tv Robert F. Kennedys Political Legacy CSPAN July 8, 2018 12:50pm-2:01pm EDT
journal," live at 7:00 eastern monday morning. >> this year marks the 50th anniversary of robert f. kennedy's assassination. next, from the robert c. byrd center for congressional history and education, authors jules witcover and john bohrer sat down with u.s. senate historian emeritus donald ritchie to discuss bobby kennedy's political legacy a half century later. this is an hour and 10 minutes. ray: robert f. kennedy was running for president of the united states when he was assassinated in california, just hours after winning the california primary on june 5, 1968. and he died a few hours later on june 6. 1968 was one of those years that historians and journalists alike call a watershed.
a time when major change occurs that echoes down through history years later. the united states, of course, has had many watershed date in history, but the year 1968 will always be one that will live in our history books. our panelists today will explore some of the reasons why. we're honored to have with us distinguished veteran journalist jules witcover, who was an eyewitness to the kennedy assassination. he was covering the kennedy campaign and traveled extensively with kennedy during that campaign. his book, which you will be able "85 days: thes last campaign of robert kennedy." mr. witcover wrote for the "baltimore sun," the "washington star," the "los angeles times," the "washington post," and
together with jack germond, witcover wrote a column, "politics today," for 25 years. a syndicated column. many of you in this audience , perhaps, remember jack germond, who retired here to jefferson county after his long career in journalism. jack was also on the mclaughlin group tv show for a number of years. jack and jules were great friends and colleagues. they wrote four books together on presidential campaigns. witcover was born in union city, new jersey, in 1927. he got his start as a journalist in 1954. in addition to the books he cowrote with jack germond, he 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 and television news producer, is john bohrer, whose writing has "usared in politico, today." he is the author of the "revolution of john kennedy." this is his first book, and it is a very good one. it explores kennedy's difficult odyssey after the assassination of his brother in 1963. joe scarborough of "morning joe" said of this book jack captures entities evolution to a compassionate hero who still inspires the world a half a century later. i agree with that, and i'm sure that jack likes that. it comes from his boss, joe scarborough.
day job is producer for "morning joe" on msnbc. mr. bohrer is a graduate of washington college and is a resident of new york. our monitor -- moderator for today's discussion is don ritchie, in the middle there. the historian emeritus of the united states senate, who served in the senate historical office for almost 40 years from 1976 up to 2015. i were graduate students at the university of maryland together. 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, 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,"
and "electing fdr: the new deal campaign of 1932." please welcome our panel. [applause] take it away, don. don: thank you, ray. appreciate those nice introductions. we are talking about a year that those of us who remember living through was a difficult year. when i think of 1968, what i think of most is phones ringing late at night with people calling up and saying something awful has just happened. one of those calls came in 3:00 in the morning to say that robert kennedy had been shot in los angeles. there were milestones of that year that were indelible, because they were so personal. in fact, i can remember on new year's -- not eve -- at the end of the year, i was relieved the 1968 was over. i assumed that things got better
in 1969, not realizing what was coming up ahead. we have today two very fine authors. jules witcover is a legend in the press corps. he has been reporting since 1954. there is probably no one who has served in congress that jules has not covered one way or another. does not have a story about one way or another. as ais coming to us journalist but also as a historian. looking back over this time period. to look at how we can ss. there are two books. this is an eyewitness account. it is a riveting account of kennedy's campaign, the last 85 days leading up essentially to his funeral at the end. and the evolution of robert kennedy is a study of the years of 1963 up to 1968 -- what made robert kennedy the unique politician he was. i thought we could open this all thesesking jules,
years later, when you think back on robert kennedy, what first comes to your mind? jules: well, i think he was his -- his brother's brother. that's how he got into politics. he was devoted to him. in such an extreme way. that he worshiped his brother. when joey kennedy died, robert kennedy died too, in a sense. without any idea of how he was going to continue the legacy of his brother. been in the, he had united states senate. and the evolution of his deciding to run for president
was a rather painful one. but heat of aldgate, -- but he personality in , his own right. he was not just john kennedy's brother. the leader of was another, younger generation who endured the assassination of joey kennedy and eventually tried to carry out his agenda and his legacy. thank you. john: i think that is a very good point. robert kennedy, at the time of his brother's assassination, had had no job that was not related to his brother's political goal. you look at his professional 1950 two.
