tv Robert F. Kennedys Political Legacy CSPAN July 6, 2018 3:25pm-4:37pm EDT
in the country rapidly changing environment and investment in higher education. i'm optimisting despite all of that. because our people had strongly support higher education. there's big demand for it in our state. we lead the world in arctic research and our university has plan. we're committed to that plan and investing in that plan to build our people so we're competitive nationally and internationally as we look to the next century. >> be sure to join us july 21st and 22nd when we'll feature our visit to alaska. up next on american history tv, authors jules witcover and
john bohrer to discuss robert kennedy's political legacy half a century after his assassination. this is 1:10. 1968 was one of those years that historians and journalists alike call a water shed. a time when major change occurs that echoes down through history years later. our panelists will explore some
of the reasons why. we are honored to have with us jules witcover who was an eyewitness. he traveled with kennedy during the campaign. his back, which you'll be able to purchase is 85 days, the last campaign of robert kennedy. we wrote nor the los angeles times, the washington post. he covered -- wrote a column, politics today five days a week for 24 years. syndicated column. many of you in this audience remember jack who was retired here after his long career in
journalism. jack was also on the group tv show for a number of years. witcover was born in union city, new jersey, in 1927, he got his start as a journalist with the new house newspapers in 1954. in addition to the books, he co-wrote with jack german, mr. witcover is the author of 13 more books, including a biography of joe biden and the resurrection of richard nixon and more recently the american vice presidency from irrelevance to power. our other historian and author today and reporter, television news producer is john bohrer whose writing has appeared in the new york magazine, the new republic, "politico," "usa today."
he is the author of "the revolution of robert kennedy from power to protest after jfk" and this is his first book and it's a very good one that explores kennedy's difficult odyssey after the assassination of his brother in 1963. joe scarborough of "morning joe" said of this book, jack bohrer covers the revolution from hatchet man to becoming the compassionate hero who still inspires the world half a century later. i agree with that and of course i'm sure that jack likes that, it comes from his boss, joe scarborough.
jack's day job is producer for "morning joe" on msnbc. mr. bohrer is a graduate of washington college in chester, maryland, and is a resident of brooklyn, new york. our moderator for today's discussion is don ritchie. in the middle there. the historian emeritus of the united states senate who served the united states senate historical office for almost 40 years from 1976 to 2015. don and i were graduate students at the university of maryland together and he is also a member of the board of directors here at the byrd center. he is a graduate of the city college of new york, earned his ph.d. at the university of maryland and served in the u.s. marine corps. his books include the u.s. congress, a very short introduction, press gallery, congress and the washington correspondents and electing fdr, the new deal campaign of 1932. please welcome our panel. [ applause ] >> take it away, don. >> thank you, ray. i appreciate those nice
introductions. we are talking about a year that those of us who can remember living through it was a very difficult year and, in fact, when i think of 1968 what i think of most is phones ringing late at night with people calling up to say, something awful has just happened, and one of those calls came at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning to say that robert kennedy had been shot in los angeles. there are those milestones of that year that are indelible because they were so personal
and, in fact, i can remember on new year's eve the end of that year being greatly relieved that 1968 was finally over and assuming that things would get better in 1969 and not realizing what was coming up ahead. but we have today two very fine authors. jules witcover is a legend in the press corps. as ray said, he has been reporting since 1954. there's probably no one who has ever served in congress that jules hasn't covered one way or the other and doesn't have a story about one way or the other. and john is coming to this as a journalist, but also as a historian, looking back over -- over this time period to look at how we can assess. so there are two books, this is an eyewitness account, it's a riveting account of kennedy's campaign, the last 85 days leading up essentially to his funeral at the end, and the revolution of robert kennedy is a study of the years from 1963 to 1968, what was -- what made robert kennedy the unique politician that he was. so i thought we could open this today by asking jules, all these years later when you think back on robert kennedy, what first comes to your mind? >> well, i think he was -- he was his brother's brother. that was how he got going in
politics, he ran his campaign, and he was devoted to him. in such an extreme way that he worshipped his brother. when john kennedy died, robert kennedy died, too, in a sense. without any idea of how he was going to continue the legacy of his brother. by this time he had been in the united states senate and the evolution of his deciding to run for president was a rather painful one.
