News & Politics

Nat Hentoff: Bobby the K


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September 24, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 49

Bobby the K

By Nat Hentoff

I am voting for neither Kennedy nor Keating so this is not an attempt to proselytize. It is, however, an attempt to begin to indicate how difficult it is going to be to change the Democratic Party in this state so that it can ever be fundamentally relevant to the needs and anger of the underclass — of all shades.

I tried to rationalize a vote for Keating, so eager was I to vote against a man I consider as multiply dangerous as Robert Kennedy. But the memory of Keating’s antic performance during the Cuba crises would not down. (Such a cheap trickster way of playing the Virtuous Militant without responsibility.) What killed any chance I had to con myself and vote for Keating was his eagerness to assure PAT that he was damned positively against busing. (That fat collection of frontlash votes waiting to be plucked could not be resisted by that veteran conjugator of his ciil rights record.) Bobby too leapt quickly to prop up the “neighborhood school”; but two muddiers of the issue do not make for a single candidate of clarity and some small degree of courage

But what of Robert the K?

After all, can he be such a menace when the resplendent reform movement welcomes him? (Some, to their credit, had to be dragged into acquiescence as a mournful postlude to a coup which showed them how very powerless they indeed are.)

Well, what of him? No, he is not Mephistopheles incarnate, although if I had worked for SNCC in the South, I’d wonder. His record as Attorney General is not without some accomplishments. A number were listed by Anthony Lewis in the September 4 New York Times, and others were cited by the elastic James Wechsler in the September 1 New York Post. Kennedy has focused attention, and some small amount of initiating action, on bringing justice to the indigent. He did curb some of the more mindlessly zealous viciousness of Immigration authorities. He was instrumental in the release of Junius Scales.

But look at the other side of that record. The attempt now to portray Robert Kennedy and his late brother as utterly committed to civil rights — let alone as understanding what the attainment of those rights implies about the changes that have to take place throughout the society if the rights are to begin to be meaningful — is unusually swift myth-making. Both Kennedys had to be forced, and ultimately shocked, into the start of significant action on civil rights. And even then, there were huge gaps in the scope and degree of their commitment.

…We are now being told by such as Wechsler that Bobby has mellowed over the years and the charge of ruthlessness and megalomania (familial or personal) is outdated. But what of the report in the New York Times that after Johnson had told Kennedy he was not being considered for the Vice Presidential nomination Kennedy “was reported to have conveyed to him the fact that he would regard it as a personal affront if some other member of the Kennedy family were chosen rather than its oldest son.” So much for Mr. Shriver. An in-law at that.

[Each morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our earliest archives. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]


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