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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 491

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This is the grave of Robert Kennedy.

I’m not going to go over all the details of Bobby Kennedy’s life here. After all, the generation that seems to make up the majority of the LGM readership has been obsessed by this family for their entire lives. So let me just make a point or two.

When talking about Bobby Kennedy’s trajectory, it reflects to no small extent what JFK might have been if he wasn’t assassinated. After all, Kennedy was a pretty disappointing president in terms of policy up to his death in late 1963, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that he was slowly shifting on some critical issues. Both John and Robert Kennedy had risen to power as conservative Democrats. Remember that both were good buds with Joseph McCarthy. Bobby came to greater prominence by attacking corruption in unions and engaging in a public blowharddown with Jimmy Hoffa, all of which helped lead to the Teamsters’ expulsion from the AFL-CIO and the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act. Well, the issue itself was an important one. Some unions were involved with rackets. But let’s just say it make a lot more political sense for a rising young lawyer to take on corrupt unions than corruption in business and Landrum-Griffin created requirements on unions that aren’t replicated in other parts of American life. And he was a dirty political player too, getting FDR, Jr. to call Hubert Humphrey a draft-dodger during the 1960 Democratic primary. Well, whatever, those are politics I guess.

Kennedy was probably better than his brother on civil rights, but his real commitment shouldn’t be overstated. Yes, as attorney general, he provided some level of support and a point of contact with leading civil rights figures that they probably wouldn’t have had in a Republican administration. But he also dillied and dallied in doing much to interfere with southern violence. He certainly placed foreign policy on a higher level and attempted to get SNCC to call off the Freedom Rides so it wouldn’t embarrass the U.S. in upcoming talks with the Soviets. Ralph Abernathy legendarily responded by saying that black people had been embarrassed by white supremacy all their lives. He also personally authorized at least one assassination attempt against Fidel Castro, and probably more. He certainly does deserve credit for his work in defusing tensions with the Soviets during the missile crisis.

The ultimate question about Bobby Kennedy is whether he would have defeated Nixon in 1968 and what that would have meant. Given how close the election was, I’d like to think he would have, though George Wallace may have done even better against Kennedy than Humphrey given that Bobby had moved a big step to the left in the five years since John’s death, especially on Vietnam, which he began to criticize openly by 1967. He was at least running on extending the Great Society while finding a negotiated peace in Vietnam. That would have been pretty positive as a president. Who knows–the Kennedys were chameleons in these years, but there’s a good bit of reason to believe it would have been a positive presidency, as he had built stronger connections with King (before his death) and Cesar Chavez and would certainly have had a more useful response to the counterculture and era of protest than either Johnson or Nixon. But again, it might be projection to think that he would have clearly defeated Nixon that fall.

Alas, we will never know, as Sirhan Sirhan assassinated him the night he won the California primary, which would have propelled him to the nomination.

Robert F. Kennedy is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to visit other people who held the position of attorney general in the years of our readers’ youth, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Herbert Bronwell is buried in Mendham, New Jersey and Richard Kleindienst is in Scottsdale, Arizona. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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