Still more J. Edgar snapshots, including in the White House, 1930s-1970s.

Posing at New York City dog show with contestant.  (No, it’s not his own, though he had dogs most of his life.)
Showing Shirley Temple a comparison microscope in the FBI lab.
A few White House photos:

Standing with John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy.

Confiding with Richard M. Nixon.

Standing behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt (at desk).

Standing behind John F. Kennedy (at desk) and Bobby Kennedy (standing).

Receiving an award from Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Notice Richard Nixon, as VP, standing behind Ike’s shoulder.

Guest Blogger: Amy Schapiro on the 89th birthday of civil rights hero Nicholas Katzenbach.

Katzenbach confronting Alabama Governor George Corley Wallace outside the University of Alabama, 1963.  
In the last half of the twentieth century, the United States was transformed by many conflicts. None caused more public outcry than the struggles of the civil rights movement here at home and the bloodshed a world away in Vietnam. One man deeply entwined with both struggles, but often overlooked by history, is Nicholas Katzenbach, who celebrates his 89th birthday today.

For decades the image of this tall, balding government official confronting Governor George Wallace at the University of Alabama has come to symbolize the lengths to which Washington would go to desegregate America’s educational institutions.  Katzenbach, then Deputy Attorney General, was dispatched to Alabama by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to challenge the segregationist governor over the integration of the state university.

Nicholas Katzenbach in 1968.

In the midst of a media storm, Katzenbach stood his ground, ensuring that James Hood and Vivian Malone, two African-American students seeking entrance into this historically white university, were registered.

Among the throngs who watched this encounter unfold was a 12-year-old boy. As he later said, “1963 was a good year, the Dodgers beat the Yankees. I was 12, I was becoming aware of a lot going on, and seeing Katzenbach with Wallace sparked my interest.”

“I remember wondering who is a Deputy Attorney General (DAG) and looked it up in the encyclopedia to find out. I’m not sure if I found it there, but I remember learning that the DAG was essentially the Vice President of the Department of Justice.” Thirty years later that boy, Eric Holder,  became Deputy Attorney General. Today he serves as the first African American Attorney General in American history.  Little could Eric Holder have known then that he would assume the same positions as Katzenbach, both as DAG and later Attorney General, or that Vivian Malone, one of the two students who integrated the University of Alabama, would be his future sister-in-law.

Katzenbach’s focus as both Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General was on passage of civil rights legislation and its enforcement. Without enforcement, the law would be hollow. Katzenbach was the rare person who was trusted by both Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. And, it was Katzenbach who succeeded Kennedy as Johnson’s Attorney General. Although RFK and LBJ despised each other, they both, at different times, came to rely on Katzenbach to advise, shape, and move legislation forward.

When Katzenbach was not putting out fires in the field, he was busy navigating the legislative minefield and the pressure of civil rights activists to secure the codification of equal rights for all Americans.
 As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., and his great strides in changing the fabric of our society, let’s also remember Nicholas Katzenbach who today, January 17, celebrates his 89th birthday. 

Happy Birthday.

Amy Schapiro is writing a biography of Nicholas Katzenbach entitled, Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach to be published by the University of Alabama.

Fame: Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe

There is an eerie parallel between the premature death of Michael Jackson, brilliantly talented but fragile and warped by fame, and that of Marilyn Monroe in 1962?

We don’t know the full cause of Michael Jackson’s death. Drugs and sycophants loom large, and accounts point to a lonely person exploited, pressued, finally broken by relentless over-exposed, the bubble existence of celebrity fame.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night,” Marilyn Monroe said back in the 1960s when she, like Jackson, epitomized the bubble existence. “Dogs never bite me. Just humans.”

On August 5, 1962, she too died suddenly of cardiac arrest. She too was achingly young, just 36 years old, beautiful, talented, bursting with personality and vulnerability. The autopsy found eight milligram percent of chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of Nembutal in her system, and blamed her death on “acute barbiturate poisoning,” resulting from accidental overdose.

Marilyn Monroe too had compiled a brilliant career, with a sting of fabulous movies — from comedies like Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch to dramas like The Misfits. Oscar awards and nominations went to Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, John Huston, and others for these films; not Marilyn. Instead, the 1960s-version paparazzi savored her multiple marriages, including to Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio and playwrite Arthur Miller, and her rumored affairs with John and Robert Kennedy. (Click here to hear her sing Happy Birthday to JKF.) Sex symbol? Fun, but it got old. “A sex symbol becomes a thing,” she said toward the end. “I just hate to be a thing.”

It wore on her, the exposure, the exploitaiton, the pressure. How exactly it killed her remains mystery. Her death spawned webs of conspiracy theories. Accidental overdose? Too simple for the ghoulish. Suicide? Murder? By the Kennedy’s? J. Edgar Hoover? The Mob? More interesting. Books and magazine articles galore followed. More exploitation.

