From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast

Ep. 17A - The Kennedys as Boomer Icons, Part III: Young Bobby

July 24, 2022 Logan Rogers Season 3
From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast
Ep. 17A - The Kennedys as Boomer Icons, Part III: Young Bobby
Show Notes Transcript

Season 3 of our podcast begins with the next chapter of the Kennedy saga, as Rep. John F. Kennedy manages to knock off powerful incumbent Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. in the 1952 Massachusetts U.S. Senate race. The secret ingredient in that victory was  JFK's tenacious & combative younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy (often known as "RFK" or "Bobby"), who served as his campaign manager. RFK had grown up younger & shorter than his charismatic brothers Joe Junior  & Jack, and he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He started his political career as a staunch anti-Communist conservative, taking after his right-wing father. He even worked for infamous red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy. But he still supported the Democrats, and after getting JFK into the Senate in 1952, he also served as the campaign manager for his presidential campaign in 1960. As a reward for his hard work, & to have a trusted confidant in the White House, JFK appointed RFK as his Attorney General. Bobby was known at the Justice Dept. for taking tough stances against organized crime at home & Communists abroad. However, after Jack's assassination in 1963, he moved far to the Left politically. He remade himself as a crusader against poverty & the Vietnam War, & he sought to defeat archrival Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primary. However, his race was tragically cut short when he, too, was assassinated, leaving many Baby Boomers to dream about the America that might have been if Bobby Kennedy had survived to become president.

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           Yes, we’re finally back. Consider this the beginning of Season 3 of the From Boomers to Millennials podcast. We apologize for our long absence. Those of you who are hearing this, thanks for sticking with us. It has taken so much time the past few months for me to get up to speed on my new full-time job that I have had to neglect the podcast, & producer Erin and her spouse recently bought & moved into a new house, so she’s been even busier. Now, the show is back & we’re here to stay, but expect some format changes in the future. I think you’ll like our new direction. That’s about all I can say about it for now. Let’s start the show. (cue music)


            “From Boomers to Millennials” is a podcast that provides a fresh look at each year of post-World War II American history, plus in-depth supplemental content about a variety of modern US history topics. Welcome to Episode 17A, entitled “The Kennedys as Boomer Icons, Part III: Young Bobby.” In today’s episode, we will discuss how Jack Kennedy’s tenacious younger brother & campaign manager helped push him to victory in the 1952 Senate race in Massachusetts. But who was the real Bobby Kennedy? Was he the hard-driving anti-Communist prosecutor who worked for Joe McCarthy & showed no mercy to his enemies? Or was he the idealistic antiwar crusader with the soaring rhetoric who was tragically martyred at the height of his 1968 presidential run? In this episode, we will examine perhaps the most paradoxical member of a political family that itself contained a multitude of strange contradictions.


            But first, it’s time for a podcast update in the form of a correction. In the first episode of “The Kennedys as Boomer Icons,” we misspoke & incorrectly stated that Joseph Kennedy Senior “gave birth” to John F. Kennedy. As much as Joe might have liked to take credit for this, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that his wife Rose Kennedy did the hard work of childbirth there. Speaking of presidential births, this month’s featured show is the “Abridged Presidential Histories Podcast.” In this program, enthusiastic & energetic host Kenny Ryan does the difficult task of covering each presidential administration in a single 45-minute-long episode. He does so in a witty, engaging manner that places these presidencies in context & seeks to find what lessons we can learn from the lives of these often-flawed giants of American political history. You can find his show at, or simply search for Abridged Presidential Histories in your favorite podcast app.


            In August 2021, when Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted killer of Robert F. Kennedy was coming up as eligible for parole in California, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote an editorial in the Los Angeles Times that expressed his feelings about Bobby’s tragic 1968 assassination. Tribe wrote (quote) “My dreams — like those of millions of Americans — for a humane exit from the Vietnam War, for a brighter American future, were killed that day in a crowded hotel kitchen hallway, minutes after Kennedy won California’s Democratic primary.” He went on to describe how the assassination made him rethink his opposition to the death penalty. “If anyone deserved capital punishment, I thought, it was Sirhan,” Tribe recalled. (Quote) “Sirhan victimized not only the Kennedy family but also the American family. We the people were his victims” (close quote). Those familiar with Professor Larry Tribe’s Twitter persona, you probably know he is no stranger to hyperbole. But Tribe (who was born in 1941) is representative of a type of Boomer Liberal (or technically in his case, a Silent Generation Liberal) who understandably felt that 1968 was the year that the idealistic dreams of Sixties were finally crushed. That year featured the assassinations of not only Bobby Kennedy, but also Martin Luther King. We mentioned back in Episode 16A that the “normie” Boomer counterfactual viewpoint is that if only JFK had lived, everything would have been better. Well, the “hipster” Boomer liberal position, the one the true political obsessives like to take, is that it was actually Robert Kennedy’s killing that was the turning point.


