Happy Birthday, RFK

20 11 2011
Robert Kennedy with daughter Kathleen


Had he lived, Robert F. Kennedy would be 86 years old on November 20th. We thought it might be interesting to honor him this year not with a few selected quotations by him, but rather quotations about him.

How was Bobby Kennedy described by the people who knew him best?

Their opinions were not always kind, to say the least. Lyndon Johnson called Bobby “that little shitass” and “a grandstanding little runt.” (Kennedy, who cherished his very own LBJ voodoo doll, called Johnson “mean, bitter, and vicious–an animal in many ways.”)

Joe McCarthy’s chief aide (and longtime RFK nemesis) Roy Cohn referred to Robert Kennedy as a “rich bitch,” saying: “he always had that little smirk on his face, designed to get under my skin, and it did.”

Apparently the feeling was mutual, as the two men once nearly came to blows in the Senate hearing room during the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Jimmy Hoffa, who thought Kennedy “a damn spoiled jerk,” described his first meeting with him in 1957: “I can tell by how he shakes hands what kind of fellow I got. I said to myself, `Here’s a fella thinks he’s doing me a favor by talking to me.'” Hoffa later bragged that during the Rackets Committee hearings, “I used to love to bug the little bastard.”

As Bobby himself once said, we are not here “to curse the past or to praise it,” so we thought it appropriate to include the bad with the good when selecting quotes from others on what they thought of Robert Kennedy. Opinions varied, at times so wildly, you’d almost never believe that all of these people are talking about the same man.

The full truth about RFK, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

I think that’s why he still fascinates us. Even after all these years, the real RFK is (to borrow from Churchill) “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” He’s a puzzle, difficult to solve, and yet we never seem to want to stop trying.


“The major difference between Bobby and his brothers is that Bobby always had to fight for everything.”

— Bobby’s wife, Ethel Skakel Kennedy

“He was the smallest and thinnest, and we feared he might grow up puny and girlish. We soon realized there was no chance of that.”

— Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (mother)

“Jack is too soft and forgiving. You can trample all over him and the next day he’ll be waiting for you with open arms. But when Bobby hates you, you stay hated.”

— Joseph P. Kennedy (father)

“Bobby was the most generous little boy.”

Jack Kennedy’s lifelong best friend, Lem Billings. (To which Joseph Kennedy Sr. gruffly replied: “I don’t know where he got that!”)

“All this business about Jack and Bobby being blood brothers has been exaggerated.”

Bobby’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“Kennedy was not arrogant, but he had a sarcasm that could be biting.”

Frank Hurley, Bobby’s classmate at Portsmouth Priory

“How would you like looking forward to that high whining voice blasting into your ear for the next six months?”

Jack Kennedy, on hiring his younger brother Bobby to manage the 1960 campaign.

“Jack thought Bobby was too serious, a severe figure, and tried to lighten him up. At the same time, he thought Bobby was…the sacred one. He felt protective about him.”

 — Chuck Spalding, longtime friend to both JFK and RFK.

“I don’t know what Bobby does, but it always seems to turn out right.”

–President-elect John F. Kennedy, shortly after winning the 1960 presidential election

“Up until the Bay of Pigs, Jack had more or less dismissed the reasons his father had given for wanting Bobby in the cabinet as more of that tribal Irish thing. But now he realized how right the old man had been. When the crunch came, family members were the only ones you could count on. Bobby was the only person he could rely on to be absolutely dedicated. Jack would never have admitted it, but from that moment on, the Kennedy presidency became a sort of collaboration between them.”

— Lem Billings, lifelong friend to the Kennedy brothers

“Everybody bitches about Bobby, and I’m getting sick and Goddamn tired of it. He’s the only one who doesn’t stick knives in my back, the only one I can count on when it comes down to it.”

— President John F. Kennedy

“You knew that, if you were in trouble, he’d always be there.”

— Former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis on RFK

“He had a better sense of what was important, and what was not, than anyone I ever met. Once he realized something was significant, he became the most deliberate, most thoughtful, most intense man.”

— John Nolan, Kennedy’s administrative assistant at the Justice Department.

“His most tenaciously maintained secret was a tenderness so rawly exposed, so vulnerable to painful abrasion, that it could only be shielded by angry compassion to human misery, manifest itself in love and loyalty toward those close to him, or through a revelatory humor.”

 — Richard Goodwin, speechwriter, longtime friend and advisor to JFK, RFK, and LBJ

Bobby and Jack


“I always say—don’t try to psychoanalyze Bob. Look at what he said and look at what he did. He meant what he said, and what he did was incredible.”

