John Kenneth Galbraith photo by Alan Pogue As Kennedy’s ambassador to India Galbraith significantly moderated the war then between China and India. Galbraith wrote Johnson’s speech starting off the Great Society, but turned down other job offers from Johnson because of Vietnam. Galbraith was a very funny man. He told Kennedy he wrote him directly from India because corresponding with the State Department was like fornicating through a mattress. Receiving one of his many honorary degrees, he said that his only rule about them was to get more of them than Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. As for the supply-siders’ trickle-down theory of prosperity, he said that, “After feeding oats to the horses, one should not gaze too closely at what trickles down to the sparrows.” Those who knew him intimately said Ken was not given to anger, yet I believe I angered him one night, during dinner at the home of Richard Parker, by expressing my view then that Ralph Yarborough, the leader of the Texas liberal movement from the late fifties through the sixties, should not have become a candidate for President. Galbraith was a loyal Democrat through to the end of his life, bridling against too much disappointment with leading Democrats, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson in Johnson’s Darth Vader incarnations. When he was angry Galbraith turned cold. His reputation for arrogance may have been caused by his coldness when he was angry. On the night of the 1970 election, when it had become clear that Lloyd Bentsen had defeated Yarborough in the Democratic primary for U.S. senator, Ralph called me into his office, and for more than an hour made the case that, in defiance of his defeat, he should now become a candidate for the Presidency in 1972. Because Ralph’s desk was always piled high with unfinished tasks, because he did communicate with enough of his constituents, and because he blamed his best supporters for his defeatsbecause, in private, he was often furious and excitableI thought him not a good enough candidate for President. During that long session I made notes assiduously, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, which in the personal context meant I disagreed. It was years later, during dinner at Parker’s, that my telling this to Galbraith angered him. Since then I have thought quite a lot about that night in Ralph’s office and about the history of the country since 1970. I now believe Ralph Yarborough was right, that this great populist Southern senator should have run for President in 1972. Take from this, if you will, a lesson for the future. When deciding about those who have earned the public’s trust as reliable friends of the people, set aside their personal failings, their comings-short of being wholly wise and equable, and consider first the needs of the people and the condition of the body politic. Although I think Galbraith never forgot that night at Richard Parker’s, he held no grudges. Amicably we shared a few times a park bench in the Francis-and-Irving-Streets neighborhood just off-campus at Harvard, near where my wife and I also live now with our English cocker, Nicky. When I was taking my four years out from the Democrats, experimenting with support for Ralph Nader for President, I called on Galbraith at home and asked him to join with us. Gently, indeed, apologetically, he said he understood, but explained that he had always been a Democrat and he would not be changing at his age. The last time I saw him, Jim Hightower and I called on him in his upstairs study, exchanging our views on the times, with Ken partially reclined on a chaise lounge, on which, apparently, he was most comfortable. In his last note with his contribution to The Nation he said: “Continue. Do not relent.” According to The Nation, at the end he told his doctor, “I’ve had enough now.” God knows John Kenneth Galbraith did his part in the endless struggle for justice. Ronnie Dugger is the founding editor of the Observer. MAY 19, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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