            Amid the emotional hagiography that often surrounds those gunned down in the prime of their political lives, we easily lose sight of the complicated men & women behind the mythos. Today’s episode will attempt to provide a fuller picture of RFK’s life. Robert Francis Kennedy was born in 1925, the seventh of Joe & Rose Kennedy’s nine children. His political life would contain many paradoxes. In a 2016 biography of RFK, journalist Larry Tye notes that he is remembered by his supporters a presidential candidate who was (quote) “a racial healer, a tribune for the poor, & the last progressive knight.” However, he was (quote) “nurtured on the right-wing orthodoxies of his dynasty-building father & started his public life as counsel to the left-baiting, table-thumping senator Joseph McCarthy.” Young RFK then went onto be a (quote) “bare-knuckled political operative who orchestrated his brother’s whatever-it-takes bids for senator & president” (close quote).


            Award-winning biographer Robert Caro notes that RFK lacked the “easygoing charm” of his older brother Jack. He was more introverted, serious, & religiously observant than JFK. He stood at 5-foot-8, noticeably shorter than his older brothers. His father occasionally referred to him as the “runt of the litter,” and this perhaps understandably gave him a chip on his shoulder. He had the typical Kennedy competitiveness, which was exacerbated by a white-hot temper. As a college student at Harvard, the pint-sized RFK managed to make the varsity football team. He even scored a touchdown during his senior year, but he then broke his leg in practice & was sidelined for the rest of the season. The pugnacious young Bobby got in more than one fistfight off the field. He was fiercely loyal to the Kennedy family, including his controversial isolationist father. While his brother Jack might respond to a negative comment about his father’s political views by making a joke or changing the subject, Bobby was more likely to get in someone’s face to defend his family’s honor. Bobby went on to law school at the University of Virginia, where he was known for his combative debating style and his tough-guy image. He was often accompanied by a couple of large, intimidating dogs as he strolled the Charlottesville campus.


            Unlike his brother John, who was a bachelor until 35, which was a ripe old age by 1950s standards, Robert Kennedy got married at age 24, while he was still a law student. His bride was Ethel Skakel, who had been born to a Dutch-American businessman father and an Irish-American mother in Chicago. She had been raised Catholic in the posh suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, and she then attended Manhattanville College in Westchester County just north of New York City. As befits their mutually preppy backgrounds, Bobby and Ethel first met at a fancy ski resort in Quebec in 1945. They married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenwich during June 1950. Bobby graduated from law school in June 1951, and he became a father for the first time just one month later.


            Before starting his legal career, Robert Kennedy briefly dabbled in journalism by serving as a correspondent with a Boston newspaper, while he accompanied his Congressman brother John on a 7-week trip through Asia in fall 1951. During that trip, John & Robert Kennedy met Prime Minister Nehru of India, a giant figure in South Asian history. The Kennedys also stopped in the country now known as Vietnam for the first time during these travels; this was back when the French were still in charge there. The brothers probably had no idea what a long shadow that small Southeast Asian nation would cast over their future political careers. Now, there was an 8-year age gap between the brothers, which meant that Jack was already off to college by the time Bobby reached his adolescent years. As a result, the boys did not grow up with an especially close relationship. But during their weeks traveling together through Asia, John & Robert became closer, and they formed a tight bond that would last throughout the rest of their lives. John had grown somewhat estranged from his father Joe Senior at this time; Bobby persuaded him to spend more time at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in order to repair this rift. By the end of 1951, the brothers were back in the USA. Robert Kennedy moved his family to Washington DC, where he took a job as a US Justice Department lawyer, prosecuting graft & tax evasion cases.