 — Ed Guthman, Robert Kennedy’s special assistant for public information in the Department of Justice and his first senatorial press secretary.


“I remember once John F. Kennedy talking about his younger brother. He was talking about the time when they were both a lot younger, and Bobby was small and jumping off the family sailboat. JFK said, and I quote, “It showed either a lot of guts or no sense at all, depending on how you look at it.” I think you can say that about Bobby’s entry into the 1968 presidential race. It either showed no sense at all, or a lot of guts. I think there were some of both of those factors present.”

— Ted Sorensen, policy advisor, legal counsel and speechwriter for President Kennedy.

“In every presidential election since 1968, we continue to listen for echoes of Robert Kennedy’s speeches which urged us to turn away from war, embrace peace, share the wealth and the resources of the land with the less fortunate, embrace the ideal of social justice for all, and put aside the divisions of race, age, wealth, militarism and the narrow partisanship that have come to divide us– and divide us still.I believe we will look at what he was about, what his politics and policies were about, what his motivations and commitments were about, thereby enhancing the record of his life and times for those who will come to this place to continue the quest. Today, we remember the man, who for many of us changed our lives, the man who changed the country and, had he lived, would have changed it again and again.” 

— Bobby’s trusted friend and advisor John Seigenthaler

“The reason we should revive Robert Kennedy as a hero for our times, for the 21st century, is because he presents us with a flawed, complicated hero of great compassion, and leadership. His was not a leadership that sought to merely bear witness to the truth but rather one that sought results and shaped them in the anvil of action.I think that there’s nothing our politics needs today more than the image, the model, the example, and the inspiration of Robert Kennedy’s life.Throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis Robert Kennedy did what he had done as a young man. He asked moral questions: is it right or is it wrong? When I first met him, I didn’t like his answers. He was more of a Cold Warrior with a Joe McCarthy view of the world, than I was. What changed in Robert Kennedy, in my opinion, was that his view of the world became broader and deeper. The child that was compassionate, the child that was religious, the child that asked moral questions, was the man who in the Cuban Missile Crisis had the courage to ask the moral question, “Could we have a first strike and live with our conscience if we did?” In the face of the geo-politicians in that room, he asked those questions. That was not easy to do, and he did it….And then lastly, in this election right now, the clear, important message from a country divided down the middle is that we want the next President of the United States to find common ground in the way that Robert Kennedy did. He attempted to reach out to left and to right, and beyond all ideological barriers to find a common ground, to get things done.I would recommend to the next President of the United States that he immerse himself in the story of Robert Kennedy. I would say begin with Maxwell Kennedy’s beautiful book and then go on to Ed Guthman’s collection of speeches. Can we revive in our time some of what we had? …”a transcendent yearning for the possibility of redemptive change?” We all, I think, have that yearning. I think the American people have it. And the story of Robert Kennedy can drive us to try to realize that possibility.”— Harris Wofford, special assistant to President Kennedy, chair of the sub-cabinet group on civil rights.


Happy Birthday, Bobby Kennedy. This world misses you.


Kennedy Says Skakel is Innocent of Moxley Murder

1 09 2008

A desperate plea from Michael Skakel

A desperate plea from Michael Skakel

* Saturday’s edition of 48 Hours featured an excellent investigative report on the Martha Moxley case, in which Robert F Kennedy Jr. was interviewed at length. More info and video can be found on the CBS website.


(CBS) “We decided to go up to Greenwich and hang out…I’ve got my caveman club and I’m going to grab somebody and pull them by the hair and do what cavemen do,” recalls Tony Bryant, about what his friends said to him the night Martha Moxley was murdered in Greenwich, Conn. in 1975.

Bryant told his story from that night during a taped interview requested by Michael Skakel’s defense team, including his cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., which was presented at a seven day hearing to reopen the case. Bryant is a cousin of basketball star Kobe Bryant.

48 Hours Mystery takes a look at this explosive video and the other recent developments in Michael Skakel’s appeals to overturn his conviction.
On Oct. 31, 1975 a fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley was found murdered on her family’s property. She had been beaten to death with a golf club. It remained a cold case for more than 20 years until 2000, when Kennedy cousin and long-time suspect Michael Skakel was arrested. At his trial in 2002, Skakel claimed to have been at his cousin’s house at the time of the murder, but the jury did not believe his testimony. He was convicted of Moxley’s murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Led by Michael’s brother Stephen and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the Skakel family continues to claim Michael is innocent, and that his conviction was the result of an overzealous prosecution. Kennedy in particular believes “somebody decided that – a Skakel was gonna go to jail.”