So with her. So with him. Who dares to say that American celebrity culture is not lethal? Just ask Princess Di about the British version.

C-SPAN’s Presidential Poll

Woodrow Wilson, 1916.

Yesterday, C-SPAN finally issued the full results of its 2009 Presidential Survey by some 150 historians. Here’s the link to the full C-SPAN group results. As you know, I had the honor to participate and, for comparison. Here’s the link to my own entry.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I saw the final C-SPAN list, I eagerly put their’s and mine side by side, just to see how I stacked up. What I saw was a profile of my own prejudice staring back at me. Here’s a sample:

Let’s start with the top ten. We agreed on the top four (Washington, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts), though in slightly different order. But after that, we parted ways.

For instance, the C-SPAN group ranked both Woodrow Wilson and JFK in the top ten, at #9 and #6 respectively. I couldn’t disagree more. I rated Wilson far lower, at #16, his dismal records on civil rights, wartime dissent, and the post-war Red Scare, as well as his failure to win acceptance of the Versailles treaty, all counting as significant demerits. Similarly, I rated JFK far lower at #17. Yes, he inspired the country, but his sparse legislative record hardly earned him a spot in the top tier. Yes, for glamour, celebrity, and style, JFK wins hands down. But is that really how we rate Presidents? Perhaps had he lived….

As for the bottom ten, I broke from the group on two notables. First, I included Richard Nixon at #36. The C-SPAN group rated him much higher, at #27. I admit to prejudice on this one: Living through the Vietnam War at draftable age could not help but affect my attitude toward Nixon. But even putting that aside, Congress had good reasons for impeaching Nixon in 1974. His temperament — seen in his enemies list, wiretaps on his own staff, and conspiracies galore — was perhaps the worst of any President, and it overshadowed any positive accomplishment.

Finally, there is George W. Bush. The C-SPAN group places him in the bottom ten at #36. I rated him even lower, as third worst at #41. This rating obviously is the most speculative of the bunch. We still don’t know the outcome of the wars Bush started and the economic cataclysms begun under his watch. But, to my mind, the potential long-term damage Bush has done to this country far out-paces the likes of a Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, or Frankling Pierce. Unlike these other disappointments, George W. Bush was both bad AND consequential.

So that’s my first take on the final, official C-SPAN list, and I look forward to debating these points on many more Presidents Days to come. Hope you have a happy one –KenA

Advice for Caroline Kennedy

Personally, I’m glad NY Governor David Paterson decided to choose a lesser-known New York politico for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, passing over two leading celebrity pols: Caroline Kennedy and State AG Andrew Cuomo. It’s good to give new talent a chance. Whether upstate Cong. Kirsten Gillibrand will be able to handle to bright lights and unblinking eyes of the NY media, time will now tell.

Still, I sympathize for Caroline Kennedy. By every appearance, she seems a very decent private person who does a lot of good for important causes. But she allowed herself to be pressured into launching a dismal campaign w/o basic preparation, marked by poor staff work, and no clear message, hoping that her name, her place in the public heart as cute cuddly child of JFK, plus strong-arming by high-powered family backers like uncle Ted Kennedy, would make up for lack of qualifications. It created an image (fair or not) of an undeserving, spoiled celebrity demanding a prize she never earned.

Even fans of Kennedys (and I count myself one) cringed at the spectacle. She was simply the wrong Kennedy cousin for the job, since so many others have built strong records of public service over the years. Not surprisingly, it all failed.

So, on the day after it all collapsed, my advice for Caroline Kennedy is this:

First, accept failure as failure. Don’t gripe at the press or the governor. Don’t complain about mud-slinging. That’s all part of the game. The problem was on your side. Your basic campaign failed. If you ever expect to try again, you must now go back, thoroughly dissect what went wrong, and learn from it. Consider the whole thing as a tuition payment for a first-rate education in real-life politics.

Second, have a good laugh. Self-deprecating humor is the most healthy kind, both for your own psyche as well as public consumption. Your campaign’s collossal loss can soon make a very funny story for you to tell. And if you lead the laugh, it takes out the sting.

Third, close the door and scream at your advisors. They did a terrible job. Before sending you out before the press, why on earth did they not train you, prep you, make you practice in front of a camera, pepper you with tough questions, send you to campaign boot camp? It was their job to show you your weaknesses so your could fix them. (Like all those on-camera “you knows.”) Instead, they fed you to the lions and stood aside. It was their fault. Don’t let them off the hook.

Finally, go back to enjoying life. Your have a good one. That age-old wisdom is true: The best revenge is living well.

I wish best of luck to Caroline and Kirsten both. All the best. –KenA

How an anti-war Senator should act.

George W. Norris, circa 1918

Greeting, all, from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where my wife Karen and I are enjoying our annual summer beach getaway.

