“He had a lot of people he really believed in urging him to run, including his wife … There was a poster, I believe, at Hickory Hill that said, “Run, Bobby, Run” hanging from his … *His kids had put it up*. So he’s got his own family urging him to run because I think that Mrs. Kennedy knew that he was born to do this, and it was the right thing for him to do.”
— Evan Thomas, author of “Robert Kennedy: His Life,” discussing Bobby Kennedy’s decision to enter the 1968 presidential race at the JFK Library’s “RFK Remembered” forum, 2004.
40 years ago, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, America was in turmoil. We were a nation deeply divided over racial and economic inequality, embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam presided over by an even more unpopular president. (Sound familiar?)
Anti-war demonstrators cried out: “Hey, Hey, LBJ – How many kids did you kill today?” But these cries seemed to fall upon deaf ears in the Congress and in both political parties. It felt like no one was listening to us. The people were demanding a candidate who would not compromise on these important issues; a man of courage and integrity to lead us out of the darkness and into the light.
Bobby Kennedy seemed to be our last best hope. As the younger brother of former President John F. Kennedy, it was Bobby, not Lyndon B. Johnson, who was clearly the man best suited to carry on the work that was left unfinished after JFK’s assassination.
And yet, Bobby hesitated to enter the race. Still numb with grief over the horrible events of Dallas, the 42 year-old Senator from New York was also grappling with the consequences of challenging an incumbent president of his own party. But when Eugene McCarthy became the first Democratic contender to declare his intent to run as an anti-war candidate, Kennedy was at last compelled to seek the presidency, lest McCarthy steal his thunder.
And so it was, on March 16, 1968, a soft-spoken Robert Kennedy approached the microphone in the Senate Caucus Room and finally said the words so many Americans had been waiting for:
“I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all that I can.
I run to seek new policies – policies to end the bloodshed in Vietnam and in our cities, policies to close the gaps that now exist between black and white, between rich and poor, between young and old, in this country and around the rest of the world.
I run for the presidency because I want the Democratic Party and the United States of America to stand for hope instead of despair, for reconciliation of men instead of the growing risk of world war.
I run because it is now unmistakably clear that we can change these disastrous, divisive policies only by changing the men who are now making them. For the reality of recent events in Vietnam has been glossed over with illusions…
…I cannot stand aside from the contest that will decide our nation’s future and our children’s future…
…I do not lightly dismiss the dangers and the difficulties of challenging an incumbent President. But these are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election.
At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”
Less than three months later, after winning a decisive victory in the California primary, it seemed that nothing could stand between Kennedy and the White House. But on June 4, 1968, Bobby’s eloquent voice was forever silenced by an assassin’s bullet. With him went the hopes and dreams of a generation of Americans and peace-loving people all over the world.
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“Some people see things as they are and say, ‘why’? I dream of things that never were and say, ‘why not’?”
— Robert F. Kennedy (quoting George Bernard Shaw), speaking at the University of Kansas, March 18, 1968.