I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Necessary Details

The Necessary Details

Kevin Stevens
Working, by Robert A Caro, Bodley Head, 240 pp, £20.00, ISBN: 978-1847926050 On a warm day in September 1963, a few months after my eighth birthday, John F Kennedy visited my hometown of Great Falls, Montana. My dad brought me early to the motorcade route, and we had a coveted curbside vantage as the navy-blue presidential convertible floated within feet of us. Our glimpse was brief, but I still remember the calculated dazzle of the famous smile, the vibrant, intelligent eyes, the auburn shock of hair – though over time the memory has, inevitably, melded with the silent-movie horror of the Zapruder footage, filmed in Dallas less than two months after that Montana visit. A year later, almost to the day, my dad and I were in the audience at Malmstrom Air Force Base on the outskirts of Great Falls when President Lyndon Johnson and Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, who were meeting to sign a dam-building treaty, made a short public appearance. My impression of Johnson – again, probably coloured by seeing him so often on TV over the four years to come – could not have been more different from the Kennedy moment. Hulking and deliberate, sly-eyed and jowly, he read his prepared speech with little animation and what I heard as a yokel’s accent. Though only in his fifties, to me he was an old man. My dad was introducing me to history and politics. An FDR-Truman Democrat, he admired how JFK and LBJ, in their different ways, had pledged their presidencies to the New Deal tradition of active government and compassionate liberalism. He was one of Kennedy’s “new generation of Americans”, buoyed by postwar prosperity and heady with confidence in America’s ability to do good. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,” my father liked to say, quoting Kennedy’s inaugural address, “it cannot save the few who are rich.” Yet my young conception of the two presidents was closer to mythology than history. If the assassination made JFK a god, then Vietnam – the tragedy that shadowed my coming of age and would shape my own politics profoundly – turned Johnson into a demon king. The mythos of his presidency was summed up by the chant that haunted him in retirement and haunts his nation still: “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” Kennedy moved from Camelot to apotheosis; Johnson from…

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