bureaucracybusters

A CLASH OF TITANS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Today, America has four major candidates running for President: Donald Trump, Rafael Edward Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Trump is a billionaire businessman; Cruz is a U.S. Senator from Texas; Clinton is a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State; and Sanders is a U.S. Senator from Vermont.  

Despite the great differences in their backgrounds, they all share one thing in common: Extremely high negatives among voters.

But 48 years ago, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy aroused passions of an altogether different sort.  

Kennedy had been a United States Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator (1964-1968). But it was his connection to his beloved and assassinated brother, President John F. Kennedy, for which he was best known.

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

Millions saw RFK as the only candidate who could make life better for America’s impoverished–while standing firmly against those who threatened the Nation’s safety.  

As television correspondent Charles Quinn observed: “I talked to a girl in Hawaii who was for [George] Wallace [the segregationist governor of Alabama]. And I said ‘Really?’ [She said] ‘Yeah, but my real candidate is dead.’  

“You know what I think it was?  All these whites, all these blue collar people who supported Kennedy…all of these people felt that Kennedy would really do what he thought best for the black people, but, at the same time, would not tolerate lawlessness and violence.  

“They were willing to gamble…because they knew in their hearts that the country was not right. They were willing to gamble on this man who would try to keep things within reasonable order; and at the same time do some of the things they knew really should be done.”

Campaigning for the Presidency in 1968, RFK had just won the crucial California primary on June 4–when he was shot in the back of the head. His killer: Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian furious at Kennedy’s support for Israel.  

On June 8, 1,200 men and women boarded a specially-reserved passenger train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. They were accompanying Kennedy’s body to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.  

As the train slowly moved along 225 miles of track, throngs of men, women and children lined the rails to pay their final respects to a man they considered a genuine hero.

Little Leaguers clutched their baseball caps across their chests. Uniformed firemen and policemen saluted. Burly men in shirtsleeves held hardhats over their hearts. Black men in overalls waved small American flags.  Women from all levels of society stood and cried.

A nation says goodbye to Robert Kennedy

Commenting on RFK’s legacy, historian William L. O’Neil wrote in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s:  

“…He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and, through error and tragic accident, failed at….He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time. 

“That too must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing.  With his death something precious disappeared from public life.”

Eleven years earlier, as a young, idealistic attorney, Kennedy had declared war on James Riddle Hoffa, the president of the Mafia-dominated International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

As chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, Kennedy was appalled at the corruption he discovered among high-ranking Teamster officials. As he saw it, under Hoffa’s leadership, the union was nothing less than “a conspiracy of evil.”

Robert Francis Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

Hoffa, in turn, held an equally unflattering view of Kennedy. “A rich punk,” said Hoffa, who didn’t know or care about “the average workingman.”

In 1983, Blood Feud, a two-part TV mini-series, depicted the 11-year animosity between Kennedy and Hoffa. Although it took some dramatic liberties, its portrayal of the major events of that period remains essentially accurate.

Today, labor unions are a rapidly-vanishing species, commanding far less political influence than they did 50 years ago. As a result, young viewers of this series may find it hard to believe that labor ever held such sway, or that the Teamsters posed such a threat.

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

And in an age when millions see “Big Government” as the enemy, they may feel strong reservations about the all-out war that Robert F. Kennedy waged against Hoffa. 

Blood Feud opens in 1957, when Hoffa (Robert Blake) is a rising figure within the Teamsters. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) is chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. 

At first, Hoffa tries to ingratiate himself with Kennedy, telling him: “I know everybody who can help me and anybody who can hurt me.”

Robert Blake as James R. Hoffa

A wily Hoffa decides to parley Kennedy’s anti-corruption zeal into a path to power for himself. Via his attorney, Eddie Cheyfitz, he feeds Kennedy incriminating evidence against Dave Beck, president of the Teamsters. 

Confronted with a Senate subpoena, Beck flees the country–paving the way for Hoffa to assume the top position in the union. Hoffa believes he has solved two problems at once. 

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