Arts & Events
In “Bobby,” the final day of Robert Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency, is brought to life through the lives of an ensemble of characters.
That week in 1968, at thirteen, I was making a final campaign push myself for Kennedy. Incomprehensibly, not everybody was voting for him. In fact, not everybody in our Los Angeles household was voting for Kennedy.
Based solely for his anti-Vietnam stance, my mother had come out for Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy immediately after he had announced his candidacy.
My fascination and passion for Kennedy began as soon as he announced his candidacy. For once, I scanned the Los Angeles Times front page for details about Kennedy speeches and primary victories before the sports pages.
My father and I attended a Kennedy rally at the local junior college. When Kennedy’s motorcade hit the campus, I bolted after it, reaching his car and his outstretched hand. If I’d been a fervent young Kennedy supporter before that night, now I was happily fixated on Kennedy and the campaign.
Once Kennedy had announced he would run, I expected my mother to switch allegiance to Kennedy for both sensible and self-interested reasons, but so far she had resisted my appeals.
Not wanting my father’s vote to be cancelled out, I knew it was time to play hardball if Kennedy was going to carry our household. I pleaded and kidded to my mother to vote for Kennedy.
“C’mon Mom. Please vote for Kennedy. You know he’s going to win anyway. Might as well go with a winner.”
But my mother wouldn’t budge. I had never seen her so stubborn, especially about something I wanted so badly.
I tried using the issues. First, I tried Civil Rights. At her urging, our family had marched in civil rights parades.
I followed her around the house while she attempted to evade me.
“Mom, listen. McCarthy and Kennedy are the same on the war, but Kennedy is stronger on Civil Rights. Everybody knows that. McCarthy could care less about Negroes. Civil Rights. Isn’t that what you care about most? There’s more than one issue besides the war. Please. Vote for Kennedy!”
“No,” she said turning around to face me, pursing her lips. “McCarthy was first.”
But I wasn’t done yet. Like a dog nipping at her heels, I tagged behind while she busied herself with domestic chores. Undaunted, I had other issues.
My mother was a fervent follower of Cesar Chavez, who led the fight for better conditions for migrant farm workers. Kennedy had aligned himself with Chavez, even flying to California when Chavez ended his 25-day fast, just before the New Hampshire primary. My mother had banned grapes from our house since Chavez began his crusade. I had sacrificed because I loved grapes. Now it was her turn to sacrifice for me.
“I’m still voting for McCarthy,” she said. This was going to be more difficult than I thought.
Now I was desperate. The Hell with the issues. Just do it for me. I never asked for that much did I? Some new clothes, perhaps, another cookie, or once in a while a big item like a new bike. More or less I got what I needed. Especially if I really wanted it. Once, there was a particular pair of shoes I desired. My mother and I drove all over the Valley in a vain attempt to find the shoes so I could wear them on the first day of school. She wanted to make me happy. Well, voting for Kennedy would make me happy! Didn’t she understand?
I thought of a revelatory conversation I’d had with my parents when they revealed almost casually that they’d give up their life for me if the circumstances presented themselves.
This was quite a shock. I couldn’t think of anybody I would give up my life for. But my parents, in the event that there was only enough water or food for one person, would give it to me. Or take a bullet. I came first.
You don’t need to give up your life. Just give up your vote. For Kennedy. For your son. A political favor. Don’t you know much this means to me? What’s one vote? One favor. Please!
Now I was both desperate and angry. I had time for one last campaign blitz on the night before the California primary election. Gathering posters, stickers and campaign material, I smothered the inside of her car with Kennedy campaign material. When she went to vote the next morning, she’d have quite a surprise. Who could resist? Get on the bandwagon, Mom. She’d have to vote for Kennedy now, I reasoned.
When she came back from the polls, I asked her hopefully, “Who did you vote for?”
“McCarthy,” she said.
I turned away, hurt and furious. There was nothing else to say. I had done everything I could for Kennedy. And I’d failed.
In the end, of course, it didn’t matter.
I’d gone to bed after Kennedy had been declared the winner. The nightmare I thought I was having turned out to be the television newscasters’ voices drifting poisonously in to my bedroom.
The campaign was over.