RFK: His Words For Our Times – Robert F. Kennedy, C. Richard Allen and Edwin O. Guthman

20210724_203834In 1968, the race for the next President of the United States intensified as sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) issued a public statement that he did not want, nor would he accept the nomination for his party’s candidate for the oval office.  The announcement stunned the nation and took the election in a much different direction.  The late David Halberstam (1934-2007) had been following the campaign of former Attorney General and then Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)(D-NY).  As he observed Kennedy’s evolution into a powerhouse figure, he noted that “Robert Kennedy was in many ways the most interesting figure in American politics, not only because he was a Kennedy, not only because so much of his education had taken place in the public eye—it could be traced by putting together film clips of this decade—but primarily because he was a transitional figure in a transitional year.”  Kennedy was riding a wave of popularity and had resurrected the image of Camelot that was assigned to the presidency of his older brother John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). But Bobby, as he was known, was not Jack and had seen many things that his brother did not live to experience.  His eyes had been opened to the growing gap between wealthy and poor, black, and white, and right and left. He sought to bridge those gaps and had a vision to change America. Sadly, he too was cut down by an assassin’s bullet on June 5, 1968.   His death marked the end to what Halberstam had called his unfinished odyssey. 

Each time I read about Kennedy, I find myself discovering more of his statements, speeches, and ideas.  And what is deeply intriguing is that he was the icon of liberals across America but early in his political career he undoubtedly aligned more with conservatives.  That changed with the arrival of the civil rights movement and the gritty violence that played out on the streets of America as the country moved closer to the brink of anarchy.   Kennedy was highly observant as the chief of the Justice Department and later as a senator from my home state.  Editors C. Richard Allen and Edwin O. Guthman have compiled selected speeches and comments by him and memories by those who knew him into this book that provides the platform for Kennedy to speak to us in his own words.  And if we pay close attention, we can see that there is a wealth of thought-provoking words by the fallen figure. 

John F. Kennedy is regarded as one of the most gifted orators in history.  Even today I still listen to his speeches in particular his address at American University on June 10, 1963, which is referred to historically as the “peace speech”.  His inaugural address in January 1961 is perhaps the greatest in American history.  And directive to Americans that they “ask not what your country can do for-ask what you can do for your country” are still profound over half a century later.  Though he did not possess the charm of his older sibling, Robert Kennedy was a profound speaker in his own right and the speeches he gave show his preciseness for words and the direct approach to matters which became his trademark. He minced no words and did not hesitate to act when needed.  Some referred to him as “ruthless Bobby” but statements by those who knew him and the anecdotes in this book show that he was also extremely compassionate.   Further, he was also guided by the ancient Greek author Aeschylus’ words “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world“.  Kennedy believed in America and never wavered in his goal to see society change so that all Americans regardless of race could live in peace and prosper.   The speeches he gave on the plight of black Americans and the apartheid system in South America are what needed to be said.  Frankly, he had no fear in going to places where other politicians did not dare to go.  In all fairness, Lyndon Johnson had made his own visit to Appalachia and instituted policies to help the poor through his “Great Society” platform, but Kennedy was willing to take it one step further and there is no doubt that he would have used the powers of the presidency to focus on America’s disenfranchised citizens.

I purchased the paperback but do think for anyone who wants to take notes, the Kindle version is a much better option.  Of course, the speeches included here can be found elsewhere but I found this book to be the right collection of material for anyone who wants to get an idea of where Kennedy came from and where he intended to go.   And as we move forward, we can always come back to his words here as a reference guide so that we do not continue to make the mistakes of the past.  Kennedy is long gone physically but he lives on in spirit as an integral part of the American experience.

“Freedom means not only the opportunity to know but the will to know. That will can make for understanding and tolerance, and to ultimately friendship and peace.” – Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) 

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0062834142
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0062834140

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