Tag Archives: California primary

Happy 93rd birthday, RFK

Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 93 today.

The late U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York died 50 years ago at the hands of an assassin who shot him in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen after Bobby Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Party presidential primary.

He was 42 years of age when he died.

I have grieved ever since over that loss.

RFK was my first political hero, although I don’t like using the h-word when talking about politicians. They aren’t heroic figures any more than athletes are heroes.

I did admire him greatly.

But to think on this day that a young, ambitious politician died at an age that is younger than the younger of my two sons fills me with an odd sense of my own mortality.

We need a politician like RFK among us today. We are a nation divided by race, by social status, by partisan politics. Bobby Kennedy sought to elevate us above the divisions that ravaged the nation when he sought the presidency in 1968, that most turbulent of years.

It was Bobby who climbed aboard that flatbed truck in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 and informed the crowd of mostly black supporters that “Martin Luther King was shot and killed.” The crowd gasped in horror. RFK then went on to call for “love” and “compassion for one another.”

As other major U.S. cities erupted in violence that night, Indianapolis remained calm.

I don’t know whether Robert Francis Kennedy would have attained the highest office in America had death not taken him that night. My heart tells me there was a path to the Democratic nomination and to election. But ÔÇŽ that must remain for others’ speculation.

The nation lost a champion for humanity five decades ago.

Today, though, I want to salute the fellow who entered this world 93 years ago today and embarked on a too-brief journey in a quest to heal the wounds that harmed us.

Happy birthday, Bobby. Many millions of us still miss you.

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.

Hillary might not win the nomination … really?


Is it entirely possible that Hillary Rodham Clinton — the one-time candidate of destiny for the Democratic Party — could lose here party’s presidential nomination after all?

Douglas Schoen — a former pollster for President Bill Clinton — thinks it’s possible.

His thesis is simple.

If U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders wins the California primary next Tuesday, the Democratic brass is going to come down with a case of terminal heebie-jeebies at the prospect of nominating a badly damaged candidate for the presidency.

Where would they turn? Who would redeem the party’s political fortunes?

That would be the vice president of the United States of America, Joseph Biden.

The vice president has said repeatedly two seemingly contradictory things about his decision to opt out of running for the presidency.

One is that he believes he made the right call. Two is that he regrets making that decision.

You might ask: Huh?

If you are, I get it. I’ve asked the same thing.


Honestly, I don’t know what will happen after Tuesday. Everyone’s expectation is that Clinton will secure enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot when Democrats gather this summer in Philadelphia. In addition to California, voters in the Dakotas and New Jersey are going to the polls.

Clinton cancelled campaign events in Jersey to concentrate on California.

What does all this mean for Biden?

“Mr. Biden would be cast as the white knight rescuing the party, and the nation, from a possible (Donald J.) Trump presidency,” the Democratic pollster said in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal.

I’ve stated already my admiration for the vice president. I wish he would have run. I understand why he stayed out. His son, Beau, had just died. The man is still mourning his son’s death.

In every other political year, though, it would appear that Biden’s decision to stay out of the race would be cast in stone.

As we’ve seen at almost every step along the way in this election season, this ain’t like anything we’ve ever seen.


A bullet changed history 47 years ago today

RFK's last speech

Forty-seven years ago today, I had gone to bed. It was late on a Tuesday night.

I had just watched the news about the California Democratic Party presidential primary. Sen. Robert Kennedy had just been declared the winner. I turned in and was happy about the outcome.

Right after midnight, my mother knocked on my door. “You need to come down and see this,” she said. “Something terrible has just happened.”

I dragged myself out of the sack and went downstairs and saw for myself. Someone had shot Bobby Kennedy.

The shock was palpable. No. This isn’t happening. Oh, but it did.

I was about two months away from being inducted into the Army, although I didn’t yet know it that evening. My own life was about to change dramatically.

On that┬ánight, the nation’s life changed as well.

RFK died the next day at the age of 42. Would he have been nominated by his party? Would he have been elected president? The debate has raged for 47 years ever since that terrible event in Los Angeles, but I believe the answer is “yes” to both questions.

Maybe it’s my heart overriding my head in believing RFK would have become president. Still, I can make an analytical argument that even though then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey was ahead in convention delegates at the time of the assassination, that RFK could have peeled enough of them away by selling his own candidacy as the only one capable of defeating the┬áRepublican nominee, Richard M. Nixon.

I had a fair amount of political interest back then, even though I was just a year out of high school. It was heightened beyond its already high level the week before the shooting.

The previous week the Oregon primary took place. My home state had delivered the Kennedy its first-ever political defeat when Democrats chose Sen. Eugene McCarthy over RFK.

I was working at my job at McDonald’s the night of the Oregon primary. A motorcade pulled into the lot next door in front of a fashionable Chinese restaurant. I shot a look at the figure climbing out of an open convertible. The profile that was back-lit by a lamp┬ábelonged to┬áRobert Kennedy. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and ran across the lot and walked right up to the senator and┬á his wife, Ethel; this was before Secret Service agents surrounded presidential candidates and, indeed, it was Kennedy’s death that prompted President Johnson to issue an executive order assigning such protection to future candidates.

I told Sen. Kennedy how much I wanted him to win the presidency and that I wanted to wish him well as his campaign proceeded.

RFK signed his name to the piece of paper and then he asked me one question: “Are you old enough to vote?” I said no. With that, he turned and walked away. He didn’t say another word.

I’ll be candid. I thought at the time it was a serious insult to a young man. Perhaps if I’d anticipated the question, I would have said “yes,” even though the voting age was still 21 and I was a couple of years younger than that. Hey, what would have done, asked for ID?

I didn’t have enough snap at that moment.

Now that I’m a whole lot older, I understand better that a politician in the middle of a fight — who needs every vote he can get at the last minute — doesn’t┬áhave time to waste on someone who couldn’t help him.

Well, it all ended the next week.

Mom was right. Something “terrible” did happen that night.

And I still miss Bobby Kennedy.