Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Summer 2018 Part 3

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Robert F. Kennedy (50 Years Later)

50 years ago, Robert Francis Kennedy was assassinated viciously by an evil human being. Today, in our generation, we acknowledge Robert F. Kennedy’s life and legacy. One major part of his legacy was his constant evolution of ideological views in being more progressive and expressing more empathy for the liberty of the human family regardless of creed or color. He was born on November 20, 1925 in Brookline, Massachusetts to the large, influential Kennedy family. His family was descendants of Irish immigrants who suffered a lot and became one of the most famous, powerful political families in American history. He was the second youngest of the Kennedy brothers. Being very competitive described his early years. Playing football, getting an education, and seeking approval from his parents definitely outlined his early life. Robert Kennedy competed with his brothers in football, sailing, and other activities. He was the most religious of the Kennedy brothers as he constantly read books on religion and philosophy.

He had the tenuous spirit like his father and he incorporated the empathy from his mother. On March 1938, RFK sailed with his family into England to join his father when his father was the Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He attended the private Gibbs School for Boys in London for the 7th grade. He went into school throughout New England and the Northeast. He was in the Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts by September of 1942. For all of his life, Robert Kennedy would be the friend and defender of his older brother, John F. Kennedy. Yet, Robert Kennedy was his own man. Robert Kennedy in 1943 joined the United States Naval Reserve as a seaman apprentice. He was released from active duty by March 1944. On May 30, 1946, he received his honorable discharge from the Navy. For his service in the Navy, Kennedy was eligible for the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

Early Years

He played football in Harvard by September of 1946. In that same year, he supported John F. Kennedy’s campaign in the House of Representatives. To begin with, he was heavily educated and he studied law at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. At that location, he was elected as President of the Student Legal Forum. He met Ralph Bunche took in the University of Virginia. Bunche was a famous diplomat and advocate for equality. Bunche wanted to give a speech there in an integrated audience, so Robert Kennedy fought hard to make sure that Ralph Bunche would give his speech at the university. According to Chris Matthews' book on RFK, Bunche stayed at Robert Kennedy's house plus his house was pelted with stones from racists. Robert Francis Kennedy married Ethel Shakel at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. Their first child was Kathleen and she was born on July 4, 1951. Robert Kennedy helped JFK to be elected into the U.S. Senate by the 1950’s. He or Robert Kennedy traveled with John F. Kennedy into Middle East and other parts of Asia to understand more about foreign policy affairs. Edmund Gullion, a respected State Department diplomat, told them that the French would lose to the Vietnamese people since the Vietnamese people were fighting beyond just for political reasons. They were fighting for the ideological opposition to colonialism in general and the Vietnamese would fight to the death in abhorring imperialism. This influenced the foreign policy think of both JFK and RFK. That is why both men wouldn't advocate massive military troop invasions of sovereign countries. France ultimately lose a war against Vietnam. JFK publicly opposed the Eisenhower/Nixon team wanting to aid the French even after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu (of 1954). Robert Kennedy wrote in a 1956 article for The New York Times Magazine:

“. . .because we think that the uppermost thought in all people’s minds is communism….We are still too often doing too little too late to recognize and assist the irresistible movements for independence that are sweeping one dependent territory after another.”

At a talk at Fordham University, Bobby told the audience that the fatal flaw of American foreign policy was the commitment to European colonialism, noting “We supported France in Indochina far too long.” JFK won the U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts by 1952. RFK and his wife lived in a townhouse in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. and worked as a lawyer in the Internal Security Section of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He investigated suspected Soviet agents.  McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn subpoenaed Annie Lee Moss, accusing her of membership in the Communist Party. Kennedy revealed that Cohn had called the wrong Annie Lee Moss and he requested the file on Moss from the FBI. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had been forewarned by Cohn and denied him access, referring to RFK as "an arrogant whipper-snapper.” Back during the 1950’s, he was even friends with Joseph McCarthy (who endorsed the anti-democratic McCarthyism campaign. RFK later disapproved of McCarthy aggressive actions in getting information on suspected communists. He resigned on July of 1953) and he or RFK led a crusade against mob infiltration of the unions. This made him an enemy of Jimmy Hoffa, which Robert Kennedy accused of having ties to the Mafia and executing financial corruption. RFK’s zealotry against the Mafia became legendary.