he misses his law school graduation so he can work on the senate campaign in massachusetts. in 1956, he dropped his job to go to work on lee stevenson's campaign. so you can learn how a professional campaign can work for 1960. in 1960, he worked as hard as ever, including here in west virginia, to see that his brother is elected. he decides, after the election, and 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. he goes and does that. so in 1963, when his brother was assassinated, he has to make -- not only does he lose his brother, he loses his boss and he loses his direction. and as jules said he is very protective of his brother's legacy. and he was thinking of all the ways how he could continue his brother, so he would not be forgotten. he goes and pursues power in different ways over the course >> what is it 50 years later
that jury back to studying back todrew you back studying robert kennedy? john: i was thinking of this not long ago as a college student in maryland. as a college and in maryland, reading 85 days, the reason i'm smiling big is because i read this book and was such an awe, and it was 2005. politics was not interesting but it was not exciting. i was thinking at the time, wouldn't it be great to live in a time where politics is unpredictable and you don't know what you are going to wake up to? [laughter] john: and so 1968 had this appeal for someone my age. [laughter] so that relates to my job these days. i found robert kennedy to be a really inspiring figure, a person touched by tragedy, who was able to overcome the things that were holding them back and restraining him. he was a very restrained person.
jules writes about this in his book, not running until march of 1968 because of his fears of what people were going to think if he did run. donald: what your saying is beware of what you wish for. john: right. donald: jules, can you talk about what was robert kennedy's extraordinary political appeal? he stands out among his generation and most of them since then, having a remarkable emotional appeal. jules: 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 himself -- i won't call it a cult, but certainly an emotional following himself.
because he was a young man who had had a great wealth, but he had also suffered greatly. he suffered personally and with his family. i remembered once talking to ted kennedy. i had been in washington with robert kennedy during the riots after the assassination of martin luther king. we were in one of the black neighborhoods of downtown washington. a woman came up to him and said, "darling, i knew you would be here. i did." he had that emotional appeal. part of it was his youth. he could be very brash. what he considered his people, and that was the people who were
needy, who had -- were disadvantaged in some way. he really reacted to them and they reacted to him. all the driving force in politics was as has already been mentioned 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. donald: john, in your book, you talk about the frenzies when he went out into the public, even ripping his shoes up. -- off, i think in a couple of
instances. can you talk about that? john: he talked about himself as a symbol of what his brother represented. when he would go in public, people would want to touch him as, as was said in the 1964 senate race, the idea is we will march him up and down broadway and everyone will see him and then we win in a landslide. [laughter] people wanted to mourn with him and grieve with him. that had a tremendous power. bobby kennedy was not a popular person before his brother's assassination. in fact, he was considering leaving the administration and not going to go into the campaign because he had been so unpopular with what he was doing on civil rights. on both sides, people thought he was hampering progress. people thought he was "cramming progress down our throats,"
civil rights down our throats. as he went on, he realized he had this great power with the people who cared about his brother, and also he wanted to make sure he was securing his brother's legislative agenda and administration's agenda. he wasn't quite sure when lyndon johnson would do that. he didn't see the great society coming, perhaps. he also had great criticism of lbj and what, how he was going about things. so he has to reinvent himself as a politician after his rather's -- brother's assassination. one of the things i write about 1964, book is in january two months after, he begins taking speech lessons in manhattan with the woman who trained eleanor roosevelt while she was first lady. robert kennedy, public speaking lessons up until his first major speech after his brother's assassination in scranton, pennsylvania on st. patrick's day, he realizes, i have to be good at this.
