COMING OF AGE DURING A RATHER STORMY SPRING
Remembrances of a Presidential
Nomination campaign so very long ago
a SPECIAL [repeat] Presentation of The Green Papers
Monday, June 4, 2018
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The following essay was first posted on this website back on 6 June 2008 (for reasons that will become obvious within this piece itself); however, the day on which this piece is being reposted now (4 June 2018) happens to be the 50th Anniversary of the first real 'Super Tuesday' (as we have come to [over?-]utilize that term) within the history of Primary Elections as an effective electoral instrument within the Major Party Presidential Nominating Process: for back on Tuesday 4 June 1968, two of the largest States of the Union (in population)- California and New Jersey- along with South Dakota, held their Presidential Primaries. It was the last "main event" of a bitterly contested campaign for that year's Democratic Party Presidential Nomination between United States Senators Robert F. [Bobby] Kennedy (D-New York) and Eugene [Gene] McCarthy (D-Minnesota): an internecine political battle within but one wing of a larger, and even more fractured, Party; and the roots of this struggle for the hearts and minds of those most supportive of one of America's two Major Parties that particular year went back at least a few months, if not longer.
As the 1968 Presidential Campaign is at the very roots of my enduring interest in the American presidential nominating process (and, indeed, a concomitant interest in the American constitutional and legal system- State, as well as Federal- as well as the constitutional and legal, political and electoral systems of all Nations around the globe), I thought it would be most appropriate- if only as a manner of reflecting upon all that had happened five decades ago now (including the withdrawal of incumbent President Lyndon Johnson's re-election bid, the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the wild Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year)- to share at least some of my own memories from that era. However, before presenting the reader with these, it is also important to make clear- at the start- the context in which these events took place and, thereby, within which these memories, these "remembrances" (as I have termed them), were themselves made.
In the Spring of 1968, I was a 12 year old second generation Scandinavian-American boy living in a somewhat upscale "railroad suburb" of New York City located in Northern New Jersey. Although the town was dominated by upper management types and their families and was, therefore, predominantly Republican (albeit moderately, and not hard-core, conservative Republican) in its politics, it was also a college town and, thereby, the town could never be completely immune from the various and sundry sociocultural and politicoeconomic winds blowing in from the 1960s "counterculture", winds that- if only as mere breezes (whether for good or for ill)- would continue to whip about me and those who, like myself, were among the last Americans to be born under the 48-star flag under which the United States had emerged as a World Power, as we went on into junior high school and then through high school as the 1960s became the 1970s.
In addition, there was a healthy-sized population of middle class "White ethnics"- mostly Roman Catholic and, in turn, predominantly Italian-American (though there were quite a few Irish-Americans as well)- in the town, as well as a no less significant population of primarily blue collar African-Americans mostly clustered in a neighborhood focused around the few blocks immediately off of "downtown" (that is, nearest the heart of the local business district)- a district that, although some of its younger denizens would take to calling it "the GHET-to" during the 1970s, was hardly a slum but, instead, a neighborhood of the modest homes of those so hard-working as they in order to best "get over".
Thus, my town- although seemingly socially dominated by the archetypal suburban commuter families who tended to live, at least on one side of the railroad tracks that bisected the community, on what we in town called "The Hill" (a gift of the retreating glacier at the end of the most recent Ice Age, "The Hill" was simply a portion of the Terminal Moraine as it snaked generally west-to-east across North Jersey), a topographical feature upon which property values, if not also income level (if only, in at least some cases, allegedly), increased roughly proportionally to one's height above mean sea level- was certainly not at all the quintessential "lily White" Anglo-Saxon Protestant enclave of the era.
I would have to say that most of us who were moving from pre-teen to teenager in that town during the late 1960s had- regardless of ethnicity or economic status- something of a sheltered upbringing; but it was hardly an altogether cloistered existence! And this much must be understood by the reader if what I am about to relate of my own experiences, as best as I can now remember them, is to make any sense, especially in their relationship to whatever else might have been going on "out there" in broader America and the World at large at that time.
As I've already noted, the essay seen below had originally been posted hereon ten years ago now. As things turned out, it soon thereafter ended up becoming, more or less, the second part of something of a 'Trilogy' about that generation of political Kennedys (the first part of this 'Trilogy' being my later remembrances of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and the third, and final, part being my piece about Senator Edward M. [Ted] Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) posted shortly after the latter had passed away). Obviously, at the time this one had first been written, I could not have known that this would, in fact, become the case; so please, gentle reader, keep this in mind as you might read what follows.
One more thing, if I might: note well that I used the term "Remembrances"- and not "A memoir"- in the subhead to this piece. To me, the term "memoir" denotes a form of autobiography- in effect, a memoir is an autobiography of a certain period in a person's life or certain circumstances with which that person had to deal; thus, like an autobiography- as well as an ordinary biography written about a person by another- there needs be a certain amount of documentation (indeed, an at least fair amount of research amongst one's own personal 'papers') behind such a memoir. I, however, have no such documentation: although I did no little intensive research on the outside events about which you will read below (to make sure public utterances were quoted most accurately and such events actually transpired as I here describe them [in addition, to be able to provide you- the reader- with all necessary detail (principally as regards the results of specific Presidential Primaries, as well as noteworthy National Convention Delegate Voting) that I would not have necessarily paid all that much attention to as a 12 year old, as I so obviously must do nowadays]), I did not keep a diary or a journal during the time about which I herein write.
Human memory is all too fallible: events, especially those from so long ago, tend to become telescoped in one's mind's eye. However, within this limitation, I honestly believe that, when it comes to my own personal recollections recounted below, these occurred pretty much as I have told them below; nevertheless, and at the same time, it is possible- if not even at least somewhat probable- that, for instance, a conversation I so strongly associate in direct relation to an event in the outside world might well have actually occurred, say, the next day or even days- or perhaps weeks!- later. There is simply no way for me to make certain that the mere relationship of such a conversation to an event which took place well beforehand might have caused me to remember it as having taken place on the very day of the event itself ever after.
My attitude, then, when it comes to what the reader will see herein, is that "well, at least I'd pass the polygraph!" [;-)] but I would much more want the reader to understand that my principal intention here is to provide the overall sense of what all of this meant to one so young- and came to mean over the years, and decades, in memory- rather than an hour-by-hour, day-by-day historical record of such feelings and reactions on my part!
[EDITOR's NOTE: first posted on Friday, June 6, 2008-- all contemporaneous references below are, therefore, from that date]
It all began on Tuesday 12 March 1968 with New Hampshire's First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary on its "Town Meeting Day", by 'ancient and honorable' tradition the second Tuesday in March (for it made most sense to hold the selection of delegates to the Major Parties' National Conventions at the same time voters were going to also be choosing local elective officers and debating the agenda presented them on the Town Warrant-- by the way, this was destined to be the very last time the Granite State's Presidential Primary would coincide with Town Meeting: from 1972 on, preservation of 'First-in-the-Nation' status for the event would dictate moving the Primary up earlier and earlier in just about every presidential election cycle from then on).