During the Senate's McClellan Committee hearings, Robert Kennedy received criticism from liberal critics and other commentators both for his outburst of impassioned anger and doubts about the innocence of those who invoked the Fifth Amendment. Senators Barry Goldwater and Karl Mundt wrote to each other and complained about "the Kennedy boys" having hijacked the McClellan Committee by their focus on Hoffa and the Teamsters. They believed Kennedy covered for Walter Reuther and the United Automobile Workers, a union which typically would back Democratic office seekers. Amidst the allegations, Robert Kennedy wrote in his journal that the two senators had "no guts" as they never addressed him directly, only through the press. Ultimately, Robert Kennedy wanted to clean up the unions from corruption. He left the committee in late 1959 in order to run his brother's presidential campaign. According to Chris Matthews, RFK talked with LBJ in his ranch in 1959. LBJ said to him that he has no intention to run for President in 1960. Of course, that would be false.

By 1960’s, he helped John F. Kennedy to be elected the President of the United States of America. In 1960, RFK published a book entitled, "The Enemy Within." The book showed the corrupt actions of the Teamsters and other unions that he had investigated. It was a bestseller back then. RFK didn’t want LBJ on the ticket as Vice President since LBJ made disparaging remarks about him and his family. RFK and LBJ were very personally angry against each other throughout the 1960 campaign. Robert Kennedy inspired Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. to say that Hubert Humphrey avoided military service. LBJ made public that JFK had Addison’s disease. This angered RFK. JFK could tolerate Lyndon Baines Johnson (as John F. Kennedy thought politically that it would be wise to get LBJ on the ticket to get Texas in electoral votes from the South), but Robert Kennedy disliked him and vice versa. Robert Kennedy wanted JFK to choose labor leader Walter Reuther to be the vice Presidential candidate, but JFK choose LBJ since he needed many Southern states to win the election. It was a political decision and a very genius one at that. John F. Kennedy ended a lot of concerns about religious issues after JFK delivered a speech in September in Houston where he said that he was in favor of the separation of church and state. John F. Kennedy was a courageous to speak out against suppression of religious rights while making sure that political policy would not be dictated by any religious authority. The following month, Robert Kennedy was involved in securing the release of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. from a jail in Atlanta. Robert Kennedy spoke with Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver and later, Judge Oscar Mitchell, after the judge had sentenced King for violating his probation (when he protested at a whites-only snack bar). John F. Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential election with large majorities from the African American community, labor, Catholics, and progressives.

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Attorney General

Once after President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated President, Robert Kennedy was appointed Attorney General. This was controversial and people thought about conflicts of interests. Also, Robert Kennedy had no experience in any state or federal court. He also had experience conducting investigations and questioned witnesses as a Justice Department attorney and Senate committee counsel plus staff director. Immediately, Robert Kennedy dealt with civil rights issues. Historically, Robert Kennedy had the most influence of power as an Attorney General more so than any Attorney General in American history. He was John F. Kennedy’s closet advisor on issues, foreign and domestic. RFK lived during the Cuban invasion failure. Allen Dulles, who was the CIA Director back then, admitted in a handwritten confession that the invasion was meant to be a failure in order to try to provoke JFK to invade Cuba. Dulles deceived JFK on that plan. Later, Allen Dulles was fired by JFK. He worked with many people to resolve the Berlin Crisis of 1961. He continued to target the Mafia as Attorney General, sometimes disagreeing on strategy with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Massive organized crime figures were convicted during this time. RFK targeted and caused Jimmy Hoffa to be convicted by 1964. After learning of Hoffa's conviction by telephone, Kennedy issued congratulatory messages to the three prosecutors.

During a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School:

“We will not stand by or be aloof—we will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is now the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.”

