Jew has his hands on the pulse-beat of America, and you give it to a Texas public relations man?” So then I had to sit down and write it, which was to be delivered that evening.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And it was great, I must say. I was -- if I can interrupt -- I was in graduate school at Harvard at the time. We were all gathered around, those of us who had been active in the civil rights movement, and it was I think for me the most extraordinary moment of my young life, and never could I have imagined that I would end up marrying you! But if I may just read a few words of it.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Because of my position on civil rights?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, quiet. But here, I just have to read a couple lines from here, because it’s still my favorite speech of the 20th century:
“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama … In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis … But rarely in any time does an issue lay bear the secret heart of America itself … The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue …. This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose.
The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal,” “government by the consent of the governed,” “give me liberty or give me death.” … The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. Is the most basic right of democracy now denied to millions of citizens simply because they are Negroes?”
Therefore, he announced this new law:
“Events at Selma, however, are only part of a far larger movement, one that reaches north as well as south. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.”
Then, looking straight out at his audience, speaking in loud but deliberate tones, he then proclaimed:
“Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
The president paused. There was an instant of silence. The gradually apprehended realization that the president had proclaimed, adopted as his own rallying cry, the anthem of black protest; the hymn of a hundred embattled black marchers. Seventy seven-year old Congressman Manny Seller(?) leapt to his feet cheering wildly as a school boy. Tears rolled down the cheeks of Senator Mansfield. In distant Alabama, Martin Luther King cried, while grouped around thousands of television sets in University halls and private homes, millions of people, especially the young, felt a closeness and almost personal union with their government and with their country, which unveiled a hunger for love of country -- not as an abstraction, but the binding force of a community whose largeness magnified each of its members.
Pretty great, Goodwin.
Now, still, Johnson didn’t stop there. He brought you to Howard University to a commencement speech where you outlined affirmative action, which we don’t have time to do right now. And then after you left the White House, which, as you said, was not simply because of the war but because the war was eating away at all the domestic legislation that you loved so much, you became even more deeply friendly with Bobby Kennedy. You spent time with him in New York, you traveled with him to the Amazon, you have this great story of a canoe but we’re probably not going to have time to tell it. If only we could go on for another hour! But let’s go to the historic speech that you worked on and wrote for Robert Kennedy, delivered in South Africa, several lines of which are engraved on his tombstone. Those words that you wrote then are as powerful then as they are now. That was backwards. They’re as powerful today as they were then. Would you like to read those ripple words?
RICHARD GOODWIN: You have them, I don’t.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Okay, it’s great too. You have it, read it.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And that was part of that speech that Bobby Kennedy gave, and as we said, it is the words that are on his tombstone now. So then, however, as the war continues to escalate, you decide it’s time to speak out against the war, the first person in the administration to do so. Did you realize the risk to your political career by so doing?
RICHARD GOODWIN: I realized that my political career was over, but I wanted it to be over anyways. You know, I remember that during the McCarthy campaign, some congressman came up and said, you know, “The White House is calling every member of the Massachusetts State Committee to tell them to get you off the Massachusetts delegation.” Which, of course, those guys in the Massachusetts State Committee, if they get a call from the mayor, it makes their week, so all of the sudden they're getting calls from the White House! He said to me, you know, “Aren’t you afraid?” And I said, “No, isn’t he?” And we were remarking about it. So I asked for it, I broke with him and I knew … I mean I felt loyal, I loved Johnson, I still do. He did great, great things. But I felt like a lot of people at that time -- that the war was ripping the guts out from all the domestic hopes that had been ignited earlier in the beginning of the decade. And then one day I read in the paper that the city of Huwave (sp?) had been devastated, which was a cultural center of Vietnam, or North Vietnam … no, Vietnam, I don’t know what I’m talking about. And so I decided that I had to go do something. I said, I’ve been making speeches and writing articles, but I’m just doing it for people who already agree with me. But I have some political skills, so maybe I should go up and try to help McCarthy. Now McCarthy had asked me before but, like everyone else, I didn’t take him seriously. But I said, well, it’s something, just do something. So I got in my car and I drove all the way up to New Hampshire, actually stopping to have dinner with Bobby Kennedy along the way, having dinner at a ski resort where he was. And I got up there at about 2:00 in the morning