That Presidential Primary was, in reality, two separate elections: an Advisory "beauty contest" Presidential Preference vote with a separate balloting for actual National Convention delegates- a type that would, later, come to be known as the "Loophole" Primary (since, at least hypothetically, a presidential contender in a multi-contender contest could end up with all the delegates from a State by simply having his [and, in those days, it was always "his"] delegates all come in first in the Delegate Selection portion of the vote- thus, a loophole in the later attempts- by the Democrats- to do away with Winner-Take-All contests)... but, on that particular day, I had absolutely no idea about such things... I was merely just another 6th grader, attending school during the day in the one school in town located within the principal Black neighborhood of the community- a school that, thereby, included the vast majority of the African-American kids in my town- with absolutely no regard for such things as delegate selection rules, "soft" or "hard" counts and the like. Like most childhoods in America, it was a rather uncomplicated time for me as compared to now!
When the returns were all in on the Democratic side, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had garnered nearly, but not quite, 50 percent of the vote to 42 percent for upstart, anti-Vietnam War presidential contender Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota; former Vice President Richard Nixon, the losing GOP candidate back in 1960 and a front-runner for his Party's nomination in 1968, had actually gotten 5 percent of the Democratic Primary vote in the Granite State as a "write-in": LBJ's votes had all been write-ins, too, as it was not all that uncommon, back then, for even an incumbent President to not formally have his name on the ballot (President Johnson had not yet even officially announced a bid for re-election) under the still-prevalent American political mythos of "the Office should seek the man, and not the man the Office".
An incumbent President not gaining at least a majority of the New Hampshire Primary vote against a strongly challenging intra-Party presidential contender not from New England, even if such could be explained away by the necessity of having to rely on write-in votes, was bad enough; but the real bad news for LBJ was in the Delegate Selection results: for, here, McCarthy's delegates ended up winning 20 of the 24 National Convention seats up for grabs that day (although at least some of this had much to do with competing pro-Johnson slates of delegates having filed for ballot access: Johnson supporters made up 45 of the delegate-candidates for the 24 delegate seats; meanwhile, McCarthy, smartly, had only exactly 24 delegate-candidates on the ballot-- still, as I've noted many times on this very website: "it's the delegates, stupid!" [;-)]).
I would like to be able to tell the reader that the very roots of my participation on TheGreenPapers.com started with, say, my reading the newspapers over the few days following the New Hampshire Primary (I suppose I should explain to younger readers that, in my youth, we didn't have the Internet or 24-hour cable TV news-- we did, however, have something that barely still exists in some parts of the country: the afternoon newspaper- daily papers that became available by early-to-mid afternoon, containing news up to about an hour or two before publication and distribution and, thereby, supplementing the still-to-this-day [somehow! ;-)] common "morning"- now, simply, daily- paper), puzzling- indeed, even cogitating- over such concepts as "Primaries" and "delegates" and "National Conventions"...
but I can't...
no, instead, my eventual interest in such things as the 1968 Presidential Primary/Caucus "season" progressed would come as the result of one singular political event that coming weekend:
On Saturday 16 March 1968, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy- one of the famous family of Massachusetts politicians but, at the time, junior Senator from New York State (in the 'Class 1' seat, the same seat currently held by another junior Senator from New York named Hillary Rodham Clinton)- formally announced (in the very same Senate Caucus Room where his brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had announced his own candidacy for the Presidency eight years before: the very same room, in fact, that would, a little over five years later, be the meeting place of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities [the so-called "Watergate Committee"] which would, among other things, first bring to the world's attention that committee's Minority Counsel, another person who ran for President in 2008, Republican Fred Thompson) he would be seeking the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.
I still so well remember watching RFK's announcement of his candidacy on a black and white television in the basement (which functioned as a "rec room") of a friend's house down the street from me- if only because the Senator's press conference was carried by all three national television networks (three of today's four so-called "over the air" networks- although there was no reason, back then, to even make such a distinction!) and, thus, the usual network offering of Saturday cartoons and other children's fare had been pre-empted by this press conference.
I do not run for the Presidency to oppose any man, Bobby Kennedy intoned, but to propose new policies... The fight is just beginning, and I believe that I can win.
Nowadays, with the cold objective eye of a rather seasoned political analyst combined with 20-20 hindsight, I can clearly see that "any man" was literally so and included, not just President Johnson, but also Gene McCarthy, and that RFK's proposed "new policies" not only referred to Bobby Kennedy's opposition to the Vietnam War but also RFK's opposition to how McCarthy happened to be going about opposing the war: New Hampshire was ever the conservative State in 1968, its Politics well reflected in the more conservative Editorial pages of William Loeb's Manchester Union-Leader: thus, most of the vote for McCarthy in the Granite State had come not from so-called "doves" who viewed being against the war as a moral crusade but from "hawks" who were beginning to turn on the Johnson Administration because the U.S. wasn't winning... it was, in fact, a harbinger of Richard Nixon's later "Silent Majority".
Bobby Kennedy was not going to play to both sides of the anti-war coin like McCarthy; instead, he clearly intended to take on the moral crusade that McCarthy, lacking the advantages of a famous and- in at least some quarters- still revered political surname, could not and still have any hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination. In his announcement, Kennedy did offer to campaign for McCarthy against the incumbent President in the then-but three April Presidential Primaries (RFK's jumping into the fray coming too late for him to file for the ballot in these), but McCarthy- thinking the New York Senator as, indeed, "Bobby come lately"- declined the New Yorker's assistance.
I can, of course, well know all of this now-- but, as a 6th grader, all I saw was that a Kennedy was running for President. I was old enough to remember at least bits and pieces of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's Presidency and, rather vividly (although I was but 7 2/3 years old at the time), the events surrounding- as well as flowing from- that President's assassination... the Kennedys, back in March 1968, were "winners" and, thus, I would come to make it my business to try my best to keep up with all that was happening as the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination battle was joined.
I can even remember thinking, even as a not quite yet 12 year old, that the "any man" of Bobby Kennedy's announcement referred only to one man- President Johnson; and, apparently, I was not alone (at least one New York tabloid published the day after RFK's announcement of his candidacy itself so strongly suggested with a blaring headline that he was, indeed, 'OUT TO TOPPLE LBJ'), because- as the Democratic presidential nomination campaign immediately thereafter proceeded apace- I would come to read, in the papers, about the long-standing rivalry between LBJ and the one-time Attorney General he had inherited from the Administration of Bobby Kennedy's assassinated brother (it would be years, however, before I would learn about how this "bad blood" went all the way back to when Bobby Kennedy tried- unsuccessfully- to make sure LBJ was not John F. Kennedy's running mate in 1960 or, even before that, when RFK first made his own [nationally noted] political "bones" as counsel to the Senate Labor Committee through his harsh questioning of Teamsters' president Jimmy Hoffa while LBJ was still Senate Majority Leader).
And, yes, I was also aware that there was a Republican presidential nomination battle ongoing as well- but the GOP was the "out" Party in '68- and I will also confess to no little pre-teen "rebellion" against my Republican parents in that modest ranch house clinging to the side of "The Hill" via my much more closely following the Democratic side of things; in addition, at the time Richard Nixon seemed to, indeed, be "the One" and, perhaps even at that tender age, I was already able to sniff out the "sexier" story- which was destined to be that of the Democrats, not the Republicans-- at least not during that particular Spring!
For himself, however, and at least at the start, Senator Kennedy hoped to run his own campaign "in harmony" (his own words) with that of Senator McCarthy. My aim is both to support and expand his valiant campaign, RFK had claimed during his announcement. It is important that he achieve the largest possible majorities next month [in those States in which Bobby Kennedy's announcement had come too late form him to get on their respective Primary ballots].
