Mr. Johnson Keeps House
From MURRAY KEMPTON
MR. JOHNSON'S first speech to the Congress is said to have been drafted one half by Mr. Kennedy's Theodore Sorenson and the other by a resident of Washington's Texan colony. Such is likely to be the mixture between now and next November.
A President of the United States serves thirty- eight months with the duties of office and then ten campaigning to keep them. Mr. Johnson must begin running for re-election at the soonest decent moment after his accession; half of him will remain, through sentiment and design, in the shadow of Mr. Kennedy's memory for that period; we are unlikely to sec the whole man until after• that trial is over.
Mr. Johnson seem careful (more careful than might before this have been expected from his nature) to keep Mr. Kennedy's surviving estab- lishment. Professor Arthur Schlesinger, Mr. Ken- nedy's philosopher-in-residence, asked leave to go last week, was called by the President to forty minutes of implorations to stay and invited to sit in the family box at the Congressional speech. Mr. Schlesinger could hardly depart in the face of so much distress in a man about whose bur- dens his character impels him to feel responsible. Still, he was brought to Washington less by any appeal of power and vanity than by a devouring interest in Mr. Kennedy as a figure. And the last week must have left Mr. Schlesinger, as it ha6 so many of us, with the sense that the fun has gone out of everything. (That is a flippant way to describe a shattered spirit, but it does have the excuse of being said rather the way Mr. Kennedy would have said it.) Mr. Johnson is hardly the sort of public man to think a resi- dent philosopher a necessary piece of the office; in any case, one's personal philosopher is like one's cook; and his tastes have never seemed precisely Mr. Kennedy's.
Even Mr. Kennedy's esthetics seem sacred in the President's memory, if hardly in his eye. Mr. Kennedy loved to tinker with Washington, which seemed to him a city wanting in grace; one of his projects was the rehabilitation of Penn- sylvania Avenue, the capital's official public parade route, and a depressing mixture of Roman government buildings (forbidding); unwooded patches of lawn (scruffy); lunch-rooms (seedy); and economy stores (pathetic). The refurbishing of the Avenue according to Mr. Kennedy's sophis- ticated vision of a truly grand boulevard will cost close to $100 million; the plans were pre- sented to President Johnson in his first week in office; he accepted them with such speed as to indicate that he felt that even a glance would have been wanting in the proper respect.
There is so far little obvious satisfaction for that gossip which is the best balm for public grief. We are not to be permitted, as the Romans are, to make up for the pain of the loss of the Pope with the malignant pleasure of the dis- comfiture .of his nephews. President Johnson is extraordinarily sensitive to slight and he can hardly think Robert Kennedy always treated him with the admiration he thought his due; even so, he wants the Attorney-General to stay. They need each other; Robert Kennedy is the surviving embodiment of his family's peculiarly personal ' sense of history; what must seem to him required now to support and finally seal his brother's place in its memory is the resounding triumph of his Democratic Party in November. Mr. John- son's failure would also be Mr. Kennedy's: the winning of the election has thus come to be the single great object of every intimate Mr. Ken- nedy left behind him, and that need is a powerful inducement for them to stay on.
The approach of the election allows Mr. Johnson no time for a programme of his own; he must make do with the Kennedy programme and trust that he can embellish the Kennedy record by enacting the- tax and civil rights Bills into law. He has not concerned himself with legis- lative manoeuvre for three years and may be much farther out of condition than he thinks; still, he approaches this matter confident in the memory that he was until 1960 the most powerful and persuasive American Senator and untroubled even if one reason why he was so powerful was that he was so persuasive against doing anything.
He seems easy to measure as a candidate, be- cause it is inconceivable that his presence and Mr. Kennedy's memory are not a coalition too immense to be overcome by any visible Republi- can nominee. But there will be no Johnson ad- ministration—in any complete meaning of the word—until he has run that course; and to try to take the measure of Johnson the President until he has is at once impossible and useless.
But, when he emerges whole, it will be hard to expect surprises. Mr. Kennedy came to the office an educated man of sparse training; Mr.
Johnson will come there a trained man of spark education. General Eisenhower, who also came ready trained; may be said to have develolied less in the office than any President of this cen- tury, unless We except Mr. Coolidge, whose whole life was an exercise in disciplined underdevelop- ment; Mr. Johnson does not'promise much more. His depressingly vulgar private tone will, to be sure, be gentled in public discourse. But he is a coarse instrument where Mr. Kennedy was a refined one, and a complacent man where Mr. Kennedy was a curious one. He Is vain in those small matters where Mr. Kennedy was always self-mocking. He thinks of himself as more a Roosevelt -liberal than Mr. Kennedy was: and we can accept that image if we do not forget how much reason he has to be grateful to that New Deal whose major social legacy to us has been the business Welfare State.
Even so, he will certainly serve us and the world as well as we can expect in this sudden moment of weariness and lowered expectations. He is an uncomplicated man, easily offended and almost as easily placated, simple and open, a little childish, particularly when he thinks him- self cunning. It is Americans of his sort who supported the reconstruction of Europe and the ordeal of Korea and who felt, along with the need to be masculine and to bluster, the necessity to find sonic way to live with Nikita Khrushchev. Such men do not uplift us, but they do not abandon us. If we have lost the hope of some- thing more than they, there is some satisfaction that we are unlikely to have anything less.