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IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on August 10, 2020 at 1:37 am

He remains forever frozen in time—young, vigorous, with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice calling on Americans to do better for those less fortunate.

It’s been 52 years since his life was brutally cut short—yet he remains forever the age at which he died: 42. Born in 1925, he would turn 95 on November 20 if he were alive today.

And he exuded an idealism which seems totally out of place with today’s “I’ve-got-mine-so-screw-you” politics.

On March 16, 1968, from the Caucus Room of the Old Senate Office building, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy declared his candidacy for President of the United States. 

Eight years earlier, on January 2, 1960, his brother, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy had announced his own candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination from the same place.

Ten months later, on November 8, that campaign had ended in victory with his election. And that victory, in turn, ended in bitter sorrow with his assassination two years, 10 months and two days later on November 22, 1963.

Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign would not last as long as his late brother’s. Nor would it end in the victory he and his supporters yearned for. 

Sen. Robert Kennedy Giving Speech During Campaign Stop | Robert ...

Robert F. Kennedy 

Eighty-two days later, he was dead—shot in the back of the head by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab furious at Kennedy’s avowed support for Israel.

For Kennedy, making up his mind to run for the Presidency was no easy task.

Since the assassination of his brother, millions of Americans had assumed—as his admirers or detractors—that he would one day become President.

For his admirers, there was an element of “the once and future king” about this young, intense man with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice.He—they believed—was the man who would somehow avenge his martyred brother by restoring “Camelot” and returning youth, energy and idealism to the White House.

A playwright—Barbara Garson—had even written a 1967 satire depicting then-President Lyndon B. Johnson as the MacBeth-like murderer of John Ken O-Dunc. In the end, he was confronted and killed by Robert Ken O’Dunc.

Barbara Garson - Mac Bird by Barbara Garson (2 Lp Box Set w ...

His detractors saw him as a ruthless upstart who wanted to foist too-liberal policies on the United States. They distrusted his sympathy for the downtrodden—especially blacks and Hispanics. Worse, they saw the Kennedy family as trying to found a dynasty of Presidents that could last until the mid-1980s.

But the real Robert Kennedy was long torn between running against Johnson—whom he had long personally loathed—and letting someone else do so.

Kennedy’s hatred of Johnson—and his irrational belief that LBJ was somehow responsible for his brother’s death—was well-known. And Kennedy feared that if he ran against Johnson, his many enemies would charge he was doing so out of personal animosity. 

And there was another reason: Johnson, who had won the Presidency in a landslide in 1964, was certain to seek re-election in 1968. If Kennedy challenged him for the nomination, it might well split the party and result in the election of a Republican that November. And he—Kennedy—would be blamed for it.

Throughout 1966-7, Kennedy was urged to run against Johnson. Still, he dithered.

Then, on March 12, Minnesota United States Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the New Hampshire Democratic primary against Johnson—and won a surprising 42.2% of the vote to Johnson’s 49.4%.  Four days later, Robert Kennedy announced his own candidacy.

McCarthy’s supporters were outraged: Their candidate had dared to do what Kennedy had not—directly take on Johnson. And now that he had shown it could be done, the opportunistic Kennedy had jumped in. 

On March 18—two days after announcing his candidacy—Kennedy gave his first campaign speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. This was the heart of conservative country, and Kennedy didn’t know how his audience would accept many of his decidedly liberal proposals.

“Do you think they’ll boo him?” his wife, Ethel, asked a friend before the speech. “Will they hate him?” 

Arriving at the university, Kennedy ate breakfast at the student union—and told a group of university officials and student leaders: “Some of you may not like what you’re going to hear in a few minutes, but it’s what I believe; and if I’m elected President, it’s what I’m going to do.”

Anderson Hall (Manhattan, Kansas) - Wikipedia

Kansas State University

As events unfolded, he—and Ethel—had no reason to worry.

Kennedy had served as United States Attorney General from 1961 to 1964. Yet he had not limited himself to simply fighting organized crime and enforcing civil rights. He had aggressively urged his brother, the President, to take a hard line on fighting the Communist forces in Vietnam.

But now he did something almost no other politician had—or has—ever done: He publicly accepted responsibly for the disaster the war had become since 1965:

“Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path.

“It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported.”

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