I strongly support his effort in those States and urge all my friends to give him their votes, RFK added. Time, however, would come (and in a manner neither contending Democratic U.S. Senator could, at the time, fairly foresee [however much, or little, either of them might still have anticipated just such a thing]) when the essence of that very statement would become mooted through battle between themselves being later joined!
For the first two weeks after Bobby Kennedy had joined the race, there were (at least presumably) two opposing wings of the Democratic Party in 1968, with the one not pushing for the re-nomination and eventual re-election of the incumbent now fielding two candidates for President. Thus, it appeared that- much as was the case involving the Republicans four years earlier (in which moderate Republicans Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and Nelson Rockefeller battled, in the Primaries, for who would get the chance to take on conservative Barry Goldwater going into the Convention)- the anti-war side would be a battle between Kennedy and McCarthy preparatory to an even bigger 'Armageddon' at the Party's Convention in Chicago that coming Summer. Armageddon, yes, it would turn out to be: but not quite in the way as was, back in March 1968, anticipated!
On the evening of Sunday 31 March 1968, America was treated to a "bombshell" announcement- though the pre-announcement leaking of what was to come that evening never contained even the slightest hint of an even bigger "bombshell": the original "bombshell" was, in fact, the very lack of bombshells- President Johnson, speaking to a nationwide television audience, announcing a halt to all bombing of North Vietnam in a gesture to try and get the North Vietnamese to the peace table, along with his rejection (for the first time) of a significant increase in American troops to be sent to Vietnam. In other words, unlike more recent events in our own time re: Iraq, there would be no "surge" as requested by US military commanders. It was a virtual reversal of Johnson Administration policy in the conflict up to that point.
But there was more still to come in the President's address to the Nation that evening:
Fifty two months and ten days ago, the President explained, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this Office fell upon me. In a poignant reference to his very first public statement as President, as he had stood on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base- the plane that had carried both he and the body of the slain President back from that very tragedy and trauma in Dallas behind him, that "I will do my best: that is all I can do; I ask for your help, and God's", LBJ continued: I asked then for your help, and God's, that we might continue America on its course: binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people...
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion and distrust and selfishness and politics among any of our people. And believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. With American sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes- and the world's hopes- for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this Office- the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I will not seek- and I will not accept- the nomination of my Party for another term as your President.
Even 12 year old me, watching this with my parents on the black and white set (my family's first color TV was still a year or so away) in the living room of my parents' modest ranch house clinging to the side of "The Hill" hard by the railroad tracks, instinctively knew that the race for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination had just been blown wide open, even though I could not yet appreciate that- despite the views of cynics that LBJ had taken himself out of the running merely in order to avoid even more embarrassment at the hands of Gene McCarthy in the Wisconsin Presidential Primary two days hence- the President's real principal "audience" was one Ho Chi Minh: for it was the North Vietnamese government that Johnson had to now convince (via his so "falling on his own sword") as to his olive branch being genuine and not merely a gesture to save his own domestic political skin- or so LBJ clearly hoped. (As part of his initiative, Johnson was also hoping to- if possible- gain the release of American Prisoners of War being held by Hanoi, including a US Navy aviator named John S. McCain III who, at that very time, was serving as an involuntary "guest" of Ho Chi Minh's regime; unfortunately, McCain would remain in captivity for another nearly five years).
As for President Johnson's domestic political skin itself, it was already well tanned and would be even more so come Tuesday 2 April 1968 when Senator McCarthy, without any overt help from Senator Bobby Kennedy whatsoever, trounced the incumbent in Wisconsin (where LBJ's name remained on the ballot, it being too late to have it removed) by 56 percent to 35 percent (RFK himself gained 6 percent of the Badger State vote via "write-ins"). The presidential race on the Democratic side (not to also mention the Republican- where the man who was presumed to be the next GOP nominee, Richard Nixon, would now no longer have to face a current White House resident come November [only Nixon did not yet know that LBJ's withdrawal was already well whetting the presidential appetites of two Republican Governors on opposite coasts, as well as opposite poles of their Party- New York's Nelson Rockefeller and California's Ronald Reagan]) had, indeed, been well shaken up by these events-- but another even more explosive event now loomed on the horizon that would shake up the entire Nation!
The evening of Thursday 4 April 1968 promised to be the usual Thursday "school night" of that era for me. After supper just before 7 o'clock, the same TV on which I had seen President Johnson's stunning withdrawal from the '68 presidential race just a few days before would be turned to one of the independent (non-"over the air" network) TV channels broadcasting out of nearby New York City and showing re-runs of two older 1960s situation comedies now in syndication: first, F Troop and, then, Patty Duke. At 8 PM in my Eastern Time Zone, I would normally have been getting ready to watch Ironside, a crime drama starring Raymond Burr as a wheelchair-bound police detective, on NBC but it would not be on until 8:30 that evening so, instead, I planned to watch another sitcom- The Flying Nun, starring Sally Field- on ABC (interestingly, ABC would also be showing a documentary- California Girls, narrated by Ms. Field- later that same evening).
However, when I turned to Channel 7- the ABC "owned and operated" station out of Manhattan- there, instead, was a news bulletin that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot outside of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee within the past hour. Then, not all that long after that, it was being reported that Dr. King had died of his wounds. Although I did not yet perceive the fullest import of what Dr. King's ideals had meant to America as a whole, I well knew that he was very important to African-Americans; and, although I was not African-American myself, I shed more than a few tears that evening.
I can only describe what I recall of the very next day- Friday 5 April 1968- as odd in feeling. About the only good thing that might be said of that day was that it happened to be a Friday, thus only one day of school before the ensuing weekend. I found myself wondering what my African-American classmates thought about this country, our town, my race-- even me!-- in the wake of Dr. King's assassination. I wasn't sure whether it was even appropriate to go over to those Black children with whom I was most friendly and offer my condolences, fearing that my genuine sympathy might- somehow- be taken as patronizing or even condescending. So I did nothing and, perhaps, this only reinforced a sense in them that I really didn't care all that much.
Tuesday 9 April 1968 was the day set aside for Dr. King's funeral in Atlanta. Schools were closed in many cities across the Nation, especially those with a large Black population, that day and the public schools in my County's seat, which had the largest population of African-Americans in the County, were also closed for the day. Not so in my town, however: although our school- given its location- held an assembly with the pastors of the two local Black churches- one African Methodist Episcopal, the other Baptist- participating. This assembly ended early enough to have turned the school day into virtually a "half day" in any event and I remember getting home in time to watch parts of the funeral-related events (most notably the famous walk behind the casket as it was being brought to Dr. King's burial site) on television that afternoon.
On the evening of Friday 12 April 1968, there was a lunar eclipse which was to peak just before Midnight on the East Coast. It also happened to be Good Friday and, as that was officially a half-day on the school calendar (Good Friday being an official State holiday in New Jersey), my family had driven up to my grandparents' in Connecticut for Easter, so I ended up watching- from my maternal grandfather's picture window overlooking his driveway- the Full Moon "disappearing" underneath the Earth's shadow- as it moved across the lunar surface- through my grandfather's Swift 'Sea Hawk' 6x30 binoculars (which I happen to be looking at right now, even as I type this, since I still have that particular pair of binoculars in my possession). I remember reflecting upon how ancient peoples who were not able to so easily predict such things would perceive ominous signs and portents in just such a celestial event and then, reflecting on the so recent events in my own time, I thought 'Maybe there was wisdom in some of that after all'.
