Chasing the Elusive Ghost of RFK in 2008

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Mr. Robinson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, Salisbury University

“The modern Democrats are more a party of tragedy than of triumph. . . . And at the heart of the Democrats' quasi-tragic account, at the very center of the wistful might-have-been-but-wasn't-quite-to-be narrative, is the leader who was cut down before he had the chance fully to lead: Robert Kennedy.”-- William Kristol, Time, March 29, 2007

Nearly 40 years after this death, Robert Kennedy remains an iconic figure within the Democratic Party. Activists, pundits and at times the candidates themselves seem irresistibly drawn to comparisons between RFK and the current crop of Democratic frontrunners. However, a failure to grasp RFK’s true political platform, an overemphasis on charisma as the sole factor in the “Bobby Phenomenon” (as it was labeled in a 1966 cover story in Newsweek), and fundamental differences between the current socio-political context and that of 1968 render these comparisons misplaced.

Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential bid rested on four core elements. First, he demanded an end to America’s direct military involvement in the Vietnam War. His public opposition to the war, first clearly expressed in 1967, put him in the minority (albeit a growing minority) on the issue, both within his own party and nationally.

Second, RFK was a passionate advocate for the poor. However—and this is a key fact that is often ignored today—he spoke openly of the damage which he believed welfare had done to the poor in America, calling instead for an anti-poverty campaign that would emphasize education, training, and “decent jobs at decent wages.” In addition, unlike most 60s liberals, Kennedy consistently condemned urban rioters. As his legislative aide Peter Edelman once remarked, when it came to political ideology, Kennedy “defied labels.”

Third, recognizing that the “Solid South” for the Democratic Party was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, RFK sought to reconstruct the base of the party by forging an alliance between lower-class whites and minorities.

Finally, Kennedy possessed a charisma, based partially on his own personality and partially on the legacy of his family’s name, that has been unmatched by any Democratic politician since 1968. In sum, RFK was a charismatic politician whose platform consisted of a progressive vision, cross-cut by a surprising dose of conservatism on some issues.

It is true that certain elements of the campaigns of each of the major Democratic candidates seem to mirror the “Bobby” model. For example, the emphasis that John Edwards places on fighting poverty creates an obvious similarity between his platform and that of RFK in 1968. Clearly, Edwards deserves credit for being the first mainstream candidate since Robert Kennedy to make poverty a central theme of his campaign.

In the case of Barack Obama, the size and enthusiasm of his crowds has been likened by a number of journalists and Obama backers to the Kennedy phenomenon of 1968. Obama himself has tapped the RFK vein: in remarks he delivered in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, Obama quoted extensively from a speech Kennedy made the day after Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Hillary Clinton’s experience with the RFK legacy has been more complicated, because comparisons between Clinton and Kennedy have been made most often by critics. Between 1964 and 1968, Kennedy was characterized first by his opponents as a ruthless carpetbagger who sought a seat in the US Senate from New York as a springboard to the presidency. Later, he was charged by some on the left with using Eugene McCarthy as a stalking horse to prove the viability of an anti-war candidate in 1968 (former Kennedy aides have long denied this charge, arguing that RFK had made the decision in private to throw his hat into the ring several days prior to the New Hampshire primary). Clinton has faced many of the same accusations that plagued Robert Kennedy, particularly in regards to her long-term political ambitions—specifically that, like Kennedy, she is a carpetbagger who got herself elected to a US Senate seat in New York in order to lay the groundwork for an anticipated presidential run.

Although each of these candidates can claim some commonality with the RFK legacy, in total each falls short of the mark. Edwards lacks both the charisma and political acumen that were so central to Kennedy’s effort in 1968. As for Obama, at this point the heat from his charisma is such that it seems to overshadow the light of his issue stances. Thus, equating Obama with Kennedy relies on an overemphasis on the power of personality. Interestingly, in terms of her willingness to mix-and-match elements of liberalism and conservatism (and thereby to “defy labels”), Hillary Clinton’s ideological platform may be most similar to Bobby Kennedy’s. However, she lacks the boldness of Kennedy, and moreover is likely reticent to portray herself as being in the RFK mold, given the fact that this would invite the projection of the negative Kennedy stereotypes (power-hungry carpetbagger) upon Clinton.

