Tag Archives: RFK

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

If LBJ could attend RFK’s funeral …

What makes the Donald Trump exclusion from John McCain’s funeral so very bizarre is that their hatred for each other barely rivals the open hostility felt between two other political giants that didn’t interfere one of them from paying tribute to the other.

President Lyndon Johnson hated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The feeling was quite mutual. Yet when RFK was gunned down in Los Angeles in June 1968, LBJ found time to deliver a televised statement saluting Sen. Kennedy’s service to the country.

Then he took the time to attend RFK’s funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Sen. McCain made it clear he didn’t want the president to attend his funeral. It would be in the president’s best interests to heed the late, great American war hero’s desire.

The LBJ-RFK rift, though, and the fact that the president paid his respects to the late senator makes this latest statement of mistrust and disrespect so darn strange.

Wyoming: stranger political climate than Texas?

CASPER, Wyo. — I love this state. It’s spacious, gorgeous and virtually uninhabited.

It’s the 10th-largest state in the union in terms of area; but it ranks No. 50 in terms of population, with about 580,000 residents scattered across 97,000 square miles.

It also has a single U.S. House of Representatives member representing it, along with two U.S. senators, Republicans John Barrasso and Mike Enzi.

And what about that member of Congress? She is Liz Cheney, who happens to be the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Here’s where the strangeness of Wyoming politics comes into play. Our friend Tom — a longtime journalist of some standing here — was showing us around Casper and he told me that Wyoming isn’t too keen on carpetbaggers, the politician who barely knows a region he or she wants to represent in government.

Why, then, did Wyoming elect Liz Cheney, who grew up in Washington, D.C., while her dad was serving in the Defense Department, Congress and as President Ford’s chief of staff before being elected VP in 2000?

Tom’s answer: “Because she has an ‘R’ next to her name and her dad happens to be the former vice president of the United States.”

I don’t have a particular problem with carpetbaggers. Indeed, my first political hero — the late Robert F. Kennedy — carried that title when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton when she ran for RFK’s old seat in 2000 after serving eight years as first lady of the United States. Indeed, Mitt Romney — the former Massachusetts governor — is facing down the carpetbagger demon as he runs for the Senate in Utah.

I do find it cool, too, that a U.S. House member can represent the same constituency as two U.S. senators. Indeed, senators tend at times to lord it over House members that they represent entire states while their House colleagues have to settle for representing a measly House district.

Not so in Wyoming, where equality between the “upper” and “lower” congressional chambers is alive and well.

Why stay mum on shooters’ names?

I declared my intention recently to no longer identify mass shooters by name when referring to these tragic events in this blog.

A reader of High Plains Blogger than wondered: Why refer to people such as Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald by name?

Fair question. I’ll take a stab at answering it.

First of all, these men all killed notable public figures and officials. Sirhan murdered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Ray gunned down the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Of the three of these shooters, only Sirhan is alive; he is serving a life term in a California prison.

Their names were thrust into the public domain the way, say, John Wilkes Booth’s name has been in that domain since he murdered President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

All these men changed the course of history. Thus, I have felt justified in referencing them by name whenever I felt like commenting on the incidents to which they all are linked forever.

These latest string of murderers don’t ascend to that level. They have sought publicity. Thus, I have taken a vow to keep their names off this blog for as long as I am writing it.

I even have acted retroactively, back to 1966, when the madman opened fire from atop the University of Texas Tower. I used to refer to him by name; no longer. He now joins the lengthy — and tragically growing — list of lunatics who have sought to make names for themselves through hideous acts of violence.

One more point: Even the loons who die, either by their own hand or by law enforcement, in the commission of their heinous deeds will not be ID’d in this blog with their name.

That’s my story. I am sticking to it.

Let’s end the argument: RFK’s killer is behind bars

My heart is still broken over the murder of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago today.

Accordingly, I continue to hold members of his family in my heart as they continue to grieve over his death while running for the presidency of the United States.

But … I want to end this discussion that Sirhan Sirhan did not act alone in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen that night. I want to end the myth that there was another shooter in the room.