Once the terrible pall left upon the Land by Dr. King's assassination (widespread looting and other violence had broken out in the Nation's Capital particularly- but also in Pittsburgh, Detroit and other American cities- in the days immediately following the tragic event; sporadic disorders would continue- most notably in Kansas City- even after the Nation's foremost preacher of Nonviolence had already been laid to rest) had, finally, begun to lift as mid-April approached, the Democratic presidential nomination race- somewhat in limbo for a time because of the shooting and its aftermath (presidential contenders of both Major Parties had suspended their campaigning for a time as a gesture of respect)- resumed in earnest. With President Johnson now out, the only active candidates were the dueling anti-war tandem of Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy while the Democratic Party "regulars" were left scrambling to find someone who could, in effect, become an effective new candidate supported by their faction.
The most obvious candidate was Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Ordinarily, he would have been a most perfect choice: loyal to the Johnson Administration throughout his tenure (thus acceptable to the "regulars"), Humphrey had- nonetheless- made a political name for himself as the quintessential post-New Deal liberal-- a man who, as Mayor of Minneapolis 20 years earlier, had hammered a Civil Rights plank into the Democratic Party's platform (hammering out of the Party Governor Storm Thurmond of South Carolina and his "Dixiecrats" in the process, however) and then riding his liberal credentials from that effort into service as Senator from Minnesota (interestingly, Eugene McCarthy himself came to hold the other Senate seat from the Land of 1,000 Lakes) before being tapped as LBJ's running mate in 1964. But, in 1968, his being part of the very Administration that was still conducting the Vietnam War made him something of a potential liability (LBJ's recent policy shift notwithstanding), yet still quite attractive to the "regulars" trying to stave off a takeover of the Party by the anti-war forces being fought over by both Kennedy and McCarthy.
On Saturday 27 April 1968, Humphrey formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination (in those days, it was still possible for a candidate for the nomination to announce so late if he felt he could gain- assuming he hadn't already gained- the support of National Convention delegates being chosen through the Caucus/Convention procedure; as will be noted later in this piece, some two-thirds of the States used local Caucuses and higher-tier Conventions to choose their delegates and most of these delegates would be, almost by definition, "regulars" as opposed to those more likely to ally with the anti-war faction and, thus, loyal to one man-- President Lyndon Johnson who would, presumably, steer them toward his Vice President).
Meanwhile, McCarthy continued to win delegates in Presidential Primaries while Kennedy had to wait until May for the first such Primary for which he could legally qualify for the ballot: on Tuesday 23 April 1968, McCarthy won 71 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania and, on Tuesday 30 April 1968, 49 percent of the vote in Massachusetts, though- to be fair- McCarthy's name was the only one actually on the ballot in those two States. Kennedy, meanwhile, had gotten 11 percent of the vote in the Keystone State via "write-in" (Humphrey, interestingly, got 9 percent of the Pennsylvania vote via the same methodology) and a "write-in" campaign in his native Massachusetts garnered RFK 28 percent of the vote there (Humphrey received 18 percent of the vote via "write-in"s in the Bay State). But, while in Massachusetts, McCarthy was truly victorious despite the not unexpected outpouring of support for a Kennedy (because the Bay State Primary was Winner Take All), his victory in Pennsylvania proved to be rather pyrrhic- as, in the separate Delegate Selection on the Keystone State ballot, most of the delegate seats went to Party "regulars" who would end up in Humphrey's column at the Convention.
I still would not have known anything about Delegate Selection balloting separate from the so-called "beauty contest" in what would come to be called a "Loophole" Primary and the like by the end of that April but I would begin, however perfunctorily, to learn something about all this as what can only be described as the Kennedy/McCarthy "showdown" emerged during the following month.
The first Presidential Primary that would actually pit the anti-war presidential contenders against each other on the ballot mano e mano would be that held in Indiana on Tuesday 7 May 1968. There were, to be sure, two other Presidential Primaries that very same day-- but the balloting in the District of Columbia was a Delegate Selection only affair that pitted two pro-Humphrey slates of delegate-candidates against a Bobby Kennedy one (RFK's slate ended up with 63 percent of the vote in DC) and Ohio's Primary involved a "favorite son" candidate- the Buckeye State's Senator Stephen Young- running unopposed ('favorite son" candidacies being yet another aspect of old-fashioned presidential nominating politics one no longer sees nowadays). Thus, the Hoosier State was the contest to watch as returns came in that evening (the very first Presidential Primary the results of which I actually followed via the TV news that evening was, in fact, Indiana's-- little did I know back then where that would someday lead me! [;-)]).
Bobby Kennedy had been preparing for Indiana for weeks (in fact, he had had the sad duty to inform an audience in a Black neighborhood of Indianapolis that Dr. King had been shot and killed: thus, he was already campaigning in the Hoosier State more than a month before the actual voting) and the results showed how this had paid off for him: RFK ended up with 42 percent of the Indiana vote; McCarthy, meanwhile, came in third with but 27 percent of the vote, behind "favorite son" Governor Roger Branigin (originally a "stand-in" for President Johnson and, thus, presumably reflecting votes for the "regulars") with 31 percent.
The Nebraska Presidential Primary on Tuesday 14 May 1968 brought Kennedy another victory- with 52 percent of the vote (McCarthy garnered but 31 percent, with the rest "write-in"s for various candidates [including, interestingly, 1 percent on the Democratic side for future- eventually- Republican President Ronald Reagan!]). West Virginia also held a Presidential Primary that same day, but the delegates chosen directly in that contest were all officially 'Unpledged'.
So leadership of the anti-war forces at the Democratic National Convention that year would all come down to Oregon toward the end of the month, followed a week later by a Winner Take All delegate windfall in California.
Oregon's Presidential Primary was held on Tuesday 28 May 1968 (there was also a Presidential Primary in Florida that same day but it was won by yet another "favorite son"- Senator George Smathers, whose slate of delegates received 46 percent of the vote; McCarthy's slate came in second with 29 percent and a slate of officially 'Unpledged' delegates came in with 25 percent [Bobby Kennedy delegates were not even on the Sunshine State ballot]) and the Beaver State was destined to provide the Kennedy clan with their first-ever defeat in an election (going all the way back to Jack Kennedy's first election to Congress back in 1946), McCarthy winning Oregon with 44 percent of the vote to Kennedy's 38 percent (strangely enough, President Johnson, whose name remained on the Oregon ballot even all this time after having already withdrawn from the race, received 12 percent of the vote; Hubert Humphrey, meanwhile led the "write-ins" with 3 percent).
Kennedy's loss in Oregon now meant that California was a "must win" for the New York Senator: the Primary was, as I've said, Winner Take All and, if there was any hope whatsoever of at least blocking Vice President Humphrey's nomination (Kennedy's working theory was that, despite his anti-war campaign, he had a much better chance of attracting at least some within the "regular" Democrats than McCarthy did), Kennedy certainly could not lose the Golden State (which had 174 delegates to that year's Convention, more than 1/8 of the total needed in order to be nominated).
