It was my first reporting assignment right out of college. I’d wangled some second class press credentials for a short-lived Long Island daily (RIP) to cover the now-notorious August, 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention.
I’d still been in a state of shock at the second Kennedy assassination, Bobby Kennedy’s in June, coming on the heels of Martin Luther King’s in April (Bobby Kennedy’s astonishing emotional citation of Aeschylus on sorrow after King’s shooting–still one of the most moving moments in American political history).
So even before the riots broke out in Chicago–I was in the middle of them, not beaten but tear-gassed–it was a season of tears. Then I happened to hear about a press conference for a “Draft Teddy” movement.
It was a chaotic unorganized scene, in a sweaty crowded hotel ballroom, hosted I believe by Ohio Governor Mike Desalle*, one of the last of the old time machine politicians who’d naturally gravitated toward the Kennedys Last Hurrah style. (Did you ever read that novel–one of the best American political novels ever? Check it out).
It wasn’t officially authorized by Teddy, who had publicly disclaimed any ambition for the nomination, but who knew what might have happened if it had caught on? I think there’s an even chance an emotional tide might have swept Hubert Humphrey, an underestimated figure) to the side. And I had terribly mixed feelings about it all.
Part of me, the part that made me one of those people who thought RFK’s ’68 campaign a high point of American politics, felt moved by the idea. Another part was horrified by the thought that Teddy would be assassinated too. How could one–even the most heartless Kennedy hater–deal with three Kennedy assassinations? What would that say about America, gone from the tragic to the macabre absurd? Perhaps that’s what makes me sensitive to, incensed by, the toleration of assassination threats I’ve been reporting on in this blog.. One wonders how much that possibility might have weighed in his decision.
Yes, I know I’ve written about the unanswered questions about Chappaquiddick, an inexcusable tragic failure. But this moment in Chicago in August ’68 was before that. Indeed it makes you wonder how different history might have been if Teddy hadn’t so unequivocally turned down a draft (and supported George McGovern’s brief, belated, long forgotten, ’68 effort).
Maybe he wouldn’t have won, maybe he wasn’t ready to be president (like, of course Richard Nixon was). But maybe he wouldn’t have been drowning his sorrows in alcohol on Chappaquiddick the next summer.
Oh well, I’m sure this will bring the haters out. Hate away, if hate makes you feel good, on a day like this. Someday maybe, if you grow up inside, you’ll develop a tragic sense of life, a tragic sense of history. Read Aeschylus, maybe it will help you develop one. Or at least The Last Hurrah.