John Kenneth Galbraith loves self-celebrations, and so do his guests. They included tonight two presidential nominees, both rejected (1972, 1984) in part because they had worshipped too comprehensively at the feet of the guest of honor. I arrived (the shuttle was late) after the initial pre-dinner toast by Sen. Ted Kennedy, but in time for the rest; all this at the Kennedy Center, with fine wine and cuisine. Mr. Galbraith uses a walking stick and has a little trouble hearing, but he was lively in all his roles, including as the subject of a short documentary that included tributes, on this birthday, from the president and the vice president. Everyone there (including your correspondent) had known him seemingly forever. John Kennedy (George) spoke of his mother’s adoration of him and recalled the deftness with which he greeted her at a party the day after the papers published a paparazzo’s embarrassing spread of Jackie photographed nude on her private island. “Well, Jackie,” Professor Galbraith ventured on coming in the door, “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”
That (and a few others) was a light moment in proceedings devoted to reverence-of-JKG. The dinner began with the disclosure of the first recipient of an Arthur Schlesinger Foundation award for the best … human being in America! The prize went to—John Kenneth Galbraith! It was as if a Smith brother had given a prize to a Smith brother. The check for $25,000 was accepted by Ken, who handed it over dutifully to Kitty, at his side—as always.
Professor James K. Galbraith spoke for the family and declared that his father would be situated in history in the company of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, J.S. Mill, Veblen, and Keynes as a compleat economist, devoted (in JKG’s case) to every issue confronting modern society: depression, environment, women’s rights, civil rights, income disparity. The son’s toast was emphatically to the Economist, Galbraith. And Roy Jenkins, in from London for only 36 hours, and here only for this occasion, disclosed a British-edited Festschrift, whereafter the bagpipes sounded and the enormous cake was served. Your correspondent spoke then and concluded, “As I contemplated the company in which I am thrust tonight I can only think that this is Ken’s ironic contribution to that part of the First Amendment that guarantees against an Establishment of Religion.” In his final remarks, JKG said that his guest list, including as it did George McGovern and WFB, was a tribute to his powers of attracting those who were “brilliantly right, and brilliantly wrong.”
Back to New York, except that I left too late for the last flight. I checked in at a hotel, terrorized by my Slate deadline. I have my computer, yes, but no charger, so I do not have the juice to meditate my words.