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Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

Bobby Kennedy Embraces Liberal Fascism

Robert Kennedy would be assassinated on June 5th of 1968, by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24 year old Palestinian, making RFK arguably one of the first high-profile American deaths caused by an ever-more radicalized Islamic world. Or as Ann Coulter wrote in 2002, Sirhan was the first “to bring the classic religion-of-peace protest to American shores, when, in support of the Palestinians, he assassinated Robert Kennedy.”

But before his tragic demise, RFK himself would utter increasingly radicalized rhetoric. In March of 1968, Bobby Kennedy told those assembled at Kansas State University:

As Kennedy began, his voice cracked, and those near the stage noticed his hands trembling and his right leg shaking. After praising [Al] Landon’s distinguished career, he said, “I am also glad to come to the home state of another great Kansan, who wrote, ‘If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all their youthful vision and vigor then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.’ ” …

At first he seemed tentative and wooden, stammering and repeating himself, too nervous to punctuate his sentences with gestures. But with each round of applause he became more animated. Soon he was pounding the lectern with his right fist, and shouting out his words.

Rene Carpenter watched the students in the front rows. Their faces shone, and they opened their mouths in unison, shouting, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Hays Gorey, of Time, called the electricity between Kennedy and the K.S.U. students “real and rare” and said that ” .. John Kennedy … himself couldn’t be so passionate, and couldn’t set off such sparks.”

Kevin Rochat was close to weeping because Kennedy was so direct and honest. He kept telling himself, My God! He’s saying exactly what I’ve been thinking! ..

Kennedy concluded by saying, “Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies–and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once said was the last, great hope of mankind. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America but for the heart of America. In these next eight months we are going to decide what this country will stand for–and what kind of men we are.”

He raised his fist in the air so it resembled the revolutionary symbol on posters hanging in student rooms that year, promised “a new America,” and the hall erupted in cheers and thunderous applause.

In between calling for more riots on college campuses, Bobby was also rejecting the technological optimism of his late brother’s New Frontier of the early 1960s:

The endless doomsday rhetoric of the 1970s, including calls for “Zero Population Growth” and “Limits to Growth” and Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise” speech, which defined the exhaustion of postwar liberalism, was starting right here.