The Widdershins

Archive for June 6th, 2013

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” – George Bernard Shaw

Good Thursday, Widdershins.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.  At that time, I was married to a naval officer who was assigned to San Diego, and had been following Kennedy’s campaign with great interest.  The  day before, he had just won the California Democratic primary and delivered his acceptance speech shortly after midnight, then was shot while exiting the hotel.  I stayed glued to the teevee until he finally succumbed some thirty hours later, and  I have spent some  time during the past forty-five years wondering what might have been had Robert Kennedy made it out of the building alive that night,

The Sixties were the best of tines and the worst of times, all rolled into one big tumultuous decade of America history.  There was so much happening that the decade spilled over into the Seventies.  Some wrongs were set right, others were to become even more entrenched.  The decade began with the impossible elecrion of John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic to ever occupy the White House.  After his assassination, Lyndon Johnson lifted America with civil rights, and plunged it into the despair of Viet Nam, claiming the lives of more than 55,000 Americans (including a number of my high school and college classmates) along the way.  We lost the leadership of Martin Luther King, and watched as peaceful demonstrations devolved into bloodbaths.  Brutal, bloody demonstrations and student unrest became as common as the daily body count from the war, revealed each evening at 6 pm.  America was tired of war abroad, riots at home, and badly needed some hope.  Robert F. Kennedy appeared to be just that.

I do not mean to lionize the man.  He was a consummate, even ruthless, politician.  If he wanted something, he got it, and woe be unto anyone who stood in his way.  Kennedy was born into a wealthy and powerful family, educated at Harvard and UVA Law, then set upon a path to power.  His father talked the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy into an appointment as counsel to the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  He resigned from that, then became counsel to the US Senate Democratic Caucus.  FRom there, he  went to work on  Adlai Stevenson’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, then was named chief counsel to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.   Then his big brother John ran for President, and the rest is well known to all.

I have read that Robert Kennedy wanted to go into private practice after JFK won the White House, but his father insisted that he become AG.  I have also read that civil rights were much more important to RFK than to JFK.  There are also whispers that, as AG, Robert Kennedy crossed some people with whom the Kennedys had made deals to assure the election outcome, and that this may have been in whole or in part the reason for the assassinations.   Who knows – likely anyone who could actually answers these questions is long dead.

This much I know:  Robert Kennedy was one hell of an Attorney General, and he was passionate about civil rights.  He battled J. Edgar Hoover, who considered MLK to be a communist.  He negotiated safe passage for the Freedom Riders, and went to far as to send John Seigenthaler (his administrative assistant) to Alabama to assure their security.   RFK even offered to bail them all out of jail.

When his brother was assassinated, Robert Kennedy became a Senator from New York.  He had never really gotten along well with Lyndon Johnson, and the escalation of Viet Nam didn’t help.   He announced his candidacy, Johnson stepped aside, and RFK was headed toward Pennsylvania Avenue when the unthinkable happened – again.

Like most men, Robert Kennedy was a complicated human being.  That said, he was a political rock star of the Obama ilk, who had the campuses stirred up for him.  There are still some unknowns, but I have to believe that he would have beaten Eugene McCarthy for the head of the Democratic ticket, and may have well beaten Richard M. Nixon for the Presidency.  Had that occurred, we would have completed civil rights without the Southern Strategy, left Viet Nam much sooner, and spared ourselves the national indignity that was Watergate.   I believe that we would likely be a less divided nation today, as evidenced by the fact that he was almost as popular among working class Southern whites as he was with other demographics, because they all knew that he actually cared about them.   I don’t regret living through those times as this was an  important era, but I can always wish for a different outcome and dream about what might have been.

This is an open thread.

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