Big money in politics is a bad thing … except when it elects the people you like

If you’re no fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and her skewed reading of American history, you’re likely to enjoy Algis Valiunas’ profile in the latest issue of Commentary, headlined “The Rise and Rise of Doris Kearns Goodwin.”

Valiunas takes a closer look at Goodwin’s own history, showing that the 24-year-old’s career took off in 1967 after a “flirtatious dance” so charmed President Lyndon Johnson that he promised to make her an assistant on his personal staff. That opportunity fell through because Goodwin objected to Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War, but Johnson never lost his (professional) interest in the young woman.

Of most interest to this observer, though, was Goodwin’s record of ignoring a critical element of the Kennedy family’s political record. While writing her 1987 book on the family, archives in JFK’s library “were opened exclusively for the trustworthy wife of the stalwart friend of the clan,” the stalwart friend being Mr. Goodwin, a former Kennedy and Johnson speechwriter.

… [T]here remained truths that Goodwin evidently preferred not to tell. She stops well short of acknowledging just how far John F. Kennedy’s rise to the top was bought and paid for (a tale well told in Ronald Kessler’s 1996 biography, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded). She fails to mention the very public distaste of her particular heroine Eleanor Roosevelt for this Kennedy purchasing power. On ABC television in December 1958, Mrs. Roosevelt observed that “Senator Kennedy’s father has been spending oodles of money all over the country and probably has a paid representative in every state by now.” The senator pressed her repeatedly to admit she was misinformed. Mrs. Roosevelt assured him that she was not.

Another Democratic eminence Goodwin overlooks, Tip O’Neill, recounted how a delegated Kennedy pal from Boston spread the wealth in the key 1960 presidential primary state of West Virginia, where Catholics were customarily less than welcome and Hubert Humphrey was expected to win big on his way to the nomination. Five grand down to the local big wheel and the rest when the vote was delivered, the sums multiplied many times up and down the state, and Jack overcame the unfortunate religious prejudice and the odds.

Odd that Goodwin neglected such unseemly facts. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph on December 4, 2013, she insisted, with all the sanctimony of a true virtucrat, “There’s going to have to be structural change in this country,” where election campaign finance is “the poison of the system” in American politics. Except that, when it was her time to tell the story of the case in which a tycoon’s dollars arguably did purchase a presidency, she did not do so.

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