Washington Lawyer - May 2017 - 44

WORTH READING

BOBBY KENNEDY
A LIBERAL ICON
WITH MASS APPEAL
By Ronald Goldfarb

I

n a year and a half, the country will
remember the 50th anniversary of the
killing of Robert Francis Kennedy, who
was assassinated at the very moment
his inevitable run for the presidency
was taking off. I had worked for
Kennedy for four years, first in the U.S.
Department of Justice's Organized
Crime and Racketeering Section, and
later as a speechwriter during his successful run for the Senate in New York.
I was ready to return to a new Kennedy
administration when he was killed.
Robert Kennedy was a work in progress at that time,
and a surprisingly unique politician who appealed
to disparate classes of citizens - liberal elites,
conservative laborers and cab drivers, and blacks.
He was the product of a career that started out
tough and ended heartful. He began his legal
career working with the repugnant Senator Joseph
McCarthy, and later built a tough reputation as
counsel to the McClellan Committee, which investigated labor rackets in the late '50s and helped his
older brother John, then a committee member,
gain national prominence during televised hearings.

Elisabeth Frusztajer

During the 1960 presidential election, Robert
Kennedy was John's "ruthless" and "brash"
campaign manager. He came reluctantly to the
post of attorney general and was considered underqualified by many, but, to the surprise of his critics,
the younger Kennedy grew into a major national
figure in his own right. Although initially a latecomer to the civil rights struggle of blacks, he
became their champion at the Justice Department
in the battle against segregation.

Larry Tye
44 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

MAY 2017

*

During his brief career in the Senate, Kennedy
emerged as an advocate for ending the Vietnam
War and as an empathetic ally of the hungry, the
poor, and of farmworkers. As he became his own
man, no longer his father's son or brother's key
political aide, his international charisma grew.
By the time of his death, Kennedy displayed a
rare combination of conservative and liberal characteristics, a unique blend that appealed to a wide,
disparate, and growing electorate. I believe that
had he not been assassinated, Robert Kennedy
would have been elected president and that the
world would have been much different as a result:
No protracted Vietnam War or Watergate scandal
to dim the luster and appeal of government service
that began with his brother's presidency and that
would have continued and expanded under
a second Kennedy administration.
Larry Tye's book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a
Liberal Icon, adeptly tells his story to a new generation. His title surprises me: No one but his family
called him Bobby (he was "Bob" to friends, and "the
former attorney general" and "senator" to colleagues),
and liberals came late to considering him one of their
own. It was his elusive political labeling that made
the middle Kennedy brother unique.
Robert Kennedy's distinctive and controversial
career seems distant in this time of cynicism and
rancor in politics. Reading about him now will
surely interest a public that does not know his story,
suggesting, hopefully, that leaders like Robert F.
Kennedy may emerge again.
Ronald Goldfarb is an attorney,
author, and literary agent in
Washington, D.C. His book, Perfect
Villains, Imperfect Heroes (Random
House) is about his work in the
Kennedy Justice Department.
Visit ronaldgoldfarb.com.


http://www.ronaldgoldfarb.com http://www.dcbar.org

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