An ungentle wind whips across the point in Boston harbor and rattles the pages of a blue-bound book on an era long past, one perhaps that really never was.
The pages come to rest at the table of contents, which seems fitting, because just beyond that page out there in the audience, are the Chapters. They have come in person. Sorensen, McNamara, Bundy, Salinger, O'Brien and others; they are not much heavier, not much grayer than they were back in 1961 when Camelot was born and the book, "The Kennedy Circle," was written. Indeed, the times have changed more than the men have.
"The Kennedy Circle" had a modest impact when it was published, but it is worth rereading on this day -- the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library -- not for what it tells about the men it chronicles, but for what it tells about ourselves and the way we have come to look at our leaders.
In that still-Cold War period, some of America's most respected journalists pooled their talents to produce portraits of the men of the New Frontier, a separate chapter on each. What is striking today is the relization that the assessments by these journalists (most of whom are still among the most respected in the business) run a narrow range from gentle-and-optimistic to downright adoring.
On this day, the book serves as a reminder that we have come to expect more of our leaders, and to assess them more skeptically, than we did in the days of Camelot.
Saturday is a bittersweet day for the men who were chapters in "The Kennedy Circle." They arrived at the library early, finding their seats and leaving plenty of time for waving greetings to each other and to their friends in the press as they settled in for a morning of words that would be about the way it was in Camelot and the way they wanted it to have been.
The most poignant of the words came from a tape recording and poured through giant loudspeakers: ". . . the torch has been passed . . . . my call is to the young at heart . . . when power corrupts, poetry cleanses . . . . ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country . . . ."
It is that spirit the journalist were capturing in 1961, and they captured it well. The frailties came in the application of the spirit; and that is what was so largely unanticipated by so many of us.
The pages offer a glimpse of the new president: "Unlike his predecessor [Eisenhower], who apparently found life in the Executive Mansion so oppressive he frequently fled it, Kennedy likes his job so much he can scarcely tear himself away from his desk."
There is a view of the new staff: "Everyone has to be on tap and on his toes at all times."
There is a citation of Dean Rusk's "courage and spirit."
There is a description of Theodore Sorensen: "A complete intellectual . . . [with] a wide-ranging but orderly mind supported by an incredibly retentive memory, and a deep, almost intuituve understanding of political power . . . ."
No one was a liberal; everyone was a "pragmatic liberal." And they all were blessed with humor, ranging from Sorensen, who had "an excellent sense of humor," to David Bell, who had humor of the "quiet" kind.
The cabinet was "what a good many people here believe is the most talented Cabinet they can remember." And, in this era before consciousnesses were raised, it was written that the first responsibility of every president-elect is to find for his Cabinet "ten men."
This was time when "all sorts of people are welcome at the White House . . . . Poets and painters have supplanted brokers and bankers."
Finally, there is the assessment by David Brinkley, then and now one of America's best-known observers, who wrote admiringly in 1961 that Kennedy had "filled his administration with people who share his own style, who eagerly welcome new ideas, but who insist first on candling them like eggs held to a light."
Today, with the benefit of hindsight and a skepticism painfully forged, we can see that this candle power gave us, for example, the Green Berets, a John Waynian approach to solving international problems that had captured the imagination of a president who held James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, as a favorite author.
So we candled our way into Vietnam only to discovr too late that we could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The romance has been knocked out of us now, and it helps a bit go back and read the way we thought it was. It helps to understand that different standards, more skeptical standards, are applied today to those who serve and to those who run: the incumbent and the challengers.
President Carter and his disciples have chafed at times under the standards to which they have been held, saying that the times are such that no one could do better. Maybe so. But the audience at this library dedication Saturday contained many who are spending their time in strategy meetings that they hope will carry a new Kennedy forward to what some of them view as a continuation of what was.
But the lesson of the small old book is that things will never again be as they used to be. The time for Camelot is past, and that is a reality that holds as true for the Kennedys as it does for the rest of us.
EPILOGUE: The ceremonies of dedication and emotion over, the invited VIPs are leaving the library grounds. Robert McNamara, who was hailed in 1961 as the man who would bring his cost-effectiveness genius to military planning but who helped plan our national tragedy instead, has opted to ride a bus back to town.
A Boston journalist sitting nearby is struck by how aged McNamara appears: His hair is still dark, his waist still trim but his face is lined. Of all who were the best and the brighest, he is the only one who has never lifted his head from the public trough, having directed the fortunes of the World Bank since that day when, in tears, he retired from the Pentagon.
David Powers, a Kennedy political insider, waves goodbye to McNamara but lingers at the ceremony site to tell a new generation of electronic reporters about the Kennedy years.
"Jack would have loved this ceremony -- he loved politics at its best . . . Jack would have loved this site -- he loved the sea . . . Jack always loved poetry . . . ." Powers is still skilled at what he does; he is able to continue speaking into the microphones even as he sings autographs for nuns.
Off to the side, Pierre Salinger is ducking away from attention long enough to escape the wind and light a cigar. He realls that small book, "The Kennedy Circle."
"Oh boy, I sure do remember that book," Salinger says, beaming. "That was a time that we won't be seeing again, no matter what happens. I thind I'd be embarrassed to read it now."