The story of RFK's week leading into the California Primary is the stuff of political legend: his relentless campaigning, a televised debate between Kennedy and McCarthy over the weekend, seemingly endless stamina on the stump punctuated by lonely runs along Pacific coast beaches... and it all paid off come Tuesday 4 June 1968 with a victory for RFK, one in which his delegate slate bested McCarthy's by 46 percent to 42 percent (with 12 percent going to an 'Unpledged' delegate slate)-- not a big margin, to be sure, but a big victory nonetheless, as it would mean that Kennedy would receive pretty much all of California's delegates, putting him in the position of now being the principal anti-war challenger to Vice President Humphrey who, up till now, had not at all broken with the Johnson Administration when it came to Vietnam.
As Midnight approached on the West Coast (it was already 3 AM on the East Coast on a "school night" and all good [?! ;-)] little Jersey 6th graders, such as myself, had gone to bed before we could possibly know who had won out West), Senator Kennedy claimed his California Primary victory in the main ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; if only for good measure, Kennedy had also won in South Dakota that same day with 50 percent of the vote (to 30 percent for, again strangely, Lyndon Johnson- whose name had remained on the ballot in that State- and a mere 20 percent for McCarthy). Meanwhile, New Jersey's Presidential Primary that day had gone to McCarthy by a 36-31 percentage margin over RFK, but it was all "write-in" in the Garden State (Humphrey received 20 percent of these) and McCarthy delegates only won 20 of the State's 82 seats at the National Convention in the separate Delegate Selection balloting (a "regular" slate headed by Governor Richard Hughes took the rest of New Jersey's National Convention delegate slots).
Besides, California- obviously- mattered so much more.
I think we can end the divisions in the United States, Kennedy told the assembled. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis and that what has been going on in the United States over the period of the last three years- the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society; the divisions, whether its between Black or White, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or on the war in Vietnam- that we can start to work together: we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country and I intend to make that my basis for running over the period of the next few months...
What I think all of the Primaries have indicated, and all the Party caucuses have indicated... [is that] the people in the Democratic Party, and the people of the United States, want a change and that change can only come about if those who are delegates in Chicago recognize the importance of what has happened here in the State of California, and what has happened in South Dakota- what happened in New Hampshire, what happened in the rest of the country. The country wants to move in a different direction: we want to deal with our own problems in our country and we want peace in Vietnam...
So my thanks to all of you and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there!
While saying these very last words, Senator Kennedy gave a "thumbs up" and then briefly flashed a 'V for victory' sign with his right hand before using it to brush his hair out of his eyes; he then turned around to disappear into the anteroom behind the podium at which he had been standing with his wife and key supporters and, as it so sadly turned out, also disappeared into the mists of History itself.
I woke up on the morning of Wednesday 5 June 1968 quite eager to learn who had won the previous day's California Democratic Presidential Primary, which would not have been known until well after my bedtime the previous evening. I walked out to the living room and saw my mother sitting in the couch beneath the large front window to my right, watching the black and white television (the same one on which I had watched both LBJ's withdrawal and the news reports about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King) to the left. Normally, my two brothers- one not quite 5 1/2 years old and poised to start Kindergarten that coming Fall, the other but a mere 18 months old- would be parked in front of the TV, ready to watch Captain Kangaroo, but I sensed something was altogether wrong: there was already this eerie flashback in my own mind to what I had seen when, back when my family still lived on Staten Island, I had walked into the apartment after getting out of school early on Friday 22 November 1963 only to hear my mother's rather terse response to my immediate comment "Mom! Did you hear that President Kennedy got shot?" when she said "He died!"
Still, and ignoring the odd feeling of deja vu, I rather matter-of-factly asked "Who won the California Primary?"
"Bobby Kennedy", my mother replied, "but then he got shot".
I remember being stunned by her words and what then happened next is altogether vague in my memory: truth be told, it was rather vague even as it was happening!-- but, some 10 minutes later, I found myself back in my bed, having dozed off. I was now running late in getting ready for school and still having time for some breakfast, so I quickly jumped out of bed, got dressed and walked out to the living room.
"Mom", I said, "I had this weird dream that I came out here and you told me that Senator Kennedy had won the California Primary but that he had also been shot".
"You didn't dream it", she responded. "He was shot. You were out here about ten minutes ago and I told you that!"
At this point, I turned toward the television and watched the continuing coverage of what was going on on a CBS channel that would normally have been showing "the Captain" conversing with Mr. Green Jeans or some such thing.
After a period of watching the goings-on on the screen, all while still in some kind of shock and disbelief, I queried "Is he dead?"-- I was almost too afraid to ask!
"No", she said. "But he was shot in the head and they don't know yet just how seriously wounded he is or if he might even recover".
After a few more minutes of watching the TV, I decided to get on the phone in my parents' room (my Dad had long since left for work in "the City", as we Jerseyans called Manhattan) and call my friend down the street (the very same friend in whose basement I had watched Bobby Kennedy announce his presidential candidacy on television nearly three months before)- with whom I would normally walk to school back in 6th grade; his father also happened to be a local Democratic Party functionary and somehow (not to say rather naively), I thought that- because of this- my friend's family might actually know even more than the television news media!
By dumb luck, my friend actually answered the phone.
"Hey, did you hear? Bobby Kennedy got shot!"
"No", my friend said in response. "I don't believe you!"
"No, really!", I said. "He won the California Primary but got shot right after giving his victory speech!"
"You'd better not be pulling my leg!", my friend rather angrily replied.
So I immediately dropped the phone, ran into my room, grabbed one of my transistor radios, tuned it to WINS- the all news station in New York City- and played what was being broadcast right over the phone to my friend. After a few moments, I barked into the phone "Now do you believe me?!"
I told my friend I would be down shortly and then we could walk together to school, as usual.
By the time I had arrived at my friend's house some ten to fifteen minutes after I had talked to him on the phone, his family's (color!) television was turned on and everyone in that household seemed to be glued to the continuing coverage on NBC's Today: it was only now that I saw, for the very first time, the rather grainy film footage of the Senator lying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel's service kitchen, a pool of blood underneath his head, a head being jointly cradled by a Latino busboy and a man in a suit wearing thick glasses who leaned over and seemed to be talking to the Senator. Even at 12 years old, I didn't need a doctor around to tell me it all seemed rather grim!
School that day was rather surreal-- albeit in a different way than on that Friday immediately after the shooting of Dr. King two months previous. During small-group lesson periods (different groups of kids reading at different levels, for instance), we kids in my 6th grade class would talk amongst ourselves about what had just transpired-- it was the usual mix of proto-adult attempts to "read the tea leaves" about what it all might mean to our Nation, as well as ourselves, our families and our town, and pre-teen morbid fascination with such things as the question of whether Bobby Kennedy might actually end up being too brain-damaged to even be President should he survive.
The day seemed to drag on, if only because we were, in effect, a "captive audience" and, thus, couldn't possibly know what was going on in the outside world (two months earlier, we at least already knew Dr. King was dead by the time we had gotten to school the following day). Our teacher would simply tell us- from time to time- that, from what she was hearing- from other teachers during lunch, for example- Senator Kennedy was still alive.
When the bell rang that afternoon, allowing us to leave for the day, I tore out of there like the proverbial "bat out of hell". As noted earlier, my school was located in the main African-American neighborhood in town and, as I ran down that neighborhood's main drag towards the downtown business district on this warm early Summer's day, I passed a 20-something Black man standing next to a decade-old convertible with the radio turned up: there were news reports blaring from his car, so I slowed down, if only enough to ask him "Is Bobby Kennedy still alive?" to which he gave me a rather wan smile but, at the same time, a "thumbs up", though he said nothing. I quickly thanked him and sped on.
