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From Power to Protest After JFK

by John R. Bohrer

Pub Date: June 6th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-60819-964-8
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Freelance reporter and TV news producer Bohrer debuts with an inquiry into the transformation of Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) from hard-nosed political operative to inspirational presidential candidate.

When John F. Kennedy was murdered in 1963, his brother Robert had never held elective office, nor seemed likely to. As JFK's campaign manager and later as attorney general, he stepped on many toes and made few friends; the word most often used to describe him was "ruthless." Grief-stricken and increasingly marginalized by a paranoid Lyndon Johnson, RFK was profoundly uncertain about his future. After a desultory quest for the 1964 vice-presidential nomination was vetoed by Johnson, he won a Senate seat in New York and began building a national constituency around a radical social welfare program and skepticism about the administration's Vietnam policy. Growing up in wealth and privilege, he had had little experience with the effects of racism and poverty; as a senator, his efforts to advance his brother's civil rights legacy led him to a wholehearted embrace of their victims in contentious and even dangerous circumstances. To young people, especially, he began speaking passionately of a "revolution now in progress," peaceful if possible, but demanding advances in individual dignity and in economic and political freedom. Bohrer presents this thorough and well-researched narrative in an evenhanded style, leaving evaluation of this still-controversial politician to readers. Oddly, he ends his story in early 1966, two years before RFK definitively broke with Johnson, running a long-shot presidential campaign that ended with Kennedy's assassination; the implication is that Kennedy's political transformation was complete by this time and all that followed was merely consequential. The author also leaves it to readers to ponder the continuing relevance of this long-dead senator who stood for many as "a bridge for a country that was tearing apart."

A poignant sketch of a lost champion of social justice from an age when it could still be said that "politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure."