Sunday, 8 January 2012



The 1964 campaign began for me with a lecture on the press given to me by Pierre Salinger.
“Norm” he said, “We need the press, everyone needs the press, but you have little experience with them.”
“Well, I’m told I handled them well when Hoffa started making the news.”
“Not well enough. I predict Bobby gets Hoffa to trial sometime after the election. You have to understand reporters. I work with them daily, and believe me, they’re the most pathetic lot I’ve ever seen. They drink too much, travel too much, and see too much. Their marriages are wrecks, they are incredibly jealous of anyone who gets ahead, dream of Pulitzer Prizes they’ll never get but keep trying for the Prize by uncovering dirt. The dirtier the dirt, the faster they think they’ll get ahead. They think they’re performing a public service by exposing a politician’s private quirks, but no one has ever found a correlation between private morality and public duty.

Look what they’ve done to Rockefeller. The guy remarries a pretty young gal and they crucify him for it. Hell, who wouldn’t do the same thing if they could.”
“A man who can’t handle his own marriage wouldn’t be very good managing the country,” I suggested.
“Do you really believe that? Asked Salinger. “That’s the press’s line to justify their voyeurism, but there’s not an ounce of truth in it. He had an empty first marriage, and this new woman, what’s her name, Bouncy, Sleepy, Dopey?”
“Happy,” I said.
“Right, she makes him feel alive again. The man’s in tune with the country and could beat us. He’s rich, but that’s no issue. Joseph Kennedy was no slouch either. But the press knocked him out of the race, and the Republicans are going to be stuck with Goldwater. You watch.”
“So how do we handle them?”
“You gotta keep ahead of them. Keep finding interesting non-controversial stories for them to write about the administration. We’ll worry about keeping the bad ones out of their hands.”

So I looked for gimmicks essentially. I hired William Manchester to write a glowing biography of Mrs. Connally which was less flattering than we intended. To justify our entry into Vietnam I ghost-wrote a book for the President called “Profiles in Cowardice—A History of American Expediency.” The President found six examples of moments America should have entered a war and lost, by lack of resolve, either trading partners or nations on the road to democracy.

The chapter that won him the most praise, “Yalta, the Sacrifice of Eastern Europe”, was my idea, but Kennedy proposed that a small nuclear device on Moscow in 1945 would have brought down the Iron Curtain. I liked the idea and enjoyed expanding on it. The chapter I excluded was, in fact, never written: The loss of Cuba in 1959 and the refusal to back the Bay of Pigs invaders with the military support they so deserved.

Bobby ran his brother’s campaign skillfully, and I didn’t have much to do at times. Bobby’s campaign assistant, Dick Tuck, appeared at Goldwater rallies, and trouble seemed to plague Goldwater wherever he went. But I am responsible for one coup…I hired Allan Sherman, that magnificent song parodist who made the summer of “63 memorable with his hilarious “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”, to write a pro-Kennedy campaign song called “Let’s All Call Up AT&T and Protest To The President’s March”. It was a send-up of Kennedy’s physical fitness programs as sung by fat, lazy people. It was a wonderful vehicle for the campaign.

Six months previously Sherman recorded “Beautiful Teamsters” and was paid well for the effort. The song, sung to the tune of “Beautiful Dreamer” had such lines as:

Beautiful Teamsters, please let me join
Can’t drive a truck, but I’m willing to loin…
Driving by night with no opposition
Tanks to the Interstate Commerce Commission

There was one minor image crisis which I helped manage. Pope John XXIII had died, and we had to decide if it was politically wise for the President to appear at his funeral. But the truth is Kennedy wasn’t fond of the Pope. He once threatened to excommunicate him if he didn’t change the name of the Statue of Liberty to Our Lady of the Harbor. The President never forgave him that threat and decided to send Johnson instead. But Johnson was from a Baptist background and didn’t know any Catholic Church protocol, so Teddy Kennedy represented his brother in Rome.

Sadly, the week-long wake in his hotel room raised a few eyebrows in the Holy City and we had to control the damage in the press. But Pierre had experience covering up such stories. When Bobby threw parties, guests were known to fall into his pool fully clothed, but these events never gathered much press space even when Senator Mills died. Bobby, however, was bereaved and spent months consoling Mills’ close friend and constant companion, Fannie Foxe, a brilliant Argentinean social wit and performer of exotic dance.

I guess I should mention the rather touchy subject of Jackie, an issue I helped defuse. According to a close confidante of mine who I will, in the name of propriety, call Fred Sorenson, the President and his wife were for all purposes separated. He had liaisons and used to send Jackie off to the far corners of America to accommodate them. One night she would attend a Rotary Club Dinner in Casper, Wyoming, the next day dedicate an Old Age Home in Seattle. Her familiar leopard skin pill box hat became the subject of an amusing song by Bob Dylan who would later sing it at our campaign rallies. He was a nice boy, and we belonged the same Zionist Youth Organization.

Everyone in the press was aware of the President’s activities, but no one would besmirch his name or sink so low as to reveal them. The result was a misdirected attack on Jackie’s extravagant spending habits. I defused the potentially explosive issue by hiring Chubby Checker to create a dance sensation called “The Jackie”. That made her a hero to youth and untouchable to the wary press.

