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President of the Other America

President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty

EDWARD R. SCHMITT
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk1r7
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  • Book Info
    President of the Other America
    Book Description:

    Robert Kennedy’s abbreviated run for the presidency in 1968 has assumed almost mythical proportions in American memory. His campaign has been romanticized because of its tragic end, but also because of the foreign and domestic crises that surrounded it. Yet while most media coverage initially focused on Kennedy’s opposition to the Vietnam War as the catalyst of his candidacy, another issue commanded just as much of his attention. That issue was poverty. Stumping across the country, he repeated the same antipoverty themes before college students in Kansas and Indiana, loggers and women factory workers in Oregon, farmers in Nebraska, and business groups in New York. Although his calls to action sometimes met with apathy, he refused to modify his message. “If they don’t care,” he told one aide, “the hell with them.” As Edward R. Schmitt demonstrates, Kennedy’s concern with the problem of poverty was not new. Although critics at the time accused him of opportunistically veering left in order to outflank an unpopular president, a closer look at the historical record reveals a steady evolution rather than a dramatic shift in his politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-041-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    Robert Kennedy’s abbreviated 1968 presidential run has assumed mythical proportions in the American memory. His campaign has been romanticized in part because of its tragic end, but also because of the foreign and domestic crises that made politics in that year seem a matter of life and death. While most media coverage initially focused on Kennedy’s opposition to the Vietnam War as the catalyst for his candidacy,Washington Postreporter Richard Harwood began to note Kennedy’s near “obsession” with discussing another issue on the stump: poverty. “Kennedy dwells on the tragedy of the poor,” the journalist observed, describing his speeches...

  5. 1 FROM THE NEW DEAL TO THE NEW FRONTIER POSTWAR PROSPERITY, POVERTY, AND THE KENNEDYS
    (pp. 9-35)

    Poverty was a central issue in American politics throughout much of Robert Kennedy’s youth. His childhood was, however, famously insulated from the suffering that millions of Americans endured in the Great Depression. His wealthy and politically powerful family was on display for ordinary Americans when Franklin Roosevelt appointed his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, the first Irish American U.S. ambassador to Great Britain in 1937. Readers of popular magazines such asReader’s DigestandLadies’ Home Journallearned of the “Nine Kennedys and How They Grew” and the “Nine Young U.S. Ambassadors.”¹ The story of the family patriarch, the second-generation Boston...

  6. 2 AT THE FULCRUM OF THE MOVEMENT DECIDING TIME
    (pp. 36-66)

    America at the dawn of the rumbling upheaval of the 1960s, many observers have noted, looked no different from the seemingly conformist, carefree country of the 1950s. Cultural styles, social mores, even the parameters of the mainstream political spectrum—what has been called the postwar liberal consensus—remained static upon John Kennedy’s ascent to the White House.¹ Increasingly, however, a central element of the divide that would rend the fabric of the nation was becoming manifest. The United States was on the verge of something approaching a second civil war, and strange, sporadic new kinds of skirmishes were multiplying, erupting...

  7. 3 POVERTY AND JUSTICE DEFINING A FEDERAL ROLE
    (pp. 67-93)

    Developments in the multifaceted struggle for civil rights would play an important role in deepening Robert Kennedy’s awareness of poverty in America. The attorney general would encounter the problem in a number of significant ways, however, some of which were more clearly linked to the traditional jurisdiction of the Justice Department than others. Because of his relationship to the president, unique not only among attorneys general but also among modern presidential advisers generally—with perhaps only Harry Hopkins and Karl Rove holding similar levels of influence— Robert Kennedy ranged far afield from the conventional domain of Justice Department chief, playing...

  8. 4 TROUBLES AND TRIALS FROM DALLAS TO WATTS
    (pp. 94-118)

    For his remaining nine months at the Justice Department and through most of his first year in the Senate, Robert Kennedy was in search of direction. He had built his life around his brother’s presidency, and his death left him rudderless and downcast. Through a period beginning and ending with two of the most stunning bursts of violence in the second half of the twentieth century—the assassination in Dallas and the Watts uprising of August 1965—Robert Kennedy was mired in a dark night of both his personal and his political soul. He considered a number of options, including...

  9. 5 THE EDUCATION OF A SENATOR SEEKING A “GREATER SOCIETY”
    (pp. 119-145)

    The uprising in Watts shocked the nation, and leaders from across the social and political spectrum registered their opinions on the conflagration. Martin Luther King Jr. attributed the explosion to the kindling of “hunger and degradation . . . two diseases not uncommon to Negroes in other parts of America.” An angry Dwight Eisenhower was roused from retirement to proclaim that he didn’t “care what the condition of these people was. Those who started this . . . made the conditions far worse.” The Reverend Billy Graham was confident that events were “definitely influenced by the communists” and worried that...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 “BORN IN A STORM” THE BEDFORD-STUYVESANT EXPERIMENT
    (pp. 146-168)

    By late 1966 community leaders in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn were even more anxious than might have been expected after a year of escalating urban violence nationwide. The cause of their unease was the announced intention of their junior U.S. senator to implement a plan for the revitalization of their community. “They were still gun-shy,” Civil Court judge Thomas R. Jones later reflected, “not sure either of how long our allies would stay with us, or where this [plan] was going, . . . or who the money would come from, or a number of things. . . ....

  12. 7 “IT BECAME HIS ISSUE” FIGHTING FOR THE WAR ON POVERTY
    (pp. 169-194)

    Nineteen sixty-six was a Republican year, as the GOP gained forty-seven House seats, three Senate seats, and eight statehouses. With the nation’s social divide widening and the center of the political spectrum moving to the right, two developments provide interesting illustrations of the changing political landscape. In New York City, a civilian police review board recently launched by liberal mayor John Lindsay was eliminated by an overwhelming referendum vote. Despite support from every major state official except Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller, the board, designed to provide a check on multiplying concerns about police brutality against African Americans and Latinos, was...

  13. 8 “YOU CAN’T DENY THESE PEOPLE THE PRESIDENCY” THE 1968 CAMPAIGN
    (pp. 195-219)

    While it seemed highly unlikely to most observers in the fall of 1967 that any Democrat would be able to wrest the nomination away from the incumbent president, liberal activist Allard Lowenstein had been at work organizing a “Dump Johnson” movement and targeted Kennedy as the candidate to lead the charge. Kennedy was sympathetic but thought the proposition unrealistic. In late September, Lowenstein, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and others met at Kennedy’s suburban Virginia home to discuss the election. Kennedy contended that if he were the first announced candidate, the campaign would be deemed personal. “No one would believe I was...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 220-230)

    Journalist J. Anthony Lukas was struck by the diversity of mourners who came to pay their respects at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “World statesmen in formal dark suits stood next to Harlem school boys in torn Levis and sneakers,” Lukas reported. “Suburban housewives in trim fashionable suits waited side by side with young Puerto Rican girls who fingered worn rosary beads.” TheNew York Timesreporter was most taken with the turnout of the poor and the young. “At times every fourth or fifth face in the line seemed to be that of a Negro or a Puerto Rican,” Lukas wrote,...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 231-312)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 313-324)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-326)