Arthur Schlesinger Vs. Gore Vidal


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October 15, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 52

Schlesinger vs. Vidal

By Mary Perot Nichols

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., liberal historian-cum-political pamphleteer, touched base at the Village Independent Democrats last week. And like his mission in behalf of Jack Kennedy in 1960 to the alienation Stevensonians, Schlesinger has been on the stump lately to cajole reluctant Bob Kennedy backers into line.

“People like you,” Schlesinger told the jam-packed VID, “called Jack Kennedy ‘power-hungry, opportunistic, tinged with McCarthyism, a young man in a hurry,’ just as you are doing to Bobby.” Bolstered by four years of history, Schlesinger asked, in effect, “Who was right in 1960, you or me?”

The former Harvard historian asserted that Bobby had been the voice of moderation within the Administration during the Cuban missile crisis.

…Another questioner wanted to know just what had caused the “quarrel” between Kennedy and novelist-playwright Gore Vidal, who recently helped launch Democrats for Keating.

“It dates,” said the former White House aide, “to an evening when I was present.” Saying he could not divulge “all the circumstances of the dispute,” Schlesinger noted that he head driven Vidal to the Jefferson Hotel after the incident and said that Robert Kennedy had “acted with perfect dignity,” even though Vidal had told the Attorney General he was “going to get him.” Schlesinger implied strongly the dispute was of a personal nature.

Vidal, however, in an interview with The Voice, indicated the source of the quarrel was an article he had written for Esquire on the FBI, which accused the FBI of excessive zeal in protecting the John Birch Society from a critical editorial which had not yet ben published. The article did not mention Kennedy.

Vidal’s article alleged that an FBI agent visited a Southern newspaper editor before the publication of an editorial citing the FBI as a source which labeled the Birch Society “irresponsible” and sought to intimidate the editor to stop him from publishing it.

Vidal told The Voice that he gave Kennedy the name of the agent, the paper, and the editor, prior to publication of the Esquire article, but that Kennedy had told him, in effect, to mind his own business.

“That night at the White House,” Vidal said, “I was erupting over this subject and I said a few well-chosen — or ill-chosen — words about the FBI.”

As for RFK’s alleged “perfect dignity,” Vidal says: “Our exchange was childish on both sides and reflected credit on neither of us.” He mused, however, on the tendency of Kennedy’s backers to “discredit” rather than answer his critics.

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