His most hostile audience was a group of med students who heckled and booed him over health care and demanded to know whether an expanded federal role would lead to government control and where the money would come from. Kennedy answered, his voice hardening and pointing to individual students, “From you–and you–and you…. The fact is there are people who suffer in this country to whom we have some responsibility…. The fact is the poor have a very difficult time even entering your profession.” Later, he realized he hadn’t won many votes despite scattered applause. He told an aide, “They were so comfortable…”
Forty years after RFK’s assassination, the key question is what kind of president he would have been had he survived and been elected. Clarke concludes the answer is unknowable, but he believes RFK showed the stuff of greatness. People “mourned him so fiercely because they sensed that he had tried to educate rather than manipulate them, reconcile rather than divide them, engage them in a dialogue rather than feed them the message of the day…and demand sacrifice instead of promising comfort.”
The Last Campaign shows that the issues of 1968 have hardly been resolved, though the contexts may have changed. Thurston Clarke clearly believes the country is again in need of a truly harmonizing leader.
Bill Lenderking is a retired foreign service officer and freelance journalist. Read his review of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.