he evolved as a personality in his own right. he wasn't just john kennedy's brother, he was in a sense the leader of another younger generation who endured the assassination of john kennedy and eventually tried to carry out his agenda and his legacy. >> thank you. >> i think that's a very good point in that robert kennedy at the time of his brother's assassination had had no job that really wasn't related to his brother's political goals, and so if you look at his
professional life from 1952, he misses his law school graduation so he can go work on the senate campaign in massachusetts. in '56 he drops his jobs to go work on stevenson's campaign so they can learn how a professional presidential operation will go for 1960. in 1960 he works as hard as ever, including here in west virginia, to see that his brother is elected. he decides after the election maybe i will go do something different, his father says, no, you need to be the attorney general, you need to be there for your brother to see him through, and he goes and does that. so in 1963 when his brother is assassinated it's make the -- not only does he lose his brother, he loses his boss and he loses his direction. as jules said, he was very protective of his brother's
legacy and he was thinking of all the ways how he would continue his brother so that he would not be forgotten. he goes and pursues power in different ways over the course of those four following years. >> what is it 50 years later that drew you back to study robert kennedy's life? >> it's kind of interesting. i was thinking of this not long ago as a college student in chester town, maryland, reading 85 days. the reason i'm smiling so big is because i read this book and i am such in awe of mr. witcover. it was 2005 and politics was interesting, but it wasn't really exciting, and i was thinking at the time wouldn't it be great to live in a time where politics is just unpredictable and you don't know what you're going to wake up to? and so '68 had this appeal for someone my age. so which really is my job these days. and i found robert kennedy to be a very inspiring figure, a person who was touched by tragedy, who was able to overcome his -- the things that were holding him back and restraining him. he was a very restrained person and jules writes about this in his book of not running until march of 1968 because of his
fears of what people were going to think if he did run. >> so what you're saying is beware of what you wish for. jules, can you talk a little bit about what was robert kennedy's extraordinary political appeal? he stands out among politicians of his generation and most of them since then in having -- having a remarkable emotional appeal. >> well, i think it started from the loss of john kennedy. he committed himself, as i said before, to carry out the legacy, but in the process he developed for himself -- i wouldn't call it a cult, but certainly an emotional following himself because he was a young man who had a great wealth, but had also suffered greatly, personally in his family.
i remember once talking to ted kennedy, i had been in washington with robert kennedy during the riots after the assassination of martin luther king, and we were in one of the black neighborhoods of downtown washington and a woman came up to him sand said, darling, i knew you would be here. so he had that -- he had that emotional appeal.
part of it was his youth. he could be -- he could be very brash, but in what he considered his people and that would -- any people who were -- who were needy, who had -- were disadvantaged in some way. he reacted to them and they reacted to him. allow the driving force in politics as has already been mentioned was to carry out the agenda of his brother, it was also an emotional adventure for him to do it in a way that he could advance the needs of these people who looked to him as almost a savior. >> john, in your book you talk about some of the frenzies when he went out into the public, even ripping his shoes off i think in a couple of instances. can you talk about that? >> i mean, he talked about himself as a symbol of what his brother represented, and so when he would go in public, people would just want to touch him almost as -- i think ed gutman
said in the 1964 senate race the ideas will march him up and down broadway and everybody who sees him votes for him and then we win in a landslide. though people wanted to mourn with him, they wanted to grieve with him, that had a tremendous power. bobby kennedy was not a popular person before his brother's assassination, he was considering leaving the administration, no the going into the campaign because he had been so unpopular on what he was doing on civil rights on both sides. people thought that he was hampering progress, people thought that he was,
quote/unquote, cramming progress down our throats -- civil rights down our throats. so as he went on he realized that he had this great power with the people who cared about his brother and who also he wanted to make sure that he was securing his brother's legislative agenda and administration's agenda. and he wasn't quite sure. just extraordinary scenes that you described. >> one of my favorite stories in
the book is about from one of his advance men who come to see him in middle of a new york campaign and he's lying on a lounge chair. they don't recognize him because he's so bedraggled. he reaches out to shake their hands with the pinkies of his hands. he says this is what i want to talk to you about. >> he was also a very complex individual. a cartoonist ran a cartoon of the good body debating the bad body. what was it about robert kennedy had that people saw such conflicting images of him. >> we were just talking about
his compassion. on that, that i in washington, ted kennedy said, when i asked him what he thought was the appeal. he said, they see that he hurts. and they hurt. and so they can identify with that. he had so many things and he did have a sharp temper and could be unpleasant. particularly with the press. that connection of somebody who understood their situation, a little irreverent for a moment. somewhat the appeal that donald trump has for his gang. >> did you find that you had to wrestle with these two sides of kennedy's nature when you were trying to describe him?
