I have written several articles on our Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A list of the links have been provided at the bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional Presidents and their places in history.
Your probably asking yourself how I could possibly compare the two brothers? One was a president and the other just ran for the office. They were both great men, they were also serial womanizer’s. You might also ask the question with their checkered pasts would they have made it so far in politics. The press in the 60’s were much more forgiving then they are today, maybe. If you are a democrat they are even more forgiving, if you are a republican you are “SOL”. What I am basing this comparison is on accomplishments and untapped potential. Another question you can ask, would JFK have made it as far as he did without his wing man, RFK? Prior to his death in World War II Joseph Jr. Kennedy was being groomed by his father to be a future President of the U.S. With his older brother’s untimely death, JFK took his place, and became the political hope of the family. How fickle history is. All the family were driven by their parents, and second place was never an option for their children. This was especially true of the eldest surviving male. JFK was sickly most of his life, he had to work especially hard to overcome this impediment. He took up swimming to help with his health. He was involved in politics at an early age, and as a result of his experiences he won the Pulitzer award in literature for his book “Profiles in Courage“. In WWII, his PT boat was struck and sunk by a Japanese gunboat, the accident had a two-fold affect on his life, the accident injured his back, and this injury caused him to be in great pain for the rest of his life. The pain was so great that he had to wear a back brace most of his waking life. Second of all, his actions to save his crew made him a immediate hero and catapulted him into the limelight. This was probably the single most important factor in the winning of his presidential campaign in 1960. His brother RFK was his campaign manager, and was also instrumental in his successful campaign. RFK was appointed the Attorney General, and became his most trusted senior adviser while he was President.
Jfk’s first year as president was very rocky. His previous experience in the House of Representatives (1947-1953) and in the Senate (1953-1960), did little to help him as a new President. He was unsure of himself, he allowed himself to be bullied by his military advisers and subsequently become involved in the Disastrous Bay of Pigs, and our initial involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. In his second year, he was more sure of himself and with his brother’s help he was able to conclude the Cuban Missile Crisis successfully. He had little interest in the civil rights movement, until RFK prompted him to take up the call. He than became an avid supporter. Unfortunately his presidency was cut short by his assassination on November 23, 1963 in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald. It is hard to know what the rest of his presidency would have been like. It is obvious that he was a quick learner. Many historians believe he would have been able to accomplish great things. There is also a question if his health would have hampered his presidency. He also could have become mired in scandal, by his second year his sexual appetites seemed to have lessened and he became more of a family man. So hopefully it philandering would not have become an issue, though again we simply don’t know. It is believed he would have won his second term. So he would have had over 5 years to make positive changes. In a future article I will discuss what his future presidency might have been like, in comparison to his replacement, LBJ. It however, can’t be denied that he had a great, virtually untapped potential.
With the death of JFK, his younger brother RFK became the next great hope. However, by the time of JFK’s death, Joe Kennerdy Sr. was a mere husk of a man, he was no longer the driving force he once was. The death of his three oldest children and the virtual lobotomy of Rose Kennedy, was more than he could handle. The death of JFK almost derailed RFK as well. He took him over a year to recover. His relationship with his JFK was incredibly tight, and it is safe to say that there is little that he wouldn’t have done for his brother. He also blamed himself for the death of his brother. He secretly held the belief that organized crime was somehow responsible for his death, especially with the underworld ties Jack Ruby, the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald had.
RFK, as mentioned early was instrumental in his brothers successful congressional and presidential campaigns. During these campaigns he gave many speeches at the rallies. He became a national figure during these campaigns. He graduated from law school in 1951, and in 1957 he made a name for himself while serving as the chief counsel to the McClellan Committee. This committee was involved in organized crime and the teamster’s union with Jimmy Hoffa. In 1960 Kennedy published a book of his own “The Enemy Within“, which was based on his investigations on organized crime.