there is the evolution of a politician. it would not have happened without people wanting to see him and touch him and let them felt.- him know how they donald: extraordinary what you describe. rubbing his hand raw from people grabbing onto it. john: one of my favorite stories is from his men that come to see him in the middle of the new york campaign. he is lying on a lounge chair. they don't recognize him because he is so draggled. he reaches out with the pinky of his left hand because everything else is so bandaged. he goes, this is what i want to talk to you about. [laughter] john: he was also a very complex individual. donald: the cartoonist had a series of famous cartoons in the 1960's of the good bobby debating the bad bobby. what was it about robert kennedy people saw such completely
different images of him? jules: there were two parts of him. we were just talking about his compassion. that visit 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. so they can identify with that. so as an individual, he has 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 could be a little irreverent for a moment is somewhat the feel that donald trump has for his game. -- gang. [laughter] donald: did you find you have to
wrestle with these two sides? john: there is a great cartoon from the atlanta constitution of a bunch of children sitting on kennedy's lap all smiling at him. the caption is, you must -- you are the nice man named ruthless opportunist. [laughter] john: there was a confliction, but there was a great well of empathy or bobby, and had great empathy for people. he goes to west virginia in 1964 and is going through a very impoverished town. he is sitting with a young girl with cerebral palsy. he clips his microphone onto her -- his tie clip onto her dress. he -- a man and he
have the same number of children i think at that point. bobby had nine children. he goes, it is a terrible thing they did to your brother. bobby pat him on his back, knowing look. another person gives him a piece of newspaper clipping they had hung on the wall, a picture of jfk. these were people who didn't have much to give at all. the fact they were giving him something, and he gets back in the car with the journalist and has the picture of jfk, and the journalist asks him, this has been a difficult day? and bobby says, that is hard to say. he takes the picture of jfk and turns it over because he cannot even look at it. people could feel that from bobby he had this sense of grieving and loss and he understood what they were maybe had lost as well and were hoping to have for the rest of their lives. donald: you brought up the words that follow him through his career, and that was ruthless. you want to explain why that was put on him. john: bobby was the campaign operative for his brother. as jfk would meet with favor
seekers in the house or senate, he would smile, listen to what they wanted and nod. he said go see bobby. they would go see bobby, and he was the one to say no. a lot of people would blame bobby for things that happened in the kennedy administration. they would say, "robert kennedy did this to me." that person, that enforcer, he was stuck with that role. 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 is another story from lyndon johnson's inauguration. the morning he and teddy drive from his house in hickory hill and pass arlington national cemetery. jfk is buried there. they stop the brothers pray, , they go on to the inauguration. they don't stay for the balls. himself andhome by he again passes arlington, decides to stop again. he stops and prays. this time there is a photographer and journalist.
they step a photo. it appears in the newspaper. a senior republican senator, unnamed, tells these journalists, we are a hard-boiled crowd. we notice things like that. what they are saying is bobby was using jfk as a photo op. he would never do that. if anyone ever truly know him, but he was also not unbelievable i think, bobby kennedy, in those days. donald: jules, in your book, you describe how the journalists on the train with bobby had a song about ruthlessness in the sense they were teasing him about. jules: 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. we wrote six or seven stanzas, song called the ruthless cannonball. [laughter] jules: i have all the stanzas in my book. you have to buy it, but one that stuck in my mind was about gene mccarthy, who was running against robert kennedy for the democratic nomination. that is, that sentence, that stanza went "here comes gene mccarthy down the other track. 1000 radcliffe dropouts all mast for the attack bobby has got the right away from here back to st. paul because money is no object on the ruthless cannonball." [laughter]
donald: in your book, you don't say who wrote that song, but i think you have given us a suggestion about -- [laughter] donald: the authorship of that. bobby seemed in that case, he left with the reporters. jules: he recorded it. he would always have some come back to put us in our place. donald: in those days, we have a -- had a president of the united states who valued loyalty greatly and had sort of an extraordinary personality, a little bit unusual. we are not used to that anymore. in the 1960's, we had lyndon johnson. lyndon johnson had a dislike for robert kennedy that was enormous. robert kennedy seems to have reciprocated. it was very destructive for the democratic party and the senate to have the two most influential people in the party dislike each other so much. yet, on the issues there wasn't , that much difference between them on some -- not many.
