The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America [NOOK Book]

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The bestselling definitive account of Robert Kennedy's exhilarating and tragic 1968 campaign for President.
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The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America

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Overview

The bestselling definitive account of Robert Kennedy's exhilarating and tragic 1968 campaign for President.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Time Magazine
Clarke&#8217s day-to-day account of the period from March 1968, when Kennedy announced his run, to June 5, when he was assassinated, superbly documents R.F.K.&#8217s antiwar, antipoverty, anticomplacency platform.
Time Magazine
From the Publisher

Clarke&#8217s day-to-day account of the period from March 1968, when Kennedy announced his run, to June 5, when he was assassinated, superbly documents R.F.K.&#8217s antiwar, antipoverty, anticomplacency platform.
Time Magazine

From the Publisher

A stunning, heartbreaking book, a reminder--which we badly need these days--of just how noble public life can be. Robert Kennedy's brief, passionate 1968 presidential campaign set a standard of courage and candor and sheer gorgeous language that is unlikely ever to be equaled. This is a book worthy of the man and that moment, an honorable and unforgettable piece of work. The Last Campaign should be required reading for anyone seeking public office, and for the rest of us, too.—Joe Klein

The Last Campaign is a great read, an evocative and engaging reminder of the glory and the tragedy of Bobby Kennedy's run for the presidency in 1968. Thurston Clarke's keen eye for the telling detail and his fast-paced narrative make The Last Campaign a must-have for any student of American politics.—Tom Brokaw

The Last Campaign is a triumphant look at Robert F. Kennedy's heartfelt plunge into the poverty underbelly of America. The reader can't help but be moved at how deeply Kennedy cared about the underclass. Thurston Clarke has written a smart political book which actually inspires.—Douglas Brinkley

The Last Campaign is a magnificent account of the final months in the life of a man who changed so many of us, and the brilliantly told story of a campaign that broke our hearts.—E.J. Dionne, author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right

Tremendously moving....Clarke compellingly recreates this huge, joyous adventure....Kennedy's gradual but determined evolution into a fearless, formidable, winning candidate makes stupendous reading. The hope he inspired....still proves instructive and pertinent, especially in this election year. Generous without being slavish, beautifully capturing Kennedy's passion and dignity.—Kirkus (starred review)

...revealing as an iconic portrait of the passionate, turbulent zeitgeist of the 1960s.—Publisher's Weekly

I'll be shocked if I read a more devastatingly beautiful book than Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign... this year.... Robert F. Kennedy's moral imagination shines in this book, so brightly, so compassionately, so full of literature and light and sacrifice, that it will haunt many readers who had hoped matters of war, poverty and inequality might have been solved 40 years ago.—The Austin American-Statesman

. . .The Last Campaign, a beautifully written and emotionally powerful examination of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. . . Thurston Clarke has built The Last Campaign on an incredible amount of research, both archival and through hundreds of interviews with those who knew Kennedy best. The result is a vivid, intimate, historical portrait of a candidate who knew how to speak to an electorate amid troubled times. . . Clarke's book will break your heart but it may also relieve your cynicism, reminding all of us that candidates need not pander to succeed.—The Christian Science Monitor

. . .The Last Campaign succeeds in framing a picture within a picture of a seminal year that reverberates to this day.—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

. . .very well written and offers a ringside seat on tumultuous times.—Mike Barry

Clarke's findings help to explain the divisions that have riven this nation for a generation. Heed this book, therefore, for the ideals and resentments that dominated that election are starkly similar to the ones facing today's voters.—The Miami Herald

Mr. Clarke advances at a sprightly pace, has a keen eye for detail and captures not only the externals but the fascinating inner dynamics of the contest.... Captures [Kennedy's] transformation with skill, showing R.F.K. emerging, page by page, into a brilliant and utterly iconoclastic politician over those short months on the trail.—Ted Widmer, The New York Observer

The images from The Last Campaign, Thurston Clarke's powerful account of Robert F. Kennedy's campaign for the presidency...impel themselves on the reader, touching chords of memory and sorrow.—Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

A vivid portrait of a politician coming to a moral reckoning.—David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

A ride inside the spinning bubble of [Kennedy's] frenzied, idealistic, doomed campaign. [Clarke's] discussion of the politics of class and race—the backlash whites in Indiana, the affluent antiwar voters in Oregon—proves remarkably topical, as is the moral challenge of Kennedy's speeches on poverty.—The New Yorker

Clarke's stirring narrative takes readers back to the late 1960s, that idealistic, hopeful—then tragic—time in history.—Times-Picayune

. . . an exhilarating read. . . passionate retelling.—Gilbert Cruz, TIME

. . . Clarke comes away with a focused, unique and worthy discovery of what happened during those two and a half months.—J. Taylor Rushing, The Hill, TheHill.com

