Bobby: The Myth of the Kennedys





Emilio Estevez’s film Bobby opened in theaters across the country last week. It received mixed reviews from most critics, who nevertheless praised Estevez, the son of actor Martin Sheen, for making a “serious” movie that attempts to capture the political atmosphere in the U.S. on the eve of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968.

Whatever its shortcomings as a film, the major problem with Bobby is political -- it regurgitates all of the myths about Robert Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

The greatest of all the myths about the Kennedys is that if the two brothers had lived, then much of the “turmoil” of the 1960s, particularly the U.S. war in Vietnam, would have been avoided. For many liberals, Robert Kennedy’s assassination represented “the end of the ’60s” -- the end of the road for progressive political change and the beginning of three decades of conservative rule. Is any of this remotely true?

Robert Francis Kennedy was the third son of Joseph Kennedy, a ruthless and politically ambitious businessman from Massachusetts. Kennedy Sr. made a fortune from a variety of enterprises -- real estate, moviemaking, the stock market and bootlegging alcohol during prohibition -- thanks to his thoroughgoing corruption.

His own ambition to be the first Irish Catholic president of the United States was thwarted by Franklin Roosevelt, and he transferred his dream to his sons. Three out of four would either become president or run for the presidency.

It is one of great ironies of U.S. political mythology that the Kennedy family, viewed today as the very symbol of liberalism, was, in fact, deeply conservative. Joe Kennedy was very close to the infamous anti-Communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy after he became famous for tormenting liberals and radicals during the 1950s witch-hunts.

During McCarthy’s 1952 re-election campaign, Joe made a sizeable contribution to his campaign -- and then asked that his son Bobby be placed on the McCarthy subcommittee investigating “subversives.”

Bobby only stayed on McCarthy’s committee for six months, using it as a springboard for an assignment to another congressional committee that gained him greater notoriety -- the Senate Rackets Committee led by anti-union Democratic Sen. John McClellan of Arkansas....


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