how can you explain this deep-seated dislike these people had? john: i think when it comes to the issues, bobby thought lyndon was telling people in december 1963 johnson is much more can -- much more conservative than you think. he was proven wrong. he was later complaining johnson was getting too much credit for what jfk had started. there is a through line and that his criticism of lyndon johnson. he didn't like him. they had, he didn't trust him. he lied too much. he also didn't, i believe, like his criticism of his father he had offered in 1960 during the convention. he didn't -- he wanted someone i think to be with the kennedy legacy, and lyndon johnson wanted a johnson administration. it was something he would say in 1964. he was open in that johnson
doesn't want me to be a part of this administration because i am a kennedy and he wanted things to be elected in his own right. jules: that is true. the obvious question, lyndon johnson became his brother's vice president. bobby resented that and never forgot it. there is a well-known story at the convention when john kennedy decided for various reasons that he needed or wanted, more needed than wanted, lyndon johnson as running mate. bobby kennedy went down to convey the information to johnson, but did his best to try to get johnson not to take the
vice presidency. that was always remembered in that relationship between lyndon johnson and robert kennedy. john: all that sort of spilled out about 1965, 1966 when people from the kennedy term started writing their books. you had the sitting president and senator from new york basically fighting over, were you supposed to be president or were even accidental president? this wasn't supposed to happen. there was a quote that said none of this would have happened if we weren't so tired last night. it was like a rebuke of lyndon johnson, the sitting president at the time. he was sensitive to that. donald: he was looking over his shoulder, worried that bobby kennedy was going to challenge them at some point, concerned he was going to come back and take his spot. he was paranoid to a degree, but
there was some realism to his concerns in that situation. but it is a remarkable relationship between the two of them. now it is in broadway plays, all the way in the great society, included the tensions between robert kennedy and lyndon johnson as part of the story at that time. we can't talk about the 1960's without talking about the vietnam war. in what ways do you think the vietnam war contributed to the schism between these two? john: bobby kennedy from may of 1964, you see him give johnson advice about the vietnam war in which he says it is a military solution -- political solution, not military. johnson has the opposite reaction. in one phone conversation with bobby and then another phone conversation with a senator
saying we need somebody with stars, a general, to take the situation, not some diplomat like bobby is trying to put forward. robert kennedy was very deferential to johnson. he understood the presidency the first two years, he volunteered to go as ambassador to vietnam in 1964. lyndon johnson turned him down for a number of reasons , including the fact they couldn't lose another kennedy at this time. as it went on in 1966, bobby had been giving private advice about how to take care of vietnam diplomatically. in the hearings, the secretary of state seemed open to elections involving the nlf, the viet cong's political arm. bobby put out this statement saying " we need to give them a share of the power and responsibility."
a firestorm of criticism came back. hubert humphrey, from his brother's old advisers, everyone in washington basically seeing this through the lens of johnson versus kennedy and his personal feud. bobby didn't think 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 they experienced. bobby had a temper that contributed to what he did not -- why he did not get into the senate race earlier. speaking of vietnam, that is where it comes down. two people who saw two different solutions. jules: the vietnam war generated huge street protests. 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, with people who were hurting economically.
so johnson, he didn't help himself. because his own personality, rather arrogant attitude. robert kennedy helped himself because with his ability to touch heartstrings and equate his concerns with the people who were in the streets made him much more effective politician in terms of dealing with the protest. donald: jules, you covered that campaign. the main opponent at that time was eugene mccarthy. can you talk a little bit about mccarthy and how he figures into this equation? jules: mccarthy emerged in large part because robert kennedy
declined to play that role early on. two young men, students in north carolina or duke created the johnson movement. it really wasn't going anyplace. and they tried to recruit at first robert kennedy who wasn't interested, then two or three other politicians including george mcgovern who said, why don't you talk to gene mccarthy? mccarthy was not a star in the senate, not well-known. he had a certain soft key charisma of his own. he was not a bombastic candidate.
he was not an emotional candidate. he was an intellectual candidate. at that time, it worked well on american campuses. you saw a movement to mccarthy going out of kids who were called "clean for gene." they would cut their long hair, go doorknocking through to generate support for mccarthy. but mccarthy was kind of overwhelmed as a candidate by the charisma of robert kennedy when he came into the race. mccarthy held on. he declined to pull out of the race and declined to even came -- team up with robert kennedy has an unofficial team to get rid of johnson.
i have always felt mccarthy was an extremely important character in that whole saga because he did have a limiting effect to the emotional appeal of robert kennedy, but not sufficiently to overcome it. john: mccarthy also felt slighted that power and possibility speech, there was a new story not long after in which gene mccarthy gives a comment saying i proposed the same thing two months earlier. no one paid attention because i am not a kennedy. i recall reading in jules' book, telling him and other reporters maybe three or four, two weeks before he announced for the president saying these are the areas where gene mccarthy went wrong. he could have got people behind him if he had been more sensitive. bobby didn't think much of him.
