Book: Kennedy scorned idea of LBJ as president

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by Beth Fouhey

NEW YORK (AP)—President John F. Kennedy openly scorned the notion of Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson succeeding him in office, according to a book of newly released interviews with his widow, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

She said her husband and his brother then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, a longtime LBJ antagonist, even discussed ways to prevent Johnson from winning the Democratic nomination in a future contest.

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JACKIE AND CAROLINE—In this Dec. 6, 1963 photo, Jacqueline Kennedy and her daughter, six-year-old Caroline, arrive at their new home in the Georgetown section of Washington two weeks after her husband was slain in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz, file)

The book, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy,” includes a series of interviews the former first lady gave to historian and former Kennedy aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. shortly after her husband was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Over seven sessions, she recalled conversations on topics ranging from her husband’s reading habits to the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.

The book will be published by New York-based Hyperion Books on Sept. 14. Its release comes on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s first year in office. The Associated Press bought a copy Sept. 8.

JFK chose Johnson, a Texas senator and former political rival, as his running mate in 1960. But Jacqueline Kennedy told Schlesinger in the 1964 interviews that he often fretted about the prospect of a Johnson presidency.

“Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, ‘Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?’” she recalled. “And Bobby told me that he’d had some discussions with him … do something to name someone else in 1968.”

Johnson was sworn in as president after JFK’s assassination and was elected to a full term in 1964. He declined to seek re-election in 1968.

Jacqueline Kennedy also indicated that her husband was highly skeptical about victory in Vietnam, a central battleground of the Cold War and the conflict that brought down Johnson’s presidency. She said that JFK, a Democrat, had named Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican he had defeated for a Massachusetts Senate seat in 1952, as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam because JFK was so doubtful of military success there.

“I think he probably did it … rather thinking it might be such a brilliant thing to do because Vietnam was rather hopeless anyway, and put a Republican there,” Jacqueline Kennedy said.

The book barely mentions the president’s assassination. In a foreword, Caroline Kennedy notes her mother had discussed his murder at length with historian William Manchester but later sued to keep much of the material from being published until 2067. Manchester’s book on Kennedy, “The Death of a President,” came out in 1967.

Jacqueline Kennedy also gave a memorable interview with journalist Theodore H. White, when she referred to her husband’s time in the White House as “Camelot,” but Caroline Kennedy said the interviews in the new book were “by far the most important” her mother ever gave.

“My mother willingly recalled the span of her married life and shared her insights into my father’s private and public political personality,” Caroline Kennedy wrote. The former first lady, who died in 1994, and Schlesinger, who died in 2007, at times sound like a couple of old friends sharing gossip, ridiculing Richard Nixon’s wife, Pat, or labeling LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird, as so obedient she was like a “trained hunting dog.” (She would later soften that opinion.)

Jacqueline Kennedy, clearly at ease, speaks candidly about her in-laws and about other Kennedy insiders. She marvels at the suspicious nature of her mother-in-law, Rose Kennedy, always wanting to know whether someone was Catholic.

“There seems to be about all these Irish—they always seem to have a sort of persecution thing about them, don’t they?” she asks.

She also accuses sister-in-law Eunice Kennedy Shriver of undue personal ambition and says the president was anxious to dump FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. She confides she didn’t trust the White House aide and speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, believing he encouraged the perception that he had ghostwritten her husband’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage.”

“You know, Jack forgave so quickly, but I never forgave Ted Sorensen,” she said.

Sorensen, who died last year, was widely regarded as devoted to JFK. Jacqueline Kennedy said the president, out of personal fondness, even gave Sorensen the book’s royalties.

She offers intimate details of her husband awaiting election results in 1960, when he defeated Nixon for the presidency, or working on his inaugural speech. She says little about the events in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, but she does recall a conversation in their room the night before. She despised the Democratic governor of Texas, John Connally, who was in the car with the Kennedys when the president was shot. She said she couldn’t stand him and his “soft mouth.”

“Jack was so sweet. He sort of rubbed my back…and said, ‘You mustn’t say that, you mustn’t say that,’” she recalled. “If you start to say or think that you hate someone, then the next day you’ll act as if you hated him.”

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