My destination was a drug store on one of the corners in the very center of my town: besides being the best place in town to buy 45 rpm Soul singles (obviously because of its location), it also sold early editions of the New York Post, a daily afternoon tabloid out of the City somewhat different from the same now-daily (meaning "morning") paper one can read today. I purposely had not spent my milk money at lunch that day so that I would have just enough to buy one of the afternoon papers on my way home and I snatched up a Post (figuring that, with Robert Kennedy being a Senator from New York, there might be more information about the shooting and its immediate aftermath in the Post than either of the local afternoon papers out of North Jersey), paid the cashier, and immediately headed for a bench located underneath the railroad trestle that ran about a block south of the town's main street and was adjacent to the local commuter rail station.
I ended up sitting on that bench for the better part of an hour, if not longer, going over the several pages devoted to the shooting- studying, but at times merely staring, at cut-away diagrams of the human head explaining exactly where the bullet went and, thereby, learning about such body parts as the "mastoid process" and "sigmoid sinus" as I never before knew human beings even had, such perusal broken only by my staring at the wire service photos of, among others, Senator Kennedy looking up plaintively at the busboy cradling his wounded head with the glaring headline KENNEDY SHOT! above this wirephoto only too well confirming that "no, Ma- it was not a dream!"
The last statement to the press covered by that afternoon's Post was that by the Senator's Press Secretary Frank Mankiewicz at 10:20 that morning Eastern Time in which he had noted an impairment of the blood supply to the mid-brain... controlling, or at least governing, certain of the vital signs. No... indeed it yet remained rather grim.
After supper that evening, I was alone in my room, listening to the radio- in this case, New York City station WOR playing the tape of Mutual Broadcasting's Andrew West, as he had reported the pandemonium in the Ambassador Hotel's service kitchen early that same morning (a piece of audio broadcast journalism that, in its own way, still remains as haunting as the famous "All the humanity!" actuality recorded at the crash of the dirigible Hindenburg back in 1937): Senator Kennedy has been shot- is that possible?... Oh my God- Senator Kennedy has been shot... Get the gun! Get the gun! Get the gun! Stay away from the gun! His hand is frozen! Take ahold of his thumb and break it if you have to!... Hold him! Hold him! We don't want another Oswald! Then, at 8:30 PM Eastern, there was a "very short bulletin" from Mr. Mankiewicz about the doctors being concerned over [the Senator's] continuing failure to show improvement during the postoperative period. Rather grim, indeed! It was not all that much later that I climbed into bed and fell asleep.
I was, thus, not all that surprised to wake up the next morning, that of Thursday 6 June 1968, immediately turn on the radio and, thereby, discover that Bobby Kennedy had died overnight. Still, it was quite a shock: the second assassination of a major figure in American society in as many months and, in addition, the second assassination in less than five years of a member of the Kennedy family.
At school that day, my classmates were rather subdued, compared to the day before- when, as far as we all knew (and turned out to still be case after school let out), the Senator was still clinging to life. In many ways, it was a lot more like Friday 5 April had been: just plain odd. And, in no little relation to that earlier event, there was a rather strange comment from one of my classmates that would stick with me for the rest of my life:
In my reading group (which consisted of a handful of children who could already read at a high school level) was a Black girl, one who was destined to graduate with me from high school six years later. During one of the lulls created as our 6th Grade teacher made her way around the classroom to check on the different groups reading at different levels, this girl turned to me and said, rather matter-of-factly, "A couple months ago, we lost our leader; now you've lost someone who could've been your leader".
Her comment struck me, at first, as quite out of place: after all, hadn't Robert Kennedy been running for President- that is, to be the leader of all Americans, Black as well as White? But, as I was forced, by my very reaction to what she had just said, to further think on her comment, along with the tone with which she had delivered it, it struck me- and struck me hard- that her viewpoint very much reflected the racial divisions not only in our Nation as a whole, but also within our own rather peaceful community. For the very first time- in a way that the riots in Newark and nearby Plainfield the previous Summer, for example, never had and in a way that Dr. King's assassination and the reaction to it among my Black peers didn't seem to either- the realization was suddenly thrust upon me that Black people, even African-Americans in my own town and going to the very same schools I was attending, did not see the World in quite the same way *I* did.
For me, "Liberty and Justice for All" had ever been- as long as I could remember an entire class standing up, facing the flag, placing our right hands over our respective hearts, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance morning after morning after morning, whether at a school in an urbanized, yet still rural-feeling, town just outside a major Connecticut city where my public schooling had begun, or in a New York City public school in one of its so-called "outer Boroughs", or now here in a North Jersey "railroad suburb"- a rather abstract concept: a noble Ideal in which, despite its being so abstract, I had no at all doubting faith. But, to be sure, I also never had any real reason- up to that time- to ever doubt that *I* would always enjoy Liberty and that *I* would, if necessary, ever receive Justice; then again, unlike my classmate, I was White and I was Male. For a girl-becoming-young woman with darker skin than mine back in 1968, however- even one being raised in a hard-working, God-fearing Black community that was hardly "the GHET-to"- things were not necessarily so, for lack of better terminology, black and white!
It was a lesson I've never ever forgotten... and for which I've never ever thanked her.
Saturday 8 June 1968 was the day of Senator Robert F. Kennedy's funeral and burial and I ended up spending the entire day, and- as things turned out- on into the early evening, on the floor of the family living room directly in front of the family television set- the very same television set before which, a mere three days earlier, my mother had sat while informing me that the Senator having been shot was not at all a bad dream of mine but, instead, was all too real. Normally, my two brothers would have been watching cartoons on that same television- such fare as Super Six and Super President; Space Ghost and George of the Jungle- and, at 12, I would not have been all too old to have cast my brain adrift in order to watch along with them while chowing down a bowl of some sweetened breakfast cereal fairly drowned in milk...
but not this morning!
For all three networks (along with the three independent commercial stations broadcasting out of the Big Apple [since the deceased had represented that city's own State]) had pre-empted their regularly-scheduled programming and this, in those halcyon days before hundreds of channels of cable and satellite TV and terabytes of broadband video streaming, left virtually nothing else to watch on the Tube all that Saturday-- for both young and old alike.
In front of me, as I sat before the TV, I had spread out (with great pains frequently having to be taken, from time to time, to make sure neither of my siblings stepped on them, whether accidentally or no!) three gas station road maps (I suppose I should here explain to younger readers that, during my youth, gas stations provided such maps, foldable so as to be easily stored in the glove compartment [which, as far as I could tell, tended never to ever hold gloves] of one's car, for free no less! I had, indeed, become something of the inveterate road map collector and, although I had only been living in my town for a little over two years by June of '68, I was already well known to the proprietors of the nine or ten service stations [back when automobile-related services besides gas were still regularly provided, so the term was actually meaningful] lining the main drag through that particular North Jersey suburb), each of which contained a so-called "county scale" map (that is, one more detailed than an ordinary road map of a State, but less detailed than a map showing all city streets) of, respectively, Metropolitan New York, Metropolitan Philadelphia and Metropolitan Baltimore/Washington.
