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Listening to the other voice in the Jackie Kennedy interviews

The voice of Jackie Kennedy's interviewer belongs to the late historian and former JFK aide Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., whose writings are again timely in this tea-party era. He noted that the Founding Fathers embraced government as a vital help, not an obstacle, to progress.

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With the release of interview tapes archived for decades and now known to the world, Jackie Kennedy’s voice – tender, wraithlike and occasionally wry – is with us once again.

But as the former first lady grabs yet another round of headlines, I’ve been thinking about the other voice on those much-publicized tapes – the one belonging to her interviewer, the late historian and former JFK aide, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

I’d heard his patrician baritone most memorably back in 1988, during a phone interview to promote an upcoming lecture and his 1986 book, “The Cycles of American History.” An ardent liberal, Mr. Schlesinger had been watching the 1988 presidential primaries with interest, predicting that the national mood was ripe for a resurgence of progressive politics.

The political stars, alas, didn’t align for Schlesinger’s favored candidate, Michael Dukakis, and President George H.W. Bush took office in 1989. That left me wondering how much of Schlesinger’s view of the presidential race had been informed by scholarship – and how much of his analysis had been shaped by wishful thinking.


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