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Datum objave: 21.06.2019

Who was Bobby Kennedy?

Dead at 42, cut off at the peak of his political career, JFK's brother is the focus of a new film, Bobby

Who was Bobby Kennedy?

Dead at 42, cut off at the peak of his political career, JFK's brother is the focus of a new film, Bobby. But was the man himself the great leader the US never had, or another ruthless Kennedy player?

When Robert Kennedy hit the campaign trail in the late 1960s there was one book which he read again and again. It was a story of Greek myths. "He must have read and re-read it 20 times," says his senior aide and speech writer, Peter Edelman.

Maybe it felt like familiar territory, because the Kennedy family's own story - with murder, romance, scandal, conspiracy and tragedy - sounds more like Greek myth than party politics.

And in this exotic story, Robert Kennedy, younger brother of the assassinated president, is perhaps the most enigmatic characte

Described as a tough and ruthless man, he was also remembered as a slight, shy figure.

He was a rich kid from a family synonymous with power who transformed himself into an almost evangelical figurehead for the dispossessed and poor.

Against a background of race riots, the assassination of Martin Luther King and student protests, Kennedy's calls for social and racial justice appeared to offer a youthful, radical alternative.

And when he was murdered, in a Los Angeles hotel in June 1968, in touching distance of becoming the Democrats' candidate for president, it sparked a huge public outpouring of grief - not only for the man, but for the sense of lost idealism.

Spine-chilling speeches

So what was Bobby really like? And what made him different?

In the 1960s, Dolores Huerta was a young political activist whose work in setting up a union for farm workers was supported by Robert Kennedy.

"Nowadays, too many politicians pander to what people want to hear - they're afraid to get into controversial areas, they follow the polls rather than their principles," she says, speaking from her union office in California.

But when Robert Kennedy spoke, she says, it sent "chills up and down my spine" - not because of his oratory, but because of his willingness to say what he believed, almost recklessly disregarding the political consequences.

There was nothing glamorous or opportunistic about helping such farm workers, she says, but he stuck with them, organising healthcare and providing lawyers.

"He was very direct, very sincere. He wanted to know what we needed - and you knew he would deliver. When you know people are going to stand up with you, you put your trust in them," she says.

After his assassination, Ms Huerta travelled on the funeral train carrying Kennedy's body - and she describes the mood of political optimism that was lost.

"We'd had the civil rights movement - and it showed that real changes could be made, people really had no doubt about what was possible. People would quit school, quit their jobs to get into activism."

Rock n' roll politics

Kennedy's campaign in 1968 had electrified the political scene, not least because of the rock-star treatment he received at meetings - and the intensity of his supporters, described by a veteran reporter as the "most emotional adulation I've ever seen in politics".

This sense of urgency reflected Kennedy's mood, says Professor Edelman, who is now in the law department at Georgetown University.

"He was quite aware that he could be killed at any time - and so he lived for the day, lived in the moment. You had to do everything today, because you didn't know if you were going to be here tomorrow. And for him this was entirely serious."

Kennedy wanted to find out face-to-face about life at the sharp end - and he went with Peter Edelman to visit black share-croppers in Mississippi and poor whites in the Appalachians.

"He learned by touching and seeing and talking. We'd go into people's houses and he'd get talking, asking how it was going, what are the problems. And people realised he wasn't making small talk - he really cared deeply. It was quite clear he was serious about these things," says Mr Edelman.

Of course, cold political astuteness can't been discounted - as a Democrat, the poor vote could help elevate Kennedy to the White House.

Outsider's sympathy

But what lay behind Robert Kennedy's commitment?

Mr Edelman, who later became assistant secretary in the health department in the Clinton administration (resigning over welfare cuts), points to a personal rather than a political answer.

"He was the seventh child, smaller of stature, competing for his father's attention - he was always someone who had a particular sympathy for people who were on the outside.

"He always identified with people from very different backgrounds from his own, and these qualities became much more visible after his brother's death."

While his elder brother John had charmed his way through the corridors of power - not to mention the bedrooms - Robert Kennedy had a very different temperament.

"He was a very reserved person, he could be very pensive, capable of being silent for long periods of time, he had a sense of humour, mostly self-deprecating," says Mr Edelman.

"He was quite different in his private behaviour from his brother," he says.

Robert Kennedy's biographer, Evan Thomas, also emphasises the differences between the two brothers. And he concludes that despite the rumours, there was no affair between Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

But Mr Thomas also shows that Kennedy wasn't any full-time knight in shining armour. Robert Kennedy was a tough, gritty fixer - when attorney general he'd been involved in covert operations against Cuba and had had Martin Luther King's phone tapped. And the word most often associated with his political operations was "ruthless".

Lost legacy?

In terms of a legacy, Jeffrey Buchanan, spokesperson for the Robert F Kennedy Memorial human rights foundation, points to the "gospel of political hope" that Kennedy delivered - inspiring people to believe that political action could make a difference.

And in terms of what was lost - "You can't know what would have been, but we lost an exceptional leader - he would have become president and quickly ended the war in Vietnam, he would have worked extremely hard in the areas of racial justice and poverty," says Mr Edelman.

But it's difficult to predict how such a youthful politician as Robert Kennedy's views would have developed. He was only 36 years old when he was centre stage with John Kennedy during the Cuba missile crisis.

By the time he was killed he was just 42, frozen in time as the eternal younger brother, the tragic contender rather than the champion.

Peter Edelman.    

Former RFK advisor Peter Edelman on how poverty has changed in America  

Dolores Huerta  

Dolores Huerta | 2018 Pitzer College Commencement Keynote | May 12, 2018  

Evan Thomas  

Evan Thomas: Author, "First: Sandra Day O’Connor"  

Jeffrey Buchanan,  

Sean Coughlan  

Emilio Estevez  

Emilio Estevez (/ɛˈmɪlioʊ ɛˈstɛvəs/; born May 12, 1962) is an American actor, director, and writer. He is the brother of actor Charlie Sheen. Estevez started his career as an actor and is well known for being a member of the acting Brat Pack of the 1980s, starring in The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo's Fire, and acting in the 1983 hit movie The Outsiders. He is also known for Repo Man, The Mighty Ducks and its sequels, Stakeout and Another Stakeout, Maximum Overdrive, Bobby (which he also wrote and directed), and his performances in Western films such as Young Guns and its sequel.

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