>> there's a great cartoon from the "atlantic-constitution" during the '68 campaign of a bunch of children sitting on kennedy's lap and around him all smiling up and the caption is -- you must be the, you're the nice man named ruthless opportunist so there was that, there was a conflict. so there was a great well of empathy for bobby and bobby had a great empathy for people. he went to west virginia in 1964, going through a very impoverished town. he's sitting with a young girl who has cerebral palsy and he clips the pt-10 boat and put it on the girl. and a man said it's a terrible thing they did to your brother. and bobby pats him on the back. and another person gives him a piece of a newspaper clipping they had hung on their wall, a picture of jfk, and these were people who did not have much to give at all. the fact that they were giving bobby something and he gets back in the car with a journalist and
he has a picture of jfk on the dashboard and the journalist asks him, this has been a difficult day for you. and bobby says that's hard to say. and he takes the picture of jfk and turns it over. because he can't even look at it people knew that he had the sense of grieving and loss and he understood what they had lost as well. >> but you brought up the word that dogged him all through his career. and that was ruthless. you want to explain why that tag was put on him? >> bobby was the campaign operative for his brother. he was, as jfk would meet with favor-seekers in the white house, in the senate, they would come, he would smile, listen to what they wanted and nod and would say go see bobby.
so they would see bobby and he was the one that would say no. people blamed him for things in the kennedy administration and said robert kennedy do this to me. so as he was that enforcer, he was kind of stuck with that role. and he embraced it because of the time, that was his only job. he didn't see anything beyond that. he was considered endlessly calculating. there was another story from lyndon johnson's inauguration. the morning of he and teddy drive from his house in pickering hill and they pass arlington national cemetery, jfk is buried there. they stop, the brothers pray, they go onto the inauguration, they don't stay for any of the balls. bobby comes home by himself. he passes arlington, decides to stop again. he stops and prays and this time, there's a journalist and a photographer there. the photographer snaps a photo. it appears in the next day's
newspaper. a republican senator, a senior republican senator unnamed, tells these two journalists, we're a very hard-boiled crowd. we notice things like that. what they're basically saying is bobby was using jfk as a photo op and woe never do that. anyone who truly knew him. but it was also not totally unbelievable of bobby kennedy in those days. so -- >> jules, in your book you describe how the journalists on the train with bobby actually had a song about ruthlessness, that in a sense they were teasing him about it. >> it happened in the indiana primary. there was a local song that became semi famous. called "the wabash cannonball." a train that ran through the state of indiana. when the campaign got into indiana, it was an inspiration to those of us in the press to
play on that song and we wrote a six or seven-stanza song, called "the ruthless cannonball." and i have all the stanzas in my book. one that always stuck in my mind was about gene mccarthy, who was running against robert kennedy for the democratic nomination. and stanza went -- here comes gene mccarthy, down the other track. a thousand radcliffe dropouts, all mass for the attack. but bobby's got the right of way, from here to back to st. paul, because money is no object, on the ruthless cannonball. >> now in your book you don't say who wrote that song. but i think you've just given us a suggestion about the authorship of that piece. but bobby seemed in that case, he laughed with the reporters.
>> he enjoyed it quite a bit. we would always have some comeback to try to put us in our place. >> in those days we had a president of the united states who valued loyalty greatly and had sort of an extraordinary personality, a little bit unusual. we're not used to those things any more. but in the 1960s we had lyndon johnson and lyndon johnson had a dislike for robert kennedy that was enormous and robert kennedy seems to have reciprocated. and it was very destructive for the democratic party and for the government to have the two most influential people in the party to dislike each other so much. and yet, on the issues, there wasn't that much difference between them. on some. but not on many. how can you explain this deep-seated dislike that these two people seemed to have had? >> i think initially when it comes to the issues, bobby thought that lyndon, he was telling people in december of 1963 that johnson is much more conservative than you think. and he was proven wrong on that.