and way up in northern New Hampshire, and I knew Sy Hersh was there, the journalist, he was then McCarthy’s press secretary. So I went in and I looked around, because I knew if I’d been seen by reporters it would be in the papers. So I knocked on the door for Sy Hersh and said to him, “Sy, where is the national press?” He said, “There is no national press.” Nobody was bothering to write about McCarthy, the guy was on a speaking tour of New Hampshire. And I said, “Well, we got to make some news, Sy.” I said, “Where do we issue a press release that Gulf of Tonkin hearings are going on? And he can key off that.” And I said, “So let’s make news, and then the press will come.” He said, “Great.” And I said, “Well okay, let’s get a typewriter and a secretary and we’ll get to work.” He says, “We don’t have a typewriter and a secretary.” So I walked over to my car, where I had my own typewriter in the trunk, and I opened it and I said to him, “Sy, you and me and this typewriter, we’re going to bring down the President of the United States.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And so you did. I mean, obviously in New Hampshire McCarthy comes in second, leading to LBJ’s withdrawal from the race. And then at that point you’ve written that you had to make a decision now that LBJ was out that Bobby Kennedy was one of your best friends, and now the contest was between McCarthy and Bobby and you couldn’t go against Bobby, so you joined Bobby’s campaign. You did his media; you were with him when he died. And then it seemed like, as we’re drawing to a close, that as the 60s had ended that sense of excitement and hope, you withdrew to Maine to write. You wrote some fabulous books, including a philosophical work on the American condition, Remembering America; Promises to Keep; eventually this fantastic play about Galileo and Pope Urban VIII that was put on in England last year. You spent the last couple of years helping me write Team of Rivals, for which I will always be grateful.
But knowing that the time is coming to an end, I’d just like to end with the closing words of Promises to Keep, which is a manifesto that Dick wrote a few years ago, calling for -- we haven’t got time! It’s now 5 after 5, I know -- Do we have time for one scene from the play? Okay. What we’d like to do is read one scene from the play, which is about the Pope and Galileo and the confrontation between faith and science. It was put on in England a couple of years ago to great acclaim, and it is hopefully coming very soon to America. So we thought we’d just read one of the scenes to you, which just shows you the glory of it.
RICHARD GOODWIN: A brief one.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: A brief one. So, it’s Urban, the Pope, is speaking, and the lights rise on Urban’s throne room. There is music, the soft chant of vespers, and the Salve Regina. Through the window can be seen the light of early dawn. Urban has just read the dialogue that Galileo has written, to which he gave Galileo permission to write, not realizing how devastating it would be. And so then Urban speaks.
RICHARD GOODWIN: So he has the book, he closes the book, and says, “And who until now has known what this Copernican question was all about?”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: He stands before the window and stamps his feet.
RICHARD GOODWIN: “It moves, I move, we are all in motion, all of us, tumbling through the Heavens. And after this we will never come to rest again. We have then taught ourselves, imprisoned on this earthly platform, fixed and struggled, held midway between Heaven and salvation and buried chambers of the damned, poor, lowly creatures, bound to service of corruption, immobile, amid whirling celestial spheres. And now, we move, like God’s great stars, to travel the Heavens, where there is neither above nor below, nor here nor there, only that which was, and that which is to be. And how is this mighty liberation accomplished? Not through holy text. By these hands, these eyes, this brain. The skull of a single being imprisons the power to unravel creation, to encompass and describe the entire world. Why, this teaches man they may regain our native, the dominion granted Adam in their days of innocence. Creatures who can accomplish this have such power, they are almost like Gods.”
Urban goes to his knees. “Father, I knew not, I asked not. All may be redeemed, save one. I alone will stand directly in your judgment. If I fall, I fall forever. Kings, generals, princes in armors, all hurled into the flesh of contentious Europe. I hurled them. For thy sake, I thought so. How could I have hurled over this tomb over the moan of millions? This man, this single man, this weaponless supplicant, so seductively clothed in scholar’s robes. And I, in my vanity, allowed him. Oh, Lord, even thy great justice has not space enough.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: The lights then darken, and we hear the sound of a hand pounding on wood. As the lights go up, we see a door, over which is the sign “B. Landini, Printer.” A man cloaked in the dark robes and the hood of the Dominican order knocks on the door. Behind the curtain, we see several people reading Galileo’s dialogue. That’s you, Landini. [laughter]
RICHARD GOODWIN: Oh me? “I’m coming, for God’s sakes, man, I’m coming. Patience, ... (inaudible) you think it’s the gate to Heaven?”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Landini opens the door. This is you again.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Sorry, Father, I thought it one of the young poets of the University.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Senor Landini, I am the Commissary General, coming to stop him from publishing this book.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Yes, Reverend Father.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Printer of the works of Galileo?
