Thursday, March 02, 2006

In Political Praise of: Robert Kennedy


Sometimes overshadowed by one of his older brother's, Robert Kennedy's legacy is one in which many decent people can be proud.
Born into a prestigious family in 1925, Robert Kennedy was expected for some form of greatness and success. That said, the Kennedy clan were (possibly still are) very competitive, and 'Bobby' could be arrogant, difficult, and aggressive. On the other hand he could also be very loyal and considerate.
Intitally forming a career in Law, in the 1950s, RFK was chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee hearings. His most notable moment there was his harsh confrontation (filmed, and it does make compelling viewing) with corrupt teamsters boss and notable Mafiosi, Jimmy Hoffa. Not only was this necessary, but also very brave.
When his older brother, Jack, became President, he made RFK Attorney General. During this time he proved to be invaluable in helping to diffuse the tension generated by the Cuban Missile Crisis, enthusiastically helped to promote civil rights laws in the US, and was renowned for being one of the most loyal members of the Kennedy administration.
After his brothers' assasination in 1963, RFK remained as Attorney General for another few months, but his relationship with President Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, was somewhat tense, and Kennedy resigned in mid-1964 in order to run for a Senate seat in New York. The mutual dislike between RFK and Johnson had been apparent for some years, although RFK being seen by many as his brother's natural successor cannot of helped matters. According to Wikipedia's entry on Robert Kennedy:

"At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Kennedy was due to give a speech prior to the showing of a memorial film dedicated to the late President. As Kennedy was introduced, tens of thousands of delegates, party workers, young members, observing journalists and others broke into thunderous applause and an outroar of support for the nervous and emotionally fragile Robert, standing at the podium. He broke down and began to cry. Despite repeated appeals by him and the chairman of the convention, the audience did not stop their display of support for Robert. The applause continued for almost an hour."

Many wanted Johnson to nominate him as his Vice President, but neither man was willing for that to happen.

In the last four years of RFK's life, he became very much his own man in politics. He called for more civil rights, travelled to South Africa and was critical of Apartheid, worked hard to help reduce poverty in New York state, and pursued education, health, and other reform programs aimed at aiding the millions of disenfranchised americans, black and white, on the poverty line. He also called for an end to the escalation of troops in the Vietnam War, culminating in his calling for the withdrawal of american troops in Vietnam.

In early 1968, after much thought and against the wishes of his parents, RFK announced that he was running for President. Initally uncertain of whether to do so, for fear it would lay open his feud with President Johnson, his position was bolstered when Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election, and therefore a second full-term. Kennedy's campaign was a success, winning five out of the six primaries he campaigned in, culminating in the California primary on June 4th 1968.
And that, of course, is where it ended. After congratulating his party workers, Kennedy cut across, via the hotel kitchen (where the celebrations were taking place) for a press conference. Shots were fired, a gunman was caught and several people were hit. Most seriously, RFK. He died twenty-one hours later, although before he lost consiousness whilst lying on the hotel kitchen floor, he was heard to ask if one of the party workers (who he must have seen being shot in the melee) was alright! It says much about the man who, knowing that his own condition was desperate, was thinking of others.
At his funeral, the youngest, and now only surviving Kennedy brother, Edward, gave the eulogy. He stated:

"My brother need not be idolized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

The very aims that all decent politicians and campaigners must fight for!

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