On the issue of the Iraq War, none of the frontrunners have mirrored the political courage shown by Robert Kennedy in the stance he took against the Vietnam War. RFK moved into open political ground by expressing his public opposition to the Vietnam War, a conflict that was accelerated by his brother, and which was prosecuted with vigor by a fellow Democrat, Lyndon Johnson . By comparison, Obama was in a position of being able to oppose the Iraq War from the outset while not having to take any legislative or political responsibility for its origins (he was in the Illinois State Senate at the time the war was authorized); Edwards’s opposition has paralleled the steep decline in public support for the war, particularly among his fellow Democrats; Clinton has failed to carve out a clear position on just where she stands today on Iraq.

Finally, one must keep in mind that the socio-political environments of the two eras are fundamentally different. As RFK biographer Evan Thomas observed in March 2007: “This is not 1968. Those were pre-revolutionary times.” Thomas is speaking of the powerful brew of political, social, cultural, and demographic forces that broke loose simultaneously in American society during the 1960s. This swirling mass of crisis, opportunity and social awareness created conditions that were ripe for a creative politician of Robert Kennedy’s stripe to energize large numbers of Americans. Such conditions are absent today, a fact which strengthens the hand of the cautious and calculating politician, while reducing the incentives for a leader to attempt to travel a truly innovative path to the White House, such as that which RFK attempted to blaze in 1968 prior to his tragic death.

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Leonard Robinson - 8/3/2007

A couple of points:

First, the verified delegate breakdown after California was as follows:
HHH: 561
RFK: 393
McCarthy: 258

As I said in an earlier comment, McCarthy's supporters would have had to make some hard choices at the convention.

Second, if you consider that 270 electoral college votes are required to win, and you look at traditional swing states whose popular vote margins were tight, the 1968 election was closer than might first appear in terms of the electoral college. Consider this: Nixon won 301 electoral college votes. If he had lost California (which he won by a close margin, and a state where Kennedy had proven his popularity with vast numbers of minority voters during the primary), or has lost a combination of New Jersey and Ohio (again, in both states the popular vote victory for Nixon was small--60,000 in New Jersey, 90,000 in Ohio), Nixon would have been denied the magic number needed to win (no candidate would have had 270). A loss by Nixon in all three states would have given the election to the Democrat. Just food for thought.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/2/2007

Evan Thomas was also forthright about how much the "liberal media" is worth to Democratic candidates like John Kerry - he quantified it as 15% of their vote. Quite honest is Mr. Thomas, a grandson of Norman, even though he stubbornly remains a 100 octane liberal himself, but I am pleased to know somebody accurately made note of the California returns. Thomas has it exactly right, too, when he said the idea "has long since hardened into myth." (He means on the left--nobody else cares). On the other hand, I would completely discount the opinion of Sander Vanocur, whom I remember as sounding like a Kennedy stringer at all times.

I was living in Michigan in the 1960s, and there was a very liberal talk show host there named Lou Gordon who hectored his guests in the manner of Chris Matthews today. I think Gordon WAS a Kennedy family stringer. Anyway, one night he interviewed a very tired George Wallace, who nevertheless managed to cut him up into ribbons. I can't tell you a word they said, but Wallace showed me that night he belonged in the big leagues--also that Gordon did not. Wallace carried Michigan in one Democratic primary, perhaps in 1968.

My recollection is that HHH did not come close in 1968, although the rigged polls at the end helped him considerably, and the media used them collectively to produce an early instance of late hit. (The art of the late hit reached its apogee in 2000, when it provided four million votes for Al Gore). Lou Harris loaded his work for the Democrats, especially. Nixon and Wallace combined got around 60%, and Humphrey's score was a big tumble from all previous New Deal races. In fact, the election of 1968 was a national pivot of Jacksonian proportions... One can win with 40%, sure, like Lincoln and Clinton, so perhaps you can say Humphrey came close. But for the great mass of voters, or taken as a look at the national mindset, it was not close.

Leonard Robinson - 7/29/2007

RFK certainly was popular on the interview circuit (he was a particular favorite of Jack Parr). Again, I see this as being indicative of his personal popularity, which can be traced at least partially to his charisma.

As for Wallace, he was a classic populist in the way that he could connect with an audience. I saw this while living in Birmingham, Alabama in the mid-to-late 1960s. I do think he had some charisma, in his own, folksy way.

McCarthy, as you note, was quite erudite, although that also led to a common perception of him as being overly detached. There were numerous stories within his campaign of his own aides finding him quite distant, and therefore difficult to work with at times. I think we have the ultimate contradiction here between candidates: Kennedy's heat vs. McCarthy's ice.