Attorney General Bobby Kennedy filled more civil rights cases in his first year than Eisenhower filed during his two full terms in office. By the end of 1961, he opened 61 new investigations and by 1963, five times as many lawyers were working on civil rights cases than under Eisenhower. In May 1961, he predicted that an African-American "can also achieve the same position that my brother has as President of the United States" over the course of the next thirty to forty years. Larry Sabato would later write that when RFK's family backed Barack Obama in 2008, they picked a candidate with great differences in upbringing from that of the privileged President Kennedy. RFK wanted Dr. King to ask suspected communists to leave, which is ludicrous since a man has the right to associate with who he wants to. Dr. King agreed to allow Communist Jack O’Dell to resign from the SCLC, but Dr. King refused to ask Stanley Levison to resign. Jack O'Dell was a heroic, progressive black man. Levison left the Communists Party years before 1960 and he was a close advisor. Not to mention that Dr. King condemned Communism in his speeches and literature. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. instead praised democratic socialism and a radical redistribution of economic and political power. In October 1963, Kennedy issued a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King's civil rights organization. Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so that his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy. The wiretapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968, days before Kennedy's death. The wiretapping was completely wrong and evil.

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Robert Kennedy was an advocate of equality, but people like James Baldwin, Dr. King, Lorraine Hansberry, etc. said that Robert Kennedy (as Attorney General) acted too slowly on fighting for racial justice. They were right. Many of these people had a May 1963 meeting on racial issues in New York City. The black delegation was coordinated by prominent author James Baldwin. The meeting had no consensus. The black delegation generally felt that Kennedy did not understand the full extent of racism in the United States. Lorraine Hansberry told RFK that this problem was serious and resorting to the streets could be necessary if all other efforts failed. After the meeting, Robert Kennedy ordered FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to increase surveillance of Baldwin and tap the home phone of Clarence Jones. Harry Belafonte recalled Martin Luther King Jr. calling him the following day wanting to know the details of the meeting. When Belafonte described the "disaster," and Jerome Smith’s "fighting words," King said "Maybe it’s just what Bobby needed to hear."

Ultimately the meeting demonstrated the urgency of the racial situation and was a turning point in Kennedy's attitude towards the Civil Rights Movement (later, RFK would be more receptive to urgently advocate for civil rights). Robert Kennedy back then was more moderate than the late 1960’s. He believed that the courts instead of demonstrations in the streets would be the primary instrument to enact racial equality. The problem with that argument is that we have to use both the streets in demonstrations including self-defense (plus political organizing) and the courts in getting real change. You have to do both, because change will come more comprehensively when using both methods. RFK had a role in the response of the Freedom Riders protests. He also sent the U.S. Marshals and National Guard to protect the First Baptist Church in Montgomery which Dr. King including 1,500 people were trapped by racists (during the Freedom Riders era). He had a contentious relationship with many Freedom Riders because of tactics.

He wanted to end the Freedom rides early in the midst of preparing for an upcoming summit with Nikita Khrushchev and Charles de Gaulle. He believed the continued international publicity of racial incidents would tarnish the president heading into international negotiations. King proceeded to berate Kennedy for "allowing the situation to continue." As attorney general, Bobby Kennedy famously told James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality: "Why don't you guys quit all that riding and sitting s__, and concentrate on voter registration. If you do that, I'll get you tax-free status." King later publicly thanked him for dispatching the forces to break up the attack that might otherwise have ended his life. Revisiting the issue of military service, Robert Kennedy later asked the Senate Judiciary Committee: "How long can we say to a Negro in Jackson, 'When war comes you will be an American citizen, but in the meantime you're a citizen of Mississippi—and we can't help you'?" He wanted James Meredith to go into the University of Mississippi. Robert Kennedy saw voting as the key to racial justice and collaborated with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to create the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which helped bring an end to Jim Crow laws.

Between December 1961 and December 1963, Kennedy also expanded the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division by 60 percent. He also opposed the death penalty. RFK was anti-Castro by supporting the blockade of Cuba and covert actions against Cuba. He later didn’t support involvement since the CIA readily executed almost unchecked authority in matters of foreign covert operations. Robert Kennedy was one man who helped to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis peacefully without nuclear war. On the last night of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother's work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, "Thank God for Bobby." Robert Kennedy worked behind the scenes with the Soviets (like Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. The U.S. agreed to get rid of missiles from Turkey in exchange of the Soviets getting rid of the missiles from Cuba. RFK was alone so much that even Fulbright wanted an invasion of Cuba. Yet, RFK prevailed) in adverting nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Robert Kennedy later was educated by many black civil rights leaders on the vicious nature of white racism. The Birmingham campaign of 1963 taught the Kennedys that Jim Crow racism couldn’t be solved by pressure less persuasion or token moves. Revolutionary change is necessary to end racism. He inspired JFK to issue his famous June 1963 address to the nation on civil rights to advocate for a civil rights bill.

