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Bobby Kennedy's blossoming

The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK - John R. Bohrer

Until John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 Robert Kennedy's political career had been subsumed into that of his brother. As manager for John's 1952 Senate and 1960 presidential campaigns, Robert was the one who did the disagreeable work, serving as the bad cop so as to avoid accruing any personal enmity towards his older brother. As Attorney General Bobby played a similar role, and acted as Jack's closest adviser throughout all of the major crises of his presidency. Jack's assassination left his brother politically adrift, suddenly deprived of the focus that had defined his public career. How Robert Kennedy regained his political footing and emerged as a politician in his own right is the subject of John Bohrer's book, which details his career from the aftermath of his brother's murder to the delivery of his "Ripple of Hope" speech in South Africa in 1966.

 

The significance of these years, as Bohrer demonstrates, lay in Robert's emergence as a politician in his own right. This was a role almost thrust on him from the moment of his brother's death, as it made him the next in line for his family's political aspirations. Many people openly campaigned for Kennedy to be selected as Lyndon Johnson's running mate in the 1964 presidential election, but the personal animosity between the two men, coupled with Johnson's need to establish his victory as the result of his own appeal and not that of the Kennedy mystique, forced Robert to run instead for the Senate in New York, which he won by defeating the popular Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. Though possessing no seniority, Kennedy entered with an outsized stature, which he used to address he issues of poverty, civil rights, and America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War

 

Over the course of his book Bohrer develops a picture of a man who gradually found his voice as a politician in his own right. Though Kennedy's celebrity status undoubtedly played a role in this, Bohrer also credits the hard work both he and his aides put into making it possible. Though the author stops short of Kennedy's ill-fated 1968 presidential run, his book makes it clear how that trajectory towards the presidency was almost irresistible considering his status and the hopes so many invested in him. It makes for a book that offers a readably persuasive narrative explaining how Robert Kennedy emerged from his brother's shadow to become a national leader for his times.