If you are looking for a fair and unbiased biography of RFK, there are several worthy contenders that are out there. I believe the best to be Evan Thomas' "Robert Kennedy: His Life." You would be pleased to know that Thomas discusses the difficult road that lay ahead of RFK even after winning California, observing that the perception of the inevitability of a Kennedy victory "has long since hardened into myth." He also notes that Kennedy himself recognized that the odds were difficult.

Finally, I agree with you (and with Thomas)--and I have always believed--that too many people assume that Kennedy was headed toward an inexorable victory in Chicago. On the other hand, I think it is a mistake to assume that he had no chance at all. For example, you mention Daley, who in fact had indicated that he might shift his support behind RFK just prior to Kennedy's assassination in LA. Another factor was that New York was scheduled to determine the make-up of its delegation later in June. If we assume that Kennedy would have carried that slate, this along with California (think total delegates here, not primary victory margin in California)would have added to his momentum going into Chicago. I think ultimately I agree with Sander Vanocur's comments several years ago when he reflected back on what might have happened if RFK had not been killed: it would have been difficult--not impossible, but difficult--for Kennedy to win at Chicago. (By the way, if he wins as Chicago, I'm confident he would have defeated Nixon. Look at how close Humphrey's disasterous campaign came to pulling off a victory in November).

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/29/2007

I never made a study of Robert Kennedy, and have never read a biography of him, and probably never will. You may be right that he wasn't trying to look and talk like his older brother--but that is what promoted his candidacy. And you did, indeed, mention the magic of his family's name. I don't know if he ever appeared on the Johnny Carson show, but Bobby would not have turned it down. That's the way I remember his race in 1968.

I wouldn't call George Wallace "charismatic" either, but he could be very drole. I loved the soundbite where he said the NY Times "called Fidel Castro the Robin Hood of the Caribbean." Not just the thought, but the way he said it, (accent on "Hood") makes me laugh even now. Wallace had great timing with his punch lines, and sarcasism that was laced with truth.

Eugene McCarthy was also very drole, on a much, much more elevated level. He was a man of high erudition, far more interesting than anybody in the Kennedy family, unless perhaps old Joe on a subject like insider market techniques.

I am delighted to have extracted from you the last paragraph in your note above with respect to the election results in California. This is important history which does not get told by 99 and 44/100% of today's historians, because they are all liberals infatuated with the Kennedys themselves. It is probably not found, for instance, in any of those allegedly "credible" biographies you mentioned. The long and the short of this story, however, is that with Boss Daley, John Connally and Lyndon Johnson at the controls, there was no way Hubert Humphrey could lose that nomination.

Vernon Clayson - 7/27/2007

Thoughtful response, Mr. Robinson, I would have just said we all are beating a dead horse. RFK was the more appealing of the two, McCarthy never looked like he was truly composed while RFK exuded confidence and looked perfectly at ease in every situation. It would really be neat if we had someone now that gave the same impression.

Leonard Robinson - 7/27/2007

Dear Lawrence,

Admittedly, charisma is something that is virtually impossible to quantify objectively. However, both the size and enthusiasm of the crowds drawn by RFK indicate that, indeed, many (though certainly not all) viewed him as being charismatic. In fact, his advisors were split on his "politics of the street" strategy in 1968 precisely because they feared that the types of raucous crowds he was drawing would remind too many people of the chaos then seemingly rampant in the country.

In addition, your claim that RFK simply "aped" JFK is belied by your own physical description of Robert Kennedy, as well as every credible biographer who has ever written on RFK. Moreover, the overwhelming evidence supports the contention that, far from "aping" JFK, Robert Kennedy sought to move out from under his brother's shadow. In fact, several times RFK privately voiced his frustration regarding his suspicion that some people supported him simply because he was the brother of the slain president. At any rate, to the extent that the perception of JFK's charisma was projected on RFK, I addressed that quite clearly in the article when I said that the source of the perception of RFK's charisma was a combination of his own qualities as well as the magic of his family's name.

As for other politicians of the day, I may be willing to grant that Wallace was "charismatic" in his own way. However, the idea that McCarthy was "charismatic" is, frankly, ludicrous. In fact, one of the things that attracted some to his candidacy (including some left-leaning journalists in the mainstream media) was the fact that he was viewed as the ultimate "anti-establishment" candidate, at least partially because he relied so much on his message and so little on personal qualities.