. . . a fine addition to the Kennedy canon.—Todd Leopold, CNN.com

Well-reported and well-written.—The Dallas Morning News, Steve Weinberg

. . . takes a detailed and fascinating look at the period. . . —Greg Morano, Hartford Courant

Piercing and painstakingly researched, it's political history written right.—New York Magazine

Fortunately ... the author of this book is Thurston Clarke, an excellent writer and super-diligent reporter.—Jack Lessenberry, Toledo Blade

Clarke captures the Kennedy campaign in unusually graphic terms, quoting people along motorcade routes, quoting conversations Kennedy had with his staff and leading political figures. He makes the campaign come alive again, a strange thing in light of how much things have changed. This is political storytelling at its zenith.—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News

One of the many pleasures of reading Thurston Clarke's ... The Last Campaign ... is the introduction it provides to RFK's fierce moral rhetoric.—Nick Hornby

Piercing and painstakingly researched, it's political history written right.—New York Magazine

A fast, easy, infectious read.—ExpressNightOut.com

The definitive account of Robert Kennedy's last campaign.—Larry Cox, The Tucson Citizen

Enthralling.—The Irish Times

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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940044477643
  • Publisher: David Halpern
  • Publication date: 4/17/2013
  • Sold by: Smashwords
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 200,853
  • File size: 924 KB

Meet the Author


THURSTON CLARKE has written several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Pearl Harbor Ghosts and California Fault, a New York Times notable book. His articles have been published in Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in Willsboro, New York, with his wife and three daughters.

PETE LARKIN has wide and deep voiceover and on-camera experience and has worked in virtually all media. In addition to his extensive narration and theater work, he has served as the public address announcer for the New York Mets from 1988-1993 and as a radio personality in Baltimore, Washington and New York.

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Read an Excerpt

The Last Campaign

Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America
By Clarke, Thurston

Holt Paperbacks

Copyright © 2009 Clarke, Thurston
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805090222

PROLOGUE

June 8, 1968

In 1968, America was a wounded nation. The wounds were moral ones, and the Vietnam War and three summers of inner- city riots had inflicted them on the national soul, challenging Americans’ belief that they were a uniquely noble and honorable people. Americans saw news footage from South Vietnam, such as the 1965 film of U.S. Marines setting fire to thatched huts in the village of Cam Ne with cigarette lighters and flamethrowers as women and children ran for safety, and realized they were capable of atrocities once considered the province of their enemies. They saw smoke rising over Washington, D.C., during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., soldiers with machine guns guarding the Capitol, federal troops patrolling the streets of American cities for the first time since the Civil War, and asked themselves how this could be happening in their City Upon a Hill.

Nineteen sixty- eight was an election year, and the presidential candidates all promised to win or negotiate an end to the Vietnam War and to pacify America’s cities with new social programs, draconian law enforcement, or both. But only one candidate, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, recognized themoral wounds and promised to heal them. Days after announcing his candidacy on March 16, he accused President Lyndon Johnson’s administration of abandoning "the generous impulses that are the soul of this nation" and said he was running to offer "a way in which the people themselves can lead the way back to those ideals which are the source of national strength and generosity and compassion of deed."

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy told Americans that they were individually responsible for what their government had done in their name in Vietnam and for what it had failed to do at home for minorities and the poor. He said they could not acquit themselves of this responsibility simply by voting for a new president and new policies. Instead, they would have to participate in the healing process. Because Kennedy had managed his late brother’s 1960 presidential campaign and served in his cabinet as attorney general, he understood that following a crude and divisive campaign with a high-minded presidency would be difficult, and healing a morally wounded nation after running an immoral campaign would be impossible. Because he understood this, his campaign is a template for how a candidate should run for the White House in a time of moral crisis.

Since 1968, the word hope has become the oratorical equivalent of an American flag lapel pin, a de rigueur rhetorical flourish amounting to a vague promise of better days. But the hope that Robert Kennedy offered was specific: that Americans’ belief in their integrity and decency could be restored. His assassination on June 5, eighty- two days after he had announced his candidacy, represented not just the death of another Kennedy or of a promising young leader, but the death of this hope. This explains why the most dramatic display of public grief for an American citizen who had never been elected to the presidency unfolded on June 8, 1968, when a twenty- one- car funeral train, its engine draped in black bunting, carried Kennedy’s body from his funeral in New York to his burial in Washington.

Trains carrying the remains of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt traveled at a mournful pace, passing bonfires, bands, and weeping crowds, and stopping for tributes. But Kennedy’s train was scheduled to travel nonstop and at a normal rate of speed. Crowds were expected, but no one imagined that on a steamy Saturday afternoon two million people would head for the tracks, wading through marshes, hiking across meadows, and slithering under fences, filling tenement balconies, clambering onto factory roofs, standing in junkyards and cemeteries, peering down from bridges, viaducts, and bluffs, placing 100,000 coins on the tracks, waving hand- lettered goodbye bobby signs, and forging a 226- mile- long chain of grief and despair.