Now according to Fred, and I could never confirm this from anyone else, a major crisis involving the President’s friendship to actress Marilyn Monroe almost leaked to the press. Apparently Mr. Hoffa sent former baseball star, Joe DiMaggio, to the White House to request an end to the Justice Department’s investigation of the Teamsters. Apparently, Marilyn was beginning to speak of her friendship with the President and did so with DiMaggio a few hours before she tragically passed away. Although I used DiMaggio’s visit as a fine photo opportunity aimed at the Italian and jock votes, DiMaggio used the opportunity as a concerned ex-husband of the deceased to speak on behalf of Mr. Hoffa. I know none of the details except what we all know: that is, that after Mr. DiMaggio’s terrible accident, he was named the American Ambassador to the Fiji Islands.

This incident did get back to Jackie, and she threatened a divorce right in the middle of the campaign. Remembering what the press did to Rockefeller, this had to be prevented at all costs. And it did cost, when they finally divorced. But during the campaign Jackie was the model of propriety. When Teddy’s ex-wife, Joan, married Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, she expressed memorable disapproval. And I’ve been told the night she danced “The Jackie” with Chubby Checker on the “Ed Sullivan Show” she won our side another 5 million votes. Chalk that idea up to me.
But I guess our biggest containment problem concerned the Office of Economic Opportunity. It was a tremendous victory when, despite a filibuster of old Southern Senators, the Civil Rights Act followed.

The Act authorized an agency to find employment for the underprivileged and offer food stamps so all those who had fewer opportunities could at least have the inalienable right to minimum nutrition.
The first problem was the appointment of brother-in-law, Sergeant Shriver, to head the office. Once again nepotism charges arose. I used the image of Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table at Camelot to describe Kennedy’s inner circle, but the media used images like a clan or The Klan. I ever found the right image to justify this blatant nepotism. Camelot just never caught on, though we gave it a good shot, even leaking to the press that “Camelot” was the President’s favorite play. The tack failed totally with the public.

The second problem was that some people were abusing the food stamps program unmercifully, even going to the extreme of reading the obituaries and registering for stamps under the names of the deceased. Often the food was sold in a kind of inner city black market and often the spare stamps were used to buy such luxury items as expensive liquor. The press put us on the defensive, and I tried to retaliate.

I spoke of the few exploiters and many benefactors. An old ploy, but based on truth nonetheless, even if not an absolute truth. I quoted studies proving protein deficiency in youth lowers the I.Q., and thus the intellectual potential of poor Americans. I claimed we were fighting juvenile delinquency and the drop-out rate. But juvenile delinquency rose, and the drop-out rate rose, and since Americans spoke of a crisis in education ever since the Sputnik was launched, so many statistics disproving my claims were found that I felt it wise just to ignore the food stamps crisis and hope it would go away.
But the issue wouldn’t go away, and the President’s liberal economic policies, which are based on the modern welfare state, were called into serious question by Goldwater. He was picking up in the polls on this one little issue. The President called me into his office to discuss the dilemma.

“Norm,” he said, “Goldwater’s new slogan worries me. The one that goes ‘In Your Heart You Know He’s Right.’”
“Why does it worry you?”
“Because in my heart I know he’s right.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Look, there are two kinds of economics: Goldwater’s kind and mine, which are liberal for the time being. Liberal economics means taxing people to death to finance pie in the sky social projects that never work. Goldwater’s economics recognize that despite the disgust most people feel towards big business, if big business is healthy, the nation is healthy. In everyone’s hearts they think Goldwater is right and this food stamp business is bringing it all to a head. We have to counter it fast.”

“How can you espouse economics you don’t believe in?”
“Because America is now rich enough to cure its race problems. This is an opportunity that has to be taken advantage of now. Look, my dad was in big business and big business got me where I am. But big business can afford a slack period, the Negroes can’t. I think most Americans feel that , and will vote with their hearts and not their pocketbooks, but I can’t be sure. Please counter the Goldwater strategy.”

It was a big assignment, and it was mine. The President even gave me a staff of idea men, one of whom suggested we play on Goldwater’s Jewish connection and stir up a little anti-Semitism. Needless-to-say he didn’t last long.

Finally Goldwater gave us the issue we needed. Speaking to an audience of American Legionnaires in Philadelphia, he asked why Americans should die for a bunch of ungrateful and even hostile foreigners when one nuclear bomb could send the insurgents packing. Even though Kennedy personally favored such a strategy, he had the wisdom not to articulate it in public. After that the race was on.

First I had a commercial prepared for the World Series spots. A little girl picking petals off a daisy and counting downward with each petal is montaged with a nuclear countdown. Republican protests were so loud the commercial was scrapped from the rest of the series. I asked Sandy Koufax, a distant cousin, if he’d mind objecting to the commercial being taken out. He agreed, and Goldwater’s nuclear policies became small talk for Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese between pitches.

But the topper was my counter-slogan, “In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts.” Dick Tuck had the sign prominently appearing at Goldwater rallies throughout the country.
Goldwater was so rattled that he made a statement that was his doom. Visiting a typical family in New England, with the cameras rolling, he thanked them for their hospitality and left saying, “This was a fine opportunity for you both to speak your mind and see if I have one.” That was it. He was pegged a nut.

Even his Vice-Presidential candidate, the charismatic William Miller, stopped campaigning and with two months left before the election took a ten-day trip to Tokyo to see the Olympics. In November Goldwater won the Southwest and overwhelmingly took the Japanese vote. But that was it. My man, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was to be President for four more years.

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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