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Tragedy and a Change

The death of JFK changed him forever. On November 22, 1963, RFK was at home with aides from the Justice Department. J. Edgar Hoover called him and said that his brother was shot. Hoover hanged up immediately. RFK thought that Hoover enjoyed telling him the news. Later, RFK received a call from Tazewell Shepard, a naval aide to the president, who told him that his brother was dead. Shortly after the call from Hoover, Kennedy phoned McGeorge Bundy at the White House, instructing him to change the locks on the president's files. He ordered the Secret Service to dismantle the Oval Office and cabinet room's secret taping systems. He scheduled a meeting with CIA director John McCone and asked if the CIA had any involvement in his brother's death. McCone denied it, with Kennedy later telling investigator Walter Sheridan that he asked the director "in a way that he couldn't lie to me, and they [the CIA] hadn't.” RFK talked to LBJ. After LBJ expressed sympathizes, they decided that LBJ would take the oath of office before LBJ returned to Washington, D.C. RFK publicly said that Oswald alone murdered JFK, but many sources believe that RFK privately criticized the Warren Commission’s report. In a 2013 interview with CBS journalist Charlie Rose, son Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stated that his father was "fairly convinced" that others besides Oswald were involved in his brother's assassination and that he privately believed the Commission's report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship.” Robert Kennedy started to re-evaluate his views after the unfortunate, evil assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

He focused more on causes than just individual pursuits. He believed that he wanted to do more to make his life much more fulfilling. For the longest time, Robert Kennedy became despondent and depressed over the evil assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Yet, he never gave up on life. He escaped his immense grief to promote public service and to achieve his own sense of greatness. During this time, LBJ believed in a more reactionary doctrine on foreign policy by the influence of Thomas Mann (who wanted to support even dictators in Latin America as long as they are friendly to American business interests). This was called the Mann doctrine, which was against the moderate Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program. The Alliance or Program wanted economic growth in Latin American nations via money from the American treasury directly with lower interest rates. Mann supported the vicious, right wing coup against the democratically elected government in Brazil. Robert Kennedy came into Brazil to publicly oppose the reactionary leader of Brazil after the coup. He called for revolution and he traveled into Lima, Peru as well.

Robert Kennedy received a standing ovation in the 1964 Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City, New Jersey. The standing ovation lasted for a full 22 minutes before Robert Kennedy spoke. Robert Kennedy spoke about his late brother’s vision for America and he quoted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (3.2) that Jacqueline had given him. Johnson decided to run Hubert Humphrey as his vice Presidential running mate. This disappointed his wife or Lady Bird. Johnson didn’t want current cabinet members as potential running mates as he stated on July of 1964. He didn’t want the draft Kennedy movement, so he ordered the FBI to monitor RFK’s contacts and actions, so he wouldn’t speak until after Hubert Humphrey was confirmed as his running mate. LBJ would soon win in a landslide against Barry Goldwater of Arizona after the 1964 Presidential election. Robert Kennedy wanted the JFK staff to remain in office until the Presidential election of 1964. The reason was that he wanted Johnson to pass President John F. Kennedy’s legislation on civil rights, unemployment insurance, and aid to education. As early as 1964, Robert Kennedy told LBJ that he didn’t think that the Vietnam War should be escalated into a full blown military conflict.