Political reporter Theodore White, one of the 1,146 passengers, wrote, "It was only, however, when the funeral train that was to bear him to Washington emerged from the tunnel under the Hudson that one could grasp what kind of a man he was and what he had meant to Americans." Once the train crossed into New Jersey, mourners jamming station platforms and spilling onto northbound tracks forced the engineer to reduce his speed. After a northbound express killed two people standing on the tracks in Elizabeth, the Penn Central halted all other traffic on the line and the funeral train continued to Washington at half speed. Inside the coaches, some of Kennedy’s ten children played with balloons in the dining car while their mother, her black veil pulled back over her head, walked through the coaches, greeting mourners. Passengers ate in the dining cars, drank until the bar car ran dry, or remained determinedly sober. They laughed, cried, or sat in stony silence, found this impromptu wake distressing or a fitting tribute. But they all stared out the windows and saw their grief reflected in the faces of people whom they usually flew over or sped past.

Looking out those windows were many of the people responsible for the political and cultural life of the nation during the years since John F. Kennedy’s inauguration: New York socialites and Massachusetts backroom pols, Hollywood celebrities and media heavyweights, star athletes and famous writers, architects and opponents of the Vietnam War, men who had served in John Kennedy’s administration and might have served in Bobby’s. There was Charles Evers, whom Bobby Kennedy had comforted after his brother, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was assassinated in 1963, and who was now thinking about Bobby: "Where, dear God, is the man to take his place?" There was Coretta Scott King, whom Bobby had comforted after her husband was assassinated in April of that year, and Jackie Kennedy, who had told former White House aide Arthur Schlesinger that she feared "the same thing" that had happened to her husband would happen to Bobby because "there is so much hatred in this country, and more people hate Bobby than hated Jack."

Passengers stared out the windows and saw men in undershirts, sport shirts, uniforms, and suits: crying, saluting, standing at attention, and holding their hard hats over their hearts. They saw women in madras shorts, house dresses, and Sunday dresses: weeping, kneeling, covering their faces, and holding up children as if telling them, "You look at Robert Kennedy, and that’s the way you should lead your life." They saw people who were also mourning Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, although they may not have known it, and people who were weeping because they sensed that this signified the end of something, although they were not sure what. They saw some of the same derelict factories, creaky tenements, shuttered stores, and crime-battered neighborhoods that anyone traveling this route today still sees, but might not be seeing had Robert Kennedy lived.

Even after the air- conditioning failed and the food ran out, some passengers were saying, "I hope this train ride never ends," because they knew this was the last time that Bobby Kennedy would bring them together. They wept when high school bands played "Taps" as the train slid through stations at Trenton and New Brunswick, and when mourners in the Philadelphia and Baltimore stations sang Kennedy’s favorite hymn, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; they wept when police bands played "The Star- Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful," and again when they passed diamonds where Little Leaguers stood at attention along the baselines, heads bowed and caps held over their hearts.

Because anyone who owned an American flag had flown it or brought it, they saw flags flying at half- staff in front of factories and schools, dipped by American Legion honor guards, and waved by Cub Scouts. Because anyone owning a uniform had worn it, they saw policemen in gold braid and white gloves, fire companies standing at attention next to their trucks, and veterans in Eisenhower jackets and overseas caps snapping salutes.

They saw the kind of white working- class backlash voters who had supported former Alabama governor George Wallace’s 1964 candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and would vote again for Wallace or Republican Richard Nixon in November, although until four days before many had planned to vote for Robert Kennedy. Today, these whites had not only turned out to mourn a politician who was an acknowledged champion of black Americans, and who had condemned an American war as "deeply wrong"; they had decided that the most fitting way to do this was to wear a uniform and wave a flag.

"Marvelous crowds," Arthur Schlesinger told Kenny O’Donnell, a former White House aide to John Kennedy who had been Bobby Kennedy’s Harvard classmate.

"Yes," O’Donnell replied. "But what are they good for?"

But Adalbert de Segonzac of France Soir noticed that they were the same kind of people—he called them "small white people"—who had cheered Kennedy in the working- class towns of northern Indiana. They may not have been good for anything now, he thought, but they proved something, and he opened his article about the funeral train, "Robert Kennedy won the American election today."

Richard Harwood of the Washington Post saw "trembling nuns" and "adoring children," reported that blacks cried most, and concluded, "It may not have had the grandeur of the last train ride Abraham Lincoln took through the weeping countryside a century ago. But no one could be sure of that."

