To the Editor:
Paul Johnson’s review of our book, The Kennedys: An American Drama [Books in Review, October 1984], illustrates how an ideological bias can be just as crippling on the Right as on the Left. He finds our narrative inadequate on the grounds that we didn’t throw more light on how Joe Kennedy made and spent his money, because “money is the key to the Kennedy success.” Really? If this were so, then Hunts and Rockefellers would be Kennedys. Like many conservatives, Mr. Johnson has an evident problem with the sexual promiscuity of the Kennedy males. “How could such monsters . . . impress themselves so forcefully on the nation, indeed on the world?” Perhaps from such a perspective money is the only answer. But it is a travesty to suggest, as Mr. Johnson does, that our portrait of Jack Kennedy is painted in such narrow and negative moralistic hues. In fact, our narrative rescues a heroic dimension of the personal life of Jack Kennedy from the obscurity to which it was consigned by the family political mythology, and which ironically goes a long way toward explaining the elusive charisma that allowed him to charm men and nations.
Mr. Johnson is relentless in imposing his own agenda on our book, which he ignorantly describes as “an attack from the Left.” His justification for this remark is our failure to discuss “the fake returns in Illinois and Texas, which probably gave Kennedy the White House.” Mr. Johnson concludes that our omission can be explained by our unwillingness “to put the record straight for the benefit of [the Kennedys'] Republican opponents.” Where can Mr. Johnson have gotten this ridiculous idea? Surely not from our chapters on the Kennedy Presidency which portray Kennedy as weak and inconsistent in a manner that bears far more resemblance to the critiques of the Republican Right at the time than to those of the Democratic Left. Our decision not to focus attention on the question of electoral fraud in the 1960 election was partly because the evidence for it was inconclusive, but mainly because there is no evidence at all that the Kennedy brothers were themselves involved in any such fraud, and hence it remains on the periphery of our interest, which is the Kennedy character and not the vicissitudes of Democratic and Republican party politics.
Finally, our book was neither conceived nor written as an attack on the Kennedys. Only someone deaf to its tonalities and sympathies—an infirmity often induced by ideological straining—could mistake it for one.
Peter Collier and David Horowitz
Los Angeles, California
Paul Johnson writes:
Peter Collier and David Horowitz are entitled to let off steam on receiving a critical review, but their letter confirms my feeling that authors are nearly always ill-advised to write complaining letters. All the points on which they disagree with me are legitimate matters of opinion.