Monday, August 27, 2012

Edward Kennedy Redux IV


So.  We find ourselves swinging around for one more pass at the life and times of EMK, fondly remembered and sorely missed.  The occasion for this one is the response to one of my recent blogs from Joan Mellen, our  versatile and frequently trenchant colleague in the intelligence field.  Joan wrote an important book about the attempt by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison to dig up the roots of the conspiracy to murder Jack Kennedy, A Farewell to Justice.  Joan wrote me:

"I don't know if I missed this segment, but people keep asking, why did Teddy stand in the way of the investigation of the death of his brother JFK?  Because he certainly did, following Bobby's lead, maybe, but Bobby was dead.  What was the rationale?"

In his memoir, True Compass, published shortly before he died, Edward Kennedy wrote that "Late in 1964, Bobby asked me to review the Warren Commission's newly released report on the assassination because emotionally he couldn't do it."  Earl Warren gave Ted a briefing, and "made the case for me."

In Bobby and J. Edgar I dealt in some detail with Robert Kennedy's response to the shooting, his suggestion to Warren that he include on the Commission Allen Dulles and John McCone -- two go-along types unlikely to challenge a cover-up.  When Garrison began his investigation, Bob sent Walter Sheridan -- his most reliable demolition expert -- to undermine the inquiry.  And so forth.

I responded as follows to Joan:

"You didn't miss the segment.  I always found Ted ambivalent about the JFK murder, not anything he would talk about.  He once told me that "Dad had a lot of friends and contacts we didn't really know anything about," which was as close as he dared go.  I suppose when Ted was handing around cash that originated with the mob in 1960 in West Virginia he must have had an inkling that there were family associations he had to protect.  Underneath, Ted felt dependent on his father's support and afraid of what the old man might do to him -- he remembered -- and told me about -- the way Joe had deep-sixed Rosemary, as I spelled out in Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography.

"In Bobby and J. Edgar I attempted to lay out the entire scenario.  While running Mongoose Bobby had himself worked closely with syndicate types like Johnny Rosselli, who had become assets of the CIA.  Eager to justify another invasion of Cuba, on the pretext of a purported assassination attempt by Oswald, who had been set up as a pro-Castro fanatic while working as a CIA agent in New Orleans, Bobby had probably signed off on the whole big-store operation, which the Agency's mob associates had been brought in to front.  Then Jack got popped, Oswald survived the original planning to take him out and everybody involved scrambled to cover up his tracks.  I assume that Ted had figured out enough of all this to realize that Bob was implicated, however inadvertently.  Loyalty to his brother -- or at least the public perception of his brother -- no doubt lay behind the rather tepid support Kennedy gave to the Warren Commisssion conclusions in his memoirs.  Interestingly, a number of people closest to Ted, whom I still see regularly, have come around to accepting my overall conclusions.

"In outline, that's what I think."

A slice of history, bound to be controversial.


Burton Hersh

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Edward Kennedy Redux III


This summer I have been working mostly on a sequel to my last novel, which introduced the Landau family, a wide-ranging and vigorous -- some would say oversexed -- assortment of individualists who have a startling way of backing hilariously into politics.  You'll hear about them.

Here I would like to add a footnote or two to the Mitt Romney saga.   Like so many voters, I am now confirming my opinion of Romney as a kind of perfumed manikin of country-club politics, the robotic floorwalker you might expect to find in a genteel ladies' ready-to-wear boutique.  Perhaps most unsettling is Romney's apparent aphasia, his seeming inability to recall positions he took on virtually every significant public issue.   In a June 28 column in The New York Times Nick Kristof ticks off a few quotations from the now-effaced predecessor Romney persona, starting with "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose" through "we seek to establish full equality  for America's gay and lesbian citizens" to "I believe that climate change is occurring." and that "human activity is a contributing factor" to "It's critical to insure more people in this country.  It doesn't make sense to have 45 million people without insurance."  And on and on.

Romney now trumpets that, as president, his first order of business will be to cancel President Obama's Affordable Care Act legislation. As governor of Massachusetts, of course, Romney engineered the passage of a program of almost universal health coverage for the citizens of that state, Romneycare, which served as the model for the Obama initiative.  Heralded as Romney's signal  -- pretty much only -- accomplishment as governor at the time, it remains the candidate's number one embarrassment.

The way in which Romneycare came into being has largely gone unnoticed.  As a Republican governor in a historically liberal state, with a heavily Democratic legislature, Romney needed to present himself as at least a little progressive to get anywhere at all.  His one accomplishmet in semi-public life at that point had been his takeover of the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics -- Winter is important here, a series of ski races in the mountains forty-five minutes north of Salt Lake City is an incomparably easier event to orchestrate than the all-embracing summer games in the midst of some enormous metropolitan area.  Once installed as governor in Massachusetts Romney maintained a low political profile and went along with most of the comparatively progressive legislation that crossed his desk -- for example he signed, without hesitation, a bill outlawing assault weapons in The Commonwealth.

As things worked out, a program to universalize health care in Massachusetts was not in any way forced on Romney.  He went after it. An undeservedly neglected piece by Karen Tumulty in TIME on November 12, 2007 specifies how that worked out.  Before the Tea-Party fanatics convulsed Republican politics, most of the elements associated with Romneycare were developed by conservative strategists, who took umbrage at the way the undeserving leeched off the taxpayers by exploiting the nation's emergency rooms.  We needed an "individual mandate." Let the working poor buy health insurance.
Health care was Kennedy's issue. He was soon following Romney's thinking in The Boston Globe, and promptly reached out and put his powerful Washington connections behind Romney's initiative.  This involved helping Massachusetts hang into $385 million in Medicaid funds that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was threatening to take back from The Commonwealth.  Kennedy's own health-care specialists moonlighted on Beacon Hill to help tune up the drafting of the bill.  When Massachusetts legislators hesitated, Ted Kennedy returned to Boston and implored the local legislators on the house and senate floors, alluding movingly to the battles with cancer his son and his daughter had suffered.  Kennedy found federal money to help subsidize the start-up years of Romneycare.  The day Romney signed  the nation's first comprehensive health care bill into law, Kennedy was standing behind him.

That was in April of 2006, time out of mind in politics today.  Edward Kennedy is dead.  What progressive spirits survive are struggling to hang on.  The outcome in November will determine whether any of us have much of a future.

Cheers, Comrades.

Burton Hersh