Not since Lincoln had black Americans embraced a white politician as passionately and completely. They, as well as many whites, feared that Robert Kennedy’s assassination, like Lincoln’s, had eliminated the only leader who could heal and unify a wounded nation. Some of the spectators who broke into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the train passed through Baltimore and Philadelphia may have been making the Kennedy–Lincoln connection as well; those gathered at the Lincoln Memorial who flicked on lighters, held up matches, and sang "The Battle Hymn" as his cortege paused en route to Arlington certainly were. NBC commentator David Brinkley called Kennedy "the only white politician left who could talk to both races" and compared his assassination to Lincoln’s, and as images of Kennedy’s funeral train appeared on the television screen, another newsman read an account of Lincoln’s funeral train, saying, "The people are lined up along the tracks . . . particularly black people. They have built bonfires for miles, and the train is proceeding within the parallel lines of bonfires.... And so the train bearing the body of Abraham Lincoln reached Washington."

After the accident at Elizabeth, the train traveled so slowly that its passengers noticed details about the people outside their windows. They saw a long- haired girl on a horse, five nuns standing on tiptoes in a yellow pickup truck, a crowd of young black militants with Afros holding up clenched fists, white policemen cradling black children in their arms, a family with a sign reading the gebharts are sad, and five black boys in church clothes, each holding a rose. AP reporter Joe Mohbat and Jack Miller, a prosecutor who had served as chief of the Criminal Division in Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department, broke down and wept when the train passed a line of saluting schoolchildren, a reminder of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket. Gertrude Wilson of the Amsterdam News put her hands against the window and sobbed at the sight of a black woman in Baltimore clutching a hand- lettered sign that said hope.

Sylvia Wright of Life remembered a wedding party standing in a Delaware meadow. The bridesmaids held the hems of their pink and green dresses in one hand, their bouquets in the other. As the last car carrying Kennedy’s coffin passed, they extended their arms and tossed their flowers against its side. After seeing this, and the solemn Boy Scouts, black women prostrate with grief, and brawny white men gripping tiny flags in ham- hock hands as tears rolled down their cheeks, Wright asked herself the question that has become the silent descant of most everything written or said about Bobby Kennedy: "What did he have that he could do this to people?"

on the twentieth anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, author Jack Newfield called it "a wound that hurts more, not less, as time passes." On its twenty- fifth anniversary, Judi Cornelius, a Native American woman who had arranged Kennedy’s visit to her reservation, visited his grave at Arlington only to discover that, she said, "My heart ached just like it had two and a half de cades earlier, and some wounds to [our] tender dreams never heal." On its thirtieth, former aide Peter Edelman told a reporter, "I had a dream for years that he [Kennedy] came back alive. Actually, I still do." And a year after that, New York Times reporter Anthony Lewis said, "The year after he died, I wrote a column about him. ‘Time,’ I wrote, ‘does not diminish the sense that life without him is incomplete.’ Thirty- one years later, I still feel that way."

What did he have?

Congressman John Lewis, who had been on Kennedy’s campaign staff, asks himself "What would Bobby do?" before casting a difficult vote in the House of Representatives. Kennedy’s former press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, who had announced Kennedy’s death to reporters at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, saying, "Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 A.M. today, June 6, 1968.... He was forty- two years old," remembers him whenever he hears "The trumpet shall sound" aria in the Messiah, "because Bob Kennedy was the trumpet, and he’s still sounding for me." Doug German, a young Kennedy volunteer in Nebraska, says he abandoned party politics afterward because "The music died for me." John Bartlow Martin, who wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy before writing them for Bobby, went into seclusion at his home in rural Michigan, writing in his diary, "It’s over, the brief bright dream. Last time they let us have it for three years [ JFK’s presidency].... Now I feel nothing but bleak despair.... [Before] there was the thought, ‘well, there’s always Bob: Now there isn’t.’ " Jerry Bruno, Kennedy’s hard- boiled advance man, claims the politics were never the same for him, adding, "It was like all of our lives just stopped." Life photographer Bill Eppridge never asked to cover another campaign, and says, "When you get to the pinnacle what else is there? It would have been like going back and shooting weddings." And whenever Eppridge visits the Vietnam War memorial, he finds himself looking at the names of servicemen killed after January 20, 1969, when Kennedy might have been inaugurated, wondering how many would still be alive. Attorney Jim Tolan, who had prepared the way for—in political parlance, "advanced"—many of Kennedy’s appearances that spring, leaves the room whenever images of him appear in a television documentary. "I fell in love with Robert Kennedy, with his goodness," he says. "Listen, I loved that man." Associated Press correspondent Joe Mohbat, who spent more time in close physical proximity to him than any reporter that spring, lost his taste for journalism and became a lawyer. "I can still see him with his shirt sleeves rolled up, and his hairy muscular forearms," he says. "One lid covers more of one eye than the other—a kind of droopy lid—and there is an absolute intensity about him, even when he’s joking. There will never be anyone like him. History won’t allow it, the media won’t allow it, the blogs won’t allow it." He stops before adding in a choked voice, "You really want to know what Bob Kennedy was? He was fucking beautiful."

What did he have?