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Joe Kennedy Sr. called in some of his chips with organized crime to assist in the campaign ( still not confirmed). RFK was appointed Attorney General and from 1961 to 1963, continued applying pressure on organized crime. This is rumored to have infuriated organized crime bosses. We will never know the truth. I have discussed this subject in my article about the Assassination of JFK. Though he continued on as Attorney General through 1964 at the behest of LBJ, he no longer had the drive to pursue organized crime. RFK acted as I stated earlier as a senior adviser to his brother. To get an idea of how much JFK relied on him I will use a quote he made about his brother; “If I want something done and done immediately I rely on the Attorney General. He is very much the doer in this administration, and has an organizational gift I have rarely if ever seen surpassed.” As one of the president’s closest White House advisers, Kennedy played a crucial role in the events surrounding the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Operating mainly through a private, backchannel connection to Soviet spy Georgi Bolshakov, he relayed important diplomatic communications between the American and Soviet governments. Most significantly, this connection helped the U.S. set up the Vienna Summit in June 1961, and later to defuse the tank standoff with the Soviets at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie in October. It is widely accepted that RFK was the driving force behind the Civil Right’s policy in the JFK administration. JFK was considered to be more superficial than his younger brother, and less concerned the more mundane social issues in the country. There is no denying that the Kennedy family life was sheltered from many elements common to the average citizen.
Kennedy was committed to civil rights enforcement to such a degree that he commented in 1962 that it seemed to envelop almost every area of his public and private life, from prosecuting corrupt Southern electoral officials to answering late night calls from Coretta Scott King concerning the imprisonment of her husband for demonstrations in Alabama. During his tenure as attorney general, he undertook the most energetic and persistent desegregation of the administration that Capitol Hill had ever experienced. He demanded that every area of government begin recruiting realistic levels of black and other ethnic workers, going so far as to criticize Vice President Johnson for his failure to desegregate his own office staff. Although it has become commonplace to assert the phrase “The Kennedy Administration” or even “President Kennedy” when discussing the legislative and executive support of the civil rights movement, between 1960 and 1963 a great many of the initiatives that occurred during his tenure were the result of the passion and determination of an emboldened Robert Kennedy, who, through his rapid education in the realities of Southern racism, underwent a thorough conversion of purpose as attorney general. Asked in an interview in May 1962, “What do you see as the big problem ahead for you, is it crime or internal security?” Kennedy replied, “Civil rights.” The president came to share his brother’s sense of urgency on the matters at hand to such an extent that it was at the attorney general’s insistence that he made his famous June 1963 address to the nation on civil rights. Kennedy played a large role in the response to the Freedom Riders protests. He acted after the Anniston bus bombings to protect the Riders in continuing their journey, sending John Seigenthaler, his administrative assistant, to Alabama to attempt to secure the Riders’ safety there. Despite a work rule which allowed a driver to decline an assignment which he regarded as a potentially unsafe one, he persuaded a manager of The Greyhound Corporation to obtain a coach operator who was willing to drive a special bus for the continuance of the Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, on the circuitous journey to Jackson, Mississippi. In September 1962, Kennedy sent a force of U.S. marshals and deputized U.S. Border Patrol agents and federal prison guards to Oxford, Mississippi, to enforce a federal court order allowing the admittance of the first African-American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi.
As his brother’s confidant, Kennedy oversaw the CIA’s anti-Castro activities after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He also helped develop the strategy during the Cuban Missile Crisis to blockade Cuba instead of initiating a military strike that might have led to nuclear war. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy proved himself to be a gifted politician with an ability to obtain compromises, tempering aggressive positions of key figures in the hawk camp. The trust the President placed in him on matters of negotiation was such that his role in the crisis is today seen as having been of vital importance in securing a blockade, which averted a full military engagement between the United States and Soviet Russia. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet Government continued to provide a key link to Nikita Khrushchev during even the darkest moments of the Crisis, in which the threat of nuclear strikes was considered a very present reality. On the last night of the crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother’s work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, “Thank God for Bobby.”