RICHARD GOODWIN: I have been so honored.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I am Father Farenzuela(?), Commissary General of the Inquisition. I have been commanded by the sacred congregation of the Holy Office to halt all publication of the works of Senor Galileo Galilee and to confiscate all remaining copies of his book.
RICHARD GOODWIN: There are no books, Father.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No books?
RICHARD GOODWIN: They were sold as fast as I could print them.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Nevertheless, this order binds you.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Binds me?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: This order from the Holy Office commands you to halt all publication of Galileo’s work.
RICHARD GOODWIN: What of Galileo?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: The Holy Office has summoned him to Rome.
RICHARD GOODWIN: The Inquisition? But he is very old, and has been sick.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: He will go by choice or in chains.
RICHARD GOODWIN: The Grand Duke will never allow it. I’ll save the type. This bus will make the book more valuable.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Exactly what he would do?
We haven’t got time for more, Goodwin, sorry. So if I may, I would just like to end with the closing words of Promises to Keep, this manifesto that Dick published a few years ago, calling for a new American revolution as I started to say, to fight against the twin corruptions of money and faction. Here are the words that he wrote at the end, the grandson about himself:
The grandson of immigrants who had fled poverty, persecution, and hopelessness, I was given the opportunity to attend some of America’s finest schools, and, in my twenties to serve in the White House as assistant special counsel to the President of the United States. … In 1961, I joined the swelling crusade for a New Frontier. In 1964 and 1965, I helped to formulate the design for a Great Society. Those exhilarating years have passed into history. The country is different now, its difficulties changed in shape and dimension. The programs and policies then so hopefully designed will not resolve our present distress. As the times have changed, so have the necessities and direction of public action. I return to the 1960s of my youth only in memory. It was a time, like a few other moments in America, when many believed that history itself could be bent to the just needs of humanity. I believe that still. Thus, now, many years later, with words my only weapon, I have labored to write this modest and incomplete essay in hopes of arousing others to a quest for healing change. Not from a sense of obligation. But out of love -- love for this great country, and a belief in its possibilities equal to that which has brought so many millions to the shores of hope.
And so as we end this forum, we leave with the hope that that exhilarating time can come again. And with gratitude for a man whose life and public life is really what John F. Kennedy hoped, that it would make politics an honorable vocation. This country is grateful to you, as am I. Thank you.
So I think we have time for questions, and there are microphones in the aisles and people can line up. Questions. You’ll be answering questions. I can’t see though, however. Which aisles are they floating into? Go ahead.
Q: You made a reference to the fact that his involvement with Vietnam ruined the accomplishments of President Johnson’s domestic program. I’m curious what you would have advised him with reference to Vietnam? How he might have handled it differently and avoided the morass we got into?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, first of all, he didn’t destroy the accomplishments, because things like Medicare and education are still with us. In fact, the last liberal vote … his reputation, and it also brought progress to a halt. And from the very beginning, I believe that what he had to do was stop escalating the war. I mean, the minute we started bombing North Vietnam -- a war that had been barely noticed -- was suddenly on the front pages of every paper in America. And that increased the pressure to do even more. So, you know, he brought himself into it step by step. He didn’t need to escalate the war, and then the biggest escalation of all, when we sent in American combat troops. He didn’t have to do that. I mean, Vietnam might have gone Communist, which it has anyway, but I don’t think there would have been any serious consequences for the United States. We had no real interest there, but we got caught up in the whole psychology that we had to win the war.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And the metaphor is from an earlier time, and the analogies of what it was like with Munich and the appeasement.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I’m thinking politicians always have a difficultly in discriminating between differences.
Q: How did you two meet?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: How did we meet? Well, I was teaching at Harvard at the time and Dick was writing … had come down from Maine in the process of writing The American Condition, this philosophical work on America, and they gave him an office at the little yellow house at 78 Mount Auburn Street, where the Kennedy Institute was first being created. And I, of course, knew who he was, and he knew a little about me because he knew I’d worked for Lyndon Johnson and invited me to dinner. And I admit that I fell in love with him that night, came home and told some friends of mine that I’d met the man I was going to marry, but it took a little while. So, but however, we have now been married almost 32 years. So it has lasted, despite its rocky beginning. It was difficult, to be honest, when, as you saw that picture of Jackie Kennedy, and he escorting her, and she would call our house wanting to speak to Dick in that cute little voice, and however confident you feel, the idea that Jackie Kennedy is interested in this man that you would like to marry, you don’t feel that confident.