Those still mourning him usually mention Hugh McDonald, his twenty- nine- year- old assistant press secretary, perhaps because McDonald’s grief was an extreme version of their own. He had dashed into the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel seconds after the shots and handed his suit jacket to bodyguard Bill Barry, who used it to stanch the blood flowing from the wound in Kennedy’s head. McDonald wept as he removed Kennedy’s shoes to make him more comfortable. Later, he wandered the corridors of the Ambassador Hotel and Good Samaritan Hospital, clutching a pair of size 81/2 black shoes with arch supports, wearing a blank expression, and saying, "I’ve got his shoes . . . I’ve got his shoes." Because McDonald had been in charge of checking the credentials of those entering the room where Kennedy was speaking, he blamed himself for admitting the assassin. He suffered from shock and depression, ended up divorced, attempted suicide, and died in a Los Angeles rooming house in March 1978, ten years to the month after Robert Kennedy had announced his candidacy.

What did he have?

Director John Frankenheimer, who drove Kennedy to the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the assassination, developed a drinking problem that crippled his career for two de cades. Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, who was steps away when Kennedy was shot, suffered months of paranoia, using public telephones and fictitious names to communicate with friends because he believed he was next.

Singer Rosemary Clooney, who was also at the Ambassador that night, insisted that Kennedy had survived and his death was an elaborate hoax. She suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. On the night of Kennedy’s funeral, singer Bobby Darin remained by his grave in Arlington until dawn, sleeping on the ground and claiming to have experienced what he called a "metaphysical illumination" that had transformed him into a "new me, a better me . . . striving for only one thing: to help the world change toward goodness."

What did he have?

Many are haunted by Kennedy’s phantom presidency. Two de cades after his death, Ralph Bartlow Martin wrote, "I have no doubt at all that if nominated he [Kennedy] would have been elected. And if elected, a great President, maybe greater than his brother. But they would have killed him." As Kennedy lay dying, Jack Newfield told John Lewis, "I can feel history slipping through my fingers." Four de cades later, Lewis says, "I thought that if this one man was elected president, he could move us closer to what many of us in the movement called ‘The Loving Community.’ " Former Kennedy aide Peter Edelman still believes that his presidency "would have influenced the tone and direction of American politics for decades." Edwin Guthman, who worked in the Kennedy Justice Department, writes, "To know anything about him is to know that had he lived and won in 1968, he would have been a great President." Look correspondent Warren Rogers told an interviewer in 1997 that his presidency would have left "a far more decent, a far gentler and less uncouth country than we are today," and the political commentator Mark Shields, who worked for him in the Nebraska primary, says, "I’ll go to my grave believing Robert Kennedy would have been the best President of my lifetime."

Ask Shields, Mankiewicz, and other former Kennedy aides what his presidency would have meant, and you invariably hear the word different: "This would be an entirely different country," "Everything would be different," or words to that effect. Ask how things would be different, and you hear two narratives: one describing Kennedy’s presidency and the other, its legacy.

Imagining his presidency is easy because, as even his enemies would concede, he meant what he said. So it is likely that he would have negotiated a settlement to the Vietnam War soon after his inauguration, saving the lives of the two million Vietnamese and twenty thousand American servicemen killed during the Nixon administration. Because he would not have bombed Cambodia, America would have escaped the trauma of Kent State and Jackson State, and Cambodia would probably have escaped the murderous Pol Pot regime. The Watergate would be just another apartment building, and America would have avoided the disillusionment and cynicism following that scandal. Had Kennedy won the presidency, young and minority Americans would have had a champion in the White House. The riots and protests marking Nixon’s first year would have been blunted, and Kennedy might have convinced Americans that real "immorality" meant poverty, racial discrimination, and an unnecessary war. Had Kennedy beaten Nixon in 1968, both parties might not have embraced—or at least not so readily—the sound bites, focus groups, stage- managed appearances, screened questions, bogus spontaneity, and other corrosive hallmarks of Nixon’s successful campaign. And had Kennedy won, then the guiding principle of Nixon’s campaign as spelled out in his secret 1968 manual—"The central point of scheduling is that the campaign is symbolic, i.e. it is not what the candidate actually does as much as what it appears he does [that matters]"—might have been discredited rather than emulated.

Frank Mankiewicz defines what a Kennedy presidency would have meant: "This would be a totally different country, not like it is today, with the politi cal machinery grinding against itself, sending off sparks." But what kind of oil was Kennedy proposing to pour into the jammed political machinery of the time? Might it still be effective?

What did he have?

The obvious answer to Sylvia Wright’s question is that he had his last name and his position as the oldest surviving brother of a beloved and martyred president. But even this is insufficient to explain the intensity and longevity of the grief following his assassination, nor are his youth, eloquence, and good looks, although they made his death more heartbreaking. They are not enough because had he been assassinated or died of natural causes before running for president, or in the early days of his campaign, it is inconceivable that two million people would have turned out for his funeral train, or that there would ever have been such a train, or that his phantom presidency would remain so haunting. Had his assassination not been preceded by his eighty-two- day campaign, it is also inconceivable that 92 percent of the residents of Harlem would have claimed to be mourning him more than JFK, or that Norman Mailer would have admitted loving him "by five times more in death than life," or that at his funeral tears would have coursed down the cheeks of both Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, two men at opposite ends of the Democratic Party’s political spectrum, or that more photographs of him would still be hanging in congressional offices than of any other former member of the House or Senate, or so it is said.