As for the fate of RFK's bid if he had survived, I agree that the results in California were disappointing for RFK in the sense that the margin was not as wide as he (or many pollsters) expected. At the same time, the reality is that he had many more delegates locked up than McCarthy, and he would have been viewed at the convention as the only hope to block Humphrey. Ultimately, I believe McCarthy's supporters, looking squarely in the face of a victory by the war candidate Humphrey, would have swallowed their anger towards RFK and thrown their votes behind him at Chicago. At that point, although Humphrey still would have been favored, the outcome would have been left to the fate of the delegates.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/27/2007

As I remember it, RFK aped his brother in appearance, hairdo and mannerisms, attempting to ride on his coattails--without much success. Bobby never smiled, for one thing, and often seemed a bit effeminate. (Which of course he wasn't, but he came over that way, because usually too serious.) I believe his presidential candidacy was going nowhere. The California primary returns that day he was shot were a disappointment to his backers. I think he was short, in fact kind of a pip-squeek. He was like a nasty little terrier. He lacked the common touch. If there was something mystical and deep to him, it was only seen by his cult-like followers. Jack used him as a hatchet man, and sent him after KKK leaders on income tax charges, etc. "Charismatic" is not an appropriate adjective for RFK. After his brother was killed he got fawned over in TV interviews because he had the same Boston accent and hairlocks, reminding people of Jack, but that was about it. Any number of his contemporaries who are ignored today had much more influence on American history--such as George Wallace and, yes, Eugene McCarthy.

Leonard Robinson - 7/26/2007

Hi George,
First, thank you for your service to our country. Your valor should be honored by all. Second, I agree with you completely that McCarthy's campaign was doomed to fail. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, McCarthy himself seems to have recognized this fact. Certainly, by the time he got to Chicago he understood the state of his candidacy. In fact, there was a serious, last-minute effort behind the scenes to have Edward Kennedy's name brought forward at the convention (a tactic which McCarthy actually at least indirectly endorsed).

In addition, I largely agree with your characterization of what the general election outcome would have looked like if McCarthy had somehow won the nomination in 1968. I just finished reading Kristi Witker's wonderful first-hand account of McGovern's 1972 campaign, "How to Lose Everything in Politics (Except Massachusetts)." (Witker covered RFK as a journalist in 1968 and was a witness to his assassination; in 1972, Frank Mankiewicz asked her to work for the McGovern campaign, which she agreed to do). The thought crossed my mind after I finished her book that McCarthy probably would have suffered just about the same fate in the general election in 1968 as McGovern suffered in 1972.

Best Regards,

George Robert Gaston - 7/26/2007

First, thanks for the article. Well done.

One should not forget that LBJ also ran as a “Peace candidate” in 1964, painting Barry Goldwater as a mad bomber. In is last major campaign address LBJ essentially announced what would later become Nixon’s "Vietnamization" policy. The speech was credited with giving LBJ his much desired major landslide.

Of course, when he made the speech he had already directed that the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, and additional marine ground forces be deployed to Vietnam.

The official announcement that these units were to be deployed was delayed until after the election.

This little history lesson should give Americans cause to view the current crop of “peace candidates” with a great deal of skepticism.

I think Eugene McCarthy had gone about as far as he was going to go toward being president when Robert Kennedy entered the race. This is evidenced by the political fratricide that went on in the 1968 Chicago convention, and the subsequent damage done to the party by its left wing. I think McCarthy may have carried two states and DC against Nixon, while RFK probably would have become president.

However, at the time I was walking around in ankle deep dust or knee deep mud, through some rice patty or up some jungle covered mountain for the princely sum of $168.60 a month (including combat pay). I could not see Camelot from there.

Leonard Robinson - 7/25/2007

In my opinion, RFK is still polarizing in the sense that those who admired him during his lifetime continue to cling to their positive impressions of the man, circa 1968, while those who opposed RFK in the late 1960s still harbor a great deal of resentment toward him. I find it interesting that every commment (prior to your post) has focused at least to some degree on the question of whether or not Kennedy used McCarthy as a stalking horse in 1968. Judging from the comments on this board, people are still sharply divided in their interpretations of RFK.