Q: Mr. Goodwin, I had a question about the 1968 presidential campaign. You’d worked for President Johnson, you’d worked for at least briefly Senator McCarthy, and then you went to work for Senator Kennedy. How did that make you feel inside? Did you feel guilty about leaving these two to work for Senator Kennedy? And secondly, I once heard you say in a television interview that you thought if Senator Kennedy had been elected president, he either would’ve been a superb president or a complete disaster because he was so resolute and so unwilling to compromise, and I wanted to ask you what you meant by that.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I mean, Bobby was really committed. He was committed to poverty, or a whole range of things, and at the end, committed to ending the war in Vietnam. And I have no doubt that, if he got elected, either he would accomplish all of this or he would so antagonize everybody, and he had a lot of people who did antagonize him. I mean he once said to me, during the campaign -- we were out in Indiana I think at a restaurant called The Keys, which had great martinis by the way -- he said, “Well, suppose I do get elected president.” He said, “What will all the people in Congress and everyone and the generalists all pressing down on me, will I ever be able to get anything done?” Of course, nobody answered that question. You couldn’t; there’s no answer to it. But he felt that … I mean he was a much more passionate believer, and he might very well have antagonized a lot of people if he’d been nominated and elected of course, but so that’s what I meant. I think he was a great man, I think he had … I mean I agree with him, his positions, he had a huge character and a huge belief and if he pursued it in the American political system, who knows! He might’ve been ripped apart, because that does happen.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You did feel, you’ve said, some sadness at leaving McCarthy for Kennedy, however.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Oh yeah, I did. Well, you know I stayed with McCarthy through the Wisconsin primary, and then Johnson got out. And I mean Bobby had been after me to be with him for weeks before that. And I felt I couldn’t; I had a commitment to the McCarthy campaign and the people. But once Johnson got out, my only reason for being involved was the war, and that’s what Johnson represented. And when he was out, it seemed to me that I was soon to be involved in a fight between McCarthy and my best friend, one of my best friends in politics, Bobby Kennedy, who, by the way, I thought would make a much better president than Eugene McCarthy.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And you did explain it to McCarthy, who graciously understood.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Yeah, I said that to him, McCarthy, I went over to his house and talked to him. I don’t know how gracious he was inside, but…
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Another question over here?
Q: Hi. Can you contract the styles of John Kennedy versus Robert Kennedy, and help us understand … I mean, what students that are looking at speech writing and public speaking, what we can encapsulate and take from the two different styles.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Contrast the styles between John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, and, for young people, what can they take from hope for the future in a certain sense?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I mean … Well I don’t know what you could take from it. What you could take from it is that if you just get out there and fight for something you believe in, you might get it, and there’s also a pretty good chance that you won’t. But unless you’re willing to stake yourself and you’re being on trying to get certain goals and have some clear idea of what they are, you’re not going to go anywhere. So that’s all I can say about that.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And I think what you’ve written is that the glory of that time of the 60s was that these great public issues cut across private lives. The civil rights revolution, the women’s movement, the beginning of the environmental movement, and that, when you’re fighting for larger issues than your own self, there’s a greater sense of purpose, a greater sense of meaning in your life, and you were lucky to have that. She also asked about the contrast in JFK and RFK as leaders, and what the differences were.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I think that, I mean, Bobby never really got the chance to lead, except on a smaller stage. Somebody said Bobby was a realist masquerading as a romantic, and John Kennedy was a romantic masquerading as realist. So, I mean, they were very different in terms of their temperament.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Bobby more passionate, more emotional.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Oh, much more. Bobby was much more passionate.
Q: Hi. Does the profession that you were in, speech writing for the candidates, speech writing for President Johnson, it’s changed a lot since you did it. How do you feel about that? That it’s more compartmentalized in a campaign or an administration these days, and where you have three people sitting in a room to write speeches, and then it gets passed up the bureaucratic chain. How do you feel about that?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I think that they bureaucraticized the process and the result … you don’t have to ask me what the result of that is. I’ve been reading some of these speeches! And you’ll know that the quality of public rhetoric has gone down. And you know, I can think of almost no memorable speeches.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Barack Obama’s at the convention; he wrote that himself, probably, which is probably why.