It is Robert Kennedy’s campaign that explains the grief, reveals how he would have freed America’s jammed political machinery, and answers Wright’s question and its obvious corollary: What did he do during those eighty- two days?

His campaign explains why authorities assumed that his assassination would spark riots in black neighborhoods equal to those following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., why the Pentagon’s new riot- monitoring unit, the Army Directorate for Civil Disturbances Planning and Operations, immediately went on a state of alert, and why almost twenty- five thousand California National Guard troops were readied to move into the ghettos. The military was not alone in forecasting a violent reaction. Two weeks earlier, Tom Wicker had written in the New York Times, "The people of the ghetto are volatile and suspicious and militant; if they believe Kennedy has been ‘dealt out’ by the Democrats their response could be angry and even violent." Many of Kennedy’s black supporters had also expected the ghettos to explode as they had for Dr. King. They seemed almost embarrassed that they had not, and explained that their people had still been reeling from the King assassination and were too shattered to lash out again.

Kennedy’s campaign also explains his popularity with black Americans, why some called him a "blue- eyed soul brother," why Charles Evers’s reaction to his assassination was wailing, "My God! My God!

What are my people going to do?" and why John Lewis responded by, he says, "crying, sobbing, heaving as if something had been busted open inside," even though he had not wept for Martin Luther King Jr. His campaign explains why many of the same Midwestern farmers, factory workers, and white ethnics who would vote Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes into the White House, voted for Robert Kennedy in the Democratic primaries, and why Fred Papert, who managed his advertising campaign, is justified in believing that millions of Americans would have turned out for his funeral train, even if it had traveled through the Deep South or Far West, "all those areas where everybody thinks people are different, ultra- conservative, and reactionary."

One of the reporters covering Kennedy’s campaign called it a "huge, joyous adventure." Revisiting it can also be a joyous experience because no credible candidate since has run so passionately or recklessly, or without the customary and ever- expanding carapace of con sul tants, pollsters, spinners, and question- screeners. Nor has anyone put poverty at the center of a presidential campaign, except John Edwards, excited minorities and the poor as much, been trusted as much by both blacks and working- class whites, or criticized the American people so brazenly. Try to imagine a mainstream politician saying, as Kennedy did in a New York Times essay, "Once we thought, with Jefferson, that we were the ‘best hope’ of all mankind. But now we seem to rely only on our wealth and power," or, as he did on Meet the Press: "I am dissatisfied with our society. I suppose I am dissatisfied with my country." You cannot because today’s thin- skinned electorate would never tolerate such criticism.

Revisiting Robert Kennedy’s campaign can be heartbreaking because it resembles a kind of slow- motion suicide, and because one knows who, and what, is coming next; not just the second assassination of a Kennedy, but Talking Points, Red and Blue States, That depends on what the meaning of "is" is, and Bring ’em on! Revisiting it is also tricky because he was at his best during those eighty- two days. Author Wilfrid Sheed, who worked for one of Kennedy’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, would later concede that Kennedy’s campaign had been "what his life had been about all along, and that his death henceforth would serve principally to direct our eyes to it," adding, "For those few weeks at least, Bobby became a very great man, transcending his own nature and even some of our quibbles with it."

One of Kennedy’s friends told biographer William Shannon, "You never know which Bobby Kennedy you’re going to meet," and Shannon, writing about Kennedy while he was still alive, called him "rude, restless, impatient," but also "brilliant, inspiring, forceful." It was this second Bobby Kennedy who campaigned for the Democratic nomination that spring. Because Kennedy was at his best during his last campaign, one is tempted to highlight his missteps to avoid appearing too partisan. Hays Gorey of Time said that some reporters covering the campaign did just that, admitting, "At some point it sank in on most of us that there was something real and good and decent about the candidate. Yet we had to regard his every move as suspect or we weren’t being good reporters."

Bobby Kennedy was no saint. He had a quick temper, and he could be cruel to those he disliked or who had disappointed him. He had worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s notorious Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1954 and retained an affection for McCarthy longer than was seemly. He had been a tough and merciless interrogator while serving as chief counsel to a Senate committee investigating the penetration of labor unions by organized crime, and a demanding and hard- boiled manager of JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign. One of JFK’s aides told Washington Post reporter Richard Harwood that there had been a "good Bobby and a bad Bobby" in 1960, and the bad one resembled "a petulant baseball player who strikes out in the clutch and kicks the bat boy." But Harwood noted that that side of Bobby Kennedy was not in evidence in 1968. Instead, "What came out most... was his gentleness," he said. JFK adviser Ted Sorensen remembered the Bobby Kennedy of the 1950s being "militant, aggressive, intolerant, opinionated, somewhat shallow in his convictions . . . [and] more like his father than his brother [JFK]," but believed that by 1968 he had transformed himself, abandoning his hard line on the Cold War, repudiating the Vietnam War, and becoming deeply troubled by poverty and racial injustice.