he thought he was a celebrity -- gene thought bobby was a celebrity. donald: he did have charisma because he took poetry at the university of maryland after that campaign. my professor taught history class in the same room mccarthy took poetry in just previously. it was my job as teaching assistant to go down and clear the coeds out because they had congregated around the podium. people really were swooning for gene in those days. he was an important figure in the campaign, but it added to the peculiar chemistry of the 1968 election. jules: to the report about mccarthy as a poet, i went to a campaign. he reentered the race either that year or the next year, and we went to a small campus north
of chicago. he began to recite his poetry. the meeting was held in an old hut, for those of you who are old enouth to remember that. it was a tin roof. he began reciting his poetry, then he launched into his own low-key campaign pitch. it started to pour. rain poured down. you could hardly hear or understand him. the moderator was i think the president of the college, said, senator, i think we should -- he hesitated for a while because i don't think they can hear you.
he said, i can hear me. [laughter] jules: that was gene mccarthy. donald: since we are here at the robert c. byrd center, i thought we should talk little bit about robert kennedy as a legislator. i am curious about what your thoughts on how did robert kennedy related the other other senators, like robert byrd. was he much of a legislator? jules: i wouldn't say he was much, but he was regarded as kind of a one-man senate. he was different, and he wasn't very approachable. -- approachable by the other senators. neither did he approach them too much. has a senator, i thought he did a lot of things in the state of
new york, but it wasn't presidential level. whereas mccarthy was no great legislator either. john: bobby was really unconventional as a senator coming in. i think jfk waited a year or so before he gave his first senate speech or remarks in the well. teddy waited a year and a half before she did. -- he did. bobby waited four weeks. the first bill was related to the appalachian aid bill. it was part of the campaign promise that they were going to include these southern tier counties in upper new york state into this bill that provided aid that was being championed by jennings randolph, the senator from west virginia. bobby goes, and he makes over the weekend, writes this amendment and delivers a speech, first comments on the floor of the senate. the bill passes.
it is a $1 billion bill in 1965. on the front page of the chicago tribune is not a picture of jennings randolph, who had shepherded the bill, but robbie kennedy. that was sort of the tone and pace. bobby had a weird relationship with his secretary who would tally up the hours he had set presiding which was like 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. bobby rates i didn't do too , well, did i? the secretary writes, nope. he brought great attention to senate hearings that other senators could not bring, and those field hearings which he is famously tangling with the sheriff of delano county in california. kern county, i should say.
he would draw attention. -- attention of the big three automakers, those 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 with the prosecutorial nature, he relished that part of being a senator. they always thought he was going to tackle education, and he never really dead. -- did. donald: he did have an ability to attract publicity which is important when you are trying to get people to pay attention. in those days tv didn't do gavel to gavel of hearings. the cameras literally would be off until some celebrity spoke, then the lights would light up the room and that person would speak. then as soon as that person finished speaking, the lights would be off. that was going to be the 30 seconds or 60 seconds on the
news. whenever there was a kennedy speaking, the lights were on. i presume the other senators noticed that, they went into eclipse when those people spoke. he still was able to bring important attention to the issues they were promoting at that point. another question i have come -- in both of your books, you talk about the campaign but you also talk about a lot of the things he did, climbing mountains, some of the risks 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 percent? john: i am not sure. they seemed to always been doing feats of physicality. if you watch the children swimming when they were young, it is like whoa. he went on a 50 mile march when he was attorney general, and
salinger was supposed to go along and talked his way out of it. he was constantly challenging himself physically, he was very masculine in that sense and wanted adventure. climbing a mountain without anyone else who was not a professional -- excuse me, he was the only nonprofessional who went on the climb. it was dangerous and quite alarming. he nearly fell a few times. but at the same time, i think that was just part of his being. donald: jules, you watched him during that campaign, was he taking extraordinary risks? unnecessary risks? jules: not extraordinary risks, but being out there and a climate of the day was risky, as we found out. i want to talk a little bit about another part of robert
kennedy, and his dealings with the press. on one hand, he enjoyed our pulling his chain a little bit, but he was not very approachable, at least at the beginning. one of my first encounters with robert kennedy was when he was on the labor rackets committee. i would come to those hearings occasionally because people from new york were involved in the rackets. i was working for an obscure newspaper chain, and i tried to ask him a question, and he was the only one that would answer me. he would say, and you are? [laughter] >> so i came away from that a
