During a recent luncheon hosted by the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County, the packed crowd of more than 175 attendees was provided the opportunity to play a little “hardball” with MSNBC's host of Hardball, Chris Matthews. Chris served as luncheon guest speaker but not to discuss the usual politics.
Rather, he was there to discuss his new book “Bobby Kennedy – A Raging Spirit.” I had the pleasure of attending and listen to Chris talk admiringly about an individual I, too, admire greatly.
Interestingly, so much of what he covered has relevance in today's politics.
Introducing Chris was his dynamic wife, Kathleen Matthews, who currently serves tirelessly as the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
In her affectionate introduction of her husband, Kathleen pointed out how focused Chris is on the issues of the day and how, when they first began to date close to forty years ago, she made it a point to be prepared for the anticipated discussion of those issues.
Raising a family was not much different as the dinner table also served as a round table of discussion of politics. According to Kathleen, when dealing with Chris Matthews it is wise to “do your homework” regardless of who you are. “No spin allowed!”
It was clear from Chris' presentation that he admired Bobby Kennedy both as a person and as an essential player in our history. Bobby Kennedy played a key role in his brother's run first for the Senate and then the presidency, the successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the push for the Civil Rights Act to the national forefront of the Kennedy agenda among many other critical events and issues that remain relevant to this day.
It is this last point about Bobby Kennedy's complete commitment to and passion for the civil rights of others that maybe best describes the somewhat of a contradiction that was Bobby Kennedy since he was born to such extreme wealth.
According to Chris, as a somewhat overlooked kid in the Kennedy family as patriarch Joseph Kennedy focused first on his ambition to see son Joe Jr. one day become president and then son jack take up the presidential mantle, young Bobby was often shunted aside.
Maybe, just maybe, according to Chris this childhood in which nothing was going to come easy that molded the character of Bobby to relate to the underdog, the working man, those in need. In terms of today's politics, especially as it relates to the Democratic Party, Bobby Kennedy was able to relate to the white working class in a way that today's Democrats seem not able to match.
At 26 Bobby ran his brother's senatorial campaign in which Jack was able to defeat popular incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge by more than 70,000 votes, at 30 he took on organized crime and at 34 he runs a presidential campaign for his brother that defeats the sitting Vice President, Richard Nixon.
It was the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, that maybe captures the essence of Bobby Kennedy especially as it relates to today's political leaders.
As in any administration there will be plenty of hawks and the Kennedy administration was no different as there were voices calling for a military strike against the missiles in Cuba.
Bobby Kennedy supported a blockade until a “deal” could be struck to let both sides save face without the need to lose innocent lives. Bobby Kennedy cared about innocent lives.
He, too, cared about the poor and it was Bobby Kennedy who had the credibility and trust to be able to address a black crowd in a black neighborhood the night Martin Luther King was assassinated.
As Bobby said that night, he “too had a brother assassinated by a white guy”. On the topic of assassinations, Bobby, in the aftermath of the JFK assassination was a strong advocate to put in controls against the purchase of mail order guns, call it the mail order gun loophole, as was the case with the guns used by Lee Harvey Oswald.
How absolutely tragic it is that some 50 years later we are still debating closing gun purchase loopholes whether it be the internet loophole or the gun show loophole.
Chris went on to discuss Bobby's coming around from being a supporter of the Vietnam War to a strong opponent of that war as he demonstrated an ability to admit a mistake.
How refreshing that would be in today's politics. As for who Bobby believed killed JFK, Chris is under the impression from his research that Bobby believed the Warren Commissions findings that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. Credence is given to this by the fact that the presidential motorcade route in Dallas wasn't decided until a day before that fateful day which makes it unlikely that placing the assassin in the School Book Depository the day of the shooting could have been part of a thought-out plan.
At the conclusion of the presentation he opened it up for some questions.
When asked if he thought the loss of RFK could have had an even greater impact on the history of our country than the loss of JFK due to the fact that, if Bobby had lived, we may not have seen the administration of Nixon and with it Watergate, Chris offered that he wasn't sure Bobby would have beaten Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic nomination.
Chris explained that the nomination process back in 1968 depended more on back room politics than it did on the primary system.
To a question about why RFK and LBJ were never able to come together, he explained that the feud goes all the way back to the 1940's when LBJ was present during a phone call between FDR and Joe Kennedy, Sr. and that FDR confided in LBJ that he planned to fire Joe Sr from his ambassador position.
LBJ, apparently, didn't refrain from sharing that experience causing the beginning of a lifelong hatred with Bobby.
To a question dealing with the difference between today's politics and the politics of 50 years ago, the word used by Chris was empathy. He believes that there is none in today's politics nor is there much in way of compassion.
He is also convinced that there is no longer any deference to today's political leaders as there was some 50 years ago but maybe that lack of deference is well earned. On a positive note, Chris pointed out that the glass ceiling, if not broken completely, does show some cracks as we have more representation by both women and minorities than we had 50 years ago.
All in all, let me end this by saying how truly interesting I personally found listening to Chris Matthews and his admiration for Robert F. Kennedy.