While serving on these Senate committees in the 1950s and as his brother’s attorney general and principal adviser in the early 1960s, Bobby Kennedy had become acquainted with the government’s darkest secrets. He knew about President Kennedy’s adulteries and America’s involvement in the coup resulting in the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. He had investigated and interrogated union bosses corrupted by the Mafia, approved and encouraged CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr.’s telephones in the mistaken belief that two of his associates were Communists, and turned a blind eye to attempts by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to intimidate and discredit King. But because he knew all this, he also knew more about the inner workings of the government and the White House than any presidential candidate in history, and he ran for that office with eyes wide open, understanding the risks he was assuming and hatreds he was unleashing by becoming the second Kennedy in a decade to seek it.

Although he had only served in the Senate for three years, he was more qualified to assume the presidency than John Kennedy had been in 1960. He had been an excellent attorney general—some thought the best in history—and had served as a kind of assistant president, witnessing the Bay of Pigs debacle firsthand, playing a pivotal role in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis, conducting clandestine negotiations with Soviet diplomats, and supervising the CIA. Since his brother’s assassination in Dallas he had become more contemplative and sensitive, and felt more guilty over his role in embroiling America in the Vietnam War, and his brother’s choice of Lyndon Johnson as vice president. There was also, for him, the possibility that something he had done—perhaps his obsession with eliminating Fidel Castro, or the enemies he made by pursuing mobsters and corrupt union officials—had prompted his brother’s assassination.

Revisiting Robert Kennedy’s campaign has never been more timely. In 1968, young men who could not afford to pay for college were drafted and died in disproportionate numbers in Vietnam. Four decades later, poor young men and women volunteer for military ser vice to earn the money for college tuition and die in disproportionate numbers in Iraq. In 1968, as now, an unpopular president was waging a controversial war that had divided Americans and poisoned the nation’s relations with its allies. What Kennedy said about that war could be said verbatim about Iraq:

For it is long past time to ask: what is this war doing to us? Of course it is costing us money . . . but that is the smallest price we pay. The cost is in our young men, the tens of thousands of their lives cut off forever. The cost is in our world position—in neutrals and allies alike, every day more baffled and estranged from a policy they cannot understand.

There is a failing of generosity and compassion. There is an unwillingness to sacrifice.

We cannot continue to deny and postpone the demands of our own people while spending billions in the name of the freedom for others.

We have an ally in name only. We support a government without supporters. Without the effort of American arms, that government would not last a day.

The front pages of our newspapers show photographs of American soldiers torturing prisoners.

During his campaign, Kennedy spoke of a nation where "the affluent are getting more affluent and the poor are getting poorer," a situation that the late journalist David Halberstam summarized in a sentence that could have been written four de cades later: "The rich were getting richer in America and the poor were getting poorer and by and large the rich were white and the poor were black." In 1968, riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. highlighted the chasm between white and black Americans. Thirty- seven years later, Hurricane Katrina had a similar effect. On November 15, 2005, some former passengers on Kennedy’s funeral train gathered with several hundred others at the Capitol for a "memorial commemoration" of Robert Kennedy’s eightieth birthday. (Had he been celebrating in person, he would have been a year younger than former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush). One searches in vain for similar events marking the landmark birthdays of presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but if anyone considered it unusual to be marking Robert Kennedy’s eightieth birthday thirty- seven years after his death, they remained silent. Instead, the unspoken assumption was that his presidential campaign had never mattered so much, and the unspoken question hovering over John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others offering tributes was which one had the courage to raise the issues that he had, and campaign as he did.

Following speeches and the presentation of the annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, a video was screened showing the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Its only sound track was a speech that Kennedy had delivered at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, two days after announcing his candidacy. And so, as black residents of New Orleans waded through their flooded streets, Kennedy could be heard saying, "I have seen these other Americans—I have seen children in Mississippi starving.... I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America." As they stood on rooftops, waving at helicopters, he said, "If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must end the disgrace of this other America." As they milled outside the convention center, he said, "But even if we act to erase material poverty there is another great task. It is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—a lack of purpose and dignity—that inflicts us all. Too much and too long we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things."

The stars may never be aligned as they were in 1968, and Americans may wait de cades for another year as pivotal, or for another eighty- two days that become the axis upon which such a pivotal year turns. Or perhaps not. There are things that Robert Kennedy did and said during his campaign that only the brother of a martyred president could have done and said, but there are others that another candidate could easily do and say, if the American people demanded them. John Nolan, who scheduled many of Kennedy’s appearances that spring, believes, "What he did was not really that mystical. All it requires is someone who knows himself, and has some courage."