little agitated about kennedy, a little put off. when john kennedy ran in west virginia, i had an experience that made me realize the difficulty of dealing with a kennedy. the headquarters of the john kennedy campaign was in charleston in a hotel. the dining room served also as a pressroom. one night, i walked into the pressroom and there was nobody there but robert kennedy. he recognized me enough to know
i was a reporter, so he did what a lot of politicians did and still do to reporters, tried to milk me for what i knew about the campaign -- the other campaign and what was going on. [laughter] jules: i had an unexpected 45 minute conversation with robert kennedy, as that unfolded. i was like, i have it in with the kennedy family. the next morning, i went back to the pressroom, which as i said, was also the breakfast room. there was my friend bobby kennedy sitting down with salinger and o'donnell and two or three of the other biggies in the campaign, and i said, might if i join you? it was like being in the arctic. [laughter]
so i did not have breakfast with robert kennedy. [laughter] as time went on, and on the campaign itself, we were traveling together, the frost wore off and i found him very approachable and likable. there was always that side of him. i think that is why even now, there is a soft heart in journalism for robert kennedy. donald: when you were doing research, how useful did you find the newspaper accounts? what kind of source is journalism for historians? john: robert kennedy was probably the most covered person in that period, just because somebody people saw he was a
future president. one senator anonymously said, do you treat robert kennedy any differently? no, i treat him the same way i do any other future president. [laughter] john: that's how the press treated him as well. you can get four or five different accounts from the same event from different angles, and i found that so valuable. thanks to some of the digitization of newspapers, it makes it so much easier for journalists to pull out and radel -- journalist doing research, that was the primary source i think you could get for a lot of those events. they were not in other ways recorded. i cannot have done it without that. four those of you who do not use proquest, it has every word in certain newspapers searchable, so you can throw out
anything and find out exactly when it appeared in the new york times, chicago tribune, the washington post. it is a godsend to historians. i will say also for those of us trying to figure out the balance of things, you can read the same story in the new york times and then in the chicago tribune and get very different takes on the same event. very good reporters, but different attitudes, different views and different editors. john: words that would take one hour in a microfilm machine, you can do in a minute and a half. donald: exactly. before we opened it up for questions, i want to ask you a counterfactual question. that is, do you think robert kennedy could have won the nomination and the presidency in 1968? jules: i doubt very much he could've gotten the nomination because the way the selection was structured then, when gene
mccarthy was clearly beaten, hubert humphrey all the while never engaged in the primaries. all he had was johnson and the regular democratic primary -- party support. he came to the california primary with almost but not enough to be nominated. -- almost enough to be nominated. yet kennedy got a huge boost from california. it did not last long, obviously. as far as getting the nomination, because of that fact, i find it hard to see enough regular democrats and humphrey supporters who would switch. there was one caveat.
at the convention in chicago, which was such a disaster, if kennedy had been alive and going to that convention, it is inconceivable to me that the sentiment for him personally, his opposition to the war in vietnam, could have gotten him the nomination. i would not bet the runway on it, but i think he would trounced richard nixon if he had been nominated. andard nixon was so scared intimidated by the whole kennedy family. so under those circumstances definitely in my mind, had he , lived, and gotten the
nomination, he could have become president. donald and ad man for bobby's : campaign in 1964 and would 1968 always say if he were -- hubert humphrey almost beat nixon, bobby kennedy would have taken them. i'm not certain about that given the electoral college, if wallace would have surprised him. going back to getting the nomination, i think bobby had a strong shot at it. one of the things i write about in my book is in 1964, when bobby was first deciding how he was going to pursue power, he went a conventional route and thought, if i want to be president, i should be vice president. he immediately looks at it through the lens of convention delegates and where the power is. he is going through doing things he has to do. one of the ways newspapers helped me as i could track where he was planning on going and who
he was meeting with. but he knew he could maybe rely on a great emotional appeal, and so did lyndon johnson. 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 outpouring of emotion, the kind we saw at the 1964 convention where bobby stood there for more than a dozen minutes just eating -- being applauded by everyone, could not sweep the convention and lead to a bobby nomination of some kind. i think he was aware of that situation, and how he was going to persuade party bosses to come along with him. an uphill climb come and the electoral college was also troubling for that election.