My beach reading this summer included an oldie but goodie, Profiles in Courage by then-senator and future president John F. Kennedy. And among the great stories in it, one particularly caught my eye this year, the one about George W. Norris, the Progressive Republican Senator from Nebraska, who, among other things, dared to defy mob hysteria in 1917 by taking a lonely stand against American entry into what he considered a pointless, terrible war … in his case, World War I.

With all the debate today, in 2007, about how Democrats in Congress under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should wage their fight against George W. Bush’s fiasco in Iraq — and at what point principle must stand before politics — Senator Norris and his 1917 stand lays down a good marker.

In January 1917, just two months after having won reelection to the White House on the slogan “he kept us out of war,” President Woodrow Wilson already was pushing the country to intervene in the stalemated European contest that already had cost millions of lives since 1914. War fever swept the country, fanned by the recently-released Zimmerman telegram (in which a German diplomat allegedly promised Mexico return of Texas and California in return for its helping it launch attacks against the US) and German submarine warfare on the high seas. President Wilson that month tried to turn the heat up another notch by insisting that Congress pass the Armed Ship Bill, authorizing him to arm American merchant vessels carrying armaments to England, and the House passed it within days on a vote of 403 to 13. Anyone who opposed this measure was labelled a coward, a traitor, or unAmerican.

But Norris smelled a rat. Norris in 1917 was a freshman Senator, one-time school teacher and small-town lawyer old enough to have lost an older brother in the Civil War. To Norris, armed American ships meant provoking the Germans into an incident that could spark war without any sober debate, and he bristled at the broad grants of Presidential authority in the Bill’s small print. Behind it, Norris suspected the hand of American financiers and munitions makers who had banked heavily on the Allied side in the war and now saw their investments at risk. And Norris was not willing to shed American blood to bail out corporations.

So Norris and a small band of like-minded Senators, including Wisconsin’s Progressive Robert LaFollette, launched a filibuster to kill the Armed Ship Bill. Their strategy was to use the Senate calendar and stall a final vote until noon on March 4, 1917 — Inauguration Day — when the Senate would adjourn sine die.

Norris won. The filibuster worked. But there was bloody hell to pay for it. The country screamed treason, stupidity, and arrogance. President Wilson — who would prove himself no friend of free speech during the War — led the verbal assaults. The fact is, most Nebraskans, most Americans, even most Progressives disagreed stridently with Norris. Even JKF, writing his book decades leter, felt the need to distance himself from Norris’s position: “It is not now important whether Norris was right or wrong,” he wrote. “What is now important is the courage he displayed in support of his convictions.”

Norris, stunned by the outcry, felt compelled to ask the Governor to a call a special recall election to allow Nebraskans the chance to vote him out of office. At the same time, he went home and called a town hall meeting in Omaha to confront critics. Over three thousand people came and Norris could not find a single friend to share the stage with him. Alone, he stood in front of the mob and said simply “I have come to speak the truth.” Then he went on: “Even though you say I am wrong…, has the time come when we can’t express our opinions in the Senate, where we were sent to debate such questions, without being branded by the moneyed interests as traitors?”

Norris didn’t change any minds about the War, but he won the crowd’s respect. Te Governor felt no need for a recall election, and Norris went on to serve many more years in the US Senate. Despite Norris’s victory against the Armed Ship Bill, President Wilson quickly asserted executive power to arm US vessels without Congress’s permission, and within a few months the country had entered a European bloodbath whose merits even today remain a matter of debate. Wilson called it a struggle “to make the world safe for democracy,” but World War I’s more immediate fruits were 16 million dead, millions more wounded or displaced, a peace treaty rejected in the US, and the planting of seeds for even more bloodshed 20 years later in World War II.

Now, fast forward to today, September 2007, as Washington, D.C. braces for what promises to be a grueling showdown over the future of America’s role in Iraq — with President Bush showing every sign of intending to stick to his surge-based war plan at least long enough to pass it off to a next president in 2009, and Congressional Democrats in apparent disarray over how to confront him. Where is the George Norris of 2007? Can anyone on Capitol Hill claim to be living up to the standard of courage, skill, and integrity he set in fighting Woodrow Wilson’s war plans in 1917? I don’t ask this as a rhetorical question. The threat to our country today is as great as it was in 1917, the issues as complex, and the need to cut through double talk on all sides just as urgent.

I hope the roster will be long. JFK published his original edition of Profiles in Courage fifty years ago, in 1955. Perhaps a next edition will include a few names of current members of Congress with the vision and tenacity to lead in confronting today’s morass, waiting to make their marks in during the struggles over the next few weeks.

That, at least, is my hope, sitting here at Cape Hatteras on this sunny Labor Day weekend, sipping my cup of coffee, looking out over the sand dunes toward the beach beyond.

Thanks for your patience in reading through this long post. All the best. –KenA