In this special WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman speaks with author and host of MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews. During a long career in Washington he rubbed shoulders with the Kennedys — whom he has been talking and writing about for years — and now he turns his full attention to Bobby.
Matthews argues that Bobby’s politics were rooted in bringing people together. Of course, there’s no way of knowing what his presidency might have been like. But Matthews reminds us of the crowds that gathered to salute the funeral train carrying RFK’s body from New York to Washington after his assassination in 1968. The mourners lining the tracks were black and white, waitstaff, firemen, and cops, who believed that Kennedy cared about them all. One relevant detail: Bobby was known as the only senator who would personally say hello to the Capitol police each day.
Matthews also tells Schechtman about Bobby’s penchant for making enemies, how he was once described as “a romantic, disguised as a streetfighter.” Some of it came from his upbringing as the younger brother to Joseph Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The runt of the family, as his father would call him, he always had to fight for attention.
We also learn about his relationship with Roy Cohn, which was a far cry from Cohn’s relationship with then-businessman Donald Trump.
Matthews explains the goals of Bobby’s 1968 presidential campaign. Besides wanting to end the war in Vietnam, he hoped to bring back Jack Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” but with many more working-class whites and minorities participating. He was, in Matthews’s words, “a streetfighter for moral justice.”
Chris Matthews is the author of Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, October 31, 2017).