One year later, in 1952, John F. Kennedy ran for Senate against Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., a well-respected Republican incumbent from a prominent New England political family. JFK would need more than his famous charm to knock off an incumbent as powerful as Lodge. He needed to challenge Lodge on the issues, but the trouble was, as JFK biographer Robert Dallek notes, (quote) “On all major policy matters, the two candidates largely resembled each other. They were internationalist supporters of containment [of communism] as well as [moderate] conservatives with occasional bows to liberalism; they both favored sustaining labor unions, less government intervention in domestic affairs, & balanced federal budgets” (close quote). Kennedy couldn’t exactly make the case that he had amassed amazing accomplishments in Congress either; even Dallek, a relatively sympathetic biographer, observes that (quote) “If he were asking voters to make him a Senator because he had been an innovative legislator or a House leader, he would have been hard-pressed to make an effective case” (close quote). Winning this 1952 Massachusetts Senate campaign would require both his father’s money & his brother Bobby’s tenacity. Robert Kennedy was initially reluctant to leave his position as an attorney for the Justice Department in order to serve as JFK’s campaign manager, but Jack convinced him that his campaign needed a real fighter, someone like Bobby, to turn it around & to put victory within reach.


            According to Dallek, as soon as Bobby took over the job, he (quote) “worked 18-hour days, driving himself so hard that he lost 12 pounds off a spare frame. He put in place a Kennedy organization that reached into every part of the state & stirred teams of supporters to work almost as hard as he did” (close quote). Bobby’s almost fanatical tenacity certainly helped to bring out the trademark Kennedy competitiveness even in easygoing Jack. John F. Kennedy may have been a lackadaisical Congressman, but he worked hard at campaigning for the Senate seat. Robert Caro notes that JFK traversed the entire state in 1952, and (quote) “no town was too small or too Republican for him” (close quote). As we mentioned back in Episode 16B, by this time Jack was no longer underweight, and his Addison’s Disease was in remission. However, he still suffered bouts of intense back pain throughout the Fifties, so we need to acknowledge he had to push through major discomfort in order to campaign.


            Of course, the John F. Kennedy for Senate campaign had other advantages besides hard work and grit. Caro writes that Lodge was financially overwhelmed by a Democratic campaign bankrolled by American oligarch Joseph Kennedy Senior. Caro quotes one observer of the Massachusetts political scene as saying (quote) “Some people could live the rest of their lives on the [Kennedy] campaign’s billboard budget alone” (close quote). Another major factor in the race was personality. Despite his wealthy background, JFK’s political skill by this time had developed to the point that he could win over a wide variety of people. With his upbeat personality & irreverent wit, Jack was more likeable than the stuffy & aristocratic Lodge, who Dallek characterizes as having (quote) “an air of superior condescension.” 


            Dallek argues that the Kennedy campaign made special efforts to attract female voters & so-called “ethnic” voters. In Massachusetts politics at this time, the native-born Anglo-Saxon Protestant population tended to vote Republican, while immigrant groups that had arrived later tended to vote Democratic. The Catholic ethnicities such as Irish, Italian, & Polish Americans naturally gravitated to Jack Kennedy, but JFK had a particular challenge with another ethnoreligious group. Dallek recalls that (quote) “Jewish voters were . . . given special attention because Jack had to overcome allegations that his father had been anti-Semitic” in his isolationist, pro-appeasement attitude regarding Nazi Germany during the late 1930s & early 1940s. The endorsement of prominent Jewish figures such as Senator Herbert Lehman (Democrat of New York) helped him overcome his father’s troubling past with this community. JFK told one Jewish audience, (quote) “Remember, I’m running for the Senate & not my father.” 


            Another group that required reassurance was liberal intellectuals. Massachusetts, with its many colleges, had a large population of them. This group knew that JFK’s father was a supporter and close friend of Senator Joe McCarthy, who many intellectuals viewed as a demagogue & a menace to democracy. Jack made a few mildly critical comments about McCarthy’s methods in order to assuage the liberals. He had a difficult tightrope to walk here; not only did he risk alienating the father who was funding his campaign if he criticized McCarthy too much, but he also did not want to outright condemn McCarthy because the Irish Catholic Senator from Wisconsin (quote) “remained very popular with the state’s 750,000 Irish Catholics,” as Dallek recounts. JFK did manage to successfully walk this tightrope, reassuring college-town liberals without losing the enthusiasm of his so-called “white ethnic” base of support in Boston.


