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SCHLESINGER, Arthur M. Jr.

Robert Kennedy and His Times

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What would have happened had he not been killed? He would certainly have had a rocky road to the nomination. The power of the Johnson administration and much of the party establishment was behind Humphrey. Still, the dynamism was behind Kennedy, and he might well have swept the convention. If nominated, he would most probably have beaten the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. Individuals do make a difference to history. A Robert Kennedy presidency would have brought a quick end to American involvement in the Vietnam War. Those thousands of Americans—and many thousands more Vietnamese and Cambodians—who were killed from 1969 to 1973 would have been at home with their families. A Robert Kennedy presidency would have consolidated and extended the achievements of John Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The liberal tide of the 1960s was still running strong enough in 1969 to affect Nixon’s domestic policies. The Environmental Protection Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act with its CETA employment program were all enacted under Nixon. If that still fast-flowing tide so influenced a conservative administration, what signal opportunities it would have given a reform president! The confidence that both black and white working-class Americans had in Robert Kennedy would have created the possibility of progress toward racial reconciliation. His appeal to the young might have mitigated some of the under-thirty excesses of the time. And of course the election of Robert Kennedy would have delivered the republic from Watergate, with its attendant subversion of the Constitution and destruction of faith in government.

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