because of his relatively diminutive size in a family of big men and women, as “the runt of the litter.“
But for Joe Kennedy, mere toughness wasn’t enough. There was an added quality he praised in his son Bobby: “When Bobby hates you,” he said, “you stay hated.”
And indeed Robert F Kennedy’s obsessive hatreds, of Teamsters’ leader Jimmy Hoffa, of NY lawyer Roy Cohn – his boss on the staff of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, of Fidel Castro, deeply marked his early career, leading him to self-righteous vendettas that bent laws, undermined Constitutional protections, and in the case of Castro may well have caused the Cuban missile crisis.
But in probably the most dramatic, and many think the best speech of his political career, delivered toan angry and anguished crowd in the Black ghetto of Indianapolis, whom he had just informed that Dr. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated, Bobby Kennedy said this: “For those of you who are Black and are tempted … to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all White people, I can only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling I had [when] a member of my own family was killed. … What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country whether they be White or they be Black.”
62 days later, June 5, 1964, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
“Somewhere in this man sits good,” said Dr Martin Luther King of Bobby Kennedy. He told his disciples, “Our task is to find his moral center and win him to our cause.”
Both Bobby Kennedy’s conflicted moral center and his whole-cloth adoption of the cause of civil rights are clarified and magnified in our guest Larry Tye’s new book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.
BOBBY KENNEDY: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye ( Random House 2016)