donald: still a phenomenal politician, a person who is able to bring together disparate groups in a year of division, who talked about unity. he might have been able to do that in a way other politicians of that era could not do. his death was really a national tragedy. with that, we would like to give you a share in this discussion. if you have a question to the authors or a statement to make, if you would like to use one of the microphones in the front, we would appreciate that. >> when martin luther king was assassinated, bobby was in indianapolis that night. i would love to hear your comments about the remarks he made. donald: jewels, you are there weren't you? , in indianapolis? jules: yes. that was the most amazing speech
i had ever heard from a politician. king was assassinated in memphis, and kennedy was in indiana. the word finally came to kennedy when he was on the plane going back to indianapolis, and his campaign people, or he decided he wanted to go to an african-american community and talk to the people. they did not know, nobody in the crowd knew who had happened to king. frank mankiewicz, bobby's press secretary, gave him the news on the plane as they were going to indianapolis, and kennedy asked mankiewicz to jot down a few
ideas notes for him to speak to , this black audience. as we got into indianapolis, for one reason or another, frank mankiewicz and kennedy were separated. kennedy went to the black community and frank arrived late. had written a few ideas, but never got there in time. and kennedy made the most amazing remarks. the gist of which was, i had a member of my family and he was killed by a white man. i know how you feel. because that is how i feel.
that's not the exact quote, but i have them in the book. he ended the remarks by quoting, as he called it, my favorite poet. there are remarks in the book about how that kind of a loss affects people. he quoted extemporaneously, and mankiewicz was astonished. robert kennedy's and his off-the-cuff remarks, were played this year in many places on television, and those remarks he told the crowd about
martin luther king. john: the quote here he excited he found originally in the book after the assassination in 1964, called "the greek way," about pain following drop by drop on the heart. in which he was basically talking about acceptance through acts we cannot control. one of the interesting points i found was when journalists saw him walking up and saw his lips moving, talking to himself. o'donnell, who was close with him and his brother, would say that he realized later when bobby was talking to himself, he was talking to jack. his brother was on his mind. people to go home and
say a prayer for the country and for the king family. jules he was also reciting the : words. donald: 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 i met bobby kennedy. we moved to washington when i was eight, and my father worked on the commission for equal opportunity, and we had a chance with the staff of his office to go to the white house. jfk was out of the office and we were disappointed, but we could meet the attorney general. here came bobby. he said, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and he walked over to me, and 8-year-old the , least among us, and asked me my name and how old i was, what
grade i was in. he knew how to address an eight-year-old. i felt the warmth and on her -- and the vulnerability. pardon me. anyway, we all thought bobby was ruthless, but i saw that kindness because of the way he related to me. many years later as a junior high school student, i campaigned for him and i celebrated his remarks when king was shot. i cut out the newspaper article. i read about it in books, and about 10 years ago on youtube, i discovered you can see the film of that one on the flatbed truck. you can see the hesitating grace
of robert kennedy. and what might have happened if he had been elected? with great respect, i disagree with you, i think he would have overwhelmed humphrey and i think he would have won the nomination. of course, i can't back that up with facts, as a 15-year-old. [laughter] >> i thought he could reunite the blue color and the intellectual, and what did we get? the trump of that era, this graceless sociopath of a man, nixon. the revolution was over, ladies and gentlemen. i turned against the government and protested the vietnam war, and to me we left a lot of people in the field. i am sorry, you were going to say. john: i was going to say robert kennedy understood vulnerability
from an early age. you have to remember, he was born seven years after jack and joe, and another seven or eight years before teddy. he did not have any boy playmates to roughhouse with. he went to more schools than he could name as a child. i think he understood being alone and feeling loneliness. i think children he could relate to well. >> i was thrilled to get that attention, and he was my favorite kennedy after that. [laughter] >> i have to say, i think he was considered the runt of the kennedy brothers, he was not a physical athlete like his older brothers, especially joseph. he needed to prove something, and so he had that double personality of someone who needs to prove something.
