Recounting Robert Kennedy’s political career.
Hardball anchor Matthews (Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, 2013, etc.) was much inspired by the Kennedy brothers. “All that youth and hope and sense of change: you couldn’t be alive and not feel it,” he writes. Having chronicled John F. Kennedy’s life in two books (Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, 2011, and Kennedy and Nixon, 1996), the author now turns to Bobby, revealing his essential role in his brother’s success and the trajectory of his own life in politics. The story is familiar: as the third son of an “overbearing, manipulative, and ever critical” father, Bobby longed for Joseph Kennedy’s approval. He spent his youth in awe of his two older brothers, quietly honing a ruthlessness, decisiveness, and “righteous pugnacity” that would serve him well when he managed Jack’s political campaigns, worked for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and became a senator and presidential candidate himself. Bobby made enemies easily and for life. As his sister Eunice remarked, he had “a gift for estrangement.” No one on Bobby’s enemies list was as despised as Lyndon Johnson. When JFK invited Johnson to be his running mate, Bobby was enraged: “the stored-up hatred for the Texan…couldn’t be appeased.” The antipathy was mutual. After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson saw himself as next in line for the presidency in 1968, but as early as 1963, Johnson saw Bobby as “an inside threat to his obtaining the prize he’d signed on for.” Matthews highlights Bobby’s growing empathy for the poor, downtrodden, and marginalized and defends his entry into the 1968 presidential race, a decision made after Johnson had dropped out and anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy established a strong lead. Bobby, writes the author, was driven by “conscience and compassion” and by the heartfelt conviction that he could continue his brother’s progressive agendas. Historian Arthur Schlesinger described Bobby as “a romantic stubbornly disguised as a realist,” a judgment that Matthews underscores.
A brisk, admiring portrait that burnishes the Kennedy image.