Nine months after his brother’s assassination, Kennedy left the cabinet to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing New York, announcing his candidacy on August 25, 1964. Kennedy won the November election. While serving in the Senate, Kennedy advocated gun control. In May 1965 he co-sponsored S.1592, proposed by President Johnson and sponsored by Senator Thomas J. Dodd, that would put federal restrictions on mail-order gun sales. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, paved the way for the eventual passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968. During his years as a senator, he helped to start a successful redevelopment project in poverty-stricken Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He also visited the Mississippi Delta as a member of the Senate committee reviewing the effectiveness of “War on Poverty” programs, particularly that of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Marian Wright Edelman described Kennedy as “deeply moved and outraged” by the sight of the starving children living in the economically abysmal climate, changing her impression of him from “tough, arrogant, and politically driven.” Edelman noted further that the senator requested she call on Martin Luther King Jr. to bring the impoverished to Washington, D.C., to make them more visible, leading to the creation of the Poor People’s Campaign. Kennedy worked on the Senate Labor Committee at the time of the workers’ rights activism of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Chavez stressed to Kennedy that migrant workers needed to be recognized as human beings. As a senator, he was popular among African Americans and other minorities including Native Americans and immigrant groups. He spoke forcefully in favor of what he called the “disaffected”, the impoverished, and “the excluded”, thereby aligning himself with leaders of the civil rights struggle and social justice campaigners, leading the Democratic party in pursuit of a more aggressive agenda to eliminate perceived discrimination on all levels. He supported desegregation busing, integration of all public facilities, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and anti-poverty social programs to increase education, offer opportunities for employment, and provide health care for African Americans. Consistent with President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, he also placed increasing emphasis on human rights as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. RFK was also against continued engagements and escalation of fighting in Vietnam. He also was against handing over South Vietnam to the Northern government. Which is what essentially happened on January 27, 1973: President Nixon signs the Paris Peace Accords, ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese accept a cease fire. But as U.S. troops depart Vietnam, North Vietnamese military officials continue plotting to overtake South Vietnam. So all the continued fighting accomplished was the loss of thousands of lives and the delaying by 5 years of the absorption of South Vietnam by North Vietnam.
When President Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election in the 1968 presidential campaign, RFK announced he would run for office. Kennedy ran on a platform of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power, and social change. A crucial element of his campaign was an engagement with the young, whom he identified as being the future of a reinvigorated American society based on partnership and equality. On April 4, 1968, Kennedy learned of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and gave a heartfelt impromptu speech in Indianapolis’s inner city, calling for a reconciliation between the races. The address was the first time Kennedy spoke publicly about his brother’s killing. Riots broke out in 60 cities in the wake of King’s death, but not in Indianapolis, a fact many attribute to the effect of this speech. Kennedy addressed the City Club of Cleveland the next day, on April 5, 1968, delivering the famous On the Mindless Menace of Violence speech. He attended King’s funeral, accompanied by Jacqueline and Ted Kennedy. He was described as being the “only white politician to hear only cheers and applause.” On June 5, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. This effectively ended the Kennedy drive for the Presidency. Congress would have to suffice.
While Robert Kennedy was known for his womanizing and philandering, it was never on the level of his older brother JFK. It pretty much ended with the death of his older brother. It seemed to be more of a competition than any true need for sexual gratification. So the worry of sex scandals were of limited concern with A Robert F. Kennedy Presidency. He also was in good health, so this also wasn’t an issue. In his earlier years he wasn’t known for his skill at oratory. But like every one in the Kennedy family, they had a strong drive to improve upon any perceived weakness. By the time of his death his skill at oratory was no longer an issue, and quite to the contrary was considered as a strength. So RFK had all the strengths of his older brother, but without all the negative baggage.
Kennedy’s assassination was a blow to the optimism for a brighter future that his campaign had brought for many Americans who lived through the turbulent 1960’s. Juan Romero, the busboy who shook hands with Kennedy right before he was shot, later said, “It made me realize that no matter how much hope you have it can be taken away in a second. Kennedy’s death has been cited as a significant factor in the Democratic Party’s loss of the 1968 presidential election. Since his passing, Kennedy has become generally well-respected by liberals and conservatives. “Bobby Kennedy has since become an American folk hero—the tough, crusading liberal gunned down in the prime of life.” Wikipedia
Now that I have covered the highlights of both of their lives, It is time to discuss the the main reason for this article. I have however, been skipping around the subject repeatedly in my summary. I already noted that I would discuss JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson in another article, I will just touch upon the matter because it is germaine to the subject. We are talking about the impact of both of their deaths and which one had the greatest impact on the country. One thing JFK had where RFK didn’t have and that was a LBJ. Lyndon Johnson was despite all the negative press a skilled politician. He his credited with, while in office getting more pieces of legislation passed than any other president in recent history. Three bills proposed by JFK were the Revenue Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were made into law under LBJ’s presidency. Even though, he hated the Kennedy’s he still did his best to continue supporting their legacy. So basically the country did not miss a beat with the death of Kennedy. We basically had A JFK part deux with President Johnson. Robert Kennedy had no successor. Nixon won, the presidency. And we know what a failure his presidency was, it has taken over 40 years to fully realize all the ramifications of his presidency. We have discussed JFK’s maturation and growth as a president. There is little doubt he would have matured even more as a statesman, but how much more is the question. He may have reached his zenith with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many historians have countered that having reached the pinnacle, he had no place but to go down. I don’t believe this, because of one key element he had in his favor. He had the undying support of his brother Robert. I like to think of Robert as the conscience that JFK never had. I think he would have kept him on the straight and narrow.
