When it was revealed that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had made provisions for audio recordings of her conversations be released years ahead of schedule and just a decade after her death, it was widely speculated that the tapes would reveal perhaps an affair or some salacious, gossipy information about the First Lady of the administration known as Camelot.
Perhaps the scuttlebutt was a product of the public image of the Kennedy family tending toward philandering, or maybe its from filtering the legend of the White House Kennedys- of which only daughter Carolyn is still alive- through the louder, reality TV culture of today. But as some of the details of the tapes leak, it appears that- quite like the Wikileaks cables- what has been revealed is more State Department gossip than any massive scandal or affair.
In fact, the information that has been conveyed so far- a bigger unveiling is scheduled for Wednesday- is more heartbreaking in the context of the years that followed than scandalous. To view the tapes through the lens of knowing the fate of the Kennedys is very sad indeed, especially when Jackie expresses that she feels both she and the children would rather have died than lose their husband and father. To that point, Kennedy says during the Cuban Missile Crisis:
“If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you… I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too — than live without you.”
Jackie wasn’t the only one who fretted over her young and handsome husband’s mortality- Jack is said to have commented on the possibility of his death and potential succession of Lyndon B. Johnson to the office of Commander in Chief:
“Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?”
Of course, Kennedy was a well-regarded First Lady, not a saint- the tapes were not all tearful proclamations of love for the President:
She referred to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as “a phony” because of his dalliances with women. French president Charles DeGaulle was “that egomaniac.” Indira Gandhi, the future prime minister of India, was “a real prune — bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”
Later this week, a two-hour special will air on ABC with more information about the tapes and their content.