For 50 years my heart has been waging a battle with my head.
I have listened more intently to what my heart has said regarding a mercurial presidential campaign that came to a sudden, shocking and tragic end in June 1968.
Robert Kennedy was running for president of the United States. He campaigned for 85 days. That’s all. He entered the campaign late, energized millions of Americans yearning for peace in Vietnam and equal rights for all our citizens.
He stumbled along the way, losing the Oregon Democratic primary on May 28, 1968. Then he regained his momentum by winning the California primary the next week.
Then it ended. Sen. Kennedy died in a spasm of violence.
The question has nagged at me and many millions of others: What if he had lived? Could he have secured his party nomination and then won the election that fall?
My heart tells me “yes.” It was entirely possible. My head keeps trying to persuade my heart to stop beating so hard. Bobby Kennedy was going to battle Eugene McCarthy head to head in those primaries, my head keeps reminding me, while Vice President Hubert Humphrey was collecting more delegates in places where RFK and Clean Gene weren’t looking.
My heart, though, keeps reminding my head that Kennedy was an extraordinary politician. He was magical. Someone once wrote of Bobby that when he walked into a room, he was the only one in vivid color; the rest of the room turned to black-and-white.
Sen. Kennedy had plenty of experience managing presidential campaigns. He was the mastermind behind his brother’s victory in 1960. Could he have called the shots that produced a similar outcome for himself in 1968? Sure he could.
Of course, awaiting a Bobby Kennedy nomination would be Richard Nixon, the Republicans’ candidate for president. My heart tells me, too, that the Democratic nomination would be the more difficult of the challenges awaiting an RFK campaign had it been allowed to proceed.
Well, the shooter in that Los Angeles hotel broke my heart. It has mended enough, though, to win the argument it has been having with my head over the past 50 years.
The author Mark Kurlansky writes in the Los Angeles Times: Today we ask the question: What if Robert Kennedy hadn’t been shot? Would Bobby, could Bobby have put an end to our worst instincts? With his rare combination of establishment credentials and anti-establishment thinking, he might have accomplished a lot. But on that June night in 1968, I came to understand that in this country where anyone could be shot dead at any moment, our demons were deep within us. There would be no magical leaders to save us from ourselves.