he was still, he was later complaining that johnson was getting too much credit for what jfk had started. so his -- there's a through line there and that's criticism of lyndon johnson. he just didn't like him. conservative than you think. and he was proven wrong on that. he was still, he was later complaining that johnson was getting too much credit for what jfk had started. so his -- there's a through line there and that's criticism of lyndon johnson. he just didn't like him. he didn't trust him. he thought he lied too much. and really, he also didn't believe like his criticism of his father, that he had offered in 1960, during the convention. he wanted someone i think just to be with the kennedy legacy and lyndon johnson wanted a johnson administration. something he would say in later 1964. he was very open in in a johnson doesn't want me to be part of this administration, because i'm a kennedy and because he wants to be elected in his own right. and it was very true. >> beyond that, it was the obviously question that lyndon johnson became his brother's
vice president. bobby resented that. and never really forgot it. and in fact there's a very good and well-known story at the convention. when, when john kennedy decided for various reasons that he needed or wanted, more needed than wanted lyndon johnson as his running mate. and bobby kennedy went down to convey that information to johnson, but did his best to try to get johnson to not take the vice presidency. and that was always remembered in that relationship between lyndon johnson and robert kennedy. >> and unbelievably all of that spilled out in about 196 5, 1966, when people from the kennedy term started writing their books. you had a sitting president and
the senator from new york basically fighting over were you supposed to be president or were you an accidental president? this was never supposed to happen. i think there was a quote in arthur schlessinger's book. it never would have happened if we weren't so tired. >> he was looking over his shoulder, worried that robert kennedy was going to challenge him at some point. always concerned that the kennedys were going to come back and take his spot. he was paranoid to a degree. there was also some realism to his concerns. in that situation. it's a remarkable relationship between the two of them. and now it's in broadway plays all the way and the great society. include the tensions between robert kennedy and lyndon johnson as part of the story of that particular time. >> we can't talk about the 1960s, without talking about the vietnam war and what ways do you
think the vietnam war contributed to their, the schism between these two? >> well, bobby kennedy from may of 1964, you're seeing him give johnson advice about the vietnam war in which he's saying, it's a military solution, sorry, a political solution, not a military solution. and johnson has the exact opposite reaction. he's, in one phone conversation with bobby and then in another phone conversation with the senator saying we need somebody with stars, as in a general, to sort out the situation there, not some diplomat like bobby is trying to put forward. robert kennedy was very deferential to johnson. he understood the presidency for the first two years after his procedure brother was assassinated. bobby even volunteered to go as ambassador to vietnam in june of
1964 and lyndon johnson turned him down for a number of reasons. including the fact that they couldn't lose another kennedy at this time. as it went on in 166, bobby had been giving this private advice about how to take care of vietnam diplomatically and at the fullbright hearings, secretary of state dean rusk seemed open to elections involving the nlf, the vietcong's political arm. and bobby put out a statement saying we need to give them a share of the power and responsibility. and a firestorm of criticism came back to him from hubert humphrey, to his brother's old advisers, everybody watching this through the lens of johnson versus kennedy and this personal feud. bobby didn't even think that much of it. he had gone to vermont to go skiing and had to come back to have a press conference to explain his press conference that was the kind of political relationship that they
experienced that bobby had to temper, i think it contributed greatly to why he did not get into the race in 1968, earlier. speaking of vietnam. that's where comes down, two people who saw two different solutions. >> and also fact that the vietnam war generated a huge street protest. and robert kennedy, over time, developed an ability to deal with that. to capitalize on it. and to make that connection, with opponents of the war that he made with people who were hurting for economically. and so, johnson, when he, when he went out, he didn't help himself. because of his own personality. rather arrogant attitude. robert kennedy helped himself. with his ability to touch heartstrings, owe kuwait his concerns with those people who
were in the streets, made him much more effective politician in terms of dealing with the protest. >> jules, you covered that campaign, the main opponent at that time was eugene mccarthy that he was running against. can you talk a little bit in mccarthy and how he figures into this equation? >> mccarthy emerged in large part because of what robert kennedy declined to play that role. early on. two young men, allen lowenstein and curtis gantz, students in north carolina or duke created
the dump johnson movement. and and it really wasn't going any place. and they tried to recruit first robert kennedy, who wasn't interested. and two or three other politicians. including george mcgovern, said why don't you talk to gene mccarthy? and because mccarthy was not a star in the senate, was not that well known. but he had a certain soft-key charisma of his own. he was not, he was not a bombastic candidate. he was not an emotional candidate. he was an intellectual candidate.
it worked well on american campuses. you saw the movement growing from mccarthy growing out of kids who called themselves or were called cleave for gene. they cut their long hair and door-knocking to generate support for mccarthy. mccarthy was kind of overwhelmed as a candidate. by the charisma of robert kennedy when he came into the race. he, mccarthy held on. he declined to pull out of the race. and declined to tee up with robert kennedy, an unofficial team to get rid of johnson. i've always felt that mccarthy was an extremely important character in that whole saga. because he did have a levining effect to the emotional appeal of robert kennedy. but not sufficiently to overcome it. >> mccarthy often felt slighted that power and responsibility speech i mentioned from 1966, there's a new story not long after in which it was, gene mccarthy gives a comment saying i proposed the same things two months earlier and no one paid attention, because i'm not a kennedy. i remember, i also recall reading in jules' book, telling jules and other reporters, of maybe three or four, two weeks before he announced for
president, robert kennedy, saying these are the areas where gene mccarthy went wrong and he could have got the kennedy people behind him, had he only been more sensitive to this or that. so bobby didn't think much of gene mccarpety. gene mccarthy thought bobby was a little bit of a celebrity. that was also that sort of toxicity. >> i can personally attest that mccarthy did have charisma, he taught poetry at the university of maryland after that campaign. and i was a graduate student and my poe fesor taught a history class in the same room that mccarthy taught poetry and it was my job to go down and clear the co-eds out. because they had congregated around the podium. people were swooning for gene in those days. so he was an important figure in that campaign. but it added to this peculiar chemistry of the 1968 election. >> to the report of mccarthy as
a poet, i worked on a lighter campaign, he re-entered the race, that year, the next year, we went to a smaller campus, north of chicago, he began to recite his poetry. the meeting was held in an old quonset hut. for those who are old enough to remember that, with a tin roof. and he began reciting his poetry. and then he launched into his own very low-key campaign pitch. and it started to pour. rain poured down on the quonset
hut. you could hardly hear or understand him. and the moderator the president of the little college stepped forward and he said senator, i think we should hesitate for a while, i don't think they can hear you. >> he said, i can hear me. >> that was gene mccarthy. >> well since we're here at the robert c. bird center, i thought we should talk a little bit
about robert kennedy as a legislator. i'm curious what your thoughts are how did robert kennedy relate to the other senators that he was dealing with? senators like robert bird? was he much of a legislator in those days? >> i wouldn't say, it wasn't much. but he, he was, he was regarded as a one-man senate. he was different. he wasn't very approachable to one of the other senators, he approached them too much. as a senator, i thought he did a lot of things for the state of new york.
