Lessons from the Election of 1968

180108_r31238_rdLouis Menand at The New Yorker:

Robert Kennedy is one of the great what-ifs of American political history. In 1968, he was just forty-three years old. He had the most glamorous name in politics; he wore the mantle of martyrdom; and he had transformed himself from a calculating infighter—he had managed his brother’s Presidential campaign, in 1960, and served as his Attorney General after the election—into a kind of existentialist messiah. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, in Atlantic City, he had received a twenty-two-minute standing ovation just by appearing at the lectern.

There was a rawness in Kennedy’s face and voice that seemed to match the national mood. He was the personification of the country’s pain over its fallen leader. And he had the ability to reflect back whatever voters projected onto him. He seemed to combine youth with experience, intellect with heart, street sense with vision. He was a hero to Chicano grape pickers, to inner-city African-Americans, to union workers. He was a man of the times when the times they were a-changin’. Kennedy had haters. Having haters is part of the job of being a messiah. But he was salvific. He could rouse audiences to a frenzy and he could make hardened politicos weep. People thought that he could go to the Convention and steal the nomination from Johnson. People thought that he could beat Nixon.

more here.