john: he was not built for, but he lettered at harvard instead of them. he willed himself to be a better athlete. he willed himself to be stronger. thank you for your comments, that was really nice of you. donald: another question or comment? >> yes, in 1968, -- in 1969, i wrote a paper in college, and i read your book. this might be a hard question to answer and i want to thank you for the work you have done all these years. a couple of weeks ago, it came out that rfk junior met with sirhan sirhan and now believes he did not kill his father. now i have read one of his sisters believes also it was someone else. do you have any opinion about that? john: my own recollections from being in the room, i don't believe there was a second
shooter. could have been, but i also covered the grand jury hearings, and there was never any indication of that. and what difference does it make now? donald: any other questions? yes? >> you speak of bobby's loyalty to the president. did bobby have any different views from the president's policies, and would he have changed those policies if he had won the presidential nomination? john: there were things he would have advised differently on. he was very careful about saying jfk would have done this. peter edelman, after a speech about latin american, the dominican republic, peter was
interviewed by a journalist for new york newspaper, and they kind of pushed him and pushed them, is he saying jfk would have said that? if you hear that, your that. the headline on the next day was, rfk says jfk would have done differently. and rfk went through the roof on peter for this one. i think he did have to make decisions that his brother was not faced with. i don't think he thought about whether his brother would do that, he thought what was right and what was wrong. i also do think that people thought different things about what jfk would have done. in the book, i have a photo of
the cabinet room, they dedicated a bust of jfk, and in the background, he hung over decisions like vietnam. i think some of the people in the room who served with jfk in that room looked at bobby and thought, we have to carry out our commitment in vietnam, we gave our word to our ally and , bobby saw jfk and thought perhaps we need to think differently as in the cuban missile crisis. so you have those conflicts. they were brothers and they saw things differently from time to time. >> certainly on the vietnam war. jules: i have no doubt that for robert kennedy to become president, we would not be there much longer than we were. with jfk, it never came to the point where we felt we could get out of there.
donald: also, you mentioned latin america, and bobby had a different policy on latin america and south africa. his visit to south africa was an enormous event for that country. my wife and i visited 30 years later and people were still talking about the impact of robert kennedy's visit, which put him at odds with the administration and much of the thinking in the united states at that time. i think he was quite advanced on u.s. relations with other countries, not just in terms of vietnam. i think there were areas. certainly in terms of the great society, the kennedy brothers were promoting some of that legislation, ted kennedy was sponsoring, 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.
two more questions, that is ok. we have time for two more questions. >> i will make it quick. my name is jessica, thank you for the work you do. i am a return peace corps volunteer, so i feel connected to the kennedys. i believe martin luther king jr. sensed there was a coming assassination that was coming in his future, and i'm wondering if bobby kennedy had any inclination he would get shot. thank you. jules: bobby kennedy was a fatalist. he knew what the situation was in the country. but i don't think that was his way here he was determined to do what he was going to do. i don't know if he was surprised or not surprised, but he knew
what the temper was of the country and he was aware that something like that could happen. john i don't think he ever had a : death wish or was in that sense -- i think, as you said, those who write don't shoot, and those who shoot don't write, and he knew the danger. you would say when he was running for senate in 1964, he would say, i could have gone home and run my flag up the flagpole and tell anyone -- and tell everyone about how i saved the country that one time, or i could continue to contribute. i think he felt very strongly about public service and the need to continue in public life and that he could not walk away from it. donald: question? >> thank you all. i wore black to this event in mourning for our great national tragedy 50 years ago, but i wanted your insights into the
week in which the brothers saved the world that we knew, the cuban missile crisis. i have read about it and i know bobby started aligned tentatively with the military, and we know that he and his brother did it all. do you have insight? john: it is somewhat controversial because there has been some scholarship saying robert kennedy was much more aggressive about taking on the cubans, and right away with the military solution. he would use that issue to think differently or try to perhaps use more diplomacy, a softer touch, perhaps make a better solution. he talked about the great moral choices they faced. he revealed later how many cubans they estimated would be killed if they decided to take out the site.
they were in the dozens, a thousand. it was something he used to paint the great responsibility of someone who would hold the great possibilities of the presidency. jules: i was a reporter at the pentagon during the cuban missile crisis. robert kennedy played an essential role in being a go-between to avoid the situation. i have no doubt that he would have done whatever his brother had decided to do, but he did play a very critical role in averting nuclear war. >> i was struck reading your book how often he referred back to that, how pivotal it was in his thinking about the world. we have two extraordinary authors who have written to
books.terrific there will be time to talk to them afterward and purchase their books. i encourage you to read them because i have found them both really fascinating accounts of a really important figure in american history and i think it is appropriate we are here to recognize him 50 years later. thank you all for coming today. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> our nine week series "1968: america in turmoil," is available as a podcast. you can find it on our website, c-span.org/histor
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