Continues...

Excerpted from The Last Campaign by Clarke, Thurston Copyright © 2009 by Clarke, Thurston. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Robert Kennedy's Last Campaign

    In June of 2008, on the anniversary of the assasination of Robert Kennedy, a number of news magaizines posed the question if the politics of RFK are still relevant today. Based upon Thurston Clarke's "The Last Campaign," I would have to say "yes." Clarke poses the basic question as to why RFK had the effect that he did on so many people and why he was so compelling. Kennedy cared deeply for the disadvantaged and while he himself had a very privileged upbringing, he nonetheless related to them in a very personal way. Bobby Keenedy was a very complex man within whom contradictory forces and behaviors seemed to seeth. Clarke presents a picture of RFK with warts and all although I highly recommend reading one of the biograhphies of RFK to get a more complete picture. Kennedy could be rude, crass and thoughtless and made many enemies. By the time he entered the 1968 primaries, he had undoubtly mellowed and a more caring side of him showed through. His politics, a mixture of patriotism, progressiveness and basic values, indeed resonated with so many in 1968. It is easy to mythologize the RFK legacy (as with his brother John) and speculate about how things might have been different if he had lived and been elected president. However, this ducks the hard questions such as if Kennedy would have been able to build the political support and coalitions necessary to accomplish his goals. All in all, RFK was long on hopes, intentions and ideals but rather short on details and action plans in his campaigning. Clarke does a good job of succinctly summarizing Kennedy's political legacy without turning it into a barbed commentary on contemporary politics. The broader issues of Kennedy's politics are beyond the scope of the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Terrific Book

    I am a slow reader and not a very active reader, but I hold an interest in Bobby Kennedy. I've only owned this book for less than 1 week and am nearly finished already. It is an inspiring read that I believe every American politician ought to be required to read. It provides insight into the life and tragic death of Bobby Kennedy and his goals to make the world a better, safer place. Interesting read that I would recommend to anyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2008

    A GREAT READ

    A friend shared this with me. It is an awesome book and a hopeful book. I have always enjoyed learning about and teaching about Bobby Kennedy in my US History classes. To me, his life was really about overcoming struggle and coming to full compassion. As we debate leaders today, Clarke's book could add a lot to that discussion. The tragedy of the book is that it is written so well, it leaves you tremendously saddened over 'What Could Have Been' and yet, hopeful for the future. I highly recommend it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2012

    Heartwarming and Tragic

    I enjoyed this book very much, i could not put it down! It tells the story of Bobby's passionate campaign with such love and adoration it's a must read for any Kennedy fan. The way Bobby should be remembered as our fearless champion, is all here.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2011

    Great book. RFK was the last politican who was able to bring americans together under one banner. He left us with the blue prints to carry on the dream of a healed america.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2009

    GREAT

    I have read many books on the Kennedys but this one really showed how much we lost as a country. I grew up with the Kennedys and I learned so much more about the man. A great book. I could not put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    Inspired America is an exageration

    I remember the RFK campaign caused a great deal of enthusiasm among those who felt betrayed by mainstream politicians, particularly President Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, but as far as inspiring America, I don't think so. It wasn't even a given he would be the Democratic nominee much less a shoe in for the presidency. The chaos of 68 meant the only constant in politics was unprdeictability. Kennedy may have been more electable 10 years later but unfortunatly we will never know.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2009

    Anyone interested in American politics should read this book

    Thurston Clarke writes a compelling narrative about Robert Kennedy's last campaign. Clarke's central argument is that unlike other politicians of his day, as well as today, Kennedy ran for moral reasons. Clarke details some of these moral reasons including Vietnam, racial unrest, and poverty. The interaction Kennedy had with a young boy in South Dakota, Christopher Pretty Boy demonstrates clearly his dedication to improving life for those most dis-advantaged. <BR/>In the end, Clarke's monograh about Robert Kennedy is truely a magificient book, one that everyone should read!

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  • Posted January 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Still a GREAT READ

    I reviewed this book in September for B $ N. I reread it again over the holidays. Such a good book. Yes, there is a bit of a tinge towards the 2008 election, but there are some interesting parallels as well.<BR/>This is a very fast paced book and kudos to Clarke who wrote it so well.<BR/>There is no doubt in my mind that RFK was and still is a transformative figure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2008

    A reviewer

    This wonderfully written book could not be more relevant or more exciting and uplifting. Robert Kennedy's campaign was an heroic example of the exhilaration and risks of speaking truth to power. Regardless of your political persuasion, you will be totally engaged by this masterful recounting of Robert Kennedy's meteoric and daunting final campaign. This book is the one to share with your children.

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    Posted October 26, 2010

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