As you might already know from the blog, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I have dismissed the notion that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald murdered Bobby Kennedy’s brother, the president, in Dallas on the bright, sunny November day in 1963.

None other than Robert Kennedy Jr., the third-eldest of Bobby and Ethel’s 11 children, believes Sirhan did not kill his father. I do not intend here to disrespect RFK Jr.’s belief in a second gunman, or that someone else fired those shots.

I wasn’t there when Bobby was mortally wounded; however, neither was his son.

I do know that Sirhan yelled, “Kennedy, you son of a bi***!” before firing a revolver into the back of the senator’s head. Sirhan, an immigrant from Jordan, hated Kennedy’s strong pro-Israel stance as attorney general and then as a U.S. senator. I also know that members of Kennedy’s entourage grappled immediately with Sirhan after he fired the shots. They wrenched the pistol from his hand; the bullets were spent.

Sirhan was effectively caught in the act of changing the course of U.S. political history.

He fired the shots that killed Robert Kennedy. He was sentenced initially to death; but then the Supreme Court struck down capital punishment, meaning that Sirhan would serve a life sentence in a California prison.

He did the crime. He will die behind bars. I continue to mourn the victim of his heinous act of violence.

Please, let us stop promulgating the myth that Sirhan didn’t do it.

Heart and Head battle over whether RFK would have won

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.

Damn!

What might have been had tragedy not struck

A gunman changed the course of American political history. Dammit, anyhow!

We are left 50 years since that terrible day to wonder what might have occurred had the shooter missed, or had a presidential candidate taken another route from a hotel ballroom to his next stop.

Robert F. Kennedy had just won the California Democratic presidential primary on June 4, 1968. A few minutes after midnight, he spoke to a crowded Los Angeles hotel ballroom. He said, “On to Chicago and let’s win there.”

He didn’t make it to Chicago. Sirhan B. Sirhan shot Sen. Kennedy, inflicting a mortal wound not just on one man, but on the hearts of millions of Americans who had hope that this individual could change the direction of a nation at war with itself over the conduct of a conflict in a place called Vietnam.

RFK spoke uniquely to a nation that had just endured the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and watched as its young warriors were dying daily on battlefields in Vietnam with no clear strategy to bring that war to an end.

I have my own Bobby Kennedy story. I’ve told it before. I want to restate it here, but with a twist.

A week before he died, RFK was campaigning in my home state of Oregon. He would lose the Oregon primary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy. On the last night of that campaign, Sen. Kennedy showed up at a tony Chinese restaurant next door to where I was working.

I saw his profile back-lit by a parking lot light, grabbed a pen and a piece of adding-machine paper and ran across to where he stood with his wife, Ethel. I walked up to Sen. Kennedy, thrust the paper and pen toward him. He signed it “RF Kennedy,” and handed the piece of paper back.

Then he asked, “Are you old enough to vote?” Stupid me. I didn’t have the presence of mind to lie at that moment. I wasn’t old enough to vote; the voting age was 21 in 1968. I should have said “yes.” I should have equivocated somehow, perhaps by telling him I would be old enough to vote in 1972.

I didn’t. I said, “No, I am not. I just want to wish you well, senator.”

Bobby’s response? He turned around and walked into the restaurant. He didn’t say another word to me. It was as if I no longer mattered to him.

Well …

Did that single act make me admire him less? Did I lose hope that he could change the nation’s political course? No on both counts.

One week later, he was gone.

A little more than two months after that, I reported for duty in the U.S. Army. My journey would take me to Vietnam, where I got a brief up-close look at the war that had torn the nation apart and given Robert Francis Kennedy a reason to seek the presidency.

This will be a difficult week for me as TV networks will broadcast remembrances of what might have occurred had fate not intervened.

I am likely to weep without shame.

McCain wants Trump to stay away, but wait …

Sen. John McCain reportedly has made his feelings known about Donald J. Trump: He doesn’t want the president of the United States to attend his funeral, according to what the media are reporting.

