Tag Archives: Robert F. Kennedy

MLK Jr. dies; RFK gives speech for the ages

Forty-seven years ago a single rifle shot killed one of the 20th century’s greatest Americans, Martin Luther King Jr.

James Earl Ray would be captured, tried and convicted of murdering Dr. King. He would die in prison.

Not long after the rifle shot ended the life of the Nobel laureate and champion of non-violent civil disobedience, a politician stepped to the microphone in Indianapolis. Robert F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency on April 4, 1968 and he decided to tell the mostly African-American crowd some tragic news.

He told them that Dr. King had been murdered and then he delivered one of the greatest extemporaneous speeches in modern political history.

RFK sought to quell the rage that rose from the shock of the news. He succeeded that night. While other cities across the country erupted in violence, Indianapolis remained calm.

I remember the events of that day very well. I was a teenager struggling to find my own way. I’d discovered a path later that summer when I was inducted into the U.S. Army.

Dr. King could stir enormous passion in people. He sought justice for African-Americans but insisted on taking a peaceful path. That he would die a violent death remains to this day one of the great tragic ironies of the 20th century.

Robert Kennedy’s courage that night in Indianapolis would be almost unheard of today. He urged the crowd to reach out and to seek the goodness among each other.

That was a turbulent time. RFK’s brother — the president of the United States — was struck down by an assassin less than five years earlier.

Indeed, Robert Kennedy’s own life would end violently two months and one day after Dr. King’s assassination.

In that brief moment, standing in the night, Robert Kennedy sought to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by seeking to tap the better angels of a society torn by violence.


Holder builds solid legacy at Justice

Eric Holder might have been the poster child for partisanship.

He’ll stay on the job as U.S. attorney general until the Senate confirms his successor, but the time has come to say something about his time at the Justice Department and to wonder what lies ahead for what is certain to be a stormy confirmation process.


I’ll just say it up front: Holder has been a great attorney general.

That doesn’t mean his time at Justice has been free of mistakes. He’s made some.

Chief among the blunders is likely the Fast and Furious gun-tracking program that strangely put firearms in the hands of dangerous drug-runners, who then used the weapons to bring considerable misery to federal law enforcement authorities.

Congressional Republicans, of course, jumped all over the Fast and Furious program as a monumental failure. It was meant to allow gun merchants to sell firearms to drug dealers with the hope of tracking their movement. It didn’t work.

Congress sought to get him to testify about Fast and Furious and he just enraged the GOP more by refusing to cooperate fully.

So, that project has failed.

Another mistake was Holder’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act when it stood as federal law. Whether one agrees with the law that essentially prohibited same-sex marriage or not, the AG took an oath to defend the laws of the land, no matter what. He failed in that regard. DOMA, though, later was thrown out by the Supreme Court, which made the refusal to defend it more or less a moot point.

However, Holder has served as a civil rights champion. He has elevated the discussion of equal protection for all Americans to a level not heard since the days of the late Robert F. Kennedy, when he was AG from 1961 to 1964.

As the nation’s first African-American attorney general, Holder has standing on this issue that none of his predecessors enjoyed. Holder recommitted the federal government to civil rights when he went to Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer.

Politico reports: “Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont praised Holder for ‘restor[ing] the Civil Rights Division to its historical mission’ and declared that ‘his dedication to defending Americans’ voting rights, at a time when these constitutional rights are under attack, has been supremely important.’”

Holder is seen by his foes as a polarizing figure. Perhaps he is, but that’s more a function of the divisions in American society he revealed by his commitment to creating a more just society for all Americans.

So, what lies ahead? As with virtually everything involving the Obama administration, I’m guessing we’re going to see a brisk challenge to whomever the president nominates to succeed Holder.

I’m hoping the next attorney general will get the thorough vetting he or she deserves, but that the Senate will act quickly to get that individual on the job.

Obama lacks a Bobby Kennedy

Texas Monthly blogger/editor Paul Burka is a smart guy whose blog I read regularly.

He says in the post linked here that Barack Obama is “on the verge” of becoming a failed president.


He talks about the still-new president developing a cult of personality, which has contributed, according to Burka, the failure of the Affordable Care Act rollout and the accompanying headaches.

I agree to a point. I’m not sure Obama is yet at the brink of a failed presidency.

What I think he lacks is someone in his inner circle who’ll tell him the truth. My favorite example of that kind of individual is worth noting this week in particular as the nation marks the 50th year since the shocking murder of President John F. Kennedy.

JFK had a truth-teller in his inner circle. His name was Robert Francis Kennedy, the president’s brother, the nation’s attorney general and someone who grew enormously into a powerful political presence in his own right — until his own death at the hand of an assassin in June 1968.

Bobby Kennedy could tell the president the truth. He could tell his brother when he messed up. He could give him unvarnished counsel, speak to him in blunt terms and help steer him toward a more prudent course.

Bobby had managed his brother’s winning 1960 presidential campaign. He could play rough and tough. RFK had his enemies, chief among them were Vice President Lyndon Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. LBJ hated RFK and the feeling was quite mutual. Hoover made a parlor game out of digging up dirt on powerful politicians and the Kennedys were not exempted from his prying eyes and ears.

Barack Obama has professed great admiration for the 35th president. He’ll do so again this week in ceremonies marking the half-century since his predecessor’s death in Dallas. One of the things that made Kennedy an effective president was his ability to listen to the harsh truth when he needed to hear it.

Robert Kennedy gave it to him. Barack Obama needs someone like that now.

Oops not a big deal, for now

Gov. Rick Perry had another one of those “oops” moments this week.

He said he was glad to be in Florida, when in fact he was speaking in New Orleans, the city in, um, Louisiana.

He’s been drawing some of the expected barbs. The lame-duck Republican Texas governor deserves most of the jabs that get tossed his way. This one counts.


The problem here is that Perry’s campaign for the presidency – if he’s planning another one in 2016 – hasn’t yet gotten off the ground. He hasn’t yet officially declared his candidacy. This was a one-stop appearance. It would be different if he were in the midst of a whirlwind campaign, stumping from state to state.

I can recall the 1968 Democratic presidential primary campaign. U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy launched his campaign in March of that year and began a frenetic 80-day run for the party nomination. He covered a lot of territory in a very short period of time.

An assassin ended that effort, tragically, on June 6.

But I recall one campaign appearance in which he mistakenly said he was in Nevada when he actually was speaking in Nebraska … or maybe it was the other way around. Whatever, he got his states mixed up. The crowd corrected him on the spot and he laughed it off with typical RFK good humor.

Rick Perry will need to keep his compass dialed in if he’s going to seek the big prize in three years. This first little hiccup doesn’t bode for well for what might lie ahead.