RFK- Fifty Years Later
On the morning of June 5, 1968, I awoke and immediately yelled out to my father, “Dad, did Bobby Kennedy win the California primary?” He replied, “Yeah, but he was shot.” I was eleven years old, and already keenly interested in politics. I’d been rooting hard for RFK to win, even though I was obviously too young to vote.
In Miss Mitchell’s sixth grade class, they brought a television set in and we all watched the nonstop coverage of the tragic event. It was clear there was no hope for RFK; he was not going to survive. I watched the film clips of recent interviews with the candidate who was now clinging to life, and his final words to the crowd, of “Now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there” haunted me then, as they do now.
In many ways, Robert F. Kennedy’s doomed 1968 presidential run was “the last campaign,” as John Stewart titled his heart-wrenching song. There was a sense that whatever vestiges of idealism, of Peace Corps-style hope for the future that remained after Dallas, died with RFK the following day, on June 6, 1968. Never again would we see any presidential candidate emphasize the horror of poverty. Never again would we see any leader declare so simply that we could, and should, be doing better.
During that wretchedly long school day, some kids were joking and even appeared happy that RFK had been shot. I felt a despondency I never had in my young life, outside of the times my parents had been sick. This was a concern I’m sure I shared with millions of others across the country, and the world, who were not a part of the Kennedy family.
I was still following updates on RFK’s hopeless condition on my transistor radio, naively praying and clinging desperately to the notion that he might somehow survive, and even continue his campaign. Later that night I heard Frank Mankiewicz’s solemn words “Robert Francis Kennedy died…he was forty two years old” complete with the typical crackles and pops, as I was brooding alone in our unfinished basement.
I remained immersed in the coverage of the funeral train, with all the people lined up to watch and salute it. Andy Williams sang the slowest version of Battle Hymn of the Republic I’d ever heard, but somehow it fit the occasion. And Ted Kennedy delivered what is still the most moving eulogy I’ve ever heard. “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” RFK was also perhaps the most poetic politician of modern times, so this eloquent quote was altogether fitting.
Fifty years later, we see the mainstream media doing what they do best; obfuscating and distorting the record about Kennedy’s life, and especially his death. It was a pleasant surprise to see Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. come out strongly against the official narrative that Sirhan Sirhan had acted alone in killing his father. He even rekindled memories of Dexter King and James Earl Ray when he visited Sirhan in prison. His sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend followed suit and also called for a new investigation. More properly, of course, we should have an investigation. You can’t have a new investigation if something was never investigated to begin with.
I covered the RFK assassination extensively in Hidden History. The LAPD, FBI, and other investigatory government agencies never attempted to follow the intriguing leads they had. The girl in the polka-dot dress disappeared into the same memory hole that JFK assassination figures the Babushka Lady and Umbrella Man had.
We know that there were too many bullet holes, and too many injured bystanders, for all the shots to have come from Sirhan’s gun, which could only fire eight shots. One of the victims, Paul Schrade, became a high-profile critic of the official story, and put it best when he said of his own wound: “The only way I could have been hit by that bullet was if I was nine feet tall or had my head on Kennedy’s shoulder.”
Mark Lane, Harold Weisberg, Sylvia Meaher, Vincent Salandria and other private citizens had been the ones to expose the absurdity of the Warren Report, because no professional reporters would do any investigating. In the assassination of RFK, it was the same story. Despite RFK’s close ties with many in the Washington, D.C. press corps, it was left to people like Lillian Castellano and Floyd B. Nelson to ask the questions highly-paid journalists wouldn’t.
Watching just one of the specials commemorating Robert F. Kennedy fifty years after his death, I was astounded to see some of his children commenting alongside the likes of Dan Rather. Rather’s only connection to any Kennedy is his persistent lying about their deaths, especially the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It wasn’t quite as bad as Caroline Kennedy presenting a Profiles in Courage award to Gerald Ford, who helped cover up her father’s death on the Warren Commission, but it was inappropriate and frankly ridiculous to include Rather’s remembrances.
A great deal of crucial evidence was lost or destroyed in this case, as has happened in most high-profile cases over the past fifty years. We know from coroner Thomas Noguchi’s simple finding that the fatal bullet entered RFK from behind at basically point blank range, that it couldn’t have been fired by Sirhan, who according to all witnesses was never in front of Kennedy and nowhere near close enough to him at any time to have fired a shot that left powder burns.
I don’t expect to see any television specials focusing on the glaring flaws in the official findings of RFK’s assassination. No “second gun” talk. No interview of Thane Eugene Cesar. No interview with Scott Enyart, who was a teenager taking perhaps significant photos in the pantry that night, which still haven’t been returned to him fifty years later. Instead, there will be emotional tributes to the man, lauding him for being concerned with civil rights, with maybe a few words about his opposition to the war in Vietnam.
There will certainly be nothing said in the mainstream media about the connections between the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers. As I’ve grown fond of saying, if JFK hadn’t been assassinated, neither would RFK. Jim Garrison, Mark Lane, and others have acknowledged that, behind the scenes, RFK was planning to reopen the investigation into his brother’s death. This was explored in great detail in David Talbot’s book Brothers.
RFK was one of the last politicians to make this country’s shameful poverty a campaign issue. Only the Kennedys have visited the poorest of the poor Americans, in Appalachia. He had a great deal more empathy than most One Percenters do. Robert F. Kennedy would be appalled by present-day America, with its Ayn Rand worship/looking out for number one/near absence of empathy for others. No more “There but for the grace of God go I.”
RFK’s class and humility would also be out of step with today’s burgeoning Idiocracy. He was perhaps the last chance for Americans to rescue the very real optimism and idealism of a mythical Camelot. An honest investigation led by RFK into the JFK assassination would have blasted away the brewing cynicism of the young, and assured that future state crimes would be harder to carry out and even harder to conceal. An RFK presidency would have saved countless lives that were subsequently lost in Vietnam. The misdeeds of the CIA and FBI would probably have been exposed years before they were by the Church Committee.
This timeless quote from Robert F. Kennedy inspired me when I first heard it, and indeed it continues to inspire me as I try, in my small way, to heed his words: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
I believe that the growing disparity of wealth in America, and around the world, would not be so glaring if RFK had been elected president. If he was concerned about poverty in his era, what would he think of America in 2018, with half of its population making less than $27,000 per year, and possessing less than 1% of the collective wealth? What would he have thought of deadly trickle-down economics, which led us down this disastrous path?
Who knows- perhaps Robert F. Kennedy would have devolved into a typical modern- day mainstream leftist/social justice warrior, addicted to identity politics. I prefer to remember him as he was; brushing a strand of his boyish hair from his face, gesturing in that Kennedy style, as he headed for his own rendezvous with destiny.