Of the two brothers, I think RFK had the most potential, he accomplished everything with out a RFK of his own. Edward (Ted) Kennedy tried to support his brother, it just wasn’t the same. Robert also had the moral compass that his older brother simply did not have. The plight of the people affected him. He didn’t need somebody else to tell him that he needed to be concerned and to show compassion, he just came naturally to him. I believe JFK was a showman and RFK was the real deal.
Certainly, there is no denying that history would have been different if Kennedy had survived to win in November, and especially if he had managed to fulfill a campaign pledge to quickly wind down the Vietnam War. “If he gets to be president, then there’s no Nixon,” said Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school who worked as a legislative assistant to Kennedy. “I know this as much as anybody could know, because he was gone, but he had every intention of ending the war right away.” “And of course then there’s no Watergate,” he added. When Thurston Clarke, author of “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America,” promoted his book in 2008 people told him that Robert Kennedy’s death still haunted them. “I heard again and again that they felt the loss of Bobby Kennedy more keenly even than the loss of John F. Kennedy,” Mr. Clarke said. “That they felt the country would have been even more different had Robert Kennedy been president than if John F. Kennedy had lived.”
By 1968, Bobby Kennedy was well on the way to a brilliant political career. He had served as his brother’s attorney general and then won election to the U.S. Senate from New York. He had gained favor among African-Americans for his commitment to civil rights. He was becoming popular among young people for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was showing a willingness to identify America’s faults and take action to correct them, which impressed liberal activists. He seemed to be, above all, an agent of change. Kennedy said “the national soul of the United States” was at stake in the 1968 presidential election, and he preached conciliation and tolerance. “We confront our fellow citizens across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust,” he said, and argued that this was no longer acceptable. He called for massive efforts to end poverty, racial prejudice, hatred, violence and the Vietnam War. His mantra was, “We can do better.” In what became his signature comment, during a speech at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, he paraphrased George Bernard Shaw by declaring, “Some people see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'” Kenneth Walsh Contributor
In the half-century since his death, Bobby Kennedy has come to embody the Democratic Party’s lost dream. He alone, it seemed, could draw working-class white, black and Latino voters into an umbrella coalition. He was an “activist champion of the country’s disinherited,” argues Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host and longtime political observer. He seemed uniquely capable of preaching a message of reconciliation in a country violently torn at the seams in 1968. Or, if he was not singular in this ability, then his powerful message of “inclusive patriotic populism,” as Richard D. Kahlenberg has argued. Repeatedly, Kennedy appealed for an America which transcended selfishness and materialism. “The gross national product,” he said, “does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It allows neither for the justice in our courts, nor for the justice of our dealings with each other. [It] measures neither our wit nor our courage, nor wisdom nor learning, neither our compassion or devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; it can tell us everything about America ― except whether we are proud to be Americans.”
On June 4, with overwhelming support from blacks and Hispanics, Kennedy won California decisively. “Bob,” the playwright Bud Schulberg told him, “you’re the only white man in the country they trust.” An hour later, he was shot. Lying in a pool of blood, he asked: “Is everyone all right?”
We weren’t all right ― then, or now. The wounds and divisions Robert Kennedy hoped to heal are with us still. In 1978, Tony Lewis reminisced: “He had a capacity to reach out to disparate groups in our society: black and white, young and old, middle-class and poor, blue-collar workers and intellectuals. There is no political figure now, and none on the horizon, with whom so many Americans can identify.”
If not for LBJ the answer for the initial question would be a dead even tie. But the presence of Johnson changes the picture completely. So the answer becomes quite clear. The country lost more with Robert F. Kennedy’s death. Amazing since Johnson hated the Kennedy’s. And even some conspiracy theorists feel , he was responsible for JFK’s death.