            On election day in November 1952, Kennedy prevailed over Lodge by a relatively close margin of 51.5% to 48.5%; but it was still a victory over a powerful incumbent. Dallek writes that (quote) “The outcome surprised some people, including Lodge, who had an unbeaten string of electoral victories dating from 1932 . . . ‘I felt rather like a man who has just been hit by a truck,’” Lodge later said about his unexpected defeat. Don’t feel too sorry for Lodge, though. His political career was far from over – in fact, JFK himself would appoint him to public office during his presidency. But that’s a story for another day.


            It was after masterminding JFK’s victory that Bobby started working for Senator Joe McCarthy. Robert Caro writes that McCarthy (quote) “was a friend of Joseph Kennedy Senior, [and] a friend of the whole Kennedy family; in fact, [John F.] Kennedy [would be] the only Democratic senator not to vote for McCarthy’s censure [in 1954]” (close quote). Jack was actually the member of the Kennedy clan who was the least close to Joe McCarthy, but out of respect for his father’s wishes, he was conveniently absent from the Senate floor on the day of the censure vote. For details on the censure & downfall of McCarthy, see Episode 9 of this podcast.


            In 1953, Robert F. Kennedy was working for McCarthy’s subcommittee investigating communist subversion. One day, McCarthy, RFK, and other committee members were eating together in the Senate cafeteria when Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas dropped by to say hello. According to LBJ biographer Robert Caro, Bobby glared menacingly at Johnson and took a long time to begrudgingly shake his hand. After this incident, one of Lyndon’s aides asked him what all that was about. LBJ explained that he was fond of telling a story about visiting the Oval Office as a young Congressman back in 1940. While he was there, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took a phone call from Ambassador Joseph Kennedy Senior, and cheerfully flattered the man. Then at one point, FDR covered the receiver and whispered to Johnson: “I’m gonna fire the son-of-a-bitch!” LBJ loved to tell this story and laugh about FDR’s political agility at Joseph Kennedy’s expense. Apparently, Johnson’s words had gotten back to Bobby Kennedy, who was not the least bit amused by them.


            Robert Caro portrays the two men as developing an almost chemical dislike to each other. Caro memorably recounts one of LBJ’s staffers saying (quote) “Did you ever see 2 dogs come into a room & all of a sudden there’s a low growl & the hair rises up on the back of their necks? It was like that . . . Somehow, he & Bobby took one look at each other, and that was it” (close quote). The rivalry would continue throughout the rest of their lives. Bobby was the biggest opponent within the Kennedy camp to the idea of adding LBJ to the Democratic presidential ticket in 1960. LBJ & RFK despised each other while Lyndon was vice-president & Bobby was attorney general, and they despised each other even more when Lyndon was president & Bobby was a senator. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Let’s return to 1953.


            Robert Kennedy only served on McCarthy’s committee for 6 months. His reasons for leaving were personal, not ideological. He did not get along with another highly combative & unpleasant personality on the committee: Roy Cohn. Despite the fact that his differences with Cohn led him to resign from the committee, unlike Jack, and like his father Joe, Bobby retained a friendship with & loyalty to McCarthy. Caro recounts that in 1955, Bobby Kennedy walked out of a banquet when TV commentator Edward R. Murrow gave a speech attacking McCarthy. When McCarthy died in 1957, Bobby flew to Wisconsin to attend his funeral. His wife Ethel once said of Bobby (quote) “For him, the world is divided into black & white hats.” For most of his life, at least, he thought that Joe McCarthy was one of the white hats.


            During the Fifties, RFK stayed involved in politics, working on Adlai Stevenson’s presidential run in 1956. He then served as counsel to a Senate committee investigating corruption in the labor movement.  But the politician Bobby was most devoted to was, naturally, his brother Jack. A keystone accomplishment of Bobby’s career was his work as the campaign manager who helped get John F. Kennedy elected President of the United States in 1960. As we discussed in Episode 17, John then repaid these efforts by appointing Robert as US Attorney General in 1961. Bobby was only 36 years old at the time, which made him perhaps the youngest US Cabinet member since Alexander Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by George Washington in 1789. I only say “perhaps” because Hamilton’s exact birth date is disputed. 


