Page 28


BOOKS & THE CULTURE More Power, Less Grace BY ROBERT SHERRILL Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House By Sally Bedell Smith Random House 608 pages, $29.95 Surely loyal supporters of The Texas Observer will get at least a little pissed off when they learn President John Kennedywho already had a veritable revolving haremwas such a greedy sex maniac that he stole the girlfriend of one of this publication’s most famous editors, Bill Brammer. Only a few months after Kennedy’s inauguration, Hugh Sidey was working late in Time magazine’s Washington bureau when he was interrupted by Brammer’s lovelorn complaint. Little Billy said he had just learned the young woman he was dating, Diana de Vegh, was also having an affair with the President. He told Sidey that he had asked her why she did it. “Nothing will come of it,” she is said to have replied, “but he has a hold on me.” What kind of hold? “Power,” she answered. So there you have it: Powerthe second half of this fluffy book’s title. And Kennedy seems to have used it much more often to get women into bed than to fix national and international problems. But Brammer never lost his sense of humor. Several months later he wrote a friend in Texas: Jack Kennedy is down in his back, and this has apparently limited his roundering, for he does not often call to bug his teenage mistress to whom I am secretly engaged. Very late on a recent evening a voice that was unmistakably our Leader’s reached me on the phone, inquiring of Diaawhnah.’ \(I started to say she’d gone to `Cuber’ for a week and was in the bawrth, tidying herself and he rang off rather abruptly. Obviously, Brammer was a much better novelist than reporter because Kennedy’s being “down in his back” didn’t even slow his roundering. The index shows that Sally Bedell Smith, our author, devotes all or portions of 154 pages to writing about Kennedy’s “affairs:’ Kennedy’s back was indeed a bummeronce he had to have a cherrypicker lift him into Air Force Onebut that didn’t stop his roundering, no sirree, because he had the able assistance of Max Jacobson, better known as “Dr. Feelgood” to his rich and famous clients who floated through life on his injections. Before his debate with Richard Nixon and to prepare for his State of the Union speeches and before dealing with leaders in Europeaside from the dozens of times he just needed a shot to steady himself around the White HouseKennedy called on “Dr. Feelgood” to use the needle. On one occasion, taxpayers footed the bill to fly “Dr. Feelgood” and his wife to Europethe only ones on the Air France plane. When brother Bobby suggested that he lay off the drugs, the President replied, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works:’ In Kennedy’s 14 years in the House and Senate, he had shown no leadership or imagination. He won election to the presidency in 1960 by the smallest margin in 100 years, and he surely would have lost the election if voters had known of his serious physical defectssome of which caused such pain they must have clouded his reasoning. Kennedy successfully covered up the fact that since 1947 he had had Addison’s disease, which can be fatal. By the time he was 40, he had been given the Catholic last rites four times. Lyndon Johnson would certainly have known of Kennedy’s serious illness. \(After all, LBJ was a bosom buddy of J. Did it influence his acceptance of the dreary and often insulting job of being Kennedy’s vice president? Sally Bedell Smith says LBJ told Clare Boothe Luce, “I looked it up. One out of every four presidents has died in office. I’m a gamblin’ man, darlin, and this is the only chance I gotf Top journalists helped Kennedy cover up his physical defects, his womanizing, and his bungling of foreign policies. Indeed, there were more press whores around Kennedy than there were mistresses. Arthur Krock of The New York Times helped Kennedy write Profiles In Courage and then, says Smith, he “log rolled” the Pulitzer committee into giving Kennedy its prize. Famous columnists such as Joseph Kraft and Walter Lippmann constantly sucked up to Kennedy. And when Kennedy appointed brother Robert to be attorney general”a brazen act of nepotism,” Smith accurately calls itthe press scarcely muttered. And in the Senate, another house of ill repute, only one member cast a vote against Robert’s confirmation. In Grace and Power, “grace” is represented by social occasions of various degrees of foppish and often drunken excess; “power” is represented by an appallingly stupid political atmosphere. The most pressing domestic problem facing the Kennedy administration was the civil rights war in the South. But in the first 300 pages of this book, there are only three short entries to cover his indifference to it. Page 176: “Black voters had contributed signifi 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/13/04