Saturday, September 10, 2011

JFK 'scorned idea of Lyndon Johnson presidency'

NEW YORK: President John F. Kennedy scorned the idea of then Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeding him in office, according to a book of interviews with his widow Jacqueline.

The glamorous former first lady also bore a grudge against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, accusing him of mocking her husband's funeral and being 'tricky' and a 'phoney', the book reveals.

In a series of interviews with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr shortly after her husband was assassinated in 1963, Mrs Kennedy discussed topics ranging from her husband's reading habits to the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.

She disclosed that her husband often fretted about the prospect of a Johnson presidency although he had picked Johnson, a Texas senator and former political rival, as his running mate in 1960.

She said her husband even talked to his brother, then Attorney-General Robert F. Kennedy, about ways to prevent Johnson from winning the Democratic nomination in a future contest.

'Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, 'Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?'' she recalled. 'And Bobby told me that he'd had some discussions with him... do something to name someone else in 1968.'

Johnson was sworn in as president after Kennedy's assassination and was elected to a full term in 1964. He declined to seek re-election in 1968.

Mrs Kennedy also criticised King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the principal civil rights leaders who fought for equal rights for black people in America.

She began to dislike King after hearing about Federal Bureau of Investigation tapes of him and a woman in his hotel room. Her husband had urged her not to be judgmental, she noted. (Kennedy's own adulterous affairs were not yet widely known.)

Mrs Kennedy, who died in 1994, also said King had mocked her husband's funeral and Cardinal Richard Cushing, who celebrated mass at the funeral.

'He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and said that he was drunk at it,' she said. 'And things about they almost dropped the coffin. I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible.'

In the interviews, Mrs Kennedy said her husband was very sceptical about victory in Vietnam, a central battleground of the Cold War and the conflict that brought down Johnson's presidency.

The book, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations On Life With John F. Kennedy, will be published next Wednesday. Its release comes on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's first year in office.