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Robert Kennedy decided to go into the Senate. RFK openly declared himself a candidate for the Senate on August 25, 1964. He won the Senate race in New York state. He politically defeated his Republican opponent Kenneth Keating by 10 points. Then, Robert Kennedy was in Congress. LBJ even campaigned for him. Robert Kennedy mentioned that he wanted to be the “head of the Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party.” He felt bored, because the Senate can be a tedious occupation. By this time, Robert Kennedy became more liberal. As a Senator, Robert Kennedy fought against closing the Veterans Hospitals for budgetary reasons. He fought for getting grants for New York’s state’s impacted poverty areas. He won that fight too.  Robert Kennedy worked with Senator Ted Kennedy to promote the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They wanted a clause to ban the poll tax in the Voting Rights Act. Later, the poll tax ban was part of an amendment. Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy were in NYC where President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the great, progressive Immigration Act of 1965 into law.

On early April of 1965, Johnson gave a hawkish speech about Vietnam. This was just after the first combat troops had landed at DaNang Air Base and Rolling Thunder came about. RFK told Johnson about not following a super militaristic path in Vietnam. He fought for gun control back in the 1960’s (which was very taboo. Robert Kennedy gave a speech to disagree with the growing power of the NRA. On May of 1965, he co-sponsored S.1592 which put federal restrictions on mail order gun sales. The bill was proposed by President Lyndon Johnson and Senator Thomas J. Dodd), RFK opposed apartheid in South Africa (even giving a speech in South Africa to endorse an end to it), and he wanted to fight poverty (especially in the Deep South like in Mississippi). He promoted revolution in Latin American nations. By the end of 1965, Robert Kennedy and Senator Fulbright wanted LBJ to use the bombing halt as a means to negotiate for a political settlement in ending the conflict.

Speaking in support of the bill S. 1592 (in favor of gun control), Kennedy said,

"For too long we dealt with these deadly weapons as if they were harmless toys. Yet their very presence, the ease of their acquisition and the familiarity of their appearance have led to thousands of deaths each year. With the passage of this bill we will begin to meet our responsibilities. It would save hundreds of thousands of lives in this country and spare thousands of families…grief and heartache….”

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These images show Robert F. Kennedy in South Africa. 

On February 8, 1966, Kennedy urged the United States to pledge that it would not be the first country to use nuclear weapons against countries that did not have them noting that China had made the pledge and the Soviet Union indicated it was also willing to do so. Ian Robertson opposed apartheid and was the President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). He invited RFK to speak in South Africa during the spring of 1966. He invited RFK in 1965. The NUSAS was founded in 1924. Robert Kennedy came into Cape Town University to speak out against the injustice of apartheid. His speech was very eloquent. Robert Kennedy talked about individual rights, freedom for the citizenry, and advocating the struggle for freedom (and he talked about Dr. King winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle for freedom in America). He ended his Day of Affirmation Address speech on June 1966 in South Africa with the following:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

He then closed with, “Each of us have our own work to do.”

In an interview with Look magazine he said:

“At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. 'But suppose God is black', I replied. 'What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?' There was no answer. Only silence.”

RFK fought against tobacco companies by proposing a warning label on cigarette packages. He tried to end right to work laws. These laws weakened unions since they allowed employees in a shop to opt out of union membership while enjoying union benefits (these laws are found in the South). He saw firsthand the damaging effects of poverty on black families and especially little black children. That was heartbreaking for him to listen to children saying that they struggle to get food. The person who helped to show him these things is the heroic black woman Sister Marian Wright Edelman. Marian Wright Edelman would be a lifelong advocate for social justice. Robert Kennedy visited the Mississippi Delta as a member of the Senate committee to review the effectiveness of the War on Poverty programs (including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964).  Marian Wright Edelman described Kennedy as "deeply moved and outraged" by the sight of the starving children living in the economically abysmal climate, changing her impression of him from "tough, arrogant, and politically driven." Edelman noted further that the senator requested she call on Martin Luther King Jr. to bring the impoverished to Washington, D.C., to make them more visible, leading to the creation of the Poor People's Campaign. RFK said of the law: “The law does not fully protect their lives, their dignity, or encourage their hope and trust for the future.”