Vernon Clayson - 7/24/2007

The Kennedy's Camelot, like the Gene Kelly movie Brigadoon appears now and then as a melancholy apparition to remind us of a lost world of hope. JFK and RFK were better men than brother Teddy turned out to be but who is to say that they wouldn't have eventualy become as tedious and odious as he if they hadn't passed from the scene so young. It's difficult to believe that anyone would discuss them, especially RFK, in terms of what they might do today, that he, RFK, might still be "polarizing." Good lord, they were ennobled by dying young, JFK would now be 90 and RFK would be 82 - and both would have been found out long ago and their Camelot scoffed at. Aye, Laddie, 'tis like Brigadoon, fading into the netherworld.

Brian Robertson - 7/23/2007

Okay, I understand your viewpoint. I guess where I differ is on RFK's motivations for becoming a peace candidate (or Senator). From within the Johnson White House, RFK's disagreements with and advice for the administration were seen as being inspired by RFK's stormy relationship with the President and his own personal political ambition. Like LBJ, I have to believe that RFK would not have opposed that same policies if his brother were President. Anyway, thanks for posting this article and taking the time to discuss its content with readers.



Leonard Robinson - 7/23/2007

Dear Ed,
You are absolutely right that McCarthy, responding to pressure from Lowenstein and others, jumped in before RFK. In that sense, he was the first to take the presidential plunge. However, given the fact that the two men were operating in completely different political circumstances (RFK with the weight of expectations linked to his brother, the press constantly hounding him, etc., while McCarthy could mount his idealists' campaign largely outside the public spotlight), it is understandable that McCarthy felt freer to plunge in early. After all, as he knew better than anyone, he had no realistic chance of winning anyway, and therefore he was free to do and say anything without really having to worry that he might make a mistake that would scuttle a legitimate bid for the White House.

I agree whole-heartedly with your comments about RFK's lingering two-dimensional image, in the minds of supporters and critics alike (although obviously the images those two groups hold of RFK are fundamentally different!). Judging from some of the comments, I'd say he is just as polarizing now as he was in 1968!
Best Regards,

Leonard Robinson - 7/23/2007

Hi Brian,
Just to clear up one point: I absolutely do NOT absolve either JFK or RFK from their part in the decision in the early 1960s to increase US involvement in Vietnam. At the same time, it is not accurate to portray RFK as surprising LBJ by "suddenly" becoming a peace candidate in 1968. As I pointed out in a response to another writer, as early as the spring of 1965, RFK suggested to LBJ that he implement a bombing halt. Over the next year or so after that, RFK's opposition to the war became more pronounced (and open). From my perspective, I do not see anything dishonest about admitting your past mistakes on an issue such as Vietnam (which Kennedy did publicly in speeches) as your position on that issue evolves.

In regards to the "Camelot" factor: I stated in my piece that some of RFK's personal popularity can be pegged to the family name, by which I meant to refer to his brother's death and the mythology that developed thereafter. Perhaps I should have stated that more clearly.

As for the timing of RFK's entry into the race, I do note in the article that this caused a great deal of criticism at the time. Personally, because the evidence on this is so mixed (for every Larry Berman there is an Evan Thomas making the opposite argument--Thomas quotes multiple sources as stating that the final decision was made on March 10, two days PRIOR to the New Hampshire primary), I think that is one of those issues that will be forever debated but never resolved.
Best Regards,

Brian Robertson - 7/23/2007

A typo: "your" should have been "you're."

Brian Robertson - 7/23/2007

Let me make sure that I understand your argument regarding Vietnam. Since Kennedy died in 1963, he, and his brother Robert, are completely absolved from the 1964-1967 escalation period of the war in Vietnam? Johnson surrounded himself with nearly the same advisors as JFK and he resolutely followed their policy advice. Thus, by 1968, LBJ was left wondering how RFK could have pushed for war in the early 1960s and suddenly become a peace candidate. A plethora of well-known scholars, perhaps the best known being the political scientist Larry Berman, have shown that McCarthy's strong showing in the New Hampshire primaries prompted RFK to throw his hat into the ring.

Also, I still think your diminishing the importance of JFK's death and the creation of the Camelot mythology in RFK's sudden popularity. Not to mention the historical myth, as proven by scholars as diverse as Larry Berman and Robert Buzzanco, that JFK, given the Cold War climate, could not have afforded to not escalate the war in Vietnam. On all of these points, I respectfully agree to disagree.

