Nicholas Katzenbach on RFK and LBJ

Question: What did Bobby Kennedy think of you?

Nicholas Katzenbach: I don’t know what Bobby Kennedy thought of me. Oh, I know he liked me and I know he respected me. And we got on very well together professionally, very little socially together. Often we go out to his, Lydia, my wife, we’ll go out to his house but it was always for a big party of one kind or another, or I would go out there with some colleagues and we will talk about problems in the department. Bobby, when I started, I wondered, I liked him, but, you know, he was awfully young and I wondered about him. And the thing about Bobby was he was as conscious as any critic of his shortcomings, his faults as anybody that I know. He was also the most honest person I think I’ve ever met. And the result of this was that he used me and others in the department very bright, some very bright people and he would, you know, we would go to Bobby with problems. He would get us together as a team and I can recollect, I think I say it in the book, he would say, “Come on, fellas. You’re all better lawyers than I am. Now, tell me what you think I should do?” And he was that kind of a person. I feel… I feel when Bobby was killed, this country lost a person who might have been one of our great presidents.

Question: Did Bobby trust LBJ on civil rights?

Nicholas Katzenbach: Oh, he disliked LBJ intensely and it was all personal. He, Bobby was direct and honest. Nobody really ever refuse LBJ of being direct and honest. LBJ knew how to get what he wanted and he used all the political ideas, speech, techniques and he was good at it to get what he wanted and what he wanted was good, and he was a man of much more intelligence than most people gave him credit for. He didn’t have a good formal education, but, boy, he was bright as all get out. And just as a sort of footnote that relationship which continues, they didn’t like each other. They had to work together politically and they did but it was not easy for either of them. But as a footnote, when near the end of Bobby’s life which we didn’t know is going to end but near the end of it, I saw him and he said, “You know, he said I’m opposed to President Johnson on Vietnam, strongly oppose, but I have absolutely no criticism of what he has done in this country in the domestic program.”

Question: Why did LBJ leave government?

Nicholas Katzenbach: Why did President Johnson decide to leave government is a good question. I think it was health and I also think, I think he felt he hadn’t been able to solve the problem in Vietnam, maybe somebody else could.

Question: Why did you leave?

Nicholas Katzenbach: I was broke. I left government, I was tired too and I felt that, I felt that I’ve been something of a failure in the State Department where I went over there to try to get us out of Vietnam which was probably a very arrogant thing I think I can do. And, well, there were few things that I got done in the State Department, I didn’t get us out of Vietnam and that was the most important thing of all. So, I was tired. I’ve gone through what little money I had and I thought it was time for somebody fresh. I’m not thinking of Mr. Nixon, but somebody to come in and do my job at least who was fresher and had more energy than I had left.


Recorded on: 10/22/2008

Katzenbach reflects on their approach to Civil Rights, what they got right and where they went wrong.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less