48 Hours Mystery will reexamine the case, including the Tony Bryant video, where when asked if he believes his friends killed Martha Moxley he says, “I think they were definitely involved…there is no doubt in my mind they were involved.” Will this evidence be enough to reopen the case?


* To learn more about alternative theories on the Moxley case, we highly recommend Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s article A Miscarriage of Justice, published in Atlantic Monthly. 

* Kennedy also testified in Michael’s defense in a retrial hearing last spring. We have full coverage here.

* Also, please visit Skakel.org, a site dedicated to proving Skakel’s innocence.

Teddy Gets Fired Up for Obama

28 01 2008
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s uncle), rejecting entreaties from the Clintons and their supporters, is set to endorse Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid today as part of an effort to lend Kennedy charisma and connections before the 22-state Feb. 5 showdown for the Democratic nomination.
Both the Clintons and their allies had pressed Mr. Kennedy for weeks to remain neutral in the Democratic race, but Mr. Kennedy had become increasingly disenchanted with the tone of the Clinton campaign, aides said.
He and former President Bill Clinton had a heated telephone exchange earlier this month over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign.

Mr. Kennedy called Mr. Clinton Sunday to tell him of his decision.

The endorsement, which followed a public appeal on Mr. Obama’s behalf by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, was a blow to the Clinton campaign and pits leading members of the nation’s most prominent Democratic families against one another.

Mr. Kennedy, a major figure in party politics for more than 40 years, intends to campaign aggressively for Mr. Obama, beginning with an appearance and rally with him in Washington on Monday. He will be introduced by Ms. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy then heads west with Mr. Obama, followed by appearances in the Northeast. Strategists see him bolstering Mr. Obama’s credibility and helping him firm up support from unions and Hispanics, as well as the party base.

The endorsement appears to support assertions that Mr. Clinton’s campaigning on behalf of his wife in South Carolina has in some ways hurt her candidacy.

Campaign officials, without acknowledging any faults on Mr. Clinton’s part, have said they will change tactics and try to shift Mr. Clinton back into the role he played before her loss in the Iowa caucuses, emphasizing her record and experience.

Mr. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, has worked closely with Mrs. Clinton, of New York, on health care and other legislation and has had a friendly relationship with both Clintons, but associates said he was intrigued by Mr. Obama’s seeming ability to inspire political interest in a new generation. For his part, Mr. Obama actively courted Mr. Kennedy for several years, seeking him out for Senate advice and guidance before making the decision to enter the presidential race.

Mr. Kennedy had been seriously considering an endorsement for weeks — a break with his traditional practice of staying clear of primaries.

He remained uncertain of his decision as late as the middle of last week. But, according to allies, when he learned that his niece’s endorsement would appear as an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times on Sunday, he decided to bolster that with his own public embrace of the campaign at a joint rally at American University in Washington on Monday, giving Mr. Obama, of Illinois a potentially powerful one-two Kennedy punch.

As Mr. Obama flew here on Sunday, he smiled when asked about his new wave of support from the Kennedy family.

“For somebody who, I think, has been such an important part of our national imagination and who generally shies away from involvement in day-to-day politics to step out like that is something that I’m very grateful for,” Mr. Obama said of Caroline Kennedy’s support. Ms. Kennedy declined requests on Sunday to discuss her endorsement.

Trying to dilute the impact of the twin endorsements by the brother and daughter of the late president, the Clinton campaign on Sunday issued a statement of support from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor in Maryland and a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.

“I respect Caroline and Teddy’s decision, but I have made a different choice,” Ms. Townsend said in her statement, adding: “At this moment when so much is at stake at home and overseas, I urge our fellow Americans to support Hillary Clinton. That is why my brother Bobby, my sister Kerry, and I are supporting Hillary Clinton.”

But two years ago, Ms. Townsend’s mother, Ethel Kennedy, referred to Mr. Obama in an interview as “our next president” and likened him to her late husband.

The Kennedy endorsement grants Mr. Obama, who has been framed by the Clintons as being short on experience, the approval of one of the Senate’s senior members.

Before the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Kennedy had planned to stay out of the race, largely because he had so many friends in the contest, chiefly Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. He also said he was waiting for one of the candidates to spark a movement.