            As Attorney General, Bobby definitely displayed what biographer Robert Caro called his “ruthless streak.” When he prosecuted someone, he went after them with a merciless ferocity. Joe Kennedy Senior once told a friend, (quote) “When Bobby hates you, you stay hated.” One recipient of this hatred during the 1960s was James “Jimmy” Hoffa, who was the President of the powerful Teamsters union that represented American truck drivers at this time. Caro reports that (quote) “Forming an elite ‘Get Hoffa’ squad in the Justice Department, [Robert Kennedy] launched an all-out campaign against the union leader, in which he also deployed the FBI & the Internal Revenue Service. At one time, 14 separate grand juries were probing the Teamsters” (close quote). Caro notes that politicians from both parties and the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern over Bobby’s methods; they felt that even (quote) “Hoffa’s corruption & brutality did not justify the [heavy-handed] tactics that Kennedy was using against him” (close quote). But these methods got Bobby the outcome he wanted; Jimmy Hoffa was sentenced to federal prison after being convicted of bribery, conspiracy, & fraud in 1964.


            Bobby Kennedy had a complicated legacy with the civil rights movement. His biographer Larry Tye observes that Attorney General Kennedy (quote) “okayed FBI wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr., whom he never trusted or liked.” Of course, we noted in Episode 16 that Bobby had helped get MLK out of jail in 1960, albeit mostly to improve his brother John’s performance with the black vote in the presidential race that year. Robert Kennedy would also sometimes take action to protect civil rights protesters in the South during his tenure as Attorney General. At the same time, he was never close with King & other early civil rights leaders. He may have bought into the fear present among many Americans that elements of Communist subversion might be infiltrating the racial justice movement. This skeptical attitude early on contrasts with the very close relationship Bobby would develop in the late Sixties with other civil rights figures, such as the Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez.


            Biographer Larry Tye also recounts that, when it came to foreign policy, (quote) “Bobby masterminded cloak-and-dagger operations against Communist Cuba that included blowing up railroad bridges, sabotaging crops, and plotting the elimination of President Fidel Castro” (close quote). Because Robert Kennedy was such a hard-line anti-Communist Cold Warrior, his political transformation in the mid-to-late Sixties seems all the more remarkable. Most agree that it started after his brother John’s assassination in late 1963. Bobby went into a deep depression and began questioning some of his prior assumptions. He had always been more serious-minded and philosophical than his fun-loving brother. Now, he read deeply from Greek philosophers and Catholic theologians in order to seek meaning in his suffering. A new version of Bobby began to emerge, one with more concern for the downtrodden. Perhaps he now saw more shades of gray; at the very least, his conception of who the white hats & the black hats were was beginning to change. In his new, more progressive persona that emerged in the aftermath of his brother’s death, he combined his always crusading spirit with a newfound passion for social justice. He justified this transformation using meditative rhetoric that evoked the melancholy eloquence of an Irish poet. It was during this period that he produced much of the high-minded language that he remains famous for. Here’s one example of the many memorable, quotable statements he produced during this era: “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change” (close quote).


            However, the always ambitious Robert Kennedy never delved so deeply into his philosophical thoughts that he disappeared from public life. We won’t get too deep into this part of his career, because it is beyond where we are in the current podcast chronology, but to understand the historical reputation of Bobby, we need to at least provide an overview of the post-JFK portion of his life. He continued serving as Attorney General in the Johnson Administration after JFK’s death, and he then got himself elected Senator from New York in 1964. He then famously ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968. Following the lead of fellow Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, he ran to the left of LBJ by opposing the Vietnam War. But he even tried to run to Lyndon Johnson’s left on issues like poverty and minority rights, which were issues that LBJ had done more to champion than almost any other president up to that point in American history. This was a big change for a guy who used to pal around with Joe McCarthy, and not everyone welcomed this change. Larry Tye notes that modern-day right-wingers Rudy Giuliani, Bill O’Reilly, & Karl Rove had admired Bobby Kennedy’s “steely conservatism” during their teenaged years in the late 1950s & early 1960s, and they all felt somewhat betrayed when he jumped on the liberal bandwagon. 


