Arthur Schlesinger, R.I.P.


Caretaker of the Kennedy legacy, Arthur Schlesinger died last night in New York.
The 89 year-old historian was a controversial and provocative commentator on public affairs and America writ large. He was one of the most significant figures in old school American internationalism that had edges of both diplomacy and a military power focused together in collaboration with other great powers on big global problems.
I met him several times — one at a fascinating evening with the Carnegie Endowment’s Jessica Mathews and Zbigniew Brzezinski. I learned a tremendous amount about details of American diplomatic history that I would never have learned from written historical treatments.
We also sat together on the Advisory Board for Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Chestertown, Maryland. I regret that we never met at the old Customs House in there and talked history while looking out over the Chester River.
He will be missed. My condolences to the two sons I know — Stephen Schlesinger and Robert Schlesinger — and to other members of Arthur’s family.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Arthur Schlesinger, R.I.P.

  1. kedger says:

    I met him in 1966 when he came down from New York to Lawrenceville NJ to sit on a common room couch and talk history and politics to less than a dozen students. It was a very gracious thing for him to do. He was informal, candid, and made quite an impression on me at age 17.


  2. rich says:

    Can’t agree with you on two points:
    –“It will probably be remembered as his lowest moment, defending Slick Willie in front of the Senate comittee”–
    The opposite is true: another heroic example is Sen. Dale Bumpers, whose electrifying speech on the Senate floor completely reversed the political/social dynamics. Bumpers single-handedly restored America to its senses. Still gotta get a videotape of that. Bumpers’ home run nailed down the incontrovertible fact that what they were doing was wrong morally, wrong legally, and utterly at odds with American culture and history.
    Why? It could have been any of them. Nathanial Hawthorne didn’t write The Scarlet Letter to enCOURage the likes of Ken Starr to go after the gory details of people’s private lives. Because they’re private. Because if you can do that to the greatest (or the least) among us, you can do it to anyone. That’s why America chose a limited govt: it can’t distinguish justly or morally, in that arena. That’s why they call it
    Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter is the signpost that America BY DEFINITION rejected the humiliation, excoriation, and scapegoating of God’s children on sexual grounds. Or Allah’s children, for that matter (Abu Ghraib, anyone?).
    It could have been Bob Livingston. Or Newt Gingrich. Or, as we’ve learned over the past six years, any one of the countless Republican office-holders whose (surprisingly) seamy private lives can’t pass even minimal standards of decency. (Not represenatitive, but there it is in so many news reports.)
    Sad day when Larry Flynt’s integrity and core patriotism trumps Bob Livingston’s. Where is old Bob, anyway?
    –“Schlesinger was right in saying he spent too much time involving himself in these silly, frivolous matters and should have spent more time writing books.”–
    Nonsense. Art himself wouldn’t agree with that–ANYone who writes that many books HAS to get out and apply that, live a little–or he wouldn’t have done it. Given how much time he DID invest writing, spending MORE can’t be viewed as a re-balancing or as somehow coming to his senses.
    That doesn’t mean he has to become a Walt Whitman. But really, locking Schlesinger in the library? Because he’s tooo frivolous? Come on.
    Now, WHITman could have spent more time writing. But hey, that’s Whitman, and that’s the point. What either one chose, is their own, and who are we to take issue with it? It’s the whole point of having an America. Hawthorne knew it. Why didn’t Ken Starr and John Harris?


  3. Finest says:

    We were waiting on the corner of 52nd st and Lexington Avenue about 6 years ago and I turned and noticed an instantly recognizable figure, in bow tie, waiting to cross the opposite way. I said to my partner ‘It’s Schlesinger!’.
    It will probably be remembered as his lowest moment, defending Slick Willie in front of the Senate comittee, something to the effect that a gentleman (never before used in the same sentence with this man from Arkansas) would never discuss his relations with the opposite sex.
    Reading the NYT obit it can safely be said that Schlesinger was right in saying he spent too much time involving himself in these silly, frivolous matters and should have spent more time writing books.


  4. JimD says:

    These Kennedy men all seem to be taking their true thoughts about his assassination to their graves.


  5. pierre-salinger says:

    so sorry, he was such an icon. let’s hope others will succeed in waking up america before it’s too late. and don’t dismiss the “events” that have occurred during the last thirty years. think about it………………


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *