Thursday, September 22, 2016

On the Shelf at Paragraphs: “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon”

At the end of a long and contentious primary season and as we ramp up for what could be a peppery presidential campaign, I found it interesting to take a step back in history. I have always heard the many stories of Bobby Kennedy - the tough campaign manager for his older brother, his adversarial relationship with Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, and finally the beloved champion of the poor and disenfranchised. But, I have never taken the time to look behind the myth. I feel political biographies are often difficult to trust and especially vulnerable to being more a reflection of the agenda and views of the author than a true study of the person’s life. That being said, I found the new biography by Larry Tye – “Bobby Kennedy, The Making of a Liberal Icon,” a fascinating read and honest assessment of the man and politician.

To capture the full arc of his subject’s life, Tye draws on unpublished memoirs, unreleased government files, and fifty-eight boxes of papers that had been under lock and key for the past forty years. He conducted hundreds of interviews with RFK intimates—including Bobby’s widow, Ethel, his sister Jean, and his aide John Siegenthaler—many of whom have never spoken to another biographer. Tye’s determination to sift through the tangle of often contradictory opinions means that “Bobby Kennedy” will stand as the definitive one-volume biography of a man much beloved, but just as often misunderstood.

Bobby Kennedy’s transformation from cold warrior to fiery liberal is a profoundly moving personal story that also offers a lens onto two of the most chaotic and confounding decades of twentieth-century American history. The first half of RFK’s career underlines what the country was like in the era of Eisenhower, while his last years as a champion of the underclass reflect the seismic shifts wrought by the 1960s. Nurtured on the rightist orthodoxies of his dynasty-building father, Bobby Kennedy began his public life as counsel to the red-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy. He ended it with a noble campaign to unite working-class whites with poor blacks and Latinos in an electoral coalition that seemed poised to redraw the face of presidential politics. Along the way, he turned up at the center of every event that mattered, from the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis to race riots and Vietnam.

Bare-knuckle operative, cynical White House insider, romantic visionary—Bobby Kennedy was all of these things at one time or another, and each of these aspects of his personality emerges in the pages of this powerful and perceptive new biography. (Random House)
Larry Tye has been an award-winning journalist at The Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Satchel”, as well as “Superman”. He lives in Massachusetts.

As Bobby Kennedy said 48 years ago after announcing the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. “What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” Many of us are too young to really remember who Bobby Kennedy was and in this highly-charged political season one may enjoy looking to the past for encouragement and hope that while our leaders are not perfect we do seem to survive even when things look most bleak. I know I did.
Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

By Larry Tye
July 5, 2016
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-0812993349

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