"MUTUAL CONTEMPT: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Shaped a Decade" by Jeff Shesol

"MUTUAL CONTEMPT: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Shaped a Decade"

Email this review


An extensive, minutely detailed analysis of the Lyndon B. Johnson--Robert F. Kennedy mutual-fear-and-loathing society. Entire books have been written examining Lyndon Johnson's presidency in which Robert F. Kennedy is but a very minor player. In his book, Shesol filters Johnson's entire vice-presidential and presidential careers through the lens of his hatred of Robert Kennedy and RFK's reciprocal contempt for Johnson. In his first book, Shesol, a political cartoonist, sets out to prove that from 1959 to 1968 both Kennedy and Johnson made ""few important decisions without first considering"" their mutual contempt, which was ""the defining relationship of their political lives."" Shesol offers a mountain of evidence to buttress these original claims. The book is filled to overflowing with detailed reconstructions of many of the political actions RFK and LBJ took. Shesol is correct--to a very limited degree. The two men hated each other viciously, and their hatred had an impact on some of their political decisions. Those facts are well documented here and elsewhere. But Shesol does not come close to proving that the mutual hatred was a key factor in Johnson's presidency or in Kennedy's political career. Shesol claims, for example, that Johnson's Vietnam War policymaking, by mid-1967, was ""inextricably bound to the Johnson-Kennedy feud."" The feud had some impact, but Shesol either ignores or cursorily mentions the many other, much more crucial factors. They include the intransigence of the Vietnamese communists, the weakness of our South Vietnamese ally, pressures from the American Joint Chiefs and from conservative Republicans, threats from China, and Johnson's strong desire to win the 1964 election and, later, enact his Great Society programs. A myopic portrait of two powerful politicians that all but ignores any actions other than their spiteful, petulant, petty personal feuding.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Norton