RICHARD GOODWIN: As a rule of thumb, the more people who are involved in a speech, the worse it’s going to be, especially if they’re lawyers who have an unerring eye for any freshness of expression.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Is there another question over here?
Q: I have a question about the press. In your memoir, which, this one was written a while ago, it mentions, um, many of the reporters, even some chieftains of the media, knew better, realized that they were carriers of deception, but felt compelled to print and broadcast official public reports simply because they were official and public. There is not the reason why. And you claim … it adheres to the nature of today’s corporate media, their own views and knowledge must be subordinate to the assertations, the declarations of fact, or incant by the president. And I just feel like this is what Bush has done to us, and where was the press? And then I read, well the New York Times was misled and everyone says, “Well, if you knew then what we know now …” And being here in Boston when we had the demonstration against the war and they did the lay down on Boylston Street, I mean, nobody in Boston was fooled by anything they were saying about those weapons of mass destruction! And you were part of the Harvard Law Review. Papers just don’t write these kinds of things, do they? I don’t understand. I’m sure now you don’t say the same thing probably about the press. But where were they and where are they now? Why are we not getting …
RICHARD GOODWIN: You know, journalists are really no smarter than anyone else, and they often don’t see those things at the time when they’re happening. There are always a few prophetic voices and they’re always ignored. But, you know, none of the journalists knew what was happening in Vietnam, but some of them wrote it. And now, of course, people are writing a lot about the disaster of this last war. So, you know, you expect them to be able to prophesize or to see. The government puts up a pretty big smoke screen, and they have to be pretty diligent to see if you can plow your way through it and get to what the facts are, if there are facts.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Another question over here?
Q: Yes, Mrs. Goodwin. I’m glad that your conversion from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox has paid off.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: He was glad I moved from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox, indeed. They left me. We just so hated when they left. It was the worst moment of childhood. We used to have this terrible saying in Brooklyn in New York, “What if you were to room with Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and with Stalin and Hitler? What if you had two bullets; what would you do?” And the answer was that we’d have to shoot them both at O’Malley to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. Anyway, they left, and thank God I came up here, went to Fenway Park, so reminiscent of Ebbot’s Field, and have been an irrational Red Sox fan for four decades.
Q: I have two questions please. The first one, perhaps, has been partially answered. The first question is, as speechwriters, their influence on the increase or the decrease in presidential administrations, and the second, it’d be interesting to hear your description of JFK’s speech in Berlin.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I think that actually speechwriters have much less influence now, first of all because the speech is funneled through so many people that no… the old days, I mean, Dean Acheson once said the most important person for a Secretary of State to get to know was the President’s speechwriter; of course, that’s when there was such a thing. The fact is you could really influence politics. You could put things in the speech that would raise it to the level of presidential decision, and I have a lot of examples of how that one has been done. But I think now, I mean nothing gets up there that half a dozen people don’t want. What was the other question?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Just to expand on that, though, also the difference is when you were in the West Wing, you were part of Kennedy and Johnson’s everyday activities. You were policy-oriented, where as now they’re in another place in the executive office building, and there’re twelve of them, and they’re not part of the everyday policy making apparatus, which makes a huge difference.
RICHARD GOODWIN: I mean some of them get close to the president. But there are more of them than ever. I belonged to something called the Judson Welliver Society, formed by Bill Safire. Judson Welliver was Calvin Coolidge’s speechwriter.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And since Calvin Coolidge was known as Silent Cal, he didn’t have to write much.
RICHARD GOODWIN: And every couple of years we all have a dinner, all living presidential speechwriters, past and present. And you get up to Clinton on, the number of people, it’s incredible. They can’t all have been writing president… Well, I guess they were all writing something. But it’s a whole different process now. Unless the president has someone that he himself trusts.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: One more question here.
Q: The second question was about Berlin, JFK and Berlin.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, JFK’s speech in Berlin. You know, “I Am A Berliner.” He practiced that surely, right?
RICHARD GOODWIN: He did practice. He did practice it. I mean his pronunciation of foreign language is not very skillful, so he would always work it out. You know, I don’t know where that line came from.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It was a great line, one of those mysterious comings from somewhere. Yes, over here?
Q: Yes, I am coming from India just this evening to be a part of this here, and I came just for attending this function which I saw advertised on the website.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: That’s great.
