The Book of the Week is “RFK, A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy” by C. David Heymann, published in 1998. The author threw in as well, plenty of the Kennedy family’s history (some might say tabloid gossip) only indirectly related to Robert.
Born in 1925, Robert F. Kennedy (Bobby) was one of nine children of the wealthy and powerful Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. Taken as a whole, his life was a study in contradictions. Regardless, he exhibited the stereotyped Kennedy family traits, such as the arrogance of a spoiled rich kid, recklessness and idealism.
He spent his childhood in the Boston area, New York City, London and other places, frequently switching schools. Nonetheless, he alternately attended Harvard and underwent training in the Navy beginning in the mid-1940’s. But the war ended, so he moved to Boston to help his older brother John run for Congress.
Sadly, Bobby’s poor academic performance got him rejected from Harvard Law school, his hegemonic daddy’s appeal to do the Kennedy family’s will notwithstanding. He ended up graduating from the law school of the University of Virginia.
Bobby wed Ethel in 1950. Two years later, he began to develop his “joined at the hip” relationship with John when John ran for the U.S. Senate and they lived in Massachusetts. Female campaign workers distributed 900,000 leaflets in buses, taxicabs, mailboxes and door-to-door, in that race. They also called all voters twice. Later that same year, Bobby hired on with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee that practiced Communist witch-hunts, even though he hated Roy Cohn. The summer of 1953 saw him resign, but a couple of years later, return to investigate unethical behavior committed by business and government officials borne of conflicts of interest.
Ironically, Bobby tagged along with narcotics cops on the beat in New York City when they engaged in numerous, brutal, illegal search-and-seizure raids on African Americans and people of Spanish-speaking origin, and allegedly participated in a few raids himself. He furthered his political education with his presence on presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s whistle-stop rail tour in 1956. But he soon became disgusted with the candidate’s vacillating and poor skills set. Bobby worked long hours; he spent the little leisure time he had with his children and their pets-a veritable zoo– at their chaotic mansion in McLean, VA.
The author described in detail, John’s run for president and Bobby’s actions as John’s attorney general. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, led his own little fiefdom that had been zealously chasing after Communists (tracked via spying and dossiers galore). Hoover and Bobby (the new sheriff in town), disliked each other.
Unlike Hoover, Bobby fostered unusual collective effort among the FBI, IRS and the narcotics bureau to catch offenders in the Mob. Unsurprisingly, the Kennedys’ connections with the Mob and their rampant philandering with female celebrities and prostitutes (wherever they traveled in the world –– a well-kept secret by the Secret Service) invited extortion of John and Bobby by Hoover. Another thorny issue Bobby had to deal with was civil rights. He dealt with it hypocritically.
Bobby investigated corruption in the Teamsters for years, putting the screws on the union’s leader, Jimmy Hoffa. He told his underlings to use illegal surveillance techniques– conduct that was unbecoming of an attorney general: tapping of Hoffa’s rotary-dial phones, chamfering of Hoffa’s mail, ransacking Hoffa’s home and office without a warrant, and ordering the IRS to audit Hoffa’s tax returns.
Unfortunately, Bobby couldn’t do the same against another enemy– Fidel Castro. “The Kennedy administration’s campaign to overthrow the premier of Cuba– a policy founded on grandiose delusions and foolish rage– was an abject failure.”
In 1964, Bobby was elected a U.S. Senator from New York State via carpetbagging. Since he had his eye on the presidency, he examined global issues. He visited many poor areas in various nations to study their governments’ policies on poverty.
In June 1968, as is well known, while running for president, Bobby was shot. Strangely, no details were provided as to how Bobby’s assassin knew that Bobby was pro-Israel. The reader is left wondering what Bobby’s views were on Middle Eastern policy. There were, however, numerous details on Bobby’s competitors’ activities, primary results of various states, and several of his countless sexual dalliances (of which his wife was painfully aware).
Read the book to learn much more about Bobby’s life, times, and large family– especially the salacious details.
Endnote: Incidentally (and sadly), the culture of both major political parties in America has changed little in terms of surveillance and adolescent-boy spy games since the McCarthy era and RFK’s “Spy Vs. Spy” Mad Magazine-type (but in real life!) vengeful political nonsense. Not to mention the fact that the Democrats have yet to catch up to the Republicans in witch-hunt expertise.