All three were among the newer maps published by Rand McNally (though they had each been provided by a different oil company [I still have these very maps in my possession, by the way]) and were unique in that, unlike most road maps (even at "county scale"), these actually showed- besides the numbered highways and more important connecting roads and major city thoroughfares- railroads! Except for a 30-mile gap in central New Jersey and a slightly longer gap between the outskirts of Wilmington, Delaware and those of Baltimore, Maryland, I could follow- via these three maps- almost the entire length of the eventual route of Bobby Kennedy's Funeral Train from New York City down to Washington, DC.
In addition, there was a "blow-up" street map of Tourist New York City (Manhattan below 72d Street) on one map and a similar "blow up" street map of Tourist Washington (including Arlington, Virginia and the National Cemetery that was destined to be Robert Kennedy's final resting place, next to where his assassinated older brother already lay). Thus, I made sure I was well prepared to follow all that would transpire that rather somber day; RFK's Funeral Train would not be passing through my part of New Jersey, along those tracks just outside my family's backyard: thus, this vicarious "following along by map", then, was my admittedly crude manner- as a 12 year old boy- of, somehow, still being- and feeling- a part of the day's sad activities.
First, though, there was the matter of the Funeral Mass for the slain New York junior Senator at New York City's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral, the first event to be shown that morning on live television. President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself attended, ironically sitting in the very same building in which he had sat while attending the Investiture of New York's Archbishop Terrence Cooke during what, unknown to everyone at that time, would also be the final hours of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but two months before And the most memorable moment of this Funeral Mass was, undoubtedly, the Eulogy delivered by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.): now, four decades later, it is rather strange to conjure, in one's own memory, a "Ted" so much younger than the same man currently dealing with brain cancer as I type these very words.
My brother, the last surviving Kennedy brother of that generation told the assembled, need not be idealized, nor enlarged in Death beyond what he was in Life: be remembered, simply, as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it; saw suffering and tried to heal it; saw war and tried to stop it.
His voice quavering with emotion as he finished that last sentence, the Bay State Senator soldiered on into the next: Those of us who loved him, and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us, and what he wished for others, will someday come to pass for all the World. As he said many times, in many parts of this Nation- to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?'; I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?' ".
The next step after the Funeral Mass was to have the Procession make its way through the Midtown Manhattan streets over to what was, by then, already a rabbit warren of a Penn Station- a place where, or so it was being said, "We used to enter the City like kings; now we enter like rats"; the vaults above the old, once venerable terminal on New York's West Side already having been replaced by the fourth (albeit at but its third location) Madison Square Garden above it. Likewise, what was marked on the maps spread out over the living room carpet in front of me as "PA RR" or "PENNA RR" had already, after those same maps had been published either earlier that same year or late the year before, transmogrified into a behemoth of a something called 'Penn Central' (interestingly, if not also ironically, effective the very same month the new arena had hosted its first sporting event).
From Penn Station, the New York Senator's Funeral Train would proceed along the old Pennsy "High Line" down to Washington, D.C. (which, fortunately, had retained [as it yet retains] its own grand terminal- Union Station- just blocks from the Capitol Dome)- utilizing the very same route that, even today, travelers on AMTRAK's Acela can still ride as the southern portion of the so-called "Northeast Corridor".
But what would have otherwise been a scheduled ride of some 3 hours, 50 minutes had this been a normal, scheduled railroad passenger consist (and, indeed, 4 hours had originally been allotted for Bobby Kennedy's final journey) would end up becoming a grueling 9-hour jaunt, one made even more grueling by the tragedy of several serious injuries, including two fatalities, amongst those who had crowded onto the northbound platform at a station in the New Jersey city of Elizabeth and then spilled onto the northbound "High Line" only to get mowed down by The Admiral out of Harrisburg, PA hurtling along towards New York's Penn Station (evidently, the Penn Central higher-ups didn't at all consider abandoning the railroad's normal Northeast Corridor schedule in the wake of the rather unusual circumstances of that particular afternoon).
By the time Robert F. Kennedy's casket had arrived in Washington, DC and was thereafter carried in a Procession through the streets of the Nation's Capital to its final resting place in Arlington, it was already well dark: the snaking line of headlights, as seen from the air and carried live on nationwide television, adding a rather surreal element to this child's view- and, eventually, memories- of the final activities of that very sad day.
Bobby Kennedy buried in darkness... somehow, it was symbolic of all that had taken place since he had first told the Nation that he did not "oppose any man" but would "propose new policies" in what would turn out to be his so suddenly abbreviated run for the Nation's Highest Office.
"And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there!" was destined to be Bobby Kennedy's final public utterance, contributing no little to the prevailing Democratic Party mythos that, had he not ever walked through that service kitchen of Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel or had he not been shot while in that service kitchen in the first place, he not only would have been nominated for President by his Party in 1968 but he, and not Richard M. Nixon, would have been elected President of the United States: Watergate would, thereby, have merely remained the name of an apartment/office complex along the Potomac; Gerald Ford might have had a rather easy retirement after voluntarily giving up his seat in Congress and stepping down as House Minority Leader (sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s?), as John Rhodes and Robert Michel would actually do; RFK's Vice President, whoever it might have been, would have been the front-runner for the '76 Democratic nomination (assuming that Bobby Kennedy served two terms in the White House) and, thus, relatively few outside of Georgia might now even know the name 'Jimmy Carter', etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam
Problem is: unlike my thinking I had been dreaming when my mother first told me of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, this mythos is all a dream. In reality, despite his having stepped aside as a potential candidate for re-election, Lyndon Johnson's men actually controlled the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago-- or, at least when things got out of control even inside the Amphitheatre, it was LBJ loyalists who so lost control.
Only 16 States and the District of Columbia held Democratic Presidential Primaries in 1968- a far cry from today's much larger schedule of such "delegate selection events"! Of these, two were Primaries in which delegates were chosen directly without any presidential preference voting per se; one also selected delegates directly, delegates who were required to be officially 'Unpledged' until up until the Convention itself; and two voted for so-called "favorite sons", politicians from the State who were not viable presidential contenders but who could hold onto their delegates as a "bargaining chip" should the Roll Call re: Presidential Nomination go multi-ballot (although it never actually did).
This left but 12 Presidential Primaries that had competitive Presidential Preference balloting among viable presidential contenders (including Lyndon Johnson in the earliest contests), of which one (Illinois) was actually held the week after Bobby Kennedy had been killed. In the 11 other Primaries, LBJ had won but one, the one in which he had narrowly defeated (but failed of a majority) in New Hampshire (although McCarthy won the vast majority of the delegates up for grabs in the separate Delegate Selection portion of the Granite State ballot), while McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy ended up splitting the other 10 between them (McCarthy winning all 3 April Primaries, this being where RFK's late start had actually hurt his chances; Kennedy then going on his May "run" of 3 in a row before being tripped up by McCarthy in Oregon. Finally, RFK took 2 of the 3 Primaries held on what was then already being termed "Super Tuesday", 4 June, the day before the shooting that would take his life).