but wasn't a presidential level. whereas mccarthy, was no great legislator, either. i think that was kind of a, a draw there. >> bobby was really unconventional as a senator. coming in. i think jfk had waited a year or so before he gave his first senate speech, first remarks in the well. teddy waited more than a year and a half before he did. bobby waited four weeks. and actually the first bill was related to the appalachian aid bill. he was actually part of the campaign promise that they were going to include these southern tier counties in new york state. into this bill that provided aid. that was being championed by i think generalings randolph, the senator from west virginia. bobby goes and he makes over the weekend, just writes this amendment and deliver as speech, his first comments on the floor of the senate. the bill passes, it's a $1 billion bill in 1965. and on the front page of the "chicago tribune" is not a picture of generalings randolph, who had shepherded the bill, it was bobby kennedy. and that was sort of the tone and pace.
bobby had a weird relationship. his secretary angie novello would tally up the hours that he had sat presiding which is, i'll refer to you, a duty of freshmen senators, to sit and preside over the senate. bobby had 75 hours compared to 125 for walter mondale who was a freshman at the same time. and bobby writes on the sheet. i didn't do too well, did i? and his secretary writes back, nope in all capital letters. he brought great attention to senate hearings that other senators could not bring and those field hearings in which he's famously tangling with the sheriff of delano county in california. and kern county, i should say. he would draw attention with automakers, the big three automakers and those sorts of
hearings, the "washington post" said he dressed down the executives of the big three as if they were teenagers flunking their driver's ed test and he brought that prosecutorial nature, he relished that part of being a senator. but he, they always thought he was going to tackle education and he never really did. he did have an ability to attract publicity which is important when you're trying to get people to pay attention to whatever the particular issue is. in those days, tv didn't do gavel-to-gavel of hearings, the cameras would be off until some celebrity spoke and then the lights would light up the room and that person would speak. and then as soon as that person firnished speaking, the lights would be off. that was going to be the 30 seconds or the 60 seconds on the news that night. whenever there was a kennedy speaking, the lights were on. i presume that the other senators noticed that. they went into eclipse whenever those people spoke.
but he still was able to bring important attention to the issues that they were promoting at that point. another question i have and this is both of your books, because you're talking about the campaigns and you're talking about a the although of the things that he did climbing mountains. some of the risks that he took, in coal mines and things like this. do you have a sense of robert kennedy being fatalistic in this period after the 1963 assassination in a sense willing to put himself at risk more than would be expected of any usual person? >> i'm not sure, because they were always seeming to be doing feats of great physicality. if you watch the family swimming as they're children, you're like, whoa. he went for the long march i think a 50-mile march while he was attorney general. and i forget, pierre salinger was supposed to go along and was able to talk his way out of it. so he was constantly challenging himself physically. he was a very very masculine person in that sense and wanted adventures. climbing a mountain without anyone else really who wasn't a professional, excuse me, he was
the only nonprofessional who went on that climb, was dangerous and quite alarming, and he nearly fell a few times. at the same time, that was just a part of his being. >> jules you wanted during that campaign, was he taking extraordinary risks or unnecessary risks? >> not extraordinary risks, but just being out there. in the climate of the day, was risky. as we found out. but i want to talk a little bit about another part of robert kennedy and his dealings with us, the press. he on the one hand he enjoyed our pulling his chain a little bit. but he was not, not very approachable, at least at the beginning. one of my first encounters with robert kennedy when he was on
the labor rackets committee as a staff person. i covered those hearings occasionally, because people from his state, new york, were involved in the rackets. and i was then working for an obscure newspaper chain and whenever i tried to ask a question, he would say -- he was the only one who would say to me at that time was -- and you are? you're with what? so i came away from that feeling a little agitated about kennedy and a little put off. but what -- when john kennedy ran here in west virginia, i had an experience that changed, that made me realize the difficulty of dealing with the kennedy. the headquarters of the john kennedy campaign, charleston, and the dining room served as a press room. one night i walked into the, into the press room, and there
was nobody there but robert kennedy. and he recognized me enough to know that i was, that i was a reporter. they tried to milk us for whatever we knew about the campaign and what was going on. >> i had this unexpected 45-minute conversation with robert kennedy. how it unfolded. so i hey, i've got it in here with the kennedy family. and the next morning i went back to the press room. they said was also the breakfast room. and there's my friend, bobby kennedy. sitting down with pierre salinger and katie o'donnell and two or three of the other kennedys in the kennedy campaign. and what if i join you and it was like being in the arctic. >> and so i didn't have breakfast with robert kennedy.