That is Sen. McCain’s call. I won’t challenge it, nor should anyone else.

But let me put out just another perspective on this kind of antipathy and whether it should follow someone to the grave.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was running for president when a gunman shot him to death on June 5, 1968. He sought to succeed President Lyndon Johnson, a man he detested with virtually every fiber of his being. What’s more, the feeling was so very mutual, as LBJ loathed RFK with equal fervor.

Sen. Kennedy was just 42 years of age when he died and likely didn’t give much thought to who should attend his funeral, let alone express it to anyone close to him.

RFK’s requiem took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Among the attendees were President Johnson, along with first lady Lady Bird Johnson.

It was generally known in 1968 that Sen. Kennedy and President Johnson detested each other. I don’t recall in the moment much public discussion about whether the president should attend the funeral of his bitter political foe.

So, he did.

It begs the question, though, for the present day: Given Sen. McCain’s reported desire that Donald Trump stay away from his funeral, should the president honor the senator’s request when that sad day arrives?

The nature of today’s media climate suggests to me the president would be smart to stay away. Memories are long and my hunch is that Trump’s presence at a ceremony that would pay tribute to a war hero whose service he once denigrated would dilute the honor that Sen. McCain will so richly deserve.

Time for another bumper sticker?

It’s been 50 years since I plastered a political sticker on the bumper of my car.

I owned a 1961 Plymouth Valiant in 1968. I adorned it with a “Kennedy” sticker to express my support for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s run for the presidency. I wasn’t even old enough to vote. It all ended tragically, as you no doubt know.

I’m giving thought to doing so again in 2018. I support Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

However, I’m a bit queasy about it, given the intense division that exist in this country. Yeah, yeah. I know that 1968 produced an even deeper schism, given the intense feelings about the Vietnam War.

This, though, seems different. It’s even more intense. It’s as visceral as it was back then.

Not only that, I happen to reside in a deeply Republican state full of folks who are unafraid to challenge those of the “other” party. The same holds true for Democrats in their feelings against Republicans. Not only that, we are headquartered in the most Republican-friendly region of this GOP state.

Dare I plaster my political preference on a car and expose it to angry response? Hmm. I’ll have to give that just a bit of thought before I take the partisan plunge once again.

Is this the year to give campaign cash?

I have had an active interest in politics for 50 years.

It probably began the moment I shook U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s hand late one night in the parking lot of a trendy Chinese restaurant just before the 1968 Oregon Democratic Party presidential election.

I wasn’t old enough to vote that year. My first vote came four years later when I cast my first presidential ballot for Sen. George McGovern.

In those five decades, though, I’ve never given money to a political candidate. Not for president. Or U.S. Senate. Or House of Reps. Or governor. Or any other state or local office.

My career path precluded that level of political activity. As a journalist in Oregon and then in Texas, I simply could not in good conscience support a candidate with money.

I never took the oath of political abstinence that many in my craft have pursued. I always voted. Many other reporters and editors have vowed never to cast a vote for a candidate in an effort to maintain some level of objectivity when covering these politicians … or commenting on them.

I’ve long understood that voting is a private matter. We cast our ballots in secret. We are not obligated to divulge for whom we’ve voted.

I departed full-time journalism in August 2012, which means I got to vote in another presidential election that year. I did so again in 2016. In between, I voted in the 2014 midterm election and have voted already in the 2018 primary; I intend fully to cast a ballot this year in the fall election.

I am facing a bit of a quandary. There are some political candidates I like — a lot! Whether I prefer them over their opponents enough to give them money remains an open question.

One disclosure I need to make: One 2018 candidate for public office, the U.S. House, is a close personal friend, a man for whom I have the highest regard. If anyone is going to get some of my dough, he is likely to be the one.

About the closest I’ve come to donating to politicians is at tax-filing time; I routinely dedicate a portion of my tax returns to public campaign financing, which I support in the strongest terms possible.

My interest in politics only has grown over the past 50 years. Even though I haven’t yet emptied my wallet. This might be the year.