Date of Award

Summer 2003

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Hay, Robert

Second Advisor

Marten, James

Third Advisor

Theoharis, Athan


Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty as a Humane Struggle The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence. Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech to the Cleveland City Club the day after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership is always a struggle. It is often a feud. Garry Wills "I was the seventh of nine children," Robert Kennedy once reflected, "and when you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive." Kennedy came to a similar conclusion about his chosen vocation of politics. Journalist and advisor John Bartlow Martin recalled the presidential candidate telling Richard Goodwin - recently arrived in the Kennedy campaign after serving as advisor to Democratic rival Eugene McCarthy- that the Minnesota senator was trying to kill him politically, and that he had to beat him to the task. "He wants to see me lying there on the floor dead," Kennedy said. Kennedy's bare-knuckles approach in a politically polarized era inevitably generated immense hostility. While Kennedy sensed this, he didn't fully understand it. When a British journalist related that two people she met in the previous week disliked him so much they wanted to physically assault him, the New York senator was nonplussed. "Hit me? You mean punch me?" he asked. "What kind of people? Now I'll always be looking at people and wondering. Why do they?" As Kennedy walked in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade the day of his announcement for the presidency, a young man broke through police lines in an attempt to attack him...



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