Bobby Kennedy: The Making Of A Liberal Icon
Larry Tye’s new biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making Of A Liberal Icon, takes over as the best single volume introduction to Robert F. Kennedy—crusading Congressional staffer, tough-as-nails campaign operative, Attorney General/minister-without-portfolio, Senator from New York, presidential hopeful, and last great hope to a generation of liberals, radicals and reformers who’d already lived through the bloody killings of his brother Jack, Malcolm X, and the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 10 fast-paced, well-written chapters, Tye takes full advantage of the recent release of dozens of boxes of RFK’s papers, hundreds of his own interviews with Kennedy confidantes, enemies and family members, and the accumulation of a generation of scholarship to provide the reader with a thorough recounting of Kennedy’s public and private life, helping a new generation to understand how deeply the nation’s hopes, dreams, fears and destiny came—in the view of millions—to be wrapped up in the life and career of one politician, and how his assassination just may have irrevocably tilted the country off kilter, spinning out of control into a spiral of violence and racial division from which it has never fully recovered.
What’s most impressive is how Tye accomplishes all this without glossing over Kennedy’s faults and failings. Rather, by examining more deeply and critically Kennedy’s unyielding loyalty to the likes of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, his knee-jerk Cold War anti-communist adventurism that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis and the US war in Vietnam, his blind hatred of and prosecutorial zeal directed towards enemies like Jimmy Hoffa and Lyndon Johnson, his contemptuous disregard for and double standards towards women, his rich man’s obliviousness to his own privileges and consequent mistreatment of those around him, Tye is then able to show in high relief RFK’s deepening compassion, growing maturity, increasing humility and how they were leading him in the direction of becoming the one political leader who could, perhaps, have helped the US transcend and overcome its growing divisions.