The Mythology of Bobby Kennedy

In his review of David Halberstram’s journalistic profile of Robert Kennedy, William Spragens writes that the author “feels Robert Kennedy was a transitional figure in American politics, with an understanding of the old politics but also with a rare feeling for the new politics.”[1]  Indeed, in the first chapter, Halberstram lays out this thesis quite matter-of-factly when he says that Kennedy existed “at the exact median point of American idealism and American power.  He understood the potency of America’s idealism, as a domestic if not an international force, and yet he had also exercised American power.”[2]  It is difficult to disagree with the latter assertion; Bobby Kennedy’s illustrious political career included stints on the McCarthy Committee and the Senate Racket’s Committee, time as John F. Kennedy’s campaign manager and one of his most trusted political advisors during his brother’s presidency, as well as an appointment to the most senior position in the Justice Department.  However, Bobby Kennedy’s evolving views on the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1968, ultimately reveal him to be, not an idealist, but, rather, a shrewd realist.  Continue reading

Lyndon Johnson & The Power of the Presidency

In response to Robert Caro and Lyndon Johnson’s other disparagers, Johnson historian Robert Dallek cautions that “we need to see Johnson’s life not as a chance to indulge our sense of moral superiority, but as a way to gain an understanding of many subjects crucial to this country’s past, present, and future.”[1]  Indeed, Dallek is correct in his implication that to view the decisions and the major policy initiatives made by Johnson during his presidency solely as products of a single mind and a single determination is an analytical mistake.  Continue reading