Q: I want to say good evening to everyone and greetings from Delhi, India.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Great, thank you!
Q: Sir, you said you were glad. I was at that time 18 years, and I was in the streets of Bombay. And that one idea that revolutionized my life in such a way that I have really devoted my life for that vision. And today, I think you were saying about the promises to keep, you know, the conclusion. That is what also inspires me. Also, I think that applies to most of the third world. I would like to ask you that where from comes all of this, particularly that, India, I mean, in that speech. Which is also when we -- particularly website, you know, for JFK Library -- it comes, my philosophy, to the world, that sentence that begins, “It is so revolutionary,” and why that legacy’s not taken up by any American president of the later. That is my question. And the second question: John Kennedy was very especially committed and affectionated with India, and one of his presidential platforms also was India or China. So what was it that attracted John Kennedy to India and to base that India-US relationship and the nuclear agreement and all that? Probably, I think that is great enough for America and India to do together for the betterment of all of us.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, John Kennedy certainly did, just to paraphrase, have a sense of the world and a commitment to India, commitment to other countries, to Latin America that we certainly haven’t seen in recent years. Where do you think that came from in John Kennedy?
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, I think first of all, you know, he’d grown up in a very cosmopolitan household. His father was an ambassador, he traveled widely, and we’ve seen from our present president who doesn’t seem to have traveled anywhere, except on Air Force One. And so I think both by his upbringing … I mean, don’t forget they were at his house all the time; there were diplomats from other countries, and so he grew up in a much more international atmosphere. He also had fought alongside a lot of different people in World War II when he was in the Pacific, so that he had a much broader base of experience, and I think he had a kind of empathetic understanding of what other people wanted, and so we were very fortunate of that. But I think that’s where it came from. Do you think?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think you’re right. I think the time for questioning is just about over though, so I’d just like to have you tell one story at the end to leave us on a light mood. Tell the story about being with Bobby Kennedy in South America when you guys are in a canoe in piranha-infested waters.
RICHARD GOODWIN: All right. We had flown in -- we were traveling down the Amazon on a boat but we wanted to go in the interior, so we had to get a plane to fly us into one of the tributaries of the Amazon and the only one we could find was the Tennessee fundamentalist preacher who was traveling around. And he took us in and we landed on the Mundah (?) River, and there’s a tribe there. There were only about 300 people in that tribe that spoke the language, but luckily for us there was someone from the Wyclef Bible Translating Society. He was actually translating the Bible into their language. So he could interpret for us.
So we went on the banks and the Indians came around it, and well Bobby -- and they didn’t know what Brazil was, much less America. Well, we did say, “Have you heard of America?” and they said, “Oh, yeah.” And I said, “What have you heard about it?” And there were a bunch of mud huts on the side of the river. He gestured to them and said, “It’s bigger than this place.” And so it was.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And so you get on the canoe.
RICHARD GOODWIN: Well, the next day we got on a canoe and we’re paddling out on the river. Now the river, this is a relatively small river, but it had a lot of piranha in it, and they tend to group along the banks, piranha do. But they’re very ferocious. In fact when they were driving cattle across the country to the market, they would put a few downstream so they would be eaten up by the piranha and the others could get across safely.
It’s a big canoe, with four or five guys rowing it, and Bobby and I were in there, and he said to me, “Would you dare jump in?” And I said, “Well if you do, I will.” So that’s the macho Kennedy. So we did. We took off our shirts and we just jumped into the water and started paddling around and he looked at me and said, “You know,” he said, “Piranha have never been known to bite a United States Senator.” I said, “Wonderful, Bobby, but I’m not a United States Senator, and I’m getting the hell out of here.” And we went back and that was it.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, what that story finishes telling me is that both of these guys, who are serious people at that time, had so much of the little boy in them, and Eleanor Roosevelt once said the great thing about Franklin Roosevelt and the great thing about Winston Churchill was that they still had the little boy in them, and I will testify that after these more than thirty years of marriage, he still has that life, that energy, that fight for the future, and I’m so grateful for all of you for joining in this day and for John Shattuck having agreed to come. It is a great honor deserved. Thank you all for coming.
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, it doesn’t get better than this. It doesn’t get better than this at the Kennedy Library, and thank you, Dick and Doris, for taking us not only back in time but also back, in many ways, back to principles and to ideals that both of you represent here on our stage, and it is the core of what the Kennedy Library is about. Please give Dick Goodwin and Doris Kearns Goodwin another hand.