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Remembering RFK

06/13/07 12:00AM By David Moats
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(HOST) Renewed media interest in the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy and the recent DVD release of the movie about his life and times, has reminded commentator David Moats of a turbulent era.

(MOATS) I was telling my son about Bobby Kennedy and the great collapse of hope that happened when he was shot that night in June of 1968. A new book about the Kennedy brothers, a recently aired documentary, and the movie "Bobby" have all brought new attention to Bobby and that dramatic time.

The movie captured that moment in 1968 when Bobby had won the California primary and it looked like he might be the next president. It was all about the plots and subplots of the people working at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where he gave his victory speech and where moments later he was gunned down. There was the hotel manager who was having an affair with the switchboard operator, though he was married to the hotel beautician. There were the Mexican kitchen workers, the drunken lounge singer, and the young Kennedy volunteers who, of course, were tripping on LSD - the whole 1968 thing.

It surprised me to realize that while these great events were unfolding in Los Angeles I was only 90 miles away in college. I could have gotten into a car and driven down there. Instead we were studying for finals.

What I wanted to convey about that time was the feeling of embattlement and desperation, mainly because of Vietnam, but also because of the powerful movements and upheavals of the time. The civil rights movement was cause for great hope. The urban riots were cause for great despair. LBJ decided he wouldn't run - great hope. Martin Luther King was killed - great despair.

Bobby entered the race, and he was on the right side on all the issues, and not only that, he was eloquent, and in his tragic way, impassioned. It so happened that at spring break, I had seen him at a rally in downtown Stockton, where the plaza was packed - thousands of Mexican farm workers hoping to get a glimpse of their champion. He stood in his car, bending down, letting people grab at his hands. Tumultuous doesn't describe it. This was larger than Bobby. He was riding a wave. And then he won the California primary. Hope was reaching a crest.

A group of us were sitting around the kitchen table, except for my roommate Herb, who was in back studying and listening to the radio. Then he burst from his room, alarm all over his face, and he turned on the radio in the living room, and we heard the news. My roommate Darrell burst into tears. The rest of us were stunned. Numb. I was studying Macbeth at the time. I thought of the lines describing the king Duncan's horses after Duncan was murdered. They turned "wild in nature," they "broke their stalls ... contending against obedience." "'Tis said they eat each other," an old man says.

The king's horses eating each other. That was the image that captured that long night and the following day when we learned that Bobby was dead. So that's what I wanted to tell my son about that night in 1968.

If you see the movie, listen to Bobby's words at the end. Quiet, restrained, inspiring, humane. He aspired to bring the human family together. They are words we need to hear again.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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