Ed Schmitt - 7/23/2007

It was only unpopular (and that word could certainly be unpacked to tease out many different strands) until after Tet. McCarthy did, however, jump in before that (at the behest of Allard Lowenstein and others, who preferred Kennedy take the plunge). By the summer, the platforms of both parties indicated that it was time to leave, with only the means and timetable for exiting to be discussed. But I agree with everything else you said. It might be added that Kennedy was the first former administration official of any stature to publicly admit the significant number of mistakes that were made in Vietnam policy. What is striking to me is that given the many words written about RFK since 1968, how closely the remarks of commenters here (not necessarily the author) reflect the popular attitudes toward him at the time, and how two-dimensional he remains in our popular memory.

Leonard Robinson - 7/23/2007

With all due respect, please check your facts. Well prior to the campaign season of 1968, RFK did indeed move into open political ground on the war, being among the first in the US Senate to express open opposition. In the Spring of 1965 he privately urged LBJ to order a bombing halt, and over the next year or so his opposition to the war continued to become more pronounced and open. In fact, by 1966 he was clearly in the anti-war camp.

In addition, you have to keep in mind that, given his name, his fame, and his brother's role in the early stages of the war, it was much more dangerous politically for Robert Kennedy to oppose the war than it was for a relatively unknown politician such as McCarthy. Remember, McCarthy himself viewed his own presidential run in Quixotic terms, based on the reality that he was probably unelectable as a candidate. Being in such a position--comparatively unknown, and with a small chance of winning the nomination--liberates one to take a more militant stance. Having said that, Kennedy, despite the fact that he was viewed as much more "electable" than McCarthy, ran on a platform (anti-war) that was fairly unpopular in 1968.

James W Loewen - 7/23/2007

Wait a sec! You claim "RFK moved into open political ground by expressing his public opposition to the Vietnam War"! A guy named Eugene McCarthy moved onto that ground, and RFK tiptoed in only after McCarthy did OK. You surely are correct in your description of H. Clinton, however: she "has failed to carve out a clear position on just where she stands today on Iraq."

Leonard Robinson - 7/22/2007

It is true that many contemporary commentators saw RFK as being "more 'stiff' and 'wooden'" than JFK. However, an objective review of the reporting on the 1968 campaign reveals that the reaction which Robert Kennedy sparked in public was quite similar to that which was generated by JFK. For example, the day after the shooting of RFK, Sander Vanocur filed a report on NBC in which he stated that journalists who had covered RFK's presidential run noticed a degree of enthusiasm among crowds for the candidate that they had not seen since the final days of JFK's 1960 campaign. This synergestic relationship between the candidate and the crowd was precisely what the Kennedy campaign hoped to achieve. Because he joined the campaign late, they believed it was critical to create an image of mass, enthusiastic support for RFK in order to try to build broader momentum for his candidacy.

As for the charges of romanticizing RFK, within the context of a rather limited amount of space, I believe I have provided an even-handed (and most importantly, accurate) portrayal of Kennedy. As I note in the article, he was the not the unadulterated darling of the left that many liberals like to present his as today. By identifying those non-liberal elements of his platform, I believe I present an accurate, and unromanticized version of RFK.

As for his position on the Cold War, I did not address that in my article, but if I had I certainly would have taken note of his Cold War stance. However, it is perplexing to me that you seem to assume that to be anti-Soviet and anti-Vietnam War were mutually exclusive positions. Every mainstream anti-war politician that I am aware of was also anti-Soviet.

Finally, with all due respect your argument regarding JFK's death, McCarthy's anti-war stance, and RFK's position on the issue makes no sense. JFK died in 1963; this was still nearly a year before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Although some US forces were obviously already involved in Vietnam by 1963, it was basically still off the political radar screen, including that of McCarthy. You make it sound like the day after JFK's death, McCarthy announced his opposition to the war, only to have RFK swoop in and steal his anti-war thunder. That quite simply is not what happened.

Brian Robertson - 7/22/2007

Actually, most commentators considered RFK more "stiff" and "wooden" than his brother, John F. Kennedy. I also feel that you're romanticizing the image of RFK and are ignoring the contradictions, opportunism, calculations, and realism that led to his rise to prominence. It's bad enough that Hollywood films such as "Bobby" are reviving the Camelot
interpretation of history. All in all, RFK was as much of a Cold War warrior as his brother and used his brother's death to hijack the anti-war platform from McCarthy.