as time went on and we, and on the campaign itself, we were really traveling together, the frost war wore off and found him to be extremely approachable and unlikable. so there was always that, that side of him. and i think that's why even now, there's a soft heart and the journalism for robert kennedy. >> when you were doing your research, how useful did you find those newspaper accounts? what kind of a source is journalism for historians? >> robert kennedy was probably the most-covered person in that period. just because so many people saw that he was a future president. i think one senator anonymously said do you treat robert kennedy any differently? no i treat him the same way i treat any other future president. and that's how the press treated him, too. so you could get four or five different accounts from the same event from different angles, and i found that so valuable.
and thanks to pro quest and some of the other new digitization of newspapers, it makes it so much easier for journalists to pull out. people are doing research. that was most primary source that you could get for a lot of those events. because they weren't, in other ways recorded. i couldn't have done without that. no. >> for those of you who don't use pro quest, it actually has every word in certain newspapers, search words, searchable. so that you can throw out anything, and find that exactly when it appeared in "the new york times" or the "washington post" or the "chicago tribune" or the "los angeles times," it's a godsend to historians. and i will say for those of us trying to figure out the balance between things, you can read the
same story in the "new york times" and the "chicago tribune" and get very different takes on the same stories. good reporters, but different attitudes, different views and different editors expecting different things. >> a work that would take an hour in a microfilm machine, you can do inside a minute and a half. >> before we open this up for questions, i do want to ask you one counterfactual question as historians. do you think robert kennedy could have won the nomination and the presidency in 1968? >> i doubt very much that he could have gotten the nomination. because the way that, the way that the selection was when gene mccarthy finally clearly was beaten, hubert humphrey all the while never engaged in any primaries, all did he was inherit all the, johnson and regular democratic party support. and it came into the california
for him personally. his opposition to the war. in vietnam could have gotten to him, the nomination. i would not bet the rent money on it. if he had been nominated, i have no question in my mind. he would have trounced richard nixon. richard nixon was so scared and intimidated by the whole kennedy family, he became mush as a candidate. which he was, anyway. so under those circumstances, in my mind. had he lived, and gotten the nomination, he could have or would have become president. >> fred pappert, who was an ad man for bobby's campaign in '64 and '68. would always say, if hubert humphrey had beaten nixon, bobby
kennedy. i'm not sure given the electoral college. going back though to getting the nomination, i think bobby had a strong shot at it. one of the things i write about in the, my book is, in 1964, when bobby first was deciding how he was going to pursue power. he went a very conventional route and thought -- if i want to be president, i should be vice president. and he immediately looks at it through the way of the lens of the convention delegates and where the power is and he's going through doing things he has to do. one of the ways the newspapers helped me is i could track where he was planning on going and who he was meeting with. but he knew that he could maybe rely on a great emotional appeal. and so did lyndon johnson. and he actually moved the kennedy tribute, the tribute to john f. kennedy later, to after the balloting for vice president and president.
so that the, this outpouring of emotion, the kind we saw at the 1964 convention, where bobby stood there for more than a dozen minutes, just being applauded by everyone, could sweep the convention and then lead to a bobby nomination of some kind. and so i feel that robert kennedy was very conscious of that. situation. with the delegates and how he was going to persuade the party bosses to come along with him for the nomination again a very uphill climb and i think the electoral college was also troubling for thatle. election. >> it's still a phenomenal politician, a person who was able to bring together very disparate groups. so his death was really a national tragedy. and with that, i think we would like to give you a share in this discussion. but if you have a question to either the authors or a statement to make if you'd like to use one of the microphones down here in the front, we'd appreciate that.
