Monday, June 9, 2008
Bobby Kennedy's transformation is one of the most remarkable in modern American political history. He remained loyal to Sen. Joe McCarthy until the end, even after McCarthy had been publicly rebuked, and attended McCarthy's funeral. His tough-nosed approach to insider politics (dare I say, "Hardball", sorry Chris Matthews) made him the lightning rod and enforcer in his brother's 1960 campaign effort. But after JFK's assassination, the shock seemed to transform Robert F. Kennedy, in ways not easily measured. In the chapter marked "The Awful Grace of God," my book examines the impact of JFK's death on Bobby, including his first appearance after the assassination, before the Friendly Sons of Ireland in Scranton, Pa. On that St. Patrick's Day in 1964, Bobby read Thomas Davis's poem about the Irish poet Owen Roe O'Neill, one that had been read previously by his slain brother on St. Patrick's Day in Boston. The hardest line of all for RFK was the poem's refrain: "Oh! why did you leave us, Owen? Why did you die?"