Kennedy worked on the Committee at the time of the workers' rights activism of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). At the request of labor leader Walter Reuther, who had previously marched with and provided money to Chavez, Kennedy flew out to Delano, California to investigate the situation. Although the first two committee hearings in March 1966 for legislation to amend the National Labor Relations Act to include farm workers received little attention, Kennedy's attendance at the third hearing brought media coverage. Biographer Thomas wrote that Kennedy was moved after seeing the conditions of the workers, who he deemed were being taken advantage of. Chavez stressed to Kennedy that migrant workers needed to be recognized as human beings. Kennedy later engaged in an exchange with Kern County sheriff Leroy Galyen where he criticized the sheriff's deputies for taking photographs of "people on picket lines." Subsequently, as a U.S. Senator, Robert Kennedy worked to invest in Bedford Stuyvesant, NYC (which is a famous, historically mostly African American neighborhood).

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At Christmas of 1965, RFK celebrated the holidays in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, NYC. He wanted to fight poverty in the inner cities. He gave speeches. He wanted to end ghetto oppression and offer subsidies to those who wished to leave. He wanted more aid to improve education in schools, give tax breaks to companies that relocate there, and send free legal advice for tenants to fight predatory landlords (for people who wanted to stay in the neighborhoods). He desired a public-private community development corporation to give a diversified program to end poverty. In 1966, Robert Kennedy expressed more questions about the Vietnam War. He opposed the excessive U.S. bombings in the Vietnam peninsula and this angered LBJ. Robert Kennedy went further and wanted an end to the bombing in order for a negotiated settlement to come about, so the war would end. Fulbright early on opposed the Vietnam War too. In a February 1966 press conference, RFK talked about the Vietnam War. He wanted a power sharing coalition government in South Vietnam, which included the communists too. He wanted it to be fair among all parties involved from Hanoi, Saigon, and the USA. Robert Kennedy supported the Great Society programs.

Robert Kennedy supported both major and minor parts of the program and each year, over 60% of his roll call votes were consistently in favor of Johnson's policies. On January 28, 1967, Kennedy began a ten-day stay in Europe, meeting Harold Wilson in London and advising him to tell President Johnson about his belief that the ongoing Vietnam conflict was wrong. Upon returning to the U.S. in early February, he was confronted by the press who asked him if his conversations abroad had negatively impacted American foreign relations. As a Senator, he was popular among African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants. He talked about the impoverished, the excluded, and the disaffected. Robert Kennedy aligned himself with civil rights leaders. He wanted to be aggressive to eliminate discrimination completely. That is why he supported desegregation busing, the integration of all public facilities, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and anti-poverty social programs to increase education, offer opportunities for employment, and provide health care for African Americans. Consistent with President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, he also placed increasing emphasis on human rights as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. Robert Kennedy delayed running for President.

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His Run for President in 1968

Eugene McCarthy announced his run before Robert Kennedy during late 1967. Johnson won a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968. McCarthy being a close second boosted McCarthy’s standing in the race. Robert Kennedy had questions about how Johnson conducted the Vietnam War. He had private disagreements. He never supported ground troops being sent into the Vietnam peninsula. As early as April of 1965, Robert Kennedy wanted a halt to bombing. He desired a negotiated settlement. In April 1966, Kennedy had a private meeting with Philip Heymann of the State Department's Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs to discuss efforts to secure the release of American prisoners of war in Vietnam. Kennedy wanted to press the Johnson administration to do more, but Heymann insisted that the administration believed the "consequences of sitting down with the Viet Cong" mattered more than the prisoners they were holding captive. On June 29 of that year, Kennedy released a statement disavowing President Johnson's choice to bomb Haiphong, but he avoided criticizing either the war or the President’s overall foreign policy, believing that it might harm Democratic candidates in the 1966 midterm elections. In August, the International Herald Tribune described Kennedy's popularity as outpacing President Johnson's, crediting Kennedy's attempts to end the Vietnam conflict which the public increasingly desired.

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In the early part of 1967, Kennedy traveled to Europe, where he had discussions about Vietnam with leaders and diplomats. A story leaked to the State Department that Kennedy was talking about seeking peace while President Johnson was pursuing the war. Johnson became convinced that Kennedy was undermining his authority. He voiced this during a meeting with Kennedy, who reiterated the interest of the European leaders to pause the bombing while going forward with negotiations; Johnson declined to do so. On March 2, 1967, Robert Kennedy outlined a three-point plan to end the war which included suspending the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, and the eventual withdrawal of American and North Vietnamese soldiers from South Vietnam; this plan was rejected by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who believed North Vietnam would never agree to it. On May 15, 1967, Kennedy debated then Governor of California Ronald Reagan about the war.