“I want to see who out there is going to be able to inspire not only our party, but others, because I think we’re going to need the inspiration in order to bring a change in American foreign policy and domestic policy,” Mr. Kennedy said last year on ABC News’s “This Week.”

After Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses, associates to both men said, Mr. Kennedy concluded that Mr. Obama had transcended racial lines and the historical divisions the Kennedy family had worked to tear down. Mr. Kennedy was also impressed at how Mr. Obama was not defined as a black candidate, but seen as a transformational figure.

It was then, associates said, that Mr. Kennedy began talking with his children, nieces and nephews, including Caroline Kennedy, who had reached her own judgment some time ago independently of her uncle. They then agreed last week to move ahead with their endorsements, coordinating their decision before the Feb. 5 contests.

Mr. Kennedy has a long history of working with the former president and Mrs. Clinton on health, education and other social issues and, according to his associates, has a good relationship with both. While the Clintons were in the White House, the families socialized and sailed off Cape Cod.

Mr. Obama courted Mr. Kennedy as well, using late-night sessions in the Senate to get some tutoring about the intricacies of the institution. Conversations about the White House began more than a year ago, with Mr. Obama paying Mr. Kennedy a visit to seek his thoughts about whether he should run for president. Mr. Kennedy told him that he should because such opportunities rarely come along.

On the night of Mr. Obama’s national political debut at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he was preceded on stage by Mr. Kennedy, a symbolic bookend of the party’s dean and its new generation.

A year later, near the end of Mr. Obama’s first year in the Senate, Ethel Kennedy asked him to speak at a ceremony for her husband’s 80th birthday. At the time, she referred to Mr. Obama as “our next president.”

“I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did,” Mrs. Kennedy said in an interview that day, comparing her late husband’s quest for social justice to Mr. Obama’s. “He has the passion in his heart. He’s not selling you. It’s just him.”


Caroline Kennedy: Obama Will Be “A President Like My Father”

26 01 2008


For 28 years, Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg steadfastly refused to endorse any presidential candidate, always wisely staying out of the political pillowfight.

All that changed as of about an hour ago when the last surviving member of the John F. Kennedy family broke her nearly three decade-long long silence and formally endorsed Barack Obama

The news came just moments before Obama took the stage to thank supporters who handed him a whopping 2-to-1 victory over Senator Hillary Clinton in tonight’s South Carolina Democratic primary.

Maybe she didn’t have time to “change”? Although Michelle Obama is always immaculately attired, her choice of the Jackie Kennedy-esque pink suit seems somewhat ill-advised in light of Caroline Kennedy’s nearly-simultaneous endorsement. (AP photo)


In her New York Times Op-Ed column (which hits newsstands tomorrow), Caroline explained the endorsement this way: 

“My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

…He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans. “


All eyes now turn to the senior senator from Massachusetts, one of the most conspicuous of Democratic fence sitters, who is known to have become mighty annoyed with Clinton campaign tactics in recent weeks. (See related story: “Teddy Tells Bill to Chill”)

Meanwhile, many of the Robert Kennedys — RFK Jr., Rory Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend — have been out on the campaign trail stumping for Hillary Clinton. (Although their mother, RFK’s widow Ethel, is reportedly an Obama supporter.)

Caroline’s endorsement of Senator Obama certainly creates an interesting dynamic both within the Democratic party and indeed the Kennedy family itself. Does this point to the possibility that the House of Kennedy is a house divided in the 2008 election?

Perhaps it will actually turn out to be a good thing in the end. A little healthy competition has always been welcomed within the Kennedy ranks, not to mention a spirited, passionate, good ol’ Irish family political debate. (Like the kind we always had at my house!) What some of us wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall at that pow-wow!

JFK Jr., Caroline, Jackie Kennedy with Bill clinton

Ah, but we were so much older then…we’re younger than that now: the late president’s family – John F. Kennedy Jr., Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg and Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis with then-president Bill Clinton back in the day.



Copyright RFKin2008.com.

Kennedy Cousin Loses Bid For New Trial

27 10 2007


Almost 32 years to the day after the murder of Martha Moxley, a Superior Court judge has denied Michael Skakel’s appeal for a new trial.

In his ruling Thursday at Superior Court in Stamford, Judge Edward R. Karazin Jr. ruled that there was “no truly new or credible evidence” to upset a jury’s verdict five years ago that Skakel was guilty of 15 year-old Moxley’s murder.

Skakel, who was also 15 when the crime occurred, lived across the street from the Moxley house where Martha’s body was found beneath a tree on Halloween day, 1975. She had been killed about 10 p.m. the previous night, brutally beaten to death with a golf club.

