Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Biography:

The full text of my biography of Schlesinger is now on-line, with individual chapters as PDF files. Schlesinger has long been a role model for me as a great writer and scholar, and as an intellectual who helped serve the country he loved by taking part in its public affairs.

Scanning and reformatting the thesis for on-line publication also reminded me great it was that I could word-process the thesis on Brown University's mainframe. When I was a freshman, computer science students were programming with punch cards. It was wonderful to have word processing available; my thesis was much better as a result. And would have been much better still, if like today's lucky students, I had possesed a laptop computer.

The thesis also reminded me just how terrible Vietnam was--not only in the direct effects of war itself, and the totalitarian regimes that won it--but also in how it more or less destroyed the liberal anti-communist movement which Schlesinger had done so much to create, and which did so many good things for America and the world in the 1960s.

And there was also the pleasure of rediscovering some great quotes from Schlesinger. Like an amazingly naive diary entry from when he was serving in the JFK White House, and moonlighting as a film critic; Schlesinger and Robert Kennedy met Marilyn Monroe in New York: "Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me."

Then there's this diary entry from the spring of 1968, when all the politically correct people in New York City were supporting Eugene McCarthy for the Democratic nomination, while Schlesinger was supporting RFK: "I have never felt so much in my life the settled target of hostility...I am hissed at practically every public appearance in this city. I have just been out to get the morning Times, and inevitably someone harangued and denounced me on Third Avenue--again a McCarthyite. I think these people are crazy." The Angry Left is not a new phenomenon.

And there's his characterization, from The Vital Center, of the foolishness of hoping that the problem of totalitarian aggression could be solved by world government, by the "pot of legalisms at the end of the rainbow." In the Americans for Democratic Action, which Schlesinger helped found, "we know that we are no longer living in a utopia. We are living in a jungle and we must do something about it."

Re-connecting with his writings was a pleasant reminder--especially apt these days--of how a great political commentator can write with elegance and wit, skewering his ideological adversaries--without ever needing to use vulgar language, malicious hyperbole, or childish name-calling.

elChato (mail):
He was a bright man and had sensible left-of-center political views but I can't help but be struck by the touches of sycophancy ("Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me") evident in his writings and public comments, that make it hard to take him all that seriously.
3.8.2007 5:43pm
He was certainly a Kennedy sycophant, used by them as they used Sorensen and others. That should not diminish from the power and persuasiveness of his intellect. I truly think the day will come (although I thought it would come before now) when the democrat party will miss persons of his stature and beliefs.
3.8.2007 5:54pm
Imagine how much better still your thesis could have been if, like some lucky lawyers of today, you could have written the thing on a Blackberry!
3.8.2007 8:40pm
In the late 1970's, when I was at the university, Political Science professors denigrated Schlesinger as a faux academic who thought that, except for 1000 days of light, there had been no decent President since FDR. His "Imperial Presidency" mantra was seen as hypocrisy, because he didn't mind such a Presidency when Democrats were in the White House.

My opinion of him has risen considerably since then, given his principled stands on many important issues. Perhaps he can be seen as bridging sterile academia with real life.
3.8.2007 9:33pm
Alex Bensky (mail):
So he got hissed for being fpr Bobby Kennedy? I was on college campuses in 1968 and 1972 and I would have been happy with that. You can guess what I got, being openly and enthusiastically for Hubert Humphrey--and I'd do it again if I had the chance.
3.9.2007 1:50am