On November 26, 1967, during an appearance on Face the Nation, Kennedy asserted that the Johnson administration had deviated from his brother's policies in Vietnam, his first time contrasting the two administrations' policies on the war. He added that the view that Americans were fighting to end communism in Vietnam was "immoral.” RFK has a moderate streak too on some issues. As a U.S. senator, he never voted against any appropriation bills that funded the war. I.F. Stone, the great radical journalist, wrote an article in October 1966 titled "While Others Dodge the Draft, Bobby Dodges the War." Robert Kennedy never advocated unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia; in fact, he voted against this. Senator Kennedy never called for economic sanctions against South Africa but in private conversations he hinted that later circumstances might require a different approach. One of Kennedy's proposals to alleviate poverty in the inner cities was to provide tax breaks to corporations to move into blighted neighborhoods. Then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan believed that "Kennedy is talking more and more like me." So, I'm no moderate, so we have to realize that revolutionary change is necessary to help humanity collectively.

On February 8, 1968, Robert Kennedy gave an address in Chicago, Illinois. He criticized the government of Saigon as corrupt. He disagreed with Johnson’s actions in Vietnam. He viewed the war as undermining the future of Asia. As late as March 14, 1968, he offered Johnson to not run for President if he would admit publicly that he was wrong and create a panel to recommend a better course of action. He said this in a meeting with defense secretary Clark Clifford at the Pentagon. Johnson rejected the proposal. Kennedy declared his candidacy on March 16, 1968, in the Caucus Room of the old Senate office building, the same room where his brother had declared his own candidacy eight years earlier. He stated, "I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I'm obliged to do all I can." On April 1, 1968, LBJ halted bombing of North Vietnam and RFK said that his act was step to peace. Throughout his Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy faced opposition from pro-LBJ forces and from McCarthy (whose supporters viewed him as an opportunist). On May 1, while in Lafayette, Indiana, Kennedy said continued delays in beginning peace talks with North Vietnam meant both more lives lost and the postponing of the "domestic progress" hoped for by the US. Later that month, Kennedy called the war "the gravest kind of error" in a speech in Corvallis, Oregon. In an interview on June 4, hours before he was shot, Kennedy continued to advocate for a change in policy towards the war.

LBJ dropped out of the race on March 31, 1968. Vice President Hubert Humphrey joined the race. Humphrey was a long supporter of labor rights, civil rights, etc. Yet, Humphrey was tied to LBJ so much that he struggled to gain political support among liberals. The party establishment supported Humphrey along with most Congress people, mayors, governors, labor unions, etc. who were Democratic. Robert Kennedy promoted a platform of racial and economic justice. He believed in a decentralization of power and social change. The youth identified with him. He believed in tax increases to fund social programs.  At one of his university speeches (Indiana University Medical School), he was asked, "Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you're proposing?" He replied to the medical students, about to enter lucrative careers, "From you." In a speech at the University of Alabama, he argued, "I believe that any who seek high office this year must go before all Americans, not just those who agree with them, but also those who disagree, recognizing that it is not just our supporters, not just those who vote for us, but all Americans who we must lead in the difficult years ahead." RFK visited small towns and urban communities. There were large crowds whether they are in poor urban areas or rural areas as found in Appalachia. He gave an impromptu speech on April 4, 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He was in Indianapolis’ inner city. He spoke about his brother’s death and advocated reconciliation and how people can fight for justice. Indianapolis didn’t have a rebellion. The end of his famous speech have the following words:

"...My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love--a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we've had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people..."