Gitano “Tony” Bryant, cousin of Kobe Bryant and one of Skakel’s former classmates, claimed in 2003 that his two friends told him just days after the murder that they had assaulted Martha “caveman style.” He said he remained silent for 28 years for fear of being implicated in the murder himself.

Judge Karazin didn’t buy it, but his ruling is by no means the final chapter of the Michael Skakel case.


Skakel, now 47, is serving a 20-years-to-life sentence. Moxley’s murder remained unsolved for nearly a quarter-century until a grand jury investigation led to Skakel’s arrest in 2000, at age 39. His new lawyers, Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos, assert the crime is still unsolved.

“We maintain that Mr. Skakel was wrongly convicted and that, if a jury had heard all of the evidence, he would never have been convicted,” Seeley said Thursday. “We intend to pursue all legal avenues possible, including appealing this decision, filing a federal writ of habeas corpus raising constitutional issues, as well as a state habeas petition addressing the ineffective assistance of counsel.”

Karazin’s ruling helped Skakel in one way: It bolsters his claim that his trial lawyer, Michael “Mickey” Sherman, failed him miserably.

The 36-page ruling characterizes much of the evidence that Santos and Seeley presented during the April hearing on Skakel’s civil petition for a new trial as material that Sherman should have been able to obtain either before Skakel’s 2002 trial or during it. That evidence includes a sketch of an unfamiliar man seen walking in Belle Haven the night of the murder and detailed police profile reports of suspects Kenneth Littleton – a new tutor hired by the Skakel family – and Thomas Skakel, Michael’s older brother. It also includes the whereabouts of three Elan School classmates of Michael Skakel’s who might have been able to discredit a key prosecution witness.

“All three of these witnesses could have been found prior to trial by the same methods employed to find them after trial,” Karazin wrote. His ruling underscores that Sherman did not use “due diligence” in locating witnesses and demanding evidence.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with Mickey Sherman

(PHOTO CAPTION: Douglas Kennedy (left), RFK Jr., and Mickey Sherman during Michael Skakel’s 2002 trial for the murder of Martha Moxley.) 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been the most outspoken member of the Kennedy family about this case, proclaiming his cousin’s innocence at every opportunity. In a 2003 article he wrote for the Atlantic (“A Miscarriage of Justice”), Kennedy called the Skakel trial a “media lynching,” and presented a convincing argument for Skakel’s innocence, reminding readers that the prosecution had no fingerprints, no DNA, and no witnesses.


RFK Jr. visited Skakel in prison, attended the trial, and has spent the years since gathering potential evidence to clear his cousin’s name. “Many people asked me why I would publicly defend him—a cause unlikely to enhance my own credibility.” Kennedy said in The Atlantic article. “I support him not out of misguided family loyalty but because I am certain he is innocent.”

At the televised retrial hearing back in April, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testified that he wasn’t always close to his cousin by marriage, but he said he felt obligated to come forward with information given to him by Tony Bryant which implicates other people in the murder. 

Kennedy had put Skakel’s attorneys in touch with Bryant, the one-time classmate who implicated two friends in the crime.

“I knew that Michael was innocent. I knew he’d been wrongly convicted,” Kennedy said. “Although my relationship with him was a troubled one, I knew that an innocent man was in prison, and I knew facts that had not been part of the trial and they were not part of the public debate.”

Bobby’s mother Ethel Kennedy (Skakel’s aunt) sat in the front row of the courtroom.

The defense played a tape of a conversation between Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Bryant about the two men Bryant implicated, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burt Tinsley.

“They need to interview and focus on this guy Adolph because he said some very, very, very, very damaging statements that, I mean, just blew me away,” Bryant told Kennedy, according to a transcript of the conversation.

With several potential other suspects in the crime still walking free, Michael Skakel will probably spend the rest of his days behind bars for a murder many believe he did not commit.

After the judge’s ruling came down Thursday denying Skakel a new trial, one website devoted to convincing the public that Skakel was railroaded went dark in protest of the decision. The webmaster of Skakel.org posted the following statement: 

Due to a tragedy in the CT “justice” system, this site has been temporarily disabled in a programmed moment of silence.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Michael Skakel (whom we also believe is innocent), as well as the Kennedy, Skakel, and Moxley families. We refuse to lose hope that the REAL killer (s) will be found, tried and convicted, and that one day, there will truly be justice for Martha.

And justice for Michael, too.

Copyright 2007 by RFKin2008.com. All Rights Reserved.