Thus, the anti-war forces within the Democratic National Convention would have been split between Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in any event and any chance of RFK winning the 1968 nomination would have hinged on his being able, in the first instance, to make some kind of deal with McCarthy (which, almost certainly, would not have been able to include the Vice-Presidency, assuming McCarthy would have even wanted it to begin with; a '68 Democratic ticket that did not include someone supported by those who really controlled the Party at that time would not have well flown) and then, as he apparently counted on, somehow (the magic of the Kennedy name, perhaps?) being able to keep Humphrey from passing the "magic number" of 1312 on the First Ballot and, thereafter, working on those "regulars" from whom he might get support on a subsequent ballot or, if necessary, two. In the final analysis, there were simply too many variables which Bobby Kennedy would have had to keep from varying for an RFK presidential nomination to be at all realistic.
In the end, though, none of this would've much mattered anyway: two-thirds of the jurisdictions sending delegates to the '68 Convention in Chicago were chosen via the Caucus/Convention method with which Iowa has long since made us rather familiar and such local caucuses and State Conventions were, as might be expected, dominated by those so-called "regular" Democrats who would have been far more comfortable with Lyndon Baines Johnson as the Party's standard-bearer (had LBJ not taken himself out of the running) than even with a vehemently anti-Vietnam War Bobby Kennedy (especially once, particularly during what turned out to be the final week of his life as he campaigned so vigorously in California, RFK had turned himself into the champion of the downtrodden of many, if not all, types). As it was, it was not all that difficult to turn these "regulars" into supporters of LBJ's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey (who never did well in any Presidential Primary that year but who was the "safer" liberal).
And, after all, Humphrey was clearly LBJ's own choice, as he almost had to be: for Carl Albert, House Majority Leader and LBJ ally, was Permanent Chair of the Convention (note well, dear reader, that Kennedy family loyalist and Speaker of the House John McCormack- normally, the Speaker of the House is Chair of his/her own Party's National Convention- was not!) and, of course, there is always the story of the cake waiting somewhere in the bowels of the Chicago Amphitheatre, a cake that was supposed to be presented to President Johnson right after he was scheduled to address his Party's Convention on Tuesday 27 August 1968 which- it just so happened- was LBJ's 60th Birthday... of course, events both inside and outside the Hall ended up precluding the President so appearing at his own Party's Convention... but that cake wouldn't even have been there if forces more amenable to a Bobby Kennedy nomination had been the ones actually running the event!
If nothing else shows the ethereal quality of a potential Bobby Kennedy nomination, let alone Presidency, as a result of the 1968 Presidential Election had the tragic events in the Ambassador Hotel never ever taken place, it is the Convention floor vote on the Minority Report on the Platform Plank re: the Vietnam Conflict. With 2622 delegate votes at the Convention, 1312 was a Majority, as I've already noted: the Minority Report, favored by the McCarthy/ex-RFK delegates, went down to defeat by a vote of 1567.75 to 1041.25. Those numbers alone should show who actually controlled the 1968 Democratic National Convention and, with it, that Party's presidential nomination... when it came to the actual nomination, Vice-President Humphrey received 1759.25 votes (officially, 1761.25 but, as is so often the case, Convention delegate votes get lost in the shuffle, where not also confusion, attending the Roll Call of the States and the vote as announced, and officially recorded, in the Convention Journal often do not necessarily match the sum of the column of the State-by-State vote!) on the First (and, therefore, only) Ballot; McCarthy garnered 601, future Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern- in effect, standing in for the late Robert Kennedy in the aftermath of RFK's passing- gained but 146.50 with Channing Phillips, a D.C. National Committeeman and the first African-American to be formally nominated before a Major Party National Convention (an interesting footnote of which to take cognizance now 40 years later when a Major Party is about to actually nominate an African-American), getting 67.50 votes (the remaining votes on the Roll Call of the States re: Presidential Nomination were well scattered).
No matter how one counts the votes, or analyzes the available political strategies, there seems no possible way Robert Kennedy could have actually won the Democratic presidential nomination that year had he lived- or, even better, had he never ever even been the target of an assassin in the first place.
Dr. King's legacy, meanwhile, did not immediately end the racial divide in the United States of America and we may yet see, depending on the fortunes of the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, that such a divide well remains with us still, now forty years later. In the immediate weeks following the death of Senator Robert Kennedy, however, the racial divide was still rather perceptible in my own town, as the following little vignette will show:
I've already mentioned the drug store at which I had bought the afternoon New York Post after school on the day Bobby Kennedy was shot and how it was also a great place in which to purchase Soul 45s. Indeed, none of the proprietors- all of whom were White- ever batted an eye when white boy me would, fairly regularly, walk up to the counter with several "records with the big hole in the middle" bearing the familiar "road map" label of 'MOTOWN' or the "popping finger" on a yellow label denoting 'Stax'... likewise, the yellow and brown of Motown's 'Tamla' or its purple 'Gordy' label, as well as the "lightning bolt" of 'Volt'. And there was never any sharp, disapproving intake of breath if the proprietor happened to see the names 'Aretha Franklin' or 'Wilson Pickett' on an Atlantic release I happened to be buying.
But things were rather different when it came to certain publications!
After Bobby Kennedy's assassination, I would buy all sorts of magazines that did various and sundry in-depth reporting on the event (at least the ones I was allowed to buy at my then-still tender age! If Playboy, for instance, did such an article [and it very well might have during that Summer and on into that Fall], *I* would not have ever been able to read it!). I had already become quite interested in the controversies that had erupted in 1966 going on into 1967 about the accuracy of the Warren Report and the veracity of its conclusions about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and had already bought copies of Life and Look magazine during those years that had featured various and sundry "revised versions" of the events of 22 November 1963, so it was quite natural for me to do the same in relation to President Kennedy's more recently assassinated brother.
At some point during that Summer of 1968, after Bobby Kennedy's murder but before the Democratic Convention late in August, two magazines in particular did just such in-depth looks at the Senator's assassination at around the same time: they happened to be EBONY and Jet- two magazines of significant national circulation that catered to the African-American community and which were, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has worked his or her way through this piece to this point, easily obtainable at that particular drug store... so I picked up a copy of each and went up to the cashier...
who looked at me rather skeptically before asking: "You sure you want these?"
"Yes!" I answered quite emphatically.
"Um... those particular magazines?"
"Yeah! Why not?" By now, I was puzzled. What was the problem? After all, these were not those magazines kept in that special "Adults Only" section! Instead, they had been lying right next to Time and Newsweek on one side, Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News on the other.
"Do your parents know you read these?", he asked rather tersely.
It suddenly dawned on me as to why this might be such a big deal to him and it had all to do with the color of my skin, which could hardly be described as either "ebony" or "jet". My immediate instinct was to say something indignantly "bratty" to the effect of 'unless it's pornography (yes, I already knew that word and its meaning by the time I was 12!), I have a right to read it- that is, if I'm still here in America!'--
but I didn't--
instead, I decided to play the "innocent kid" and, thus, give the cashier an "innocent explanation".
"Well", I purposely stammered. "I'm trying to read up on everything that's being written about the shooting of Bobby Kennedy- that's all!-- it was such a terrible thing to have happened!"
That explanation seemed to satisfy him, at least enough for him to then ring the magazines up and sell them to me... but this incident, too, would have its long-term effect on me because it made me resolve to, for the rest of my days, read whatever I damn well felt like reading (especially once the Age of Majority I would eventually attain removed pretty much all significant restrictions on what magazines- and, for that matter, other publications- I could buy and enjoy).
Read! in the name of your Lord who created,
And so I read... and write so that others may read.