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He addressed the City Club of Cleveland on April 5, 1968 and gave his famous On the Mindless Menace of Violence speech. It was a very profound, eloquent speech that called for an end for violence and a creation of common cause to establish a better society. He said the following words in this speech:

“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek—as do we—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

Robert Kennedy won many primaries (like in Indiana and Nebraska), lost one in Oregon, and advocated for civil rights, union rights, eliminating tax loopholes, and he fought pollution. Robert Kennedy was wise to organize a large coalition of black people (including John Lewis), unions, poor white people, Latinx Americans, etc. in winning the crucial California primary. He gave eloquent words about the assassination of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was in Indianapolis. Also, he exposed the double standard of how poor and black Americans fought in Vietnam while the more affluent used deferments in preventing them from fighting in that unjust war.  Robert Kennedy won the Indiana Democratic primary on May 7, 1968. He won the Nebraska primary by May 14. He lost the Oregon primary to McCarthy on May 28, 1968 because of Kennedy’s pro-gun control views in part. Oregon was a lot more conservative back then. Then, the California primary came about. Kennedy viewed the point that if he would defeat McCarthy in California (which had a lot of votes), then he would defeat McCarthy totally and go to a one on one showdown against Hubert Humphrey at the Chicago national convention in August.

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His Passing and his Legacy

Robert Kennedy won the California primary. He and his wife were elated with joy. RFK addressed the crowd after midnight on June 5, 1968 in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Later, he left the ballroom and went into the hotel kitchen after being told it was a shortcut to a press room. He did this despite being advised by his bodyguard—former FBI agent Bill Barry—to avoid the kitchen. By June 1968, Robert Kennedy was shot by a sick person. In a crowded kitchen passageway, Kennedy turned to his left and shook hands with the worker Juan Romero just as Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, opened fire with a .22-caliber revolver. Kennedy was hit three times, and five other people were wounded. George Plimpton, former decathlete Rafer Johnson, and former professional football player Rosey Grier are credited with wrestling Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after he shot the senator. As Kennedy lay mortally wounded, Juan Romero cradled his head and placed a rosary in his hand. Kennedy asked Romero, "Is everybody OK?", and Romero responded, "Yes, everybody's OK." Kennedy then turned away from Romero and said, "Everything's going to be OK." After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted the senator onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, "Don't lift me", which were his last words. He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. He was rushed first to Los Angeles' Central Receiving Hospital, and then to the city's Good Samaritan Hospital, where he died early the next morning. Just like the JFK 1963 assassination, debates surround the assassination of Robert Kennedy to this very day.

Robert Kennedy’s body was returned to Manhattan. It lay in repose at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral from ca. 10:00 pm. until 10:00 am. on June 8, 1968. There was a high requiem mass at the cathedral at 10:00 am. on June 8. The service was attended by members of the extended Kennedy family, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson, and members of the Johnson cabinet. Edward Kennedy, the only surviving Kennedy brother, said the following:

“My brother need not be idealized, 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. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'”

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Kennedy’s body traveled from New York City, into Elizabeth, New Jersey, and to Washington, D.C. via train. Many people saw the train carrying his body. They were black people, white people, young, old, men, women, children, and those of a diversity of backgrounds. Some gave salutes, others held signs in praise of him, and all mourned his passing. Robert Kennedy's unjust death represented an end to an era. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. This is found just across D.C. near the Potomac River. Robert Kennedy had many children. He was the gentlest and shyest of the family during his youth, but his impact was global. Robert Kennedy loved to debate people on issues and he didn’t back down from a political fight. His death was one factor on why the Democratic Party lost the 1968 election (afterwards, right wing neoliberals would dominate the Democratic Party leadership for decades in opposition to the old school, progressive wing of the Democratic Party).

Many people from across the political spectrum honor Robert Kennedy’s service in politics and in his humanitarian efforts. He was one major influential person in the movement of modern day American liberalism. Robert Kennedy changed to be a stalwart advocate for social justice, for the poor, for minorities, and for change in American society. In 1968, Ethel Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, dedicated to advancing human rights through litigation, advocacy, and education. The Center is a nonprofit charity that issues annual awards to journalists, authors and individuals around the world who have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country. Robert Kennedy has been awarded posthumously like with the Gold Medal of Honor from the United States Congress on 1978. Robert Kennedy wasn’t a socialist, but he wasn’t a reactionary either. He was a man who grew to be more progressive by the late 1960’s and he heroically stood up for causes that we must all stand up courageously in our generation too. Robert Kennedy was a liberal Democratic man who desired a real change in American society. So, we must continue in political activism, growing our consciousness, and making sure that the Dream for human justice is made real for our descendants.

By Timothy

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