>> when martin luther king jr. was assassinated, bobby was in indianapolis that night and i would love to hear your comments about the remarks he made. >> jules, you were there in indianapolis that night? >> yes, yes. that was most amazing speech i ever heard. for the politician. king was assassinated in memphis. and kennedy was running in indiana. the word finally came to kennedy when he was, on a plane
somewhere in indiana, going back to indianapolis, he and his campaign people decided or he decided he wanted to go to a, an african-american community and talk to the people. they didn't know, nobody in the crowd knew what had happened to king. frank mankewitz, who was bobby's press secretary, gave him the news, on the plane as they were going back to indianapolis. and kennedy asked mankewitz to shot down a few -- jot down a few ideas, for him to speak to this black audience. as we got into indianapolis, for one reason or another, frank mankewitz and kennedy were separated. and kennedy went to -- kennedy
went to the black community and frank arrived late. didn't have, had written a few ideas but they ever got there in time. and kennedy made his most amazing remarks. extemporaneously. the gist of which was i, i have a member of my family killed and he was killed by a white man. but i know, i know how you feel. because that's how i feel. that's not the exact quote, but i have to look in the book here. and then he ended the remarks,
by quoting as he called them, my favorite poet, escalus. those remarks about, in the book, that how the, that kind of a loss affects people. and he quoted, extemporaneously and mankewitz was astonished. and this speech at the robert kennedy's off-the-cuff remarks, were played this year. and many places on television those remarks that he made of telling the people in the crowd about martin luther king jr. >> the quote that he recited was from, that he had found originally in a book after the assassination in 1964. called "the greek way." about pain falling drop by drop
on the heart. >> that's it. >> in which he was basically talking about acceptance through acts that we cannot control. and one of the interesting points i found was one journalist saw him walking up and his lips moving. talking to himself and kenny o'donnell who was very close with him and also his brother would say that he realized later that, when bobby was talking to himself. he was actually talking to jack, so he was very much on his mind as he went up and spoke that night. and he asked people to go home and say a prayer for the country, to say a prayer for the king family. >> or else he was reciting the words of escalus that he later gave. >> another question. >> i'm glad you brought that up. to me that was bobby's finest hour. >> i wanted to share with you,
the time that i met bobby kennedy. we moved to washington when i was eight and my father worked for the president's committee on equal employment opportunity. and we had a chance to, with the staff, of his office to go to the white house and jfk was out of the office and we were disappointed. that we could meet the attorney general. so here came bobby and he said -- good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and he walked over to me. an 8-year-old. and the least among us. and asked me my name and how old i was. and what grade i was in. obviously knew how to address an 8-year-old and i saw the warmth and the vulnerability. pardon me.
we all thought that bobby was ruthless, but i saw that, that kindness. because the way he related to me. and many years later, as a junior high school student i campaigned for him. and celebrated those remarks. when king was shot. i cut out the newspaper article i read about it in books. about ten years ago, on youtube i discovered you can see the film of that. on the flat-bed truck. and you can see the kind of hesitating grace of robert kennedy. what might have happened if he had been elected. i with great respect disagree with you, i think he would have overwhelmed humphrey and i think that he would have won the
nomination. of course i can't back that up with facts, but as a 15-year-old, i thought daley would have supported him. he could unite the blue collar and the intellectual. and what did we get? we got the trump of that era. we got this, this graceless sociopath, nixon and the revolution was over, ladies and gentlemen. and i turned against the government and protested the vietnam war. and to me, we left a loss of people in the field, i'm sorry, were you going to say? >> i was going to say robert kennedy understood vulnerability from a very early age. you have to remember he was, his mother actually said that he was born i think seven years after
jack and joe. and then another seven or eight years before teddy. so he didn't have any boy playmates to sort of roughhouse with. he went to more schools than he could remember as a child. i think he really understood that being alone and feeling loneliness. as children, i think he could relate to well, who maybe felt on the side. >> i was thrilled to get that attention and he was my favorite kennedy, after that. but i have to say -- i think he was considered the runt of the kennedy brothers. and he wasn't a physical athlete like his older brothers, especially the joseph, the older brother. and he needed to prove something and so he had that, that double personality. someone who needs to prove something. >> he wasn't built for it. but he actually lettered at
harvard instead of them. so he willed himself to be a better athlete. he willed himself to be stronger. thanks for your comment. that was nice to hear. >> in 1968 i was clean for gene. in 1969 i wrote a paper as a senior in college and i cited your book for sociology course i took at boston university. >> thank you. >> this may be a hard question to answer and i want to thank you again for all the work you've done all of these years. but a couple of weeks ago it came out, the rfk jr. met with sirhan sirhan and left convinced that he wasn't the one that killed his father and now i read that one of his sisters believes also it was someone else. do you have any opinion about that? >> i only have my own recollections of being in the room and i don't believe it was there was a second shooter. it could have been because it was bedlam. but i also covered the grand jury hearings and nothing came forth ever gave me any indication of that. >> okay. >> and what difference does it make now? >> you have a question? yes? >> yes, you speak of bobby's loyalty to the president.
