Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke

I remember the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. I was only fourteen and quite naive, very sure that we were on the verge of a much better world. We were going to end poverty, discrimination, and war. It seems quite hard to imagine that dream now, but Thurston Clarke in The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America confirms that I was not the only person who felt so optomistic. Many people, especially young people and minorities, believed Bobby Kennedy could lead the country to joyous and just prosperity.

Of course, many people hated Kennedy, too. Labor unions disliked that as attorney general he had brought criminal charges against many of their Mafia-influenced leaders. Southern Democrats disliked his support of civil rights legislation. Even college students were not united in support; he had told them that he wanted to end the Vietnam War quickly, which they like, but he also proposed the end of student deferments in the meantime, which they did not.

In The Last Campaign, Clarke chronicles the three months of Kennedy's run for president, which also happened to be the last months of his life. Using media accounts and interviews, the author takes readers onto the buses, planes, and whistle stop trains and into campaign headquarters to hear the conversations between Kennedy and his campaign staff. In doing so, he paints a mostly positive picture of the younger brother of an assassinated president. But not all was well. Kennedy was very intense and sometimes sarcastic character. He was very sure someone would try to kill him but believed he would be cowardly to avoid the crowds.

Reading The Last Campaign is a trip back into an era when few states had binding primaries, nothing was certain before presidential conventions, and candidates were just starting to design their campaigns for maximum media attention. It will interest readers of history and politics.

Clarke, Thurston. The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America. Henry Holt, 2008. 321p. ISBN 9780805077926.

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