The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America

Thurston Clarke, Author . Holt $25 (321p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7792-6

In this hagiographic narrative of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 Democratic presidential primary campaign, RFK seems less a politician than a moral teacher. Hammering away at the immorality of poverty and racism, he confronted crowds with their own ethical culpability and, regarding the Vietnam War, reminding campus audiences of the unfairness of student draft deferments. Rapturous throngs of voters ate it up and propelled RFK to a string of victories. Clarke (Ask Not ) positions Kennedy as a prototypical New Democrat who appealed to minorities and working-class whites alike by mixing liberalism with themes of law and order, free enterprise, jobs and local control. But in Clarke’s telling, Kennedy’s essence is spiritual rather than political; he is a Christ figure— comforting sick children, utterly sincere in his beliefs and incapable of political pandering, haunted by forebodings of his assassination, his charisma “tactile and mystical... he had to let people see, touch, and commune with him.” Clarke emphasizes the Kennedy campaign’s contemporary resonance, but his book is more revealing as an iconic portrait of the passionate, turbulent zeitgeist of the 1960s. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
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