However, many progressives fell hard for the new version of RFK. To this day, advocates of the “if only Bobby Kennedy had lived, things would have been different” theory often note that unlike other liberal antiwar candidates like Eugene McCarthy & George McGovern, Robert Kennedy retained substantial trust & loyalty from the Democratic Party’s more culturally conservative white blue-collar base, which included millions of Irish Catholics who still viewed JFK as a martyred hero & who saw RFK as almost a member of their family. Would Bobby Kennedy have been able to win the Democratic nomination at the chaotic 1968 convention, and would he have been able to fend of Richard Nixon’s skillful “backlash politics” strategy in the general election? Of course, we’ll never know the answers to these questions, because Robert Kennedy was tragically murdered on June 6, 1968 by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant angry about Bobby’s support for Israel. This killing occurred at a campaign event located at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, but we won’t get into the details of the assassination, or into all the legends, controversies, and conspiracy theories that surround it, until some future episode. The death of another young, charismatic Kennedy shocked & traumatized the nation. Robert Kennedy was assassinated at just 42 years old; he was even younger than his older brother John was when he had been killed. RFK’s death was just one of many unpleasant shocks the American people would experience during the year 1968.


With Robert Kennedy out of the picture, a highly contentious 1968 Democratic Party convention eventually nominated mainstream liberal Hubert Humphrey, who as Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice-president had defended the administration’s war in Vietnam. Humphrey was unable to defeat Republican Richard Nixon in the general election. Nixon expertly mobilized the so-called “silent majority” against the chaotic social changes & protest movements taking place during the late 1960s. Nixon went on to disgrace himself in the Watergate scandal, and the 1970s became defined as a cynical, confused era that seemed disappointing to almost all factions along the American political spectrum. The conservative 1980s then offered the final death knell to the dreams of the most left-liberal faction of the Baby Boomers.


            Some view Bobby Kennedy as a martyred messiah who could have saved America from its current fate, but even if he had survived to win the Democratic nomination, it would have been tough to beat Nixon in 1968. Even if he had he succeeded in winning the White House, it can’t be taken as a given that he would have been a highly successful president. The late 1960s were a chaotic & challenging time for politicians all around the world. Had Bobby been given the chance to wield presidential power, he probably would have eventually faced criticism from many of the social activists who once supported him. That seems to be the fate of American presidents in recent US history – each man faces scrutiny when his own party’s ideologically-motivated base looks back on his tenure in office with disappointment, alleging that he let down the cause & failed to do enough. For example, today’s conservative Republicans look back on Gerald Ford, both George Bushes, and even Richard Nixon as being too friendly with liberals, or too amenable to liberal ideas. Likewise, progressive Democrats often believe that Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, & Barack Obama all let down the left wing. Only those presidents who were tragically killed in office, such as Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and John F. Kennedy, are spared the post-presidential scorn of their ideological allies. I suppose that if you died in office, they can’t say you failed to live up to your potential. The point is, the idea that Bobby Kennedy would’ve saved America if only he had survived may be a romantic dream, but it probably isn’t a realistic notion.


            What are we to make of Bobby Kennedy’s dramatic political transformation? I’m sure there were cynics who felt that Robert Kennedy was still the same combative bulldog (who was actually kind of a jerk) underneath the fashionably liberal rhetoric. It takes a gloomy, biologically determinist view of the world to think that people’s personalities are hard-wired and that they cannot change. Then again, it’s probably naïve to believe that human beings are infinitely malleable. I think Bobby Kennedy did evolve; trauma can help effectuate such changes in people who experience it, and perhaps that’s what happened to RFK after his brother’s death. But I don’t think his famous ego, combativeness, self-righteousness, & ambition went away. They were just deployed in the service of different causes. The Vietnam War helped him understand that the American foreign policy consensus was wrong in many ways. Exposure to pockets of poverty within the US also changed his views of the nation. His revised view of the country combined with his ego, his desire to restore family honor, & his determination to defeat his archrival LBJ. All of these factors together inspired Robert F. Kennedy seek the presidency in ‘68. He never had the chance to finish his 1968 campaign, and the killing of Martin Luther King during the same year as RFK’s death would splinter the civil rights movement that Bobby had belatedly championed. In our next full-length episode, we will flash back to the early era of that civil rights campaign, when a group of brave “freedom riders” ventured into the Deep South & learned just how violently many white Southerners held on to their segregationist convictions. All that and more, next time, in part 2 of the year 1961.



The revived "From Boomers to Millennials” podcast is still co-produced by Erin Rogers & Logan Rogers, and is, as always, written and narrated by Logan Rogers. Please subscribe to the pod & give us a favorable review on your favorite podcast platform. So go out there & spread the word that our podcast has come back from the dead, and thank you very much for listening.