Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago:
to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer
for our country and for our people.”

- Robert F. Kennedy, speaking in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968,
two hours after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For those that remember, or better yet, for those few left that care....this haunting and heartfelt book by Thurston Clarke documents the presidential campaign and final 82 days of Robert Kennedy’s life. It is not an easy book to read for those of us that lived through those turbulent times and had invested so much hope in the future. I have never changed my opinion that the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy, all but destroyed any hope this country had for a prosperous future. Unfortunately, our subsequent history may have proven that to be true.

Having seen John Kennedy during a campaign speech in 1960, an event filmed by my mother with a Kodak Super-8 movie camera, I was raised in a household that believed in Camelot. I was a little boy, and my strongest memory of the event was the intensity of the crowd. Kennedy himself seemed nice enough, but I was too young to fully comprehend what I was seeing. We weren’t in love with the Kennedy family as much as we were in love with the ideas they represented. JFK’s assassination and the subsequent presidential bid by his brother are all vivid memories, no matter that I witnessed them on a television screen. Thurston Clarke opens his book with the speech fragment I reproduced above. It sets the tone for the book. The research is solid and Clarke’s attitude toward his subject is respectful if not biased in favor of Robert Kennedy, and that’s fine by me. I am on record stating that biographies should be written by people that care about their subject matter.

Robert Kennedy had changed in the years since his brother’s death. Further, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were never close friends, but they respected each other, and there is evidence both were seeking a common ground. Kennedy was disenchanted with the Vietnam conflict, and deeply troubled by the ethnic prejudice that was and still is a part of the American experience. If these two men had been allowed to live I have no doubt they would have worked together and made lasting, positive change for the country. I’m not saying they would have agreed with each other, but they were capable of working together. The Last Campaign is a chronicle on why that never happened. I have no doubt that Kennedy would have won the Democratic nomination and eventually have become president. His fate may be the fate of too many in this country, and that makes The Last Campaign mandatory reading.

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