Three views of a man who was killed just when he was coming into his own.
Dogged by Fate
Long ago, the American Presidency became a dangerous office. No one attacked the persons of our first fifteen Presidents, but from Lincoln on four have died by the assassin’s bullet and three others — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — have been shot at. In the past few years, killings at a lower political level have been numerous; witness the martyrs of the civil rights cause, with Martin Luther King, Jr., the latest victim and the greatest loss from the standpoint of a nonviolent solution to the race problem. And now, Robert F. Kennedy, the most senseless killing of them all. It is tragic for the victim; tragic for the Kennedy family, so blessed with ability and wealth, so dogged by fate; tragic for a country which must seem to the world as le-thal for all who aspire to give it leadership as is the Congo or Haiti. Two hours after Senator Kennedy was shot, the British Broadcasting Corporation offered its listeners a prayer: “We pray for the American people that they may come to their senses.”
In essence, the single point in RFK’s campaign — as in, that of Eugene McCarthy — was that America must come to its senses. And in that lies a tragedy that goes deeper than the bullet. It involves the whole situation of the Kennedy clan, of which only one son of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy now survives. Robert always lived under the shadow of his brother, and much of the acclaim which greeted him wherever he went, and a large part of the votes which would have been cast for him, were an inheritance from the late President. Robert never stood entirely on his own feet, never entirely freed his own abundant talent from the memory of what John F. Kennedy accomplished and might have accomplished had he been spared. And now, in grim turn, we shall never know what Robert might have accomplished.
This was not merely Robert’s personal problem; it concerned his relations to the Democratic Party and to the country as a whole. JFK was, after all, responsible for Johnson, whom he chose for purely political reasons and without whom he would probably have lost in 1960. Thus the policy against which Robert rebelled — and, however long he delayed, he did rebel — was one which he and his brother had put in motion. Rusk, McNamara, Taylor, Lodge and other outstanding hawks, active or acquiescent, were initially Kennedy appointees. It was Kennedy who, in one way or another, gave Johnson the opportunity to involve the United States in a great war on the mainland of Asia and thus by necessity to ignore all the problems, domestic and foreign, that today beset the most powerful of nations. And it was this whole mindless, cruel drift that Robert Kennedy was determined to stop. He was moved by impulses of the most responsible patriotism, but he was also moved by family: the Kennedys are proud. He would secure his brother’s good name by defying, and if possible defeating, the evil consequences that bad flowed from his brother’s brutally interrupted administration. And now a bullet has put a stop to that.