Tag Archives: RFK

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.

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

Ivanka takes offense? Get over it, young lady

Ivanka Trump is walking the finest of lines.

She is the elder daughter of the president of the United States. She also is an unpaid senior adviser to the Leader of the Free World.

So, when she gets asked by a broadcast journalist about the allegations of sexual abuse leveled against her father/the president, she reveals why it’s important that the president be mindful of the problems nepotism poses in hiring senior advisers.

Ivanka cannot serve in her “official” capacity without facing difficult questions surrounding her “boss,” who also happens to be her father.

She called the question posed by NBC News’s Peter Alexander “inappropriate.” Wait a minute, young lady. He was asking the question of a senior policy adviser, not of a presidential daughter.

This is why nepotism is a bad thing when it involves people at the highest levels of government.

Many decades ago, the federal government implemented an anti-nepotism policy in response to questions surrounding the appointment in 1960 of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy by his brother, President John F. Kennedy. After JFK’s murder in November 1963 and after RFK was elected to the U.S. Senate the following year, the government enacted a policy that prohibited hiring by presidents of “linear” relatives to paid positions.

It didn’t cover the role that Ivanka Trump fulfills in her father’s administration.

There needs to be some tightening of these rules. If it’s not going to happen, then the president needs to send his daughter packing.

Grandpa would have been proud

I watched Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Then I listened to some of the analysis of it. A few minutes later, I listened with equal intensity to the Democratic Party’s designated respondent to the president’s speech. A young member of Congress, Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., offered the response.

I listened to Rep. Kennedy with more than just a touch of wistfulness. The young man is the grandson of my first political idol. You’ve heard of him, too: Robert F. Kennedy.

I wrote once about an astonishing Bobby Kennedy Moment that occurred in my life. Here is what I wrote in June 2015:

A bullet changed history 47 years ago today

I have shared with you over the years I’ve written this blog about the astonishing array of public figures whose paths crossed with mine.

My brief encounter with Robert Kennedy ranks at the very top of the long list of distinguished individuals I’ve had the honor of meeting.

Get this, though: My meeting with RFK occurred one year after my graduation from high school. It happened on the eve of a 1968 presidential primary election in my home state of Oregon.

I had no possible idea in that moment that my political idol would die one week later after he scored the biggest political victory of his life. RFK had won the California Democratic primary. He thanked his supporters and then said, “On to Chicago and let’s win there.”

He never got to his party’s nominating convention in Chicago. He walked through a kitchen pantry in Los Angeles and was gunned down by Sirhan B. Sirhan.

When I saw the young man deliver his party’s response to the president’s speech last night, I only could imagine how proud he would have made the grandfather he never knew.

At least Joe Kennedy knows of the impact his grandpa had on millions of Americans — such as yours truly — who came of political age in the most turbulent of times.

Can it be? Mitt is getting back in the game?

I do hope this story pans out.

Sources have revealed that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s longest-tenured Republican, is calling it quits and that his good friend Mitt Romney is going to run for his seat in Utah.

Why is my heart palpitating? Well, Mitt is no friend of Donald John Trump Sr. Neither, it might be noted, is Sen. Hatch. However, Hatch is facing a near-certain GOP primary challenge. He’s decided — allegedly — that he’s had enough of the fun and games in Washington. He’s now 83 years of age. He must lack the staying power and/or the stomach for another political fight.

But how about that Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who’s made three stabs at higher office? He lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, then came up short in two tries for the presidency, losing the 2012 general election to President Obama.

He might have made an even bigger impact on the current political environment, though, with that stunning speech he delivered in 2016 that tore the GOP presidential nominee, Trump, a new one. He called Trump a “fraud,” a “phony” and a whole lot of other pejorative terms.

Then after Trump got elected Romney supposedly was on the president-elect’s short list for secretary of state. He interviewed with Trump in private, came out in front of the cameras, smiled and said all the right things.

But … my gut tells me Mitt isn’t in Trump’s camp.

I’m not at all sure about Mitt’s residency. Does he still live in Massachusetts? Does he maintain a residence in Utah? I guess it doesn’t matter too terribly, given that these residency laws at times can be quite lax and open to broad interpretation. Do you remember the time the late Robert F. Kennedy (in 1964) and then Hillary Rodham Clinton (in 2000) ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, even though neither of them actually lived there at the time they ran for the office?

Whatever. I am glad to see Mitt Romney possibly getting back into the public service game. I just hope he can muster up the guts to keep “telling it like it is” as it regards the president of the United States.