did bobby have any different views of the president's policies? and would he have changed any of those policies, if he had one, the president? presidential nomination? >> there were things that he had advised differently on. he was very careful about saying jfk would have done this. he had to say peter adelman, after a speech on latin american, there was an invasion on the dominican republic. the marines landed and peter was interviewed by a journalist for a new york newspaper. in which he kind of pushed him and pushed him and said, well is he saying that jfk would have done this?
and peter said, well if you hear that, then you hear that. the next day on the front page was rfk, jfk would have done differently and rfk went through the roof at peter on this one. saying how could we know what he would have wanted? he's not here. >> so he did, i think have to make decisions that his brother was not faced with. or at least evaluate sets of facts that his brother wasn't faced with. i don't think he much thought jfk would have done this. or jfk would have done that. i think he thought of what was right and what was wrong. and what they saw as the right way. i also do think that people thought different things about what jfk would have done. i have a photo of the book on the cabinet room. they dedicate this bust of jfk and in the background hung all the decisions on all of these things. some people who sat at the long table with bobby looked at him
and thought, we have to you know carry out or commitment in vietnam. we gave our word to our ally. and bobby saw jfk and thought we have to think differently as he thought during the cuban missile crisis. you have those sorts of conflicts. they were brothers, they saw things differently from time to time. >> certainly on the vietnam war, i have no doubt that if robert kennedy had become president, we wouldn't be there. we wouldn't be there, much longer than we were. with with jfk, never came to the point where we thought we couldn't get out of there. >> you did mention latin america and bobby kennedy had a very different policy on latin america and also on south africa.
his visit to south africa was an enormous event for that country. and my wife and i visited there 30 years later. people still talking about the impact of robert kennedy's visit. which put him at odds with the administration, with much of the thinking in the united states at that summit. i think he was quite advanced in u.s. relations with other countries. not just in terms of vietnam. it was a, i think certainly in terms of the great society, the kennedy brothers, promoting some of that legislation. and ted kennedy certainly was
sponsoring, he's a little more of a legislator in that respect. >> it wasn't as if there was a huge chasm between kennedy and johnson on domestic issues. >> i think we have time for one more question if someone -- yes. two more questions, that's okay. two more questions. >> hi, my name is jessica, thanks for the work that you do. i'm a return peace corps volunteer. so i feel connected to the kennedys. i believe martin luther king jr. sensed that there was a coming assassination. that was coming down, his future and i'm wondering if bobby kennedy had any inclination that he would be shot. thank you. >> robert kennedy was a fatalist. and he knew what the situation was in the country. i don't think that got in his way. he was determined to do what he was going to do. i don't know weather he was surprised or not surprised. he knew what the temper was in the country and he was aware that something like that could happen. >> i don't think he -- i don't think he ever had a death wish or was in in a sense -- i think as you said, those two write don't shoot and those who shoot, don't write.
so he knew the dangers of what he was up for. you would say when he was running for senate in 1964. i could have gone home and run my flag up the flag pole and told everyone about how i saved the country that one time or i could continue to contribute and i think he felt very strongly about public service and the need to continue in public life. and that you couldn't walk away from it. >> thank you, i would like, i wore black to this event in mourning for the great national tragedy 50 years ago, anyway. but i wanted your insights into the week in which the brothers, saved the world that we knew. the cuban missile crisis. i've read about it, i know that bobby started aligned tentatively with the military and got softer. we know he and his brother did it all. do you have insights? >> it's somewhat controversial because there has been some skolg arship saying robert
kennedy was actually much more aggressive about taking on the cubans and right away with the military solution there. it, he would use that issue to again think differently or try to perhaps maybe use a little bit more diplomacy, a softer touch and perhaps make a better solution. he talked about the great moral choices that they faced. that he revealed later during his life. how many cubans they had estimated would be killed if they had decided to take out the sites. and they were in the dozens of thousands. so -- it was something that he used to paint the grave responsibility of someone who would hold such powers in the presidency. >> i was a reporter at the pentagon during the cuban
missile crisis. and robert kennedy was, played an essential role in being a go-between to avoid the situation. i have no doubt, however, he would have done whatever his brother had decided to do. he did play a very critical role in averting. >> i was struck in reading your book how often he referred back to that and how pivotal that was in his thinking about the world. >> we have two extraordinary authors, who have written two terrific books, there will be some time to talk to you afterwards and to purchase their books and i encourage to you read them. because i found them both really fascinating accounts of a really important figure in american history. and i think it's appropriate that we're all here to recognize him 50 years later. thank you all today.
sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. president trump will announce his choice for the supreme court monday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern. you can see the announcement live on our companion network, c-span. >> new york senator robert f. kennedy announced he was running for president on march 16th, 1968. next, several members